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.]