A Management Consultant Who Cares More About Opportunities Than Money

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Young Money

Jenn grew up upper-middle-class but suggests that her parents' influence made her pretty thoughtful about how she spends her money. While she still enjoys spending money on travel and hobbies, she does so on a budget.

She has been a management consultant at a big four company since her career began and sees herself  staying in the industry for a while. She cites the political capital and reputation she's built at her firm as reasons why she wants to stay and believes she can have a more significant impact. Still, she eventually hopes to use her skillset in a nonprofit context. Jenn enjoys doing work she likes and feels rewarded by, and isn’t motivated by  concrete salary/retirement/money goals. 

Keep reading to learn more about her life philosophy, how she negotiated different opportunities at her job (including one month of paid time off to travel in Patagonia), and her hobbies!

*Name is altered to protect identity.

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Interview with Jenn:

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your relationship with money.

I grew up upper-middle-class in a relatively wealthy neighborhood. I had immigrant parents who believed buying anything over $50 was a big deal, so I tend to still be pretty thoughtful about how I spend my money. I’ll take the time to return items or resell items or demand a refund for broken items and wait for sales. 

The most significant difference is that now I can also decide when my time is worth more than the money I'd save. To me, that is what financial freedom means - you have the option to think about that. Along that thread, I don't have a set savings rate. My paychecks automatically get distributed something like 30 / 60 to my checking vs. savings account. Investments then are auto-deducted monthly from my savings account - I don't like to think about it! You never miss the money you don't see. 

I keep my checking balance pretty low, so I still feel like a college student when I pay my credit card bills! This helps curb my spending. I also tend to wait to purchase items and leave things "in the cart" for a long time or rack up a list of things to buy before actually making the purchases. This makes me less prone to impulse buys, so I’ll only purchase something if I really need it. I don't have a lot of space in my apartment either, so this philosophy is necessary! I'd say the things I spend the most on now are things related to hobbies that give me joy for my time - cycling, for example, and traveling (pre-COVID!).

I don't have a retirement or salary or money goal; personally, I find these might become limiting. I'd instead focus on doing work I like and feeling rewarded for it. There's a pair of Greek terms that I think are relevant here: atelic vs. telic activities. Telic activities are things you do for the purpose of "finishing" it, like summiting a mountain to say you've done it. Atelic activities are things you do for the purpose of "doing" it, like the act of summiting the mountain, as opposed to its output. Atelic activities are the things that ultimately give your life more meaning. In the same sense, I think focusing on a number might lead you down a path of too much telic thinking.

How are you thinking about your career right now?

I think I'll stay in consulting for a while. I like playing the "expert" / advisor role and exploring lots of different opportunities. I enjoy working on different projects and with different teams; I think it keeps me on my toes and allows me to continue to grow professionally. I recently transferred to a group that allows me to use more of my creativity at work. I believe in this group's ability to change how we do consulting at my firm. I think this could have ripple effects throughout consulting. I'm proud of the work we're doing -- the only thing that I'd leave for is a job that would allow me to do similar work, but for nonprofits instead of corporations. Once I feel like I can do this kind of work end-to-end, and I've learned all I can from my colleagues, it would be time for me to move to a new place that allows me to then share that expertise.

Have you ever negotiated at your job?

The firm has set standard salaries across the board, so theoretically, you can't argue for a negotiated compensation. I have heard of people receiving retention bonuses, though. While I have never negotiated my salary, I've had opportunities to leave the firm, which I've used to explore other options within the firm, including:

  1. roles interacting directly with firm leadership
  2. an internal transfer to a group more aligned to what I was looking for over the long-term

I think you need to be smart about leveraging your offers and understanding what you can get out of the firm. If you're a high performer, you can get a lot of exciting opportunities! For me, that was more important than money. When I first thought about leaving the firm, a mentor told me to reconsider and make sure I was getting everything I could out of the firm. "If you're a rockstar," she said, "they'll give you more free rein."


What else have you been able to get out of the firm?

I've had conversations with my sponsors who have given me things such as: 

  • One full month off in between projects (I traveled to Patagonia)
  • A spot on a 30-person national staff council providing feedback / interacting with the leaders of Advisory (basically our C-suite) 
  • Temporary "tour of duty" on a team focused on design thinking / human-centered design and how we apply that to our client work, which I’ve since converted into a permanent transfer.

The design thinking team is the team I ultimately transferred to. I made it clear in regular conversations with "sponsors" in the firm that I was interested in these things, raised my hand, did the work, and voiced my concerns. I think transparency and communication, especially after you've 1) shown you're a high performer, and 2) built trust with people who have power, are critical. These investments I've made continue to reap benefits, and it's part of the reason I've stayed at the firm. Other firms may have similar opportunities, but I am proud of the political capital and reputation I've built within my firm, and that doesn't come with me if I move. I believe I have the resources to have a greater impact and do more here by staying because of my network's amplifying effect.

So you have considered leaving your firm? Tell us more about how you were feeling at the time and why you decided to stay.

I initially thought about leaving the firm because I was feeling so tired and lacking in purpose. I worked for about 8 months on a deal that ended up getting shelved, with a new deal announced. Most of the work we had done had to be redone. During those 8 months, I also felt that I would routinely work very long hours for no real reason. I was just churning on decks, working through client politics, or staying around "just in case." This was also the first project I'd had where I wasn't traveling, which made the hours away from what I could have been doing feel even more concrete. 

I started to look into other opportunities outside the firm focused on design thinking. I hadn't gotten very far before my team offered me a role in the firm’s internal design thinking group, initially in a temporary role and now made permanent.

What are examples of how you spend money because you think it's meaningful or saves you time?

Travel is meaningful to me, though I still tend to do this on a budget and spend money where I think it's meaningful! A few years ago, I took a trip to Dubai with my classmates. My classmates wanted to take a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. That didn't feel interesting or meaningful to me - it felt like a 'check the box' activity. Instead, I explored a local fish market, bought a fish, and asked them to cook it for me on the spot. I ate it by the river and felt this was a much more authentic way to spend my money in a way that was true to me and would be a memory I'd cherish! 

An example of something I spend money on because it saves me time is my commuter bike. I invested in a bike and bought all the things you need along with it - a lock, a rear rack, panniers, lights, a helmet, etc. Biking has made the city so much more accessible while also freeing me from dependence on public transit. It's also so much more fun than sitting in a subway car.


You don't have money goals but do you have any personal goals?

I recently tore my ACL about 4 months ago while skiing and got surgery to replace the ACL. This significantly impacted my strength and made me unable to do basic things such as walking down the stairs or kneeling. Motions like sitting down or getting up were challenging. I've been very focused in the near term on my health & well-being. Cycling has become a new way to increase my strength and maintain my cardio (I was previously a runner) without straining my recovering knee. So my personal goal is to keep pushing my pace on rides, exceed my former strength, and regain my control over my knee so I can ski again in time for the 2021 season! Thinking about my health & well-being is a really all-encompassing effort -- so many things impact how you feel. Your sleep, sleep hygiene, diet, water intake, level of stress during the day, etc. I've been focused on all of these in the near term. It really feels like a lifestyle shift. I think you can draw a larger tie to financial goals -- to truly have an impact, your goals need to work within the systems you have in place. It's a shift in mindset that should affect everything you do, because it's all connected.

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