What happened when I complained about my low salary

And by low, I mean low compared to similar and some worse-published (men) in my department and field. (I am making more than the non-research active people in my dept).  I am still incredibly privileged and my salary still leaves me a little shocked.

Still, even if I’m making more money than I ever dreamed of as a child, I should still be paid fairly.

And I wasn’t.  So I complained up and down in my annual review.  I talked about my cv and the work I do for the dept and the fact that although I have never gone on the market, people ask me to apply to schools.  I complained about how my (male) colleague who used to have the same salary that I did whose cv is similar to mine (but not quite as good) is making quite a bit more than I am despite his never having gotten an outside offer.  I mentioned the fact that I’m making less than our new hires straight out of grad school, even though all the male associate profs are making quite a bit more.

So my chair and the associate dean talked and they agreed.  They noted that although I didn’t have the lowest salary in the dept, I’m in the bottom 20%, and I noted that of the people making less than me, none of them are research active.

They can’t give more than 10% raises a year without something extraordinary happening.  So they said I get 10% this year and if I complain again they will do their best to give me 10% next year.  If I want more I would need to go on the market because they are allowed to match outside offers.  He also mentioned that I was one of two women in the dept with this complaint and she would also be getting the same deal (pretty sure the other one makes just a little more than I do and also has an obviously better cv than the above-mentioned guy).

So where does this put me?  After the first raise I’ll *still* be making about 7K less than the male colleague mentioned above is making this year.  Presumably he’ll get a raise this year as well.  So I’ll still be behind.  But 10% is better than 3% (is better than 2% is better than 0%).

I probably should go on the market, but I’d prefer not to.  Still, I’ll probably actually look at the listings this year even though I usually don’t.

So… is there a moral?  Well, sometimes complaining works.  If it doesn’t work, then it might not be a place worth staying.

Income/wealth inflection points

On a previous post I note that it’s easier to spend money on things when you’re making say, 300K per year compared to 100K per year, not that I would know about the 300K from personal experience.

In the comments this got into a discussion of how life would be different at different levels of income.  And something I said was that although I have a good idea of how our lives would change were we making 250K/year, I don’t actually have any idea how life would be different between 250K and 300K.  Based on our current income, I can’t really fathom how life would change past like 250K.

Of course, in graduate school, I couldn’t fathom a joint income of 100K/year or more.  At like 90K, all our money would be accounted for and we’d have no worries.  Anything higher than that just didn’t register.  But within a few years after getting real jobs (and a house and kids) it became pretty obvious what more we would do if we were making a combined say, 200K/year.  These days I can understand 250K/year (even if we’re not making it), but I’m not sure how much more than that we would need to make for our lives to change.

Obviously at some point we’d have enough to buy a house in Paradise and we might move there.  (In fact, with 250K/year, we’d be able to buy a house in paradise so long as we either had job security or savings after we sold our current place.)  At some point we could have a highly paid personal assistant to just deal with life details.  And at some point we’d have so much it would be irresponsible not to set up a charitable foundation.  But when does that happen?  At what income?  At what wealth level?

Completely unfathomable to me.  I get upper middle class now.  But I don’t get “rich”.  (But I’m willing to accept funding to try it out!)

What’s the infimum in the set of money that’s more than you understand?  (Or do I mean maximum in the set of money that you do understand?  Help me miser-mom! … I think they’re the same.)  That is to say, what’s the inflection point in money where you’re like, well, I know how my life would change with $X, but how would $X + Y be different from just X, I have no idea.  Or more concretely, what’s the number for you that you would say, well I know how my life would change if I were making $250K, but I don’t have any idea how $300K is different from $250K.  Do you have multiple of these inflection points or are you short sighted like I am?  Are they based on income or wealth or both?

Growing up (a money post)

So here’s another post started in 2011.

I was struck by a comment by “brokeprofessionals” (they used to have a blog, but sold it many years back!) on an old get rich slowly post (remember when that blog was worth reading?  Man, we need to clear out our drafts from 2011.).  The commenter said, and I quote, “for most of us, growing up we never saw our parents or our parents [sic] friends struggling.”

