March 2018 Net Worth Update

OK, we can tell how my April has gone by the fact that (a) my net worth update is five days late and (b) I typed “February” above and then had to erase it because my mind is like jelly right now.

It’s been a good first week of April actually! Taught some good classes on subjects I love, did a lot of professional writing — a LOT of it — and got the first copy of my new book in the mail. Just extremely busy. But now it’s Friday night, I met my biggest work deadline, and I have time to post some numbers.

March was a pretty good month. Here’s the spending:

That’s a bunch of green! I traveled the last week of the month, but had already paid for most of it earlier, so I just spent a little bit getting to the airport, basically. I went to see friends so I didn’t have to spend money when I was there. I got a haircut, bought some underwear, made my usual monthly donations.

Slush was the usual: a random collection of stuff! I went out to eat with a friend, bought a couple of new sheet pans, bought a book and a CD, saw A Wrinkle in Time, bought some coffee out, and paid for my Washington Post digital subscription.

What I’m most pleased by is that my food spending finally got under control. I chalk that up to only having school two weeks of March (we had a week of spring break and nearly a week of Easter break.) Turns out when I’m not teaching I find it much easier to eat cheaply!

Despite this good month, the overall net worth numbers don’t look great….

But that’s really just because of the markets. Eh. It’ll be fine. I wish things had gone just a little better because I thought I’d crack $80,000 in March, but hopefully I’ll get there in April. In the meantime, I ended March at $79765, an increase of $1405 — not bad for a month in which my investments lost over $1000!

Academic Economics

There have been a lot of articles in the last 5 or so years about the “adjunct crisis” and the economics of higher education, but I thought I might have a few readers that didn’t spend a lot of time reading Inside Higher Ed and might be intrigued/horrified about some of the weirdnesses of this industry. I’m going to number these, but they’re in the order they occurred to me, not necessarily in a logical or rigorous order.

1. First and foremost, how many students you teach has virtually no relationship to how much you make. If anything, it’s inversely correlated. Larger class sizes are typically lower level and are much more likely to be taught as freelance piecework by adjuncts, who make anywhere from $2500-6000 per 15-week class. Also, poorer colleges and universities typically have much higher teaching loads for full-time faculty as well; 4 courses a semester (usually called “a 4/4” — four courses in the fall/spring semester) is typical for a poorer college’s faculty, whereas a 3/2 or a 3/3 is more typical for an average college, and a rich college, which is paying its faculty more, is also giving them a 2/2 or even a 2/1 or 1/1 teaching load.

2. My personal salary history, post-grad school: $66K teaching a 2/3 (rich college, one-year appointmen); $48K teaching very little (rich college, research postdoc, taught 2 courses total in 3 years); $56K teaching a 3/3 (average college, unfortunately in a very expensive area so this doesn’t go far).

3. I’ve never adjuncted. I’m not saying I won’t in the future, but I would never try to do it full-time; it really would only be one or two courses on the side of something else. However, lots of people do try to make it work as a full-time income. They rarely make more than $20-25K a year.

4. How can colleges get away with paying so little? Oh lord. Well, because enough people are willing to take the money. Many of those people are currently graduate students, or recent graduate students trying to get full-time jobs and convinced that if they just do it for a year or two they’ll find something…. A lot of it, I think, can be chalked up to sunk costs. This is certainly part of why I’m still working in an academic job despite years of precarity. You spend 6-8 years getting a graduate degree, you’re good at teaching, you have experience teaching, the thought of retraining in something else is overwhelming/frightening, you don’t want to start over in a brand-new field at 35 or 40 or 50, so you keep doing what you’re doing.

