Tales from the Wallet: From A Lawyer’s Salary to Paying Tuition – Six Ways to Deal

Ah, golden handcuffs — long after some people know they should quit their high-paying jobs, they stay on because their lifestyle costs too much (usually due to a combination of rent or mortgage, plus debt).  How do you break free from the golden handcuffs, and adjust your finances to your new lifestyle?  Today’s guest poster, Ruth Moore, has some tips for just that. (Pictured below: Pochi coin purses, available at Kitson for $12 each.)

A couple of years ago, I quit my job as a litigation associate at a large law firm in midtown Manhattan in order to attend a conservatory of theatre arts (acting school) full-time. I’d always wanted to do something creative and watching TV had made me think that law was the perfect choice for me. By the time I found out that I didn’t really want to be a lawyer, just an actor that played one on TV, I was already living in an expensive high-rise rental in Manhattan and encumbered with a hefty debt from student loans. Fortunately, after five years of accidental lawyering, I was able to save up enough money to quit and pursue my dreams.

The transition from making a mid-level lawyer’s salary to not making any money and paying tuition was a dramatically humbling one. I like to tell people that I am my own trust fund baby, except that the trust is very, very, very, very, very, small. Although there were some second-career students in my small theatre class, most of them were in their early twenties or even teens. I showed up for my first ballet class with a leotard that was extremely high-cut and bright red underwear that was extremely not; suffice to say, I looked like a baboon. I remember sticking my head out of the sweaty dance studio during that embarrassing class and seeing the bustling highrises across town where I used to have my own office and administrative assistant… an entirely different life!

Financially-speaking, breaking free of the “golden handcuffs” also had its own set of ramifications — some fun, others, less so. But I am happy to report that although “less money, less problems” isn’t exactly the corollary of “‘mo money, ‘mo problems,” I have been able to make do with less in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Predictably, I stopped taking cabs and bought a monthly subway pass, I learned to cook and ate out less, I drank more beer and less martinis, I said good-bye to my nail salon and hello to Sally Hansen. As someone who loves clothes, and living in a city like New York where there is a constant barrage of women wearing the latest designs, I realized that I had to figure out some innovative ways to keep my wardrobe budget in line without giving up on my style horse hobby.

1. Heighten your standards.

It may sound counterintuitive, but when I was making more any money, I had lower standards for purchasing clothes and accessories. If I looked good in two out of three angled mirrors in the changing room, I’d probably buy it. If the arch of the shoes didn’t perfectly follow my natural arch, but was otherwise what I had been searching for, I’d get it. As a result, I ended up with a lot of mediocre pieces in my closet, and a never completely satisfied shopping list. Now, I am much more firm about my “standards to buy”, and I’ve finally accepted that scouting for the perfect black leather handbag can take a very long time. I regularly reject items for not fitting perfectly, for having an unruly fabric, for not having all the features that I was looking for. This has cut down on a lot of unnecessary purchases.

2. Reduce your online shopping.

Visiting sites such as Gilt, Yoox, Rue La La, and the myriad shoe sites out there were a daily indulgence for me, and I didn’t really scrutinize my purchases because I often felt the adrenaline of these “flash sale” sites where, if you hesitate on an item for even an extra second, it will get sold out from under you. In order to resist the temptation of online shopping, I removed myself from daily email lists from these sites, and when possible, subscribed to their weekly mailings. This way, I naturally forgot about checking on these sites, and now might go on them on a monthly, instead of daily, basis. Online shopping is fun and you can often score really amazing deals –but at my current budget, it is too expensive to maintain as a habit. If I do make an online purchase, it is much more deliberate and more of a special occasion.

3. Recognize quality over labels.

After ditching the online shopping habit, I reaquainted myself with brick and mortar stores such as Uniqlo and H&M. Some might argue that these stores skew a little younger, but there’s such high turnover, and so many different pieces, that I have not been reduced to dressing like a teenager. I have also been able to find great summer tops at Target and well-made underwear at Marshall’s and Century 21. The main cost here is probably time, and you do kind of feel like you’re helping a hoarder sort her clutter, but well-fitting, durable pieces do exist at these establishments. In terms of quality, although I don’t quite understand the economics of it, I have been able to find a lot of durable, well-fitting, well-made pieces at H&M that are on par with, or even better than the fancier labels I was courting as a lawyer.

