Finally, I get to write a post about an emotional benefit that saving has had for me! I’ve been complaining ever since I paid off my debt that saving doesn’t feature that same high that comes when you throw $2000+ at a loan on a single day. I used to feel like a warrior making those big payments, and socking cash away just doesn’t carry the same excitement on a month to month basis. It mostly made me feel like I was running on some kind of Sisyphean treadmill, looping around every month between direct deposit and savings account with nothing interesting, like a debt-free letter, to show for it.
However, I think I’m starting to “get it.”
My pile of cash savings (as distinct from retirement accounts) is close to $10,000, and should be somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 by the time my guaranteed income runs out at the end of next June. That is real money for me; with my expenses as low as they are on a month to month basis, it’s over a year of rent, food, insurance/gas, and some incidentals — more if I make substantial changes to my lifestyle. And of course, that would assume I couldn’t make any casual or freelance income during a theoretical year+ of not having a full-time job.
And as the money gets real-er, I find myself reacting differently to the job market. Now that the consequences of losing my main income source aren’t “default on loans,” “borrow money from parents,” or “move into parents’ basement,” I feel so much more powerful in this process.
The debt payoff process made me feel powerful because I was taking control of a thing that scared me — and I was terrified of my debt. I put myself in control when I decided to pay it off in a year instead of in ten years, and every time I made a big payment I demonstrated that I could win. The savings process is making me feel powerful because now that I have this huge buffer, I am no longer terrified of not having income. And that means I can stand up to exploitative situations.
There are a lot of those in universities these days. I was about to say “especially for humanities types like me,” but honestly, it’s just as bad for most young scientists. There are a variety of underlying factors, but the end result is that many administrators who hire want as much as possible out of their candidates in return for as little pay as possible.
I interviewed for a position a few days ago that I’m very skeptical about. There are some things about it that intrigue me (otherwise I wouldn’t have applied at all) but right now it’s much clearer that it would be good for them to have me, rather than for me to have the job. Let’s say they did offer it to me. I could (1) accept it or (2) try to negotiate up to a deal that I would actually want to take. At that point they could (2a) give me what I want, more or less, or (2b) say “nope, there are plenty of people happy to take this job for what we’re offering” and move on.
Having about a year’s expenses in cash makes me much more comfortable going through Door #2. The risk of negotiation wouldn’t be nearly as much. If they said no, and if nothing else came through (I think something else would, but if it didn’t) then I would still have a lot of choices.
When I started saving, I did it because I never wanted to feel as scared again as I did in my last semester of grad school, with a pile of debt and no job lined up. That’s a negative reason — it worked, because I started saving, but it wasn’t much fun. But it looks like now I save for a very positive reason: because it enables me to choose self-respect over desperation when dealing with employers. That, in turn, leads to better deals, because it empowers me to negotiate only deals I want to take — which are almost always going to be more than what I’m initially offered, in this market. And that will lead to more savings, because I’ll be making more money…which will lead to more self-respect in negotiations…which will lead to better deals and more savings….
This is a treadmill I don’t mind running on.