Just Do It

I think maybe the most important thing I’ve gotten out of the last few weeks of reading is the message on retirement savings: just start. Don’t pay attention to the series of objections I always had:

1) I don’t have any spare cash
2) My life is so unstable right now; if I do have spare cash, it should be in emergency savings where I can get to it fast
3) I don’t have enough spare cash; don’t you need thou$ands?
4) I don’t know how [ok, this was a big one]
5) There’s nobody pushing me to do it and no obvious beneficiary if I die before I can use the money [this is where singleness comes into play]
6) Shouldn’t all available money go towards the student loan instead? [This is why I didn’t open a 401(k) with my current job — although there would have been no match, which mitigates that choice a little. Still should’ve asked for $200 a month to be taken out or something.]

Instead: just start. Even if it’s small. Even if it’s $25 a month. Even if you have to take the initial deposit ($1000 at Vanguard) out of emergency savings. Whatever. Just start.

It seems sort of like having a kid (nb, I do not have a kid, so YMMV) in that you never quite feel “ready” to take the plunge. Instead you have to just…start.

(An article I found useful on this is at Investopedia, by the way.)

Fear and the Future

So, in an earlier post I mentioned the relatively well-paid but temporary nature of my job. This happens a lot to early-career academics; I know some people who’ve gotten a permanent job right out of school, but just as many, if not more, who’ve had several temporary stints first.

I’m fortunate in that my first temporary job has been excellent; great location near family, compensation generous enough to allow me to live pretty well while also aggressively attacking my debt. My second temporary job…well, it’ll be ok. It’ll start this summer, and involves another move (groan) which fortunately they’re paying for. It’ll be in a city where the cost of living is even lower than here, but which will be more expensive to leave; if I want to go anywhere it pretty much means flying, not driving. And worst of all, I’m taking a pretty huge pay cut for it.

The thing is, my current job is so well-paid by the standards of my field that almost anything was going to involve a pretty huge pay cut. That’s just the reality; I was enormously lucky this year, and can’t expect that luck to continue indefinitely. And along with the dip in compensation is coming a dip in teaching responsibilities, so I can focus much more on writing than I’ve been able to do this year.

But I still have concerns.

*It’ll be the second post-graduate year in a row where I’ve had access to a 401(k) or 403(b), but no employer match due to the temporary nature of the job, so there’s not much incentive to contribute. (As far as I can tell, without an employer match it’s better to do IRAs rather than a 40…plan.) I’m kind of annoyed about this, and also worried; what if I never get to the point where an employer is finally putting something in? I’m getting old, from the point of view of compound interest.

*Ugh did I mention the really big pay cut?! (Offset substantially by the projected retirement of my debt, but I’m still going to have to go to real budgeting and/or get a second, freelance job in order to keep up with my new retirement plan.)

*Since it’s another temporary job (albeit a full year guaranteed, with health insurance) it’s still very difficult to project a future path. I can budget for the next 12 months, but I have to simultaneously prepare for the very long term, while also prepping for the possibility that I’ll be moving AGAIN come next summer, or, worse, unemployed.

In short…I’m kind of afraid. What if I can’t make it work on the new salary? What if I can’t land something else next year? What if the “something else” I land has even worse pay, or security? (You’d be surprised at how many people have been laid off in higher ed in the last few years, as colleges have either closed due to financial problems, or cut the supposedly uncuttable faculty.) Lots of what ifs, and one very tiny retirement fund staring them in the face.

[Update on the very tiny retirement fund: it has grown by $20 in the last two days as the market went up again! I know, I know, day to day stuff is basically meaningless, and I don’t want to get as depressed if it loses $20 tomorrow, as I am happy today to see the $20 there…but still, it’s making me smile.]