4. Transcend trends.

I used to be a sucker for trends. Studs? I’ll try ‘em. Platforms? Give me five pair! But being on a student budget, I no longer respond to every craving for the latest garb. Just like how you’re suppose to wait twenty minutes before you can tell if you’re full or not, I make myself sit back and evaluate whether I even like this trend or not.

5. DIY.

If I like really like a new trend, I try to see if I have anything that I can do to follow it. For example, last fall all the stores and fashionable people were wearing those 1990s Elaine pants –wide on top, cinched by the ankle. I saw them at Zara and really wanted to get a pair, but then I realized that all I had to do was roll up my pants in a special way to make them narrow at the ankles. If I can’t DIY a trend, I tell myself to wait a few months. If I still like the trend at that time, then maybe I’ll buy it.

6. Approximation.

Even if you decide to buy something on trend, there is no reason you need to buy it from the most expensive store carrying that trend! For instance, I really liked the loose satin tank tops that I saw girls wearing in the city. Instead of buying them at JCrew or Club Monaco, I found them at Target for under $20 each. With trial and error, I’ve learned that there are certain things that you can spend less on and still look great, such as jeans, t-shirts, willowy drapey tops, shorts, summer dresses. (Pictured: Ruth’s own tank, at left, which she bought as an approximation of this Alicia tank from Joie, available at CUSP by Neiman Marcus for $128.)

Readers, have you had to downsize your budget? Do you feel constrained by golden handcuffs?

(L-2)
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Comments

  1. All great advice. I left East Coast Midlaw (paying Biglaw but not as oppressive – still too oppressive for me!) for state government and put all of these into effect. Other tricks that worked for me:

    Close all but one or two credit cards so you have a better immediate view of everything you’re spending. (Even with Mint.com I found that having too many outflowing streams was obscuring my spending.) Ask your remaining credit card companies to issue you new card numbers (you can say you lost your card) and leave them at home so you can only shop online at home, because you won’t have the numbers memorized.

    A corollary: use Leechblock or similar to block you from your main sources of temptation ALL DAY.

    Spend a full weekend reorganizing your closet. You’ll find you can approximate a lot of trends by new combinations of old items you may have forgotten about or not attempted to pair together before.

    Welcome back to the land of the living!

  2. I know that the below may come off as completely bitchy and judgmental. But this is Corporette so I’m hoping for a polite discussion ;)

    I have never, ever understood leaving a high paying job to follow a pipe dream. Let me clarify: I do not mean that I don’t understand why people would leave Big Law to work for non-profit. Or go from a crazy, 70 hour per week job to something that is lower salary but more quality of life. These are decisions I understand.

    What I don’t get is throwing financial stability to the wind to discover your true passion for acting. Or pottery. Or raising alpacas. I recognize that their are many people out there who have found happiness with these kind of decisions. But in this economy, it seems downright stupid (not to mention a very privileged way of thought) to give up a salary, benefits, and comfort of living.

    If you have a passion, it seems to me like the way to go about it is to pursue it in your time outside of work. First of all, this provides a great outlet from work, and second of all it is more of a “trial” to what doing something like this full time would be if you were to give up your actual job.

    I don’t love every minute of my job. But I see so many others struggling to pay bills and put food on the table, and I am grateful that I am fortunate enough to have my employment. I would much rather have a high paycheck and use my money and time to donate to charitable organizations and do volunteer work as my contribution to the world.

    Just my two cents…

    • I like the honesty. Everyone gets two cents.

      How do people do this? I don’t think it’s stupidity (in most cases) … it’s usually a strong safety net .. like a reliable source of financial support (parents, trust money, husband, older sister, serious savings, whatever) … or a calculated level of risk, for example giving yourself 18 months to Chase The Dream and then disciplining yourself to come back to reality if things don’t work out. Or maybe you are just so good at your former job, that you know you’ll be able to come back if you need to. (Not likely in this economy, though.) And there are probably a few “stupid” people out there who just hope against all reason that it’ll all work out.

      Personally I am way too risk averse to do this, plus i enjoy my job very much, but let’s assume that people who do run for the hills have a plan for what to do when they get there.

      • in my case, I left biglaw & went in-house where hours were reasonable & started a side business doing photography (undergrad major) on the weekends. now I have 2 jobs — one for the money/security & one for the love. passion is worth a lot to me.

