You’ll remember that I posted recently about a semester-long experiment in reducing my working time as a tenured assistant professor who teaches a 4/4 and wants to raise a child alone. That experiment was sobering primarily because in the middle of it, I received news that a parent is terminally ill and that my older brother is being deployed “over there.” I don’t have children, but my brother does. And they’re in Boston with my wonderful sister-in-law. This will be his first deployment into this type of action, and one that comes at the conclusion of his 20-year career in the military as a Lt. Col. This brother has been the primary caretaker for the terminally-ill parent. As the second kid, I need to step up my contributions to the parents and also be prepared to visit the brother’s family in Boston while he’s gone.


Mostly because of the emotional toll, but also because of the financial requirements.

And, this began my next experiment: to live completely and solely off my salary and save responsibly according to a retirement plan and expectations for being present with the family.

I don’t have children — no expenses with that. I have a cat, and he’s content with vet visits just once per year (his only expense really).

I don’t own a home/condo — no expenses with that either. Rent for apartments even in the South Bay area (about 1-hour’s drive south of San Francisco) are expectantly ridiculous.

My car is paid off, thankfully, and running okay at this point but needs new tires and possibly work on the shocks.

I’m not decadent with my spending. My hobby, racing and training for triathlons, requires gear but like I did while in graduate school with rock climbing, I’m frugal: volunteering at races to receive discounted or free entry fees, buying used bike equipment (by far, the most expensive gear), borrowing gear when possible, sharing expenses to destination races with several other triathletes.

…and Starbucks. But, I’ve given up my Starbucks chai latte habit of late.

…and shopping at the Farmer’s Market. Now, that’s a big blow because I love to cook, and good ingredients are essential to good cooking.

After I completed the time experiment, I began taking a closer look at my paycheck: where was all the money leaking out each month?

  • Parking: $20 ($240/yr) <–who makes you pay for your own parking? universities. Gah!
  • Union dues (mandatory): $63 ($756/yr)
  • HMO: $54 ($672/yr)
  • 401K contribution (elective): $50 pre-tax ($600/yr)
  • Flex admin: 0.17 – no idea what this is ($2.04/yr)
  • Retirement contribution: $224 mandatory ($2688/yr)

My salary began October 2005 at $50,000. I negotiated up for that. As a consequence, I was told that another professor was given a raise to account for salary compression. After 2005, the union finally negotiated a new contract (after a few years of an expired contract) and got us all raises – yippee! By 2007 (or so), I jumped to making $60,000 and thought that I was in a good position to grow financially if they kept giving us cost-of-living raises. (You can take a look for yourself; since we’re state employees, our salaries are available at the Sacramento Bee:

Unfortunately, that’s not the way this all works. What I didn’t notice was the increased deductions being taken from my paycheck, e.g., that health care contribution went from $10 to $50 along with this contract. The budget crisis hit us hard and the governor took away the remaining contractual raises. Then the contract expired. Then the union turned to other things, such as fighting for student rights — a move that split the focus and eventually has alienated many tenure-line faculty. (Even the union thinks tenure-line faculty are privileged and has stopped fighting for us to earn a livable wage in California….sigh.)

I was now thrust into a higher tax bracket and saw only a minute increase in my monthly paycheck. Then, with only a month’s notice, the CSU decided to stave off a budget crisis by taking 10% of my salary for a year – furloughs. 10%! The most awful thing was that I was going through a divorce at the same time. No more 2-income household. No more saving for retirement. Student loans in deferral. Blergh. My financial cushion disappeared along with my marriage.

After living in NYC for 15 years and racking up some student debt, I needed to make some lifestyle changes on my single-person income.  I’ve never quite given up the graduate student budget. But divorce and student loans — well, they’re both very expensive, especially while living in Silicon Valley where the average condo sells for $500,000.

After federal and state taxes, social security, and deductions, I now bring home ~$3100/month. My rent is $1300/month, which is fortunately low for this area because it’s not a luxury place and because I’ve been here for 8 years. Gas is ~$4/gallon. Public transportation is silly so driving is mandatory. (It takes an hour to go from my apartment to my university on public transportation– an hour, for 4 miles, an hour.) I spend money on the minimum: swimming pass, $10 dinners with friends, co-pay for doctor’s appts, food, electricity, Internet (why is this so expensive?), cell phone, etc.

I don’t have children. I don’t own a home.

My student loan was stupid. I wish someone had pulled me aside at one point to ask what the hell I was doing. There was no family money to pay for any of my education, so I worked and worked and worked. NYU was ridiculously expensive, but I left there for a better program with The Graduate Center at the City University of New York where I received funding in various forms to cover tuition and minimal living expenses. I still temped as a legal secretary during the summer and during those dissertation years.