He makes the argument that in general we were born after our parents were settled financially and we didn’t see them just starting out.

That, of course, does not mesh with my personal experience, nor probably with the experiences of the bulk of Americans.  My parents struggled financially when we were growing up.  That’s part of why my sister and I chose jobs that pay well and have saved a ton.  We don’t *want* to have to worry about the rent or be insanely frugal or have to worry about small over-charges or larger emergencies.  So much of our childhood was spent worrying about money.  That tends to leave a mark.

And actually, our parents were doing better before I was born and were doing much better before my sister was born.  For a while they got to live in the same city and were both employed.  After my sister was born things were less stable because of jobs in separate parts of the country, spells of unemployment, etc., etc., etc.  But hey, at least we still had the nice couches and the stereo system and the VW bug (man I loved that car) from before I was born.  Those lasted through high school.  My parents still have the couches.

My DH lived in a trailer in the woods when he was a little kid and his dad broke his back and had to retrain from being a carpenter to being an accountant while his mom was getting her RN.

Children are expensive.  Starting jobs don’t always lead to stable careers.  Families can interfere with flexibility.

And, of course, much of America is struggling and has been.  Inequality has been widening since Reagan, and was wider before Johnson.  Families struggle, especially those with children.  Not everybody has the blessing of being upper-middle class.  Most people don’t.

How about you?  Did your parents struggle financially when you were growing up?

July Mortgage Payment and what to do with ~40K, give or take

Last month (June):
Balance:$9,837.36
Years left: 0.75
P =$1,170.83, I =$43.57, Escrow =$812.79

This month (July):
Balance:$8,661.89
Years left: 0.666666666667
P =$1,175.46, I =$38.94, Escrow =$812.79

Amount saved from prepayment:  $0

Before going on leave we saved up $84K in the slush fund so that we could live in Paradise (where everything is at least 2x as expensive as where we normally live) on a lower income without worrying about money.  It looks like we will have about 40K leftover (give or take) after subtracting out our summer emergency fund and moving back expenses.

We have been doing quite nicely since DH quit academia and got an industry job.  I still can’t believe our good fortune.  (Though I am not sure how long it will last!)  Definitely a different world than the one we were inhabiting even 3 years ago.  For the first time in a long time there aren’t obvious places to stash more money.

Last time we had ~25K extra, we threw it into the mortgage.  Before that when we had large chunks of extra untargeted money, we saved them in retirement vehicles.

So, for people who aren’t long-term readers, here’s where our monthly nut after bills has been going since DH got his industry job:

  1. We max out all of my retirement options
  2. We pay up to the match with DH’s retirement (it has bad fees)
  3. We are no longer eligible for tax advantaged IRAs unless we do a backdoor conversion.  So we don’t do IRAs anymore.  If we were eligible we’d totally to this.
  4. $500/mo in each child’s 529 (This is not enough for 4 year private schools without financial aid, but DC1’s is getting too big for 4 year public or even a 4 year private should our income fall and we become eligible for financial aid.  I debate on whether or not to stop contributing, but figure we can stop DC2’s contributions later if DC1 has too much.)
  5. Previously we had been saving for a year in paradise with me at half salary, but we won’t be doing that anymore.
  6. Mortgage.  You will note that the mortgage runs out in 8 months and there’s not much point to prepaying at this juncture.

We have a LOT of money put away for retirement and for college.  Most of our money is in retirement savings, and most of that money is in the most difficult to tap form of retirement saving (the 403b).  That makes maxing out DH’s retirement account with the high fees potentially less attractive than saving the money outside of retirement accounts (in case we move to Paradise someday and want to buy a house), or you know, just spending it.

In terms of taxable stocks, we have around 125K in an account we could just tap.  We have about $300K in home equity.  Sadly, this is not enough money to buy a house in paradise with 20% down in a good school district, and it would be pretty risky to try.  We do, however, think this makes a pretty reasonable secondary emergency fund.  Combined with our primary emergency fund in savings, we figure that if DH loses his job we’ll be ok just living on my salary where we normally live until we figure what else to do.