        • for one, many don’t have time to do anything on the side while doing the high paying jobs. not possible if you work til midnight

    • Everyone’s financial situation is different. If someone has enough saved to support yourself for several years while pursuing that dream (or another means of support), I can’t judge them for pursuing it.

      Look at it another way. I went $200,000 into debt to pursue my lifelong goal of being a lawyer (public interest, even, so I don’t make a big salary). I don’t think that’s any less foolish or risky than pursuing any “pipe dream.”

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I’m also of this opinion, but I have friends who I love and respect who are more in line with the OP. In trying to figure out how we could have such different conclusions, one of the things that seemed evident was our economic backgrounds. I grew up in a barely lower-middle class household. The message I got was work was the thing you did to pay your bills, put food on the table, and save for vacations. You weren’t supposed to necessarily like your job, though you should not outright loathe it. If you like it, lucky you. The things you liked doing were things you might be able to do outside of work. These messages are ingrained in me.

      Meanwhile, some of my friends grew up upper-middle class or better, and were told by their parents to follow their dreams. Their parents often supported them financially while they pursued acting in LA or on a mission in some foreign land, or scraping by as a journalist in podunk town with the hope of making it to the NYT someday. And now they are having a very hard time reconciling those messages from their parents with economic realities of either working in jobs they don’t love, or working jobs they love that pay little.

      I am not saying I have the better way – they often seem a lot happier than I when they talk about their jobs and having “meaning” in their lives. But then again, I can pay all my bills, no problem. Different strokes??

      • I’ve seen that class difference, too. Since my husband and I have always expected that we would be far more well off then our parents when we had kids (it’s looking less and less like a possibility given the current market, though I guess we’ll be OK, since both our families were really struggling most of our childhood), I’ve always sort of worried about that when I raise children. I respect the follow your dreams to some degree, but I’d rather ingrain in them the working class mentality, to tell you the truth.

      • I think class plays a role, but also just upbringing. My family is upper middle class but I was raised with a similar attitude, and any adventuring I did (all pre law school) was on my own dime. But I also started working as soon as I could as a teen, and most of my peers didn’t.

        • Anonylawyer :

          I was raised in a solidly middle class family and I was also raised to believe that you pay your bills with your job. Hopefully you’ll like it, but happiness is not what pays the bills.

          • Anonymous :

            I was told to do both– support myself with it, love it– and I do.

      • Hi, I agree with you. I was raised knowing that getting a good education and having a good job to support myself was what was expected of me. I feel fortunate to have been raised that way and am trying to raise my kids that way too.

      • I’m not sure it’s necessarily a class thing. I know some upper or middle class people who have left work to persue a new job, but I also know the son of a waitress and a heroin addict who left a decent paying job to travel last year because he felt like he’s been worked to the bone since he was 15 and he couldn’t take it anymore, and the son of a construction worker and salesperson who left a good paying job after 7 years to chase his dream of being a writer in Europe. Neither had any sort of safety net, either.

    • I appreciate your two cents.

      But (and this may be too amorphous, but still, it’s how I think about it) what kind of world would we live in if no one threw caution to the wind and took up acting, pottery, teaching yoga, raising alpacas, opening a bakery, etc.? What if all of those people went the safe route of working a 9-5?

      My husband is an artist. A wonderful and acclaimed one. He makes very little money — not nothing, but not a lot. Luckily I pick up some of the slack, but I didn’t before we got married, and he was still fine. The contribution he is making to the world is much greater than if he tried to work only in his spare time. I understand that it may seem sort of foreign to someone with a “regular” job — many of my colleagues often ask things along the lines of, “what exactly does your husband DO all day?” — but it is much more common than you think.

    • I mostly agree, but, IMO, as long as the person doing it is not either a) expecting someone else (and that someone else includes the gov’t) to pay for it, or b) complaining to me all the darn time about how hard she has it, I guess it’s really not any of my business. I absolutely cannot imagine how a person could have a self-sustaining job in acting when starting at the age that the guestblogger must be starting at (not that she’s old, I’m just saying that acting is really tough and focuses on youth), but, again, I guess that’s not my concern. (Though if she does, I’d be kind of interested to hear her story.)

