Ask Money

I got a pay hike. Now what?

Chris Farrell Apr 28, 2011

Question: Dear Chris, I recently landed a new job which pays significantly more than my current one – about +30K annually. I’m 42, and I’ve never made more than 40K a year and so this is a huge increase. I don’t want to squander my new income, but my husband and I don’t really know how we should alter our current savings plans. Would this be the time to meet with a financial planner? Thanks, Kristina, Hampstead, NH

Answer: I always like hearing when someone has gotten a good job with a decent salary. Congratulations.

In theory meeting a financial planner whenever there is a major life change–an inheritance, a divorce, a big pay raise, a looming retirement–is sensible. That’s in theory. Problem is, it’s difficult for middle income families to find sound, reasonably-priced broad-based financial expertise and money advice. This unfortunate reality is why I favor a DIY approach for most families.

How about this for an approach? First, give your family a slight “raise” and put the rest of the extra income into safe savings.

I would create a check list and go over it in coming months. Are you putting the maximum into your retirement savings plans? How much of an emergency fund do you have and is it enough? Do you have any debts other than your mortgage (assuming you own your home)? If the answer is yes, get rid of the debts. Are you facing any major expenses, such as a new car or a new roof? What are some major goals over the next few years and longer? Work less? Work more? Change careers? Buy a home? You get the idea.

I think I covered all the major categories. And then you can start making priorities, since you won’t be able to do everything even with the raise. A useful guide while you’re figuring out what to do with your extra income is Jane Bryant Quinn’s Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People.

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