Reinvent Yourself Richer

Four women who left behind a five-figure salary, took a daring leap into a new career, and now make from $150,000 to $1 million.

By Kate Ashford
Photograph: Illustration by: Darren Braun

Make More Money in a New Career

Who hasn’t fantasized about ditching her day job for work that pays two, four, or even 10 times as much money? These women did more than just daydream. After years of scrimping and saving to take care of their families, they figured out ways to generate wealth, even during these tough times — and all in midlife. A key to their success was their willingness to step out of their comfort zones. "Making more money requires you to speak up and ask for what you want and to say no to what you don’t," says Barbara Stanny, author of Prince Charming Isn’t Coming. Here, four inspiring tales of women who believed in themselves enough to take a risk.

From Flight Attendant to Entrepreneur

Makes four times her old income

Success strategy: "A lot of people try to do this, and they give up. I never gave up."

Sandy Stein, of West Hills, California, had been a flight attendant for more than 30 years when the airline business tanked in 2001 and her income fell as she was forced to work fewer hours. Three years later, she says, her husband lost his consulting job, and Stein, then 53, realized that it was up to her to provide a stable home for their 10-year-old son. Inspiration arrived one night as she slept: In a dream she saw a decorative key chain that attached to the side of a woman’s purse so she could always find her keys. The next morning, Stein fashioned a rough model of the gadget, using a wire memo holder. This is going to sell like crazy, she thought: How many times are your keys at the bottom of your bag? She named her device the Finders Key Purse, a play on "finders keepers," and had a prototype made, but when she approached gift companies about distribution, they turned her down because it wasn’t part of a bigger line.

Her friends were enthusiastic, however, so Stein asked them to help sell the Finders Key Purse around the country and offered each person a percentage of her own sales as well as other financial incentives. Stein stashed her inventory of 180,000 key chains, priced at $7 to $10 apiece, in a rented office and handled all shipping herself. Within a year, her sales team had grown from 20 to 2,000 and had sold one million key chains. Stein kept her airline job for the first year as a safety net, but she pitched her product to everyone she met: waitresses, janitors, men on the street. "I lived, breathed, and became a key chain," she says, laughing. "My son was like, ‘Mom, do you have to talk about it all the time?’"

Stein had earned about $40,000 a year as a flight attendant; now she pays herself a salary of more than $150,000. Her company, Alexx Inc. (finderskeypurse.com), sells a range of gift items, and despite the economic downturn, the business grossed more than $6 million in 2008.

From Musician to CEO

Makes 10 times her old income

Success strategy: "I don’t throw up my hands at a challenge. My first thought is, how can we do it?"

Nine years ago Teri Gault, then 39, of Santa Clarita, California, was singing background vocals, teaching music, performing, and dreaming of winning a Grammy. She says she was also "running my tail off for very little." To stretch her tiny income, she spent hours clipping coupons and scouring ads for sales, saving about $100 on each shopping trip. But the work was tedious and time consuming. One day, she realized that if she had the money she’d gladly pay someone to do the job for her. Her next thought was, what if people paid me? Ca-ching: The Grocery Game (thegrocerygame.com) was born.

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