The prompt: Columbus Day is a celebration of discovery & new beginnings. Tell us about a single event, good or bad, that opened up a new world for you & your finances.
Like Columbus, we often think we know where we’re headed. After years as a student, my first full-time job seemed like welcomed dry land, and not just any land, but a new world rich inherit resources like a salary with benefits.
While not quite the spices that lured Columbus from Europe, giving up the health department for my own regular doctor called to me like a siren singing promises of debt relief and a diet not based on spaghetti noodles and rice.
At this point, I was in my second master’s program, getting a degree that I thought would help me reach my then career goal of becoming a professor. Despite what I thought might happen, the one thing I was sure of was it was helping me build debt. My assistantship did not cover my living expenses, so I was tutoring athletes after long days being in classes (taking and teaching) and taking out loans to make up the difference, two increasingly burdensome compromises. So I decided with 2.5 degrees to get a real fulltime job and to just finish the second masters slowly as I worked and paid off debt.
I thought naively I would work, making more money than ever, saving more than ever. I figured if I could go from the tuppence of a graduate stipend to a fulltime check, I’d be debt free and neck deep in savings for the future in long before my then fiancé would surely be graduating no later than 2009.
Two years to work and save. That was the plan, though it’s funny how that works. For unbeknownst to me, when your income increases, so do your expenses. I’m certain this can be scientifically proven.
With increasing expenses instead of the savings boom I expected, I found myself making excuses such as:
I work hard so I deserve to (a) eat out (b) buy this dress (c) go on this trip (d) all of the above at once.
After the wedding and honeymoon are paid for I’ll save more.
After my student loans are paid off, I’ll work on my investment and retirement funds.
When I get my first real job, with a real paycheck, not this starting off at the bottom during the worse recession potentially since the 30s, then I’ll really save.
Yes, excuses. Excuses I never had before. It was a new world I had no idea I was entering until this year I looked at my financial goals and realized while I had made some ground, I had made many more excuses.
Sure I had taken care of the basics: loans paid, emergency savings built, IRA started. But I hardly contributed to my IRA, and the closest I had come to investing was thinking, “I should really think about investing.”
Yes, three years and half years after that decision, I have new demands like paying for my first MRI. I would have loved to have put that money toward savings or even a trip, but no, that went to the county hospital. It seems it’s always something comes up when trying to save money, trying to plan the future.
And back then I thought getting a job would make life easier. I’m pretty sure Biggie and Puff Daddy had it right when they sang about “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
Getting a job definitely allowed me to pay for things and avoid more debt, but it hasn’t been as easy a road as I expected. Work is often hard, and in the time of pay freezes and low staffing, underemployment has resulted in underwhelming paychecks that don’t stretch as far as I imagined or needed.
I still haven’t finished that degree. Class and work at the same time is much more difficult than it’s given credit for.
While we’ve been saving more in preparation for replacing our aging cars, planned trips, relocating after my husband finishes his degree, I definitely haven’t done half of what I thought I’d do not only with my finances but in every aspect of my life.
At times I do feel like I’m in a strange land, not at all where I expected or wanted to be.
* This post was written for ING but was not posted.