My student loans right now are $348/month. I try to pay more than that because it’s going to take me forever to pay these off.  FOR-EV-ER

Add to these, miscellaneous professional expenses:

  • Zotero yearly storage: $100
  • DropBox yearly storage: $100
  • Remember the Milk yearly: $20
  • MLA Membership: $120 (?)
  • SHARP, STS, ALLC: upwards of $400 in some years when maintained
  • Conference: limited to 1/yr = $1500
  • Journals, books, and materials = $1000

I don’t have children. I don’t own a home.

Personal debt from the divorce and years of paying for my own professional development (conferences, etc., upwards of $25,000 over the last 8 years) has depleted whatever is left over in the paycheck and savings.

This year, a colleague graciously offered to fund my travel to the MLA. But, because everyone does the reimbursement thing that takes awhile, it was especially stressful to pay that $1500 (most up front) and then wait. So much gray hair sprouted from that waiting time that I decided I couldn’t do it. My university also has a reimbursement rule: I pay for airfare, hotel, conference fees, etc., and carry that expense for upwards of 3-4 months before getting reimbursed. It’s a hardship.

True, these expenses can be written off of your taxes, but realistically, I got back only 1/3 of those expenses paid. ONE-THIRD!!

In the early salad days, I traveled to conferences in England, The Netherlands, France and then did research at whatever library was there. I was working on a literary history that requires taking a look at materials that are distributed all over the world. The more materials reviewed, the deeper the story of this literary history. I won some internal grants during my first few years on the job — those paid for about 1/2 of the travel expenses. The rest was borne by my tech-industry husband. When both of those sources dried up, I had to fund those expensive trips to England myself. The final result is now a contract for that book and a revised manuscript due on August 1. So, it was worth it — yes, sincerely, that part was worth it. But, could I have done better at budgeting myself? It’s taken 8 years to get this book where I needed it. Could I have done it without those trips, I wonder.

Mind you, there is language written into my employment contract with SJSU stating that I will attend conferences and publish materials appropriate to my field.  I work on a 10-month contract, but there is 1.0 part of my appointment that requires this type of travel and research….but, I’m expected (really) to do it during the summer when the University technically does not pay me. I felt an obligation to go to conferences and travel for research. And, no, these didn’t end up being vacations. They were fun, but my significant other never traveled with me. I was there to work.

I don’t have children. I don’t own a home.

This year, I started taking real vacations and also visiting family in Texas and Boston instead of conferencing or research traveling. It’s been good for my soul. But, these aren’t decadent vacations. I saved all of my workshop income from the last two years to buy a bike and then take my first real vacation since grad school — to Hawaii to race a half Ironman triathlon. And, it was cheap, totaling somewhere around $1500 for 5 days, including the race entry fee, airfare, condo, food, rental car, gifts. Yes, I traveled with several other triathletes, but that’s what made it fun. That’s the cost of a single conference.

In October, I will receive the mandatory 7.5% bump for being promoted to Associate. (Because of some departmental politics, I missed out on being promoted 2 years ago: that’s a whopping $9,000 of salary that’s been missed over the last 2 years. Add to that the $6,000 taken during the furlough year and you’ve got a real chunk of missing salary.)

If you take a look at the disparity among salaries in our department, it’s astounding, but I’m not sure why. Our current Dean (a very good egg), is investigating some of the inequities. Most of our department’s faculty make significantly less than the Business and Engineering faculty — significantly. Our long-time full professors make around $91,000. Our most recently promoted full professors make only $67,000. An untenured Business professor who came just 5-6 years ago started at ~$80,000. I try not to become frustrated by this….but it’s really difficult and has impacted my working relationships with these faculty in other disciplines who are blissfully unaware of this financial disparity, some of whom own houses and have children.

I won’t be able to attend the major conference in my field, the one that’s so very, very difficult to get into these days: The Digital Humanities Conference 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. With my new policy of not paying for work expenses, I can’t even afford the membership fees. And, at this point, I’m thinking, why should I sacrifice my personal finances to pay for a conference that should be paid for professionally? that will boost the reputation of my department and my university? How much more will I need to sacrifice?

I don’t have children. I don’t own a home.

I love my job. My students need me. I’ve gotten good in my teaching areas (for the most part). I’m still working on being a good writer (life-long endeavor). I’ve slowly figured out how to be a good colleague (and am trying to implement it). I have to be a good daughter and sister right now (with access to funds for last minute airfare across country). And, I’d like to stay sane. The stress level about finances is overwhelming at times. Maybe at the conclusion of the summer, I’ll have figured out how to become more financially stable. My only recourse to create some financial stability right now is to sell my rare book collection (and it might just be time for that to go to a library where it can be properly cared for and studied by other scholars). Still.

So, where does this leave me? Or, for that matter, you, the new recruit?

I’m not sure.

I don’t have children. I don’t own a home.

…but I’d like to.