Asking a co-worker how much she makes is a little like asking an acquaintance how much she weighs: invasive, rude, borderline inappropriate.

With age, size, and even relationship-status, we're raised with a polite inclination towards privacy. These discrete facts, though intimately tied up in our notions of identity and personal value, carry a certain taboo. It is ill-mannered to inquire, and crude to share openly.

That lack of transparency, however, has become a source of drastic inequality in the workplace. How do we advocate for ourselves if we're ignorant to the context we're navigating? "There are direct, concrete consequences for falling victim to salary secrecy," the New York Times reported, "including wage suppression and a lack of transparency around pay inequity, which disproportionately affects women and minorities."

Our reluctance to make public our financial value keeps us from professional leveraging. It pushes us to graciously accept whatever sum an employer doles out, no questions asked. Outside of the work place, a whopping 43% of Americans have neglected to share how much they make with their spouse, according to data from Fidelity Investments. Forget coworkers, American's are hesitant to share their salary even with their life partner.

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It took me well over a year to learn that I was not making enough money working as a staff writer on a team of men with identical titles and reliably comparable work loads. I accepted my first offer. I was grateful for any first offer. It was my ignorant assumption that each of our salaries was in direct proportion to the work we'd been doing; an assumption I now know to be both naive and false (for the sake of sharing, that number was 50K). I only developed the nerve to ask while organizing onboarding documents for new hires — all of whom would earn a starting salary higher than my current one. I hadn't thought to negotiate, and I hadn't realized that everyone else had.

By no stretch is salary secrecy professionally enforced — the National Labor Relations Act deems it illegal for employers to bar any private sector employees from communicating openly about their salaries. But the reluctance to do so seems to come from a more deeply rooted social order — an adherence to decorum — than it does any legitimate code. Women continue to make an average of 80 cents to every dollar a man makes, and an unwillingness to communicate about money, and thus a hesitancy to demand higher wages from employers, helps to keep that norm in place. In fact, according to a recent Harvard study, women are drastically less likely to negotiate salaries at all. There remains a collective belief that the first offer is good enough.

Gender aside, it's time we all talked about our salaries. Transparency is our democratic weapon — it's how we guarantee we earn what we deserve. It's our means of mutual support for one another.

Start at the dinner table. Ask your friends over drinks. Ask your colleagues over coffee. Share your own finances and create a space for that brand of communication. Listen to podcasts, read columns from contemporary economists, find a vocabulary that makes you comfortable. Only with transparency can we strip salary-talk of its antiquated stigma.

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Developing further skills can boost your career at any stage.

Whether you are looking for a new job or trying to grow in your current one, getting a certification can be a great way to improve your skills.

Anyone can put that they are proficient in a computer program on their resume but having a certificate can help you stand out amongst the competition and give credence to the strength of your skills.

But what's the best way to invest in yourself without breaking the bank? Some certification programs can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. We are going to walk through six of the best certifications you can get for $100 or less.

Tableau

Tableau's data visualization capabilities are comparable to Domo and Power BI.

Who is it best for: Those who work with analyzing and presenting data.

Cost: $100 for Tableau Desktop Specialist; additional certifications are available for a larger fee.

More companies than ever see themselves as data companies. Being able to understand data and use it to guide decisions at your company is often critical to taking on a leadership role. Not to mention, being able to present the data in a clean, attractive, and compelling way can help get buy-in from others in your organization or clients. That's why Tableau is a great tool to have in your toolbox.

Tableau allows you to create interactive visual analytics dashboards. In layman's terms, you can take data; create graphs, maps, or charts; and then allow end-users to interact with these graphics to better understand the information. It's a fantastic tool allowing non-technical users to gain insights for data-driven decision-making.

Tableau Desktop Specialist certification starts at $100 and has no expiration date. There are many videos on Tableau's site to prepare for your exam as well as Tableau Starter Kits allowing you to play around and learn the different capabilities of the program. Tableau offers a 14-day free trial as well as free license for one year for students.

Additional certifications after Desktop Specialist are Desktop Associate and Desktop Professional. Those working with a Tableau server may also be interested in a separate certification as a Server Associate or Server Professional.

The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

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Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.

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