You've had your farewell lunch with coworkers, stacked your desk tchotchkes in a box, turned in your keys and left the parking garage for the last time. A new, better job awaits and you're ready. Perhaps it's one you've long coveted for its sizable bump in pay, or perhaps the company sought you out, offering an opportunity you couldn't pass up. Either way, you've earned it.
But before you let yourself become wooed by the siren song of a bigger paycheck, take some time to think strategically about your finances. If you don't, you run the risk of succumbing to lifestyle inflation, which is when you gradually begin to spend more as your wages go up. In other words, you start making more money and start making a series of decisions that involve spending more money, whether it's upgrading your car or buying twice the amount of clothing you used to buy.
To help keep lifestyle inflation at bay and continue moving in the right direction, here are five action items to consider as you begin that new job.
1. Roll over your 401(k) from your previous employer to an IRA or your new employer's retirement plan.
After you open an IRA or new retirement account, make sure to request a "direct rollover" from your old 401(k) plan. That way, the money goes directly into the account—not to you. (If the check is cut to you, you risk facing a heavy tax penalty.) See UBS's guide to rolling over an IRA.
2. Sketch out expenses associated with the new job.
Will you be paying more for transportation (gas, mass transit passes, tolls) or parking with this new job? Is the dress code more formal, requiring nicer clothing? What about the health insurance contribution? Are the hours different, requiring more childcare than before? Make sure you are clear on job-related expenses that may increase.
3. Use real numbers.
Thinking in terms of percentages, rather than actual amounts of money, is what allows lifestyle inflation to quietly set in. For example, let's say you were making $100,000/year at your previous job and allocating 7 percent, or $7,000/year, for entertainment. At your new job, you'll be making a lot more—$140,000/year. If you keep the 7 percent spent on entertainment, that's $9,800. Instead of allocating percentages, try to allocate real numbers based on what you were spending, so that you keep spending $7,000 a year on entertainment, versus letting it creep up. On the flip side, try increasing repayments towards student loans or other debts—an increase in income makes it easier to pay down debts sooner if you're able to keep discretionary spending constant.
4. Plan to save more.
Increase the amount of money you're putting into short-term savings and retirement savings. Aim to contribute as much as you can afford towards tax-friendly savings vehicles like a 401(k) or health savings account (HSA). If you don't already have a HSA, check if your new employer has a high-deductible health insurance plan—this would deem you eligible to open one. HSAs have tremendous tax benefits that can make it easier to save for healthcare costs you incur today and in retirement. Learn more about the advantages of an HSA.
These tax-advantaged accounts may be even more beneficial if your new job comes with a higher salary and a greater tax liability. However, it's important to note that other changes that coincide with the transition may have an impact on your tax burden as well. So before you decide if you'll contribute to a traditional IRA (i.e., pay the taxes when you withdraw the money) or a Roth IRA (i.e., pay the taxes now), make sure you reevaluate your situation prior to determining what's right for you.
5. Set new financial goals.
If you haven't given much thought to retirement planning, now is the time. When it comes to saving, you want to maximize the compounding effect of interest as much as you can, which means saving as early as you can. For example, a person who starts saving $5,000/year beginning at age 25 (assuming a 4.5 percent rate of return) will have 43 percent more savings (or $240,000) by the time they are 65 than a person who waits to start saving $5,000/year at age 35. And the power of compounding interest is greater when it's in a tax-advantaged savings vehicle like a 401(k) or HSA. Other financial goals may include saving for your children’s education, paying off your home or buying investment property. Use the time of transition to either set new goals or recommit to existing ones.
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