28-year-old earning $210,000 a year shares biggest money mistake

When it comes to money, Chabely Rodriguez can say she’s made it in many ways.

The 28-year-old certified anesthesiologist assistant earned more than $210,000 last year and is on track to bring in even more this year. She’s able to live comfortably and debt-free in Tampa, Florida, while traveling in her free time, investing for her future and saving for emergencies.

Thus far, Rodriguez has been able to avoid some of the costliest financial mistakes. She’s a disciplined spender and keeps her investment risk relatively low, investing primarily in her retirement accounts and index funds.

But she could have been investing more and eliminating her six-figure student debt quicker had it not been for what she considers her biggest financial mistake: not negotiating her first salary.

‘I just signed the contract’

Shortly after she finished earning her master’s degree in 2021, Rodriguez received her credentialing and was preparing to begin her first job as a full-time CAA. The high average salary is one of the benefits that helped her decide to pursue a career in anesthesiology. 

She expected a salary of around $140,000, what she thought was standard for CAAs at the time. But she didn’t know a shortage of practitioners and the Covid-19 pandemic had driven up the demand for the position and CAAs were pulling in even bigger salaries. 

When she was offered her current job, it came with a base salary of $170,000 a year, plus a $10,000 signing bonus.

“Immediately, as soon as I saw that $170,000, I basically just signed the contract,” Rodriguez says. “I sent it back within a day or so, didn’t even try to negotiate. I was just so excited about this contract.”

Once she started working, Rodriguez learned some of her coworkers were successful in negotiating larger salaries or bigger signing bonuses. There’s no telling how much she may have been able to secure, but she wishes she took a little bit more time comparing offers or just asking for more. 

Rodriguez’s base salary has since risen to $198,000 a year. With overtime, her income is well over $200,000. In her free time, she also runs a YouTube channel where she shares information and insight into her life as a CAA. She wants to encourage more people to explore the career path and hopes they can learn from her mistake.

“Don’t rush into the decision, salaries are competitive, and you’re worth the money,” Rodriguez says she tells her viewers. “Take your time and compare things.”

3 negotiation mistakes to avoid

Experts say you should almost always negotiate your salary after you’ve been offered a job. Here are three common negotiation missteps to avoid in order to get the best offer you can.

1. Skipping preparation

Negotiating is a skill. That doesn’t mean you have to be a master negotiator to get the compensation you want. But it does mean you should do your research on the best strategies and practices before you arrive.

You can even use a script from someone who’s successfully negotiated their way to a better salary.

2. Focusing on salary alone

If the company says the current offer is as high as they can go, try asking about other benefits, such as paid time off or 401(k) matching. Rodriguez was surprised to hear about coworkers who received signing bonuses because they asked.

Your total compensation package likely includes much more than a salary, including medical benefits, paid time off, and/or any bonuses. All of these items may be up for negotiation if you’re not afraid to ask.

3. Not knowing your worth

Along with preparing for the negotiation conversation, you need to come to the employer with an idea of how much you want to be making as well as how much is reasonable for the position.

Like Rodriguez, you may not be able to find the most accurate or up-to-date information on average salaries for your job or the company specifically, but it’s good to have a baseline.

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