So that leads us to this money we saved for Paradise but didn’t spend.  Here are our options (in no particular order):

  1. Start maxing out DH’s retirement even though it has crappy fees (~15K/year over what he’s already contributing).  We may do this anyway as we’ll probably be generating a surplus with both our salaries next year.  [update:  I miscalculated, it’s actually only 5K more than what he’s currently contributing– we put in the request to max out today.]
  2. Figure out how to do a backdoor IRA ~11K
  3. New car (if my 2005 Hyundai Accent that I love continues to have check engine problems once we get back) ~$30K
  4. Kitchen Renovation ~$30K.  The triangle just isn’t quite right and our countertops suck and the sink is chipped.  The problem with this is that it will take our time which will be in short supply when we get back and there’s been a small construction boom in our town meaning that construction costs are higher and take longer than usual.  We don’t know how long the boom is going to last.
  5. Bathroom renovation ~$10K.  We don’t really need this, but we’d kind of like to replace the plastic shower with a tile one and maybe get rid of the gold accents in the bathroom.  Totally cosmetic and unnecessary.  This would be unlike us since we don’t normally replace things until they need to be replaced.
  6. Xeriscape the lawn ~$?? We have no idea.  Problem:  Bermuda grass may make Xeriscaping an expensive failed dream unless we can get more trees to stay alive (an endeavor we’ve already lost quite a bit of money on).
  7. Solar panels ~$20K.  There’s basically nobody in our town with solar and we’re wondering if there’s a reason for that.  Lots of people do, however, have the black shades over the outside of their windows.
  8. Charity– I don’t think we’re going to direct this money to that.  We usually do charitable giving in December.
  9. Looking through old “things we wish we had money to do” posts, I notice that we wanted to replace carpet with hardwood in our dining room.  We probably still want to do that, though it’s not a high priority.  I think that would cost under $5K, though I’m not sure how much under.

Also… since we’re not saving for Paradise and we’re not putting extra to the mortgage and DC1 is trying out public school… we’re probably going to have extra untargeted money once school starts and I start getting paid again.  I don’t yet know how much that is going to be.  Or what to do with it.  I’m thinking DH’s retirement (even though it has ridiculous fees) or backdoor IRA Roths (the lower fees may make the hassle factor worthwhile) and then more taxable stocks. But I dunno.  It’s like, we would need so much more saved to be able to buy a house in Paradise, but we don’t need that much to live in our small town.  But might as well save until there’s a good reason to spend, you know?

What would you do with a 40K windfall (of money you’d saved but didn’t need in the end)?  If you’d save it, how would you save it?  If you’d spend it, what would you spend it on?

Would you pay for your kid’s graduate school?

I always thought it was ridiculous that some parents would pay for their kids’ law school or med school tuition.  Those tuitions are high but the salaries after are also quite high (at least they were for lawyers before the recession) and having to live on less than a fortune in order to pay off loans helps people keep their fixed expenses low.  So you don’t end up having to make a 300K/year salary to pay your required monthly expenses.  If the cost-benefit ratio isn’t high enough (ex. There’s a glut of lawyers or the business school isn’t very good) then nobody should be paying for the degree.

College seems less of a problem because a high salary straight out isn’t guaranteed (and certainly not an MD or JD-level salary) and there’s so much besides student loans that a person has to save for when just starting out.

My thinking was probably also shaped by the fact that my parents took care of my (subsidized) student loans and neither DH nor I got parental help during graduate school.

I still believe that people shouldn’t get a PhD without being fully funded.

However, as our income has gone up, I’ve been feeling more ambivalent about the need for kids to pay for their own professional school.  If DH and I have saved a lot, why not pass it on in the form of tuition assistance rather than as an inheritance that our children will hopefully never need?  If that’s something they want to do.  (Both DCs, however, seem very much like they’ll become engineers, so this may be a moot thought.  We’ll see what the future brings.)

