Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Financial talks with my fiance are making me nervous.

I've been trying to take the advice of every financial guru of the past fifty years and start having some serious chats about money with my fiancé. In some ways, it feels a bit superfluous since we have a pretty good handle on where we both stand and fairly similar outlooks and goals. I knew the details of his monthly budget before we even started officially dating, and I did his taxes, helped him file his FAFSA, and walked him through setting up an online savings account last year. I think I've been similarly transparent about my finances.

So there haven't been any big surprises. He doesn't have much in savings, extended unemployment stinks like that, but he's frugal, and thanks to his generous parents he'll finish school without any loans. He had a brief fling with building credit card debt in his early twenties, paid it off as quickly as possible once he came to his senses, and now he's just as debt averse as I am, perhaps more so. If anything, he's more conservative with his money than I am. He's come to gradually accept that it's probably ok for me to use a credit card and pay it off every month, but he prefers cash for everything. He's also very leery of the stock market and investment risk; I suspect that when we get married and combine finances, we'll need to structure our retirement savings so that accounts with his name on them contain the most stable parts of our joint portfolio.

We're pretty much in line on our big goals as well. One to two children, a house that we pay off as quickly as possible, building savings, having pets, helping family if needed, we're checking the same metaphorical boxes on our priority lists. I was somewhat amused to learn that The Boy wants a literal house with white picket fence, although he did helpfully offer to build the fence himself once we get the house.

So why am I feelings so stressed? If life goes according to plan, I'll probably be in school for the next six years, then a year or two of post-doc work, then if I'm both extremely lucky and extremely talented, maybe, just maybe, I might be able to find a tenure track position. Ideally, we'd like to be in a position to buy a house once we're settled more or less permanently. That gives us several years to save.

However, how the heck do kids fit into this plan? A professor once advised me that the last year of grad school is generally a pretty good time to have a child if you are at the point where you are focused on writing up your research and not so active in running experiments, but I don't know whether I can make that work. The Boy is considering being a stay at home dad for a couple of years at some point, but that doesn't sound too feasible when I'll be making $20,000 a year after my fellowship eligibility runs out. A bit of googling revealed that daycare for an infant costs around $250 a week where I'll be living for graduate school, and The Boy, upon hearing this concluded that daycare is expensive and suggested we "get a very nice nanny" instead before he did the math and realized that $250/40 is less than the federal minimum wage.

It's moments like these that I'm more than a little envious of men. On one of my grad school visits I met a male professor who has been at his university for twenty years, and his daughters are two and four. Women can't compartmentalize their lives like that, building decades long records of professional success before scaling back to start families, at least not in a field where you're thirty before you're even out of training and not with being a biological parent at least. (That's important to the Boy, far less so for me.) The "leaky pipeline" of women in science is making more and more sense. (And please don't get me started on the male grad student at another university who was part of a panel discussion and when asked about the family friendliness of the institution, helpfully opined that he has a four month old and it hasn't affected his ability to work twelve hour days six days a week in the slightest.)

At the same university I met a female professor in her mid thirties who is somehow balancing tenure track, a preschooler, a newborn, and a husband who is also tenure track so clearly it can be done. How, I'm not quite sure, but I have to keep telling myself it can be done.


Mary Sue said...

Planning a baby that far in advance is insane, you know.

I suggest (and I've suggested this to a couple of tenure-track women I know) that you keep your focus on your education and building savings, and during your annual review in the summer, look at yourself and your life and what's coming up in the next 12 months and ask yourself, "Is now the time?"

If the answer is, "No," then move on. In 12 months, revisit the question. With the wacky, wooly, wildly shifting world of academia, life decisions such as planning for babies or house purchases really shouldn't be specified more than 12 months in advance.

E.C. said...

Mary Sue,
I know, I know, plans can and will change a lot over the coming decade, but I'm something of an obsessive planner so I at least want to have some sort of target in mind, even if it is constantly shifting.

Plus, the Boy has made it pretty clear he wants kids soon; pretty much he'd be happy with a baby tomorrow even though he respects my timetables and focus on my career so when we talk about saving for medium term goals, babies are kinda going to have to come up.

Anonymous said...

My sister is 25, has 3 kids (6, 3, 15 months), just graduated with her masters at a very competitive college, and is going on to get her phd at the ivy league school of her choice. This summer she has an internship with the government that will put her on the road to being a high level employee. This year she's being extra frugal because she's going to buy a house. You just have to make it work. If you are determined enough, it will work. Financial planning is smart but you shouldn't put aside something you really want because tomorrow isn't promised to even the most dedicated planners. Keep working hard! Good Luck!

Revanche said...

Possibly irrelevant question here: when did Boy morph from boyfriend to fiance? Was that just kind of a natural progression or is it just an accepted thing?

And I get what you're saying about the baby thing. In your shoes, I couldn't really help planning it like that either. Heck, I HAVE been evaluating it like that and I'm not even in academia. Just in the context of the difficulties of our financial lives, it simply hasn't been possible to add yet another dependent and take my wages out of the equation.

It is good to keep talking about it since Boy's timetable is a bit different to yours, though, otherwise he's going to be even more frustrated about the mismatch in desires.