5. So why don’t colleges just fire all their full-time faculty and move entirely to adjuncts, if there are so many people willing to work for those wages? Well. That’s kind of where we seem to be heading; we’re roughly halfway through the slow-motion disaster of university labor casualization. You may have seen the recent headline about one of the University of Wisconsin’s campuses eliminating a bunch of majors — English, philosophy, so on. This is really a labor story. Here’s the deal. UW-Stevens Point is going to keep offering lots and lots and lots of English classes, trust. They will probably also offer a fair number of philosophy courses. But eliminating the major means that they will not have to have any full-time faculty in the English department (or whatever), because for whatever weird reason (I confess I do not really understand why this is so, but trust me, it’s empirically true), having full-time faculty is now mostly tied to having majors, not having students in classes. Eliminating the major means eliminating the full-time faculty and replacing them with adjuncts.

I could tell so many stories in this vein — the number of reasons administrators can offer for why they are going to use contingent rather than full-time faculty labor is legion. The upshot is they’re going to keep doing it as long as they can get away with it, which is probably going to be for a long time.

6. Where exactly is all your tuition/loan money going? That’s going to vary depending on type of school. State schools in the U.S. have lost a lot of state support over the last few decades — a trend accelerated by the recession. There, rising tuition is probably mostly going to fill in the gap created by your state’s legislature, though again, there’s variance state to state. At private colleges, it’s more likely to be going to facilities, maybe administrator salaries (extra vice-presidents of this or that, lots of marketers and fundraisers). Athletics is an issue, but I think less of one than we often think, at least financially (the distorting effect on other areas of campus life is another post.) Lastly, there’s Baumol’s cost disease: higher education is a service provided by people, not a manufactured good, so it’s just gotten more and more expensive over time, like medical care. And like medical care, there hasn’t been adequate government support as that cost has grown. So individuals are bearing that extra cost. Some of those individuals are tuition payers (tuition going up), and some are faculty members (salaries going down).

Hi, my name is C, and I’m a coffeeshopper

I’m not sure the twelve-step analogy is even a good one, because showing up at a meeting suggests you want to be cured…and it’s not clear that I do.

I’ve been needing for a while to crack down on my slush budget; I’ve been consistently $40 or $50 over basically every month for over a year. I can reroute the money from other places, of course — sinking funds, mostly, and sometimes minor extra income like a payment from Ebates or whatever — so it’s not like I’m taking on debt. But it bugs me. I typically allocate $150-180 to slush every month, and that feels like it ought to be enough!

So, what’s going on? Right now I only have data going back to August 2017. I didn’t pull the numbers together completely, but at a glance, I’d say that about 1/3 of my slush spending has been for subscriptions (hulu, amazon prime, the Washington Post), the occasional book or CD, and the occasional movie/theater/music ticket. A bit more has been to catch-all household-supplies purchases (a target trip or amazon order once every few months).

The rest is all on food.

I know partly what’s up with that. I am perfectly capable of cooking all my own vegetarian meals from scratch and living on under $300/month for food, but do I always? Heck no. I go in bursts on cooking, and other times default to buying meals out or more expensive but doesn’t-need-cooking food from the grocery store (I’m partial to cheese and crackers, and I mean expensive cheese.) The cross-country move has exacerbated that; I’m not living in my own house here, which makes cooking more of a pain, and also it’s a much bigger city than my previous one, with way more places to eat and substantially higher prices.

But wait, didn’t the subject line of this post say it was about coffeeshops?

Yes! The problem here is that I don’t have much willpower when it comes to food. That’s true for regular meals, as above, and it’s also true for coffeeshops.

I love, love, love a good coffeeshop. I especially love them when I need to do a stack of grading, because grading is the worst and most tedious part of my job, and it just helps to do it in a place with a nice latte. I will know that it’s nearly the end of the month, and I’ve already overspent, and still…. I feel about them the way some people feel about dating men that are clearly, obviously bad for them. I met a coffeeshop this weekend with the most beguiling pastry counter, the loveliest wooden tables, the nicest staff, the greatest windows, and what I’m saying is if I was in a bar and this coffeeshop walked up to me and said “How about handing over all your money” I would’ve said “HEY, handsome.” This morning I wasn’t teaching (but I did have my usual grading pile) and I drove over there and spent $19 for a totally delicious breakfast plus two uninterrupted hours of student papers and I’d do it again. In fact I definitely will do it again, because there’s no use pretending I’m suddenly going to be a different person than I am.