This type of thinking leads to a slippery slope.  When I read The Millionaire Next Door I thought that the the plight of the next generation of millionaires who spent down their parents’ wealth was pretty awful.  But is it really awful?  Wouldn’t we all like to be parts of aristocratic dynasties living beyond our incomes from the benefit of family wealth?  If the money runs out, doesn’t that just put the third generation back where it started, in which case, why worry about dynastic wealth at all?  Why does wealth need to grow with each successive generation?

I’m still against helping kids out with a downpayment– people shouldn’t be able to take on a mortgage they can’t afford.  And I’m firmly against taking money from my own parents (I try to encourage them to spend it themselves!)  But will I give my adult children monetary assistance?  I don’t know.  They probably won’t need it.  They may not want it.  But who knows, we may end up being ok with funding graduate school.  We’ll see what happens when the time comes.

Do you believe in funding children’s graduate education?  How about their house downpayments?  What kind of monetary assistance would you provide to your adult children?  What kind would you not?

Should I buy this?

Long-time readers may recall that one of us has PCOS (that would be me).

One of the lovely things that comes with PCOS is dark hair growing places women are not supposed to have hair.  In me, that results in sort of a Fu Manchu facial hair thing going if I don’t pay attention.

Lately my facial hair has started to become a huge hassle.  Even with my tweezerman I’m spending more and more time plucking and/or shaving.

I paid for professional laser treatment on my legs once but even though I paid in advance, when an appointment had to be rescheduled I just sort of didn’t finish going to my sessions.  My leg hair is a lot thinner than it was prior to treatment and during some follicle cycles I have kind of weird bald spots.  I’m sure I would have more of those bald spots if I had finished the treatments.

My skin, btw, is super pale and my unwanted hair is super dark, making me the perfect candidate for laser.

In the best of all possible worlds, I would do laser again, this time on my face and I would go to all the treatments and I would be happy.  I don’t trust myself to actually go to appointments.  I can’t even get my hair cut more than once a year (and then only if I have free time during business hours when I’m in Boston).

So I was watching a youtube video and the commercial suggested I get a Tria home hair removal laser machine.  They are $450, or IIRC, about the cost of two-four professional laser treatments (it takes about 6 treatments done with the right timing for permanent hair removal).

$450 is a lot.  We will have money leftover from our year in Paradise and other expenses.  So we can afford it.  But should we?

It’s got 4 amazon stars on average, with 45% giving 5 star and 23% giving 1 star.

So… what should I do?  Buy this?  Laser?  Electrolysis?  Nothing?

This totally came without attribution from some random pinterest page. I don't know where it originally came from!

What would you do to avoid [the above] beard?

June mortgage payment and musings on interest saved near the end of the loan

Last month (May):
Balance:$11,008.18
Years left: 0.833333333
P =$1,166.21, I =$48.19, Escrow =$812.79

This month (June):
Balance:$9,837.36
Years left: 0.75
P =$1,170.83, I =$43.57, Escrow =$812.79

Amount saved from prepayment:  $0

Three quarters of a year left on the mortgage.  That’s 9 months.  There’s less than 10K remaining.

We could pay it off pretty easily at this point even as we enter the unpaid summer and the end of our expensive year in paradise.  (Watch the savings account drain with living and moving expenses!)

But if we paid if off, do you know how much we would save in interest?  $180.20.  One hundred eighty dollars and twenty cents.

That’s not much.

Paying down 10K at the beginning of a mortgage can save huge amounts in interest, even with inflation taken into account.  But near the end, it’s the price of a pair of European shoes.  Or the reward you might get for opening a new bank account.  Or a fancy dinner out.

So even though it would be easy to pay off the mortgage right now, there’s really no point other than saving the hassle of writing checks, which isn’t a hassle that particularly bothers me.  But putting lump sums towards the newly refinanced mortgage 5 years ago made a lot more sense in terms of interest savings.

Would you pay off a 10k debt in a lump instead of over 9mo in order to save $200?

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