      I do think that a lot of people get misguided about how much fulfillment they can expect to get from their jobs. The number of people who can make a living at something that they truely love is tiny, and the world needs services provided by jobs that aren’t going to thrill any but the most unusual employees. In a broad generalization, most people are going to be better off finding a job that pays the bills and is tolerable, and seeking fulfillment through family, friends, hobbies, etc.

    • How about this? Some people grow up in such abject misery and poverty (especially in developing nations), that even living what we perceive as a poverty-level life in the US is a huge step up. It’s not really a “sacrifice” of financial stability if (1) poverty was always your default position and (2) you get the bonus of not being miserable

    • Fair enough, but how depressing! I think people have to be realistic about what they’ll be comfortable with, but you only have one life and it’s often shorter than you’d like it to be–why not get all you can out of it? For some that will mean going on big vacations to Europe (paid for by high paying jobs, perhaps) but for others it’ll mean eating Ramen while auditioning for plays. Either way, I have respect for people who have enough courage to know what they want and go after it.

      And I think it’s unfair to insinuate (as some have, not all) that many people do this on other people’s dimes. That’s true for some, but not all–probably not even most. Some people just don’t need as much financial security as others to be happy.

    • Hiatus815 :

      Thanks for your perspective. To flip it around — I don’t understand spending the majority of your waking hours working on something you are not passionate about. I really don’t get it, and believe me, I have tried. My siblings are perfectly happy with their “day” jobs, which bear no relation to what they truly love to do. I sometimes wish I could just accept that a job is a job, and feel content finding time on the side to do what I really want, but I am not and will never be satisfied that way. I have a pretty great job — I’m a full-time, salaried executive ghostwriter — but I am not content. I’ve had a lot of angsty conversations with my spouse about my work dissatisfaction lately, and it came to this: this is not my dream job. It used to be, because I used to dream of getting paid to write. Now I do. Dream accomplished. Time for the next dream. We are aggressively paying down our student loans and mortgage so that in a year or two I will be able to quit and freelance. I hope to move from being paid to write for someone else to being paid to write about things I’m passionate about. It will mean giving up a steady paycheck, great benefits, and lots of paid vacation. But it will be worth it to me. (For the record, I come from a lower-middle class background. Until I got this job, hubby and I never made more than $45k combined, and we were frankly a lot happier when we had less money.)

    • pursuing dreams :

      I think there’s a difference between being realistic and refusing to accept that you’re going to be truly miserable in your job for the next 40+ years. I had a job that really made me miserable. I’d wake up on Monday with anxiety-related stomach issues, be so exhausted at the end of each weekday that I was too tired to do anything interesting in the evenings, and then during the weekend I’d just be dreading Mondays. I have several other close friends who are/were in the same situation and also decided to leave the careers that made them miserable.

    • two random thoughts:

      First, this conversation reminds me of a study from a while back that stuck with me. I think a lot of the commenters are circling the same theme – expectations. The study compared the expectations and later job satisfaction/overall happiness of two sets of college grads – one set graduating during a boom year, one set graduating in a bust year (1992 maybe?). Surprisingly, the bust-year group was happier over time. Conclusions: too many choices among opportunities is actually stressful and leads to second-guessing; expectations have everything to do with later satisfaction and overall happiness. The kids graduating in a bust year were thrilled to get paying jobs, even though they started out at lower salaries/positions than their boom-year peers. Even a few years down the road, they were happier. It’s been a while so this summary might not be exact, but that was the gist.

      Second – have you ever wondered how many incredible artists and thinkers out there will never bring their talent to bear? Maybe the most successful ones are just the most talented among those who had either no financial pressures or had no other opportunities to pursue, and are not necessarily the best artists and thinkers our generations have to offer. Just food for thought, no real conclusions to add.

    • Some people, whether because of personality, upbringing, or financial safety nets, have the ability to throw caution to the wind and do what they love because they love it. And personally, I’m glad there are these people; how much art would there be in the world if the only time anyone bothered with it was in their “spare” time? How much music, or literature? As a writer who does have a day job and couldn’t fathom giving up financial security to write full-time, I think there’d be a lot less. And I think the world would be a lot poorer for it.

