Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warning--economics being used for a purpose other than originally intended...

Ross and I are going to the Czech republic next week to attend the wedding of one of my best friends in the whole wide world (hi Bro!). While we can't technically afford this trip, we've decided to go anyway. There is a short list of people whose weddings I am NOT allowed to miss, and this is one of them. So off we go--and we'll have a fantastic time, I'm sure.

But this brings up an interesting point--namely, being a graduate student is strange (note that this is different than saying that graduate students are strange...though that is also usually true). It is strange because of the kind of social limbo it leaves you in. Though we are students, we are clearly not kids. I own a house, have two cats and a husband. Most of the day, I sit in an office in front of a computer, just like the average late-20s office monkey. Undergraduates, on the other hand, drink peppermint schnapps straight from the bottle, yell obscenities at 2am, and play drunken slip-and-slide on the front lawn. (Although, now that I think about it, drunken slip-and-slide doesn't sound half bad-- aside from the whole throwing-yourself-at-the-ground thing). On the other hand, we are not quite adults either. Between us, we make an amount of money that nearly qualifies us for food stamps. Neither of us owns what you would call a "professional wardrobe" and my usual summer work uniform includes shorts and a beer t-shirt. I often wonder why anyone would pay me for what I do.

But that's not the strange part--I mean, plenty of people make less money than we do, live a more student lifestyle, have jobs with an even more lax dress code etc etc. The strange part is that all of that will change in a blindingly short span of time. In a little over a year, I will be making something on the order of 3-4 times my current yearly salary. My department will pay for me to travel. I will occupy and office with fewer than 4 other people. I will easily be able to afford all of the Things ( much as I hate it, four years of graduate school has taught me that I do want Things, even if they aren't the traditional huge car, McMansion kind) that I've put off buying. And I will probably have to stop wearing beer t-shirts to work.

On the financial side, this anticipated bump (if you can call a 300% increase a "bump") in my income makes it difficult to be too concerned about debt today. In economics, we have an idea called "consumption smoothing." Basically, if you expect your income to increase, you should borrow and spend some of that future money now. The reality is obviously a little more complicated (credit card companies are evil, after all), but I'm trying out a new mantra: consumption smoooooooothing...consumption smoooooooothing.

1 comment:

paisana said...

Question. Does that mean that I can count on Bones's future salary as a radiologist and start spending today as if that were the case?

Also, I have a comment on that: even though I did work as an office monkey during the time I was a grad student and had significantly more income than my grad student peers, due to tuition costs, I had significantly less than my work-only counterparts who didn't have to worry about tuition fees. It's a total gray area and it sucks.

It is not, however, any reason NOT to drink peppermint schnapps right out of the bottle. Age is a state of mind.