Who are you and how old are you?
I am a female in my mid 40s working as a university professor.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up on the East Coast, went to college in the area, and got married right after college to my first husband. He had gotten into a PhD program on the West Coast and we moved there for his schoolwork. I began working at a local hospital initially as an account coordinator and then as an account manager. I enjoyed my work and my husband really enjoyed his PhD program. His goal was to get a tenure track job at a university afterwards. I realized after a while that I wanted to get my PhD as well and so I began applying for different programs. I got into one in the Midwest but my husband didn’t want to move there with me and so we got a divorce. There were other reasons too, but that was the biggest one.
After my PhD program, I got a tenure track job at a good university on the East Coast but didn’t get tenure after the requisite seven years. During this time, I remarried and had two children. I then got a lecturer job at a smaller school and taught there for three years before getting another tenure track job at a local university. I am really hoping I get tenure at this school.
Getting tenure is quite difficult. You have to constantly publish and be cited in the top research journals and bring in grant money. Your colleagues also have to like you, you should demonstrate good teaching abilities, all that. Only about one out of seven people get tenure but tenure track process weeds people out along the way - three will decide that teaching is not for them and two will be told that they are not performing at the right level and be asked to leave. Thus, the tenure position will come down to one of the remaining two people. It used to be easy to get tenure before the late 80s and it’s gotten much harder over time due to increased competition. But if you get tenure, you pretty much have a job for life.
What does your financial situation look like? If you don’t earn money through a “normal job”, how do you support yourself?
I make money through my tenure track job and my husband works as a project manager at one of the departments on campus. Our total combined income is in the low six figures. We live in a reasonably priced area so we can live relatively comfortably.
How do you define rich?
I define rich as being in a situation where my husband and I have paid off all of our student loans, we own a house, and we can afford to pay for both of our kids’ college tuition.
Did you grow up with money? How did your childhood conditions about money affect how you behave?
I grew up in a middle class family. My dad worked at the local museum and my mom was a homemaker. I have a younger sister who taught elementary school for a while and is now in school getting her nursing degree. I don’t think my parents lived paycheck to paycheck but they didn’t save as much as they would have liked.
Did your parents give you money when you were growing up? What about for school?
My parents gave my sister and I a weekly allowance but couldn’t afford to contribute to our college tuition. I took out loans and am still paying them off. My PhD program paid for me to go to school but because I made so little, I couldn’t afford to save or pay off my school loans for a long time.
Where did you learn about investing?
I don’t invest at the moment will would like to in the future.
Do you and your spouse/partner have similar financial habits?
We have similar financial habits most of the time and are pretty good with sticking to our budget but he tends to spend more money than I would like on electronics and “fun” things that aren’t necessary.
How did your financial lifestyle change when you had children?
As a family, we had to tighten up our budget quite a bit. I was used to living a modest lifestyle because I had spent six years on a PhD salary but my husband used to live more extravagantly.
Do you feel like you are living paycheck to paycheck? If so, do you feel that way due to your lifestyle?
At the moment, yes. Our monthly costs really add up - my husband and I are both paying off our student loans, we are renting a house, we’re raising two young children, etc. We unfortunately have not been able to save much but that’s a huge goal on our list.
What was your most regrettable purchase?
During the first two years of my first tenure track job, I rented a huge house that was much too expensive for my budget. But at the time, I felt like I had “made it.” I had a great job and thought I deserved the best. I really should have been more careful about my budget and was smart enough to downsize starting my third year.
What was your best purchase?
I hire a housekeeper to come in once every two weeks to help clean the house. She’s really a lifesaver - my husband and I are busy at work and we have two young children so things can get really messy at home sometimes.
Do you feel like you have a financial habit that’s out of the norm (or at least something that others have commented on)?
I’m not sure if this is exactly out of the norm but when I was younger, I always bought really unnecessarily expensive items. For example, I rented a really expensive house when a cheaper one would have been fine, I bought clothes at Nordstrom when a cheaper store would have done, etc.
Do you actively contribute to a retirement account of any sort?
I contribute to the 403(b) and 401(k) retirement plan at work. I don’t contribute the maximum amount but I was automatically enrolled when I began my job.
Do you feel like your lifestyle reflects your income bracket?
It probably does. Even though my husband and I have a combined income in the low six figures which sounds like a lot of money,we’re raising two children and have high monthly costs.
Do you talk to your peers and family about money?
I talk to my parents and my husband about money. I also talk with my best friend about it.
Do you worry about money?
I worry about the fact that we’re not saving much money at the moment. I think we’ll be able to do so later on but a lot of that will have to do with whether I get tenure or not. If I get tenure, things will be much more secure but if not, we'll have to move again which will disrupt our lifestyle.
In terms of money, what was something you did in the past that you could do differently?
I would have saved a lot more money during my first tenure-track job. I was making around $70K at the time, which was a very decent salary and I really should have been more careful about how much I spent.
What is your strategy for moving forward now in regards to your big goals in life?
I’m working as hard as I can to get tenure!
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.