    • World Traveler :

      The “golden handcuffs” are all about choice. When my husband and I decided to quit our jobs (big law and big corporate) in 2009 to pursue our passion for travel it was a terrifying and thrilling choice. We were in our early thirties and most of our peers were settling down, buying big houses and having babies. It was a huge risk, yet for us, waiting until we retired to travel extensively was an even bigger risk. It was not a decision we made lightly, and I won’t deny that coming home to even worse economy, being unemployed for months and having to delay starting a family are difficult trade offs. But a year later, our lives are richer for it, even if our bank account isn’t. We have 17,000 photographs and a million memories. We have new friends in 18 countries. And we have jobs we love that we never would have gotten if we hadn’t taken the leap.

      “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

    • Part of it has to be risk tolerance. Being married to a lawyer, I know that lawyers are taught to be risk-averse, and to make every effort to quantify and calculate risks. On the other hand, people with a more artistic/ dreamy/ creative bent tend to trust hunches, intuition, hard work and luck to make things work out. These are just different ways of approaching risk. As far as we know, we only get one chance at this life — might as well spend it doing something reasonable. If that’s not law, or whatever other high powered career one original trained for, there’s nothing wrong with dropping out to pursue the dream.

  3. I am currently building up my savings to be able to do just this! All through school and grad school and my first years as a professional I worked hard to eventually secure the high-paying job and lifestyle I thought I would love and now that I have it, I realize I was so much happier as a broke college student. I feel like I’m surrounded by nice things in a nice home with a nice car but none of it brings me happiness and my time and energy are gobbled up by a job that I couldn’t care less about. Truly, human beings were not designed to be indoors 8+ hours every day and that’s what bothers me the most – I’m wasting my life in front of a computer when I could be out living, using my body, exploring things that interest me.

    I want to pay off my house (working aggressively toward that now) and build up my savings so I can afford health insurance if I end up taking a job that doesn’t offer it or if I go back to school. I also want to spend a year hiking the Appalachian Trail while I’m still young. Then I don’t care what I do – so long as my work day is short enough to let me be outdoors in daylight. Maybe I can even find a job that is outside – bliss! I’ll happily give up all my purchasing power for that kind of freedom.

    • Glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way. Luckily I’m debt free and my dad made me start a Roth IRA as soon as I got my first job in high school, but I’m still a year or two out from where I’d feel comfortable quitting my job. Working on downsizing DH’s lifestyle expectations for now.

      We’ll both get there sooner rather than later. Good luck!

    • I agree with you. There is something very off about the way our society has evolved and what we have come to accept as “normal.”

  4. Loved this post!

    I recently met a friend of a friend who is a bicoastal pilates instructor. She keeps all of her wardrobe–ALL OF IT–it two suitcases. She too sang the praises of not buying things that weren’t perfect in every way, and now, when I shop, I channel her.

    Great advice above!

  5. This is how I live on my salary. I started my career a bit later than most of my peers, so I am trying to catch up on savings and retirement while attempting to pay down my student loans.
    I grew up working class so I’m pretty much living the same way I’ve always lived, except now I have huge debt.

    • Same here, on both starting late and trying to catch up while dealing with debt, and on living the same way I’ve always lived. Sigh.

      (Ironically, I left, well, maybe not golden, but at least high-quality stainless steel handcuffs of having a good, steady job that allowed my husband and I (as DINKs) to have a pretty great amount of extra income, to go to law school, on the assumption that I would get something a lot better, money wise, making the temporary change and debt worth it. Double sigh.)

    • I do the same thing. I worked full time before going back to grad school and got used to being able to spend my salary on me. Now that I am out, I find that my salary goes to the student loans and making up for the savings I used to live on while in grad school. But honestly, I don’t think I would have it any other way. I just see it as an exercise in creative living!

  6. I feel incredibly constained by the golden handcuffs, and even thought I save close to one half of my take-home pay, it is not adding up nearly fast enough to make leaving my job for something better a reality.

    To those of you who left after saving “enough,” how much was that? For me, it would be paying off ALL my loans and 250K, minimum, in liquid assets (and frankly even that doesn’t sound like enough). After 3 years in Midlaw, I only have 120K in liquid assets and still three figures of debt. At this rate, by the time I have “enough” to leave I’ll be 35, and too exhausted and old to enjoy any of the things I want to do with my life (like travel, having a family, etc.).

