Laura Gent comes from a quintessential American-dream household. Her mother began her career as a secretary and quickly rose in ranks as jobs for women began opening up, eventually attaining a high-ranking position in a male-dominated field. Though Gent’s mother was successful in her career, her father was the financial head of the household. He served in various positions such as the CEO and Chief Credit Officer of a bank, which allowed Gent to live a comfortable life. But what she hadn’t known was that, underneath the comfort of her privileged lifestyle, her family was struggling financially. When the stock market crashed in 2009, it was a jarring event for many American households, but Gent remembers that year for a much more catastrophic reason. After getting laid off from his job, her father died by suicide, leaving her family in financial ruins with her mother in charge of picking up the pieces.
Gent had always been taught the importance of budgeting and the meaning of money. Though she came from wealth, her parents came from humble beginnings as the first of their family to go to college. After her father passed, she recognized the importance of the lessons she had learned and was inspired to teach women about financial literacy. Gent candidly recalled memories of her extremely successful friends making six-figure salaries. Their career success, however, was unable to assist them in learning to deal with their finances as their credit card debt piled up. That is when an idea came to her about helping college students with their finances, especially those preparing to start their careers.
On Oct. 4, the Women in Business Association hosted Gent for a Financial Literacy Workshop. Throughout this workshop Gent brought up many tips as to how to approach finances, from budgeting to negotiation. Some of her most crucial guidance, however, can be summarized into her “20’s plan.” This four-step plan is an easy way for soon-to-be college graduates to review their finances as they venture into adulthood.
Gent’s Four-Step Financial Plan for your 20’s
1.Pay off your debt
Debt will only continue to increase. As soon as you can, start paying it off. There will come a time for good debt, such as a mortgage, but student loans are a haunting debt that need to be paid off before engaging in more financial activities.
2. Build up an emergency fund
You should always have at least six months of liquid cash available on hand. This cash should be there to handle the unexpected so that there is never a time when you are unable to pay for basic necessities such as rent.
3. Make sure you are being paid what you are worth
It is crucial that you are being valued for the assets you bring to the table. As a college graduate, it is important that you are capable of acknowledging your capabilities and can effectively negotiate. Coming to a negotiation prepared means knowing the average salary for your role at the company you are hoping to work for, understanding geographical variances and recognizing that you should be asking for raises.*
Gent stressed that this step was female-specific: Do not be afraid of “no”. It is okay to hear “no” and it is crucial to understand that if an employer tells you no, this does not mean it is indefinite. You must continue to ask and be persistent in tracking your accomplishments to prove your value. Do not let a possible rejection stop you from asking for what you deserve.
4. Know your finances
Understand what your own budget and financial fitness goals are. Write down what your goals and monthly budget are, whether that be how much you want to save for retirement or the vacation you’ve always wanted to take. It is equally as helpful to write down fixed expenses, such as rent and food, to understand how much you need to budget for variable expenses, like that concert you’ve been hoping to go to. Gent also recommends writing these goals down on paper as they become palpable that way. This also provides a way of documenting progress.
Gent has ample knowledge regarding financial tips and tricks. When she says “keep it real” regarding finances, she really means it. Be honest with yourself. You may want to live in San Francisco after college, but how are you going to pay for it?
Gent now serves as a senior manager at Salesforce where she has had the amazing opportunity to work alongside friends and do what she loves everyday. Everyone has the ability to be financially healthy, it simply requires beginning the conversation. As Gent puts it, let your guards down to the “F-word”— finance is not something to be scared of. When you take charge of your finances, you take charge of your life.