The only shred of hope here is that this infatuation might inspire me to eat more of my other meals at home, rather than paying for cheaper, but subpar, sandwiches and pizza. Maybe in March I can rebalance so I’m spending roughly as much on slush, but focused on things I’m more excited about?




Net worth update: January 2018

It’s that time of the month again, and it’s up up up (mostly). I’ve been frittering away too much money on random things, so I decided I needed to get back to basics on tracking. At the beginning of January I dug out the spreadsheets I’d last used in 2016 and updated them with a budget and the amounts in various accounts, and decided I’d have a go at saving 50% of my income again.

Continue reading “Net worth update: January 2018”

The Latte Factor and the Estate Tax

So, as if you are a person on the internet you have probably seen, Senator Chuck Grassley had this to say when asked why Congress plans to reduce (the Senate bill) or eliminate (the House bill) the estate tax:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

For a hippie communist, I have some surprisingly mixed feelings about this point.

Continue reading “The Latte Factor and the Estate Tax”

Rethinking the rethinking

I know how my own brain works pretty well, so I also should’ve known that posting about my plans to let the blog go would, instead, make me think about how much it’s meant to me and how I’m still pretty interested in documenting my journey and thinking about my financial life. So….congrats Godaddy, you’re getting another year out of me at least! I don’t get a whole lot of clicks on ads, but I do have an adsense payment scheduled for January that will nearly cover the cost of 2018. I might like at that point to move back to the free site, but I don’t want to lose 3 years of archives and I can’t figure out a way to get my backup to upload to blogger. Maybe by December 2018 I can get that worked out.

So, what am I going to write about with my (at least) extra year? Especially, what I am going to write about that might generate enough income to cover the costs of the blog 🙂 I actually feel optimistic about coming up with new topics, besides monthly reports on my own finances. 2017 has been a hard year to write in. Financially, it’s been all over the map, including a regular low income in a low COL place; a six-week period with zero income; and a fairly decent income in a much higher COL place, but paid out in a totally weird way that, combined with the higher rent and general expenses, has been causing me to make slower monthly progress than I’d like, given that my annual salary on paper doubled when I moved. The lack of predictability (even on the micro-level; I’ve been at the new job since mid-August and I have yet to have two paychecks that are exactly the same amount!) is a little maddening.

But beyond that, it’s been a hard year to write in because I’m scared about the future of the country and about my own responsibilities as a citizen. I’ve always been slightly more politically active than the average person, but I tried to kick it up a notch in 2017, and I have. But I’m not sure making the move for this job was the right thing to do. I left a red-leaning, but potentially flippable, district that I loved, to take a job in a totally blue area that I don’t really enjoy living in. I had a lot of doubts about that decision and I still do. And I feel like, even if you are much more conservative than I am, you still should be freaked out by this tax bill that they’re trying to pass. The thing is, I think the basic job of representatives should be to protect their constituents. I can understand how conservatives might see “protection” differently than me. I see it as ensuring a generous social safety net. But I can see how conservatives might see it as “deal with the national debt and the deficit even if that means not having a generous social safety net.” But this tax bill is not that — it balloons the deficit and steals from our future in order to give tax cuts to the people who absolutely do not need them. There’s no world in which it can be conceived of as protecting constituents.

Anyway. Thinking about citizenship has taken up a lot more time in my brain in 2017 than thinking about budgeting and retirement. But now I’m thinking that it might be good to write more about that — from a financial angle, in a sense. I’ve done a bit of that, like with a couple of posts I wrote on communal housing, or with one of my all-time favorite posts here, The Phantom Tollbooth Operator, or, Your E-ZPass and the Mincome. But I think I’m interested in doing more. At least, I’m interested in giving myself another blogging year to see what happens.