    • Well there is obviously no single answer to that. It depends on what you’re leaving for (are you going to be making any money? some money? no money?), what your other assets are (family money, a financially supportive partner), where you live, what kind of lifestyle you can deal with, and your family goals.

      At a minimum, pay off your debt, load up the 401K, max out your medical benefits (make all those doctor appointments!) and build up 2-3 years worth of salary before making any drastic changes. That’s minimum.

      More realistically – look for the middle ground between golden handcuffs and a life with unlimited family and travel and XYZ time. I think that, despite the cheery tone of this post, the middle ground is where most of us live.

      • Yeah, unfortunately I’m all alone. Definitely no family money, no partner (who wants to date someone with my work schedule?!), no safety nets. I might have to support my handi-capped parents as they age. My lifestyle is quite modest by any standard and I have almost no hope of ever increasing it despite my six-figure salary. I shop at thrift stores and on eBay, and have never purchased a new piece of furniture for myself. Even my mattress is 20 years old, from my parents’ house.

        I think the problem is that I am surrounded by people who DO have family money – or at least come from a much more privileged background than I did. It is depressing to have constant reminders that your life experiences do not — and will probably never — measure up to those of your peers…my colleagues eat out at the latest hot restaurants while I go home and eat cereal — always bought on sale.

        You make a good point about the 401K…I did contribute 20% of salary to my 401k prior to law school, but since I was only making 25K a year, it was/is a laughable sum. Now I am catching up. Better adjust my timeline to quit up to age 40. Except that I will almost certainly jump off a bridge before age 40 from the sheer misery of it all.

        Sigh.

        • MissJackson :

          But once you quit those people will not be your “peers”! I am much happier since I started ignoring everyone else. And honestly, you do not know their exact situation. I think you’d be horrified by the number of your “peers” that don’t have a dollar in their 401ks yet, and could not write a check for $10k in an emergency.

          I focus on my bottom line, and don’t worry about everyone else. It takes some practice, but it’s completely second nature now!

        • FWIW, your savings rate is pretty impressive. 3 years and 120K? Good job … after taxes, that’s a significant portion of take-home pay that you are socking away, so good for you.

          You’ve got to stop comparing yourself to colleagues (who, for all you know, may be heavily in debt or stuck in dysfunctional families as the price for all that wealth). That is not easy, but thinking about the gaps between your life and theirs takes a toll. And … not to sound motherly or patronizing, but 28 is young (22+ law school + 3 was my math). Life continues at 30, 40, etc. and there IS time, in and around all that, to travel, have a family, have a life. And I think I even enjoy those same activities more, as a 30-something, than I ever did as a 20-something … probably because I’m clearer about my goals and my achievements and what it took to get me here.

          Anyway, good luck and don’t be too hard on yourself.

        • Just my two cents, but it sounds to me like you should go ahead and break away now, to a lower hours, lower paying job, that is, and focus on having a life outside of work instead of trying to focus on enough to get by completely. With your savings and your ability to live on far less than what you make, I’m certain that you will be able to do it while still socking away some savings. You should date and travel and have hobbies. Good luck!

        • 120K is a SIGNIFICANT amount of savings/liquid assets. I cannot even fathom having that amount. You are not in a situation where you need to shop at thrift stores/ebay in order to scrape by. If that is the sort of thing you love because you are a bargain hunter, great, keep doing it. But you do not need to scrimp and save. Go buy a damn nice couch and entertainment center for goodness sake. You have worked really hard to give yourself a very nice cushion of savings that 90% of america would not even take home (or gross for that matter) in salary in an entire year. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!!!!! I’m not saying blow all of your savings on a shopping spree, but you really should treat yourself to some classic, quality pieces that you will enjoy. And take a vacation already, you need to get out there and live it up, you deserve it!

        • Be careful of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. At the very least, purchasing a new mattress will not derail your plans to leave your golden handcuffs job. Better sleep=more productivity and better health.

          • amen to that. A nice mattress was the best money I ever spent.

          • Little Lurker :

            I bought a new mattress + bedframe when I graduated (college) and it was the best present I could have given myself.

          • I agree. And honestly, my new mattress, platform bed frame (no box spring), a memory foam mattress pad from target, and a couple sets of really nice sheets probably cost $400 total, and they are incredibly comfortable. With 120k in savings that’s maybe a week or two worth of saving/ a month’s worth of interest for this poster. Definitely worth it in my book! Also, “buy yourself a comfortable bed, to make what little sleep you get count” was some of the best advice I got before law school.

