Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graduate School or How to Recession-Proof Your Life

I won't pretend that our current life of thrift is the result of careful planning and strategic investment or budgeting. Much of it is sheer coincidence: we don't buy a lot of stuff because we can't afford a lot of stuff. I think we learned this in graduate school, when we lived way beyond our means on credit cards and student loans. Even still, we probably lived on $30,000. That includes our $10,000 (each!) stipend, some summer teaching when we could get it, loans and credit. Back then it was a good week when we could walk to Junior's Tavern and treat ourselves to a couple pitchers of beer.
Then along came Son and our lives changed. When our government subsidized health insurance ran out, I gave husband the ultimatum: one of us has to get a job. Luckily, I am married to a man who knows how to get a job. He got the first full-time tenure track job he applied for. Try not to hate him: this same luck or skill (you decide) also applies to sports, hobbies, and drinking.
The minute he got the job, we bought a house. At the time, I was teaching part-time for two different schools, meaning my "salary" was not going to help us get a loan. We bought the house we could afford, a tiny (1300 sq. foot) house, the smallest, cheapest house in the neighborhood we wanted to live in. That was 6 years ago. We're still in that house.
What's happened in the last 6 years? I got a full-time tenure track job and our Son has gotten bigger. We got a dog. That car we bought when I was pregnant? It's almost 9 years old.
Two years ago, when our first car was paid off, Middlebrow floated the idea of buying a new car. He was so excited! He's usually the thrifty one, while I'm the one who wants to buy things. But this time, our roles were reversed. We looked at some vehicles, even drove some. But looking at the payment on the handy spreadsheet the salesman drew up for us made my heart sink. I said no, I couldn't do it. Price was one part, but I also didn't want to invest in obsolete technology. Why buy a vehicle when the future of fossil fuel seems so uncertain?
Instead, Middlebrow bought a bike. We make it work. Sometimes (a lot of the time), it's a pain. But most of the time between public transportation (free bus pass from work), our feet, our bikes, and friends, we survive with one car. It helps that we live one mile from the campus where we teach most often.
We don't have: cable, cell phones, shopping habits (aside from books...), expensive hobbies (yet?). I have more to say, but this post is already too long. I'll continue it later.
Suffice it to say, I feel fortunate in these hard times.


Aligates said...

First of all, Middlebrow is also either very skilled or very lucky in choice of partner, and secondly, I've a photo of him on a bike from days gone by, and let's just say, he looks like he'd really fit in well in SLC. We too feel lucky never to have had that much, so much less to lose that way!

theorris said...

As to the car thing, I know exactly what you are talking about. It is a big pain for me, but I am stubborn about the failed technology thing. Gah! I also cannot justify spending that much money on a vehicle I will only drive for pleasure or "luxury" reasons.

ErinAlice said...

I so don't like having to have two cars. Where we live mass transit is well, not very effective and I live too far from school to ride a bike. I am also glad that we try not to buy too much. As far as the expensive habits well since the hubby is a musician we already have that but at least guitars retain their value and I can enjoy his playing. Still I hope this recession thingy doesn't last long!!

Sisi said...

Thank you for sharing.
Im also considering grad school or go straight to work. its hard to decide

Counterintuitive said...

I'm amazed you don't have cable or cell phones.

Have you noticed all the "how to save money" lists floating around during this rough financial times?

Seems they are not for people who understand money: if you are eating out too much cut back to only dinner (they needed someone to tell them not to eat out for breakfast!!!!), if you are getting the super duper coffee for 4 bucks every day at Starbucks get the cheaper one for 1.50 etc. (holy stupid) and so on.

BTW I love your guys' minimalist approach and often cite you in discussions about budgets, two cars, simple living, etc.