How to Save and Invest When You’re Just Starting Out

According to 2020 Census data, women make 83 cents for every dollar made by a man in a similar position. That’s an average 17 percent wage difference. It’s a frustrating commentary; even at  the starting line, women are already behind their men counterparts in their ability to set money aside for their future.

So, what can women do to begin to catch up?

Start when you can with what you have

When you get your first paycheck or direct deposit receipt, your actual take-home pay may leave you feeling underwhelmed. Or, maybe you’ll feel overwhelmed, like Morgan Small did. “It was surreal to get that first paycheck,” remembers Small, a  senior business analytics consultant in PNC’s Technology group.  “I didn’t know what to do with it.”

After pre-tax deductions, the amount you’re left with needs to cover housing, groceries, fuel or transportation expenses, and, hopefully, some discretionary fund money for travel, dinner with friends or shopping. But other important items to add into the equation are savings for an emergency fund and investing for retirement through a Roth IRA or a 401K if it’s available to you.

How much should you set aside?

Melodie (MJ) Roach, financial advisor at PNC, works with women and men of all ages to help them plan for financial success. “Start with your emergency fund,” she says. “Put 10 percent away if you can, because if something happens to your job, you need to be able to take care of yourself.”

When you’re early in your career, you might feel that saving for retirement isn’t as important as what’s needed here and now. Small, who started with PNC after college graduation in 2016, started building a nest egg right away by having money automatically deducted from her paycheck and distributed into an emergency fund and her 401K. Having it taken out in advance made it easier to put away.  “If I didn’t see it, then it wasn’t ever there,” she says.

Additional opportunities to save

Roach sees a difference in how women of different generations prepare for retirement. “Women 50 and older focused on retirement savings vehicles like the 401(k) or IRA, both of which have embedded tax savings opportunities, whereas women in their twenties and thirties are very focused on opening investment accounts, or in investment clubs,” says Roach.

Small, a millennial, confirms Roach’s point, as she has been investing on her own since 2020 through a popular stock trading and investing app. “I wanted to be hands-on when I started investing so I could focus on areas that are important to me, like technology.”

What if you’ve got debt?

Even if  you have significant school loans or credit card debt, you still have options. Small recalls how she used her credit card “like every other college kid, and didn’t even think about it.” Now she advises friends  in that position to open a high-yield savings account and put whatever you can in it from each paycheck. Roach agrees: “You have to pay yourself, regardless of credit card debt or loans.”

Visit to watch the replay of Taking Credit: Best Practices As Rates Rise or ask to be connected to a PNC-Certified Women’s Business Advocate.