          • I bought a sleep number bed when I got my own place after college, and the salesman talked me into getting the queen size with two chambers instead of the full size with one chamber, on the basis that I might be getting married within the useful life of the bed (he was right). My mother was there when I made the purchase, and said loudly “honey, you are going to be so popular!” Ugh.

        • Recently downgraded :

          ET, I understand you completely and share many of the same feelings. I recently lost my Big(for my city)Law job and took a position for 1/3 less at a very well-regarded midsized firm much closer to home. Like you, I had very little growing up and spent most of my BigLaw paycheck on savings, paying down student loan debt, and investing in a home that I planned to live in forever. Now, I am back to my law school/clerkship standard of living eating PBJ’s and searching desparately for another roommate to help subsidize the mortgage (that will require me to move into the attic which lacks heat and A/C but won’t be much worse than the unfinished basement I lived in as a kid). I worked throughout high school, college, and law school and continue to work a second job now. I’ve realized recently that I’ve given up everything for this career yet still do not have job security or financial stability or even personal fulfillment because all I do is fight over other people’s money all day. In what I thought was an incredible stroke of (unexpected) luck early this year, I met an incredible guy who was absolutely perfect for me and I quickly realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. He left because I too often “chose my job over him,” even after moving to the smaller firm which expects the same out of you as the big firms, but pretends to apologize for it. I’m not about to pursue the arts or backpack around Europe, but as soon as I get my loans paid off and find a buyer who can cover my mortgage (I’m fully expecting to take a loss on the improvements), I’m going to quit law, move to small town with a lower cost of living, get an hourly job, and simplify my life as much as possible. I’m not giving up anymore of my life to this. Ten years and a lot of loss and regret are more than enough.

      • Are you kdding? I work biglaw in nYC, in no way will I ever have 3 years cash saved up. Am i supposed to quit in 10 years?! Life is short people. I make around 200K a year and could survive on 50. What in gods name do you need 250K in liquid for? are you planning on being completely unemployed for 5 years?

        Life is short, be happy. Money is just money, dont base life decisions off of it. And dont expect others to tell you when you’re “good enough off to quit” as it’s all subjective.

        • Seri0usly, sometimes it’s worth remembering that the median income in the US is $50k. You do not need six figures in salary or in the bank to live happily or raise a family. People do it on less, often much less, every day.

          • Anonymous :

            This. My siblings are all military. I may grumble about my work from time to time, but reality reminds me that I earn six figures and sit in a cushy office and no one is shooting at me and all of my coworkers go home safely to their loved ones each night. Perspective.

        • I wasn’t kidding, and let’s please remember that we’re on Corporette, not Oprah.

          If you are OK with shopping at Target, cooking the majority/all of your meals, forgoing health insurance, taking out loans to pay for your children’s higher education (or not having children), vacationing a few towns over, and relying on Providence/friends/family/karma or (god forbid) our government, should you get sick or something debilitating happen to you … then by all means, quit and live on $25-50K a year. To make it clear, there is obviously nothing wrong with that lifestyle, and many people in this country live that way.

          If you are part of the six-figure salary club that apparently reads this blog (per Kat’s statistics), I suggest not fleeing for the hills of uncertain employment unless you’re realistic about money.

          • I make approx 50k before taxes and have left the state about 8 times thus far this year, I have a cruise planned, and I eat out at least 3x/week. I live just outside of NYC, have health insurance that is pretty awesome, paid time off to cover me when I’m ill, and money in my retirement and savings accounts.

            Sorry, anon, but your judgmental argument is simply not true or realistic.

          • I don’t understand why it’s a choice between having a $25k job with no health insurance or a $160k + job that makes you miserable. There’s a huge middle ground, even in big cities; even more so in lower cost of living areas.

            I mean, I agree it’s good to have savings in the bank and get loans paid off if at all possible. But it’s not like you have to save enough in Biglaw to cover the rest of your life at $25-$50k and no health insurance. If you’re qualified enough to make it in Biglaw, you can get a reasonable other job even in this economy.

          • Oh, also, maybe part of the disconnect is that you’re talking specifically about leaving with no other plan in mind. I agree that’s dicey. I was thinking about this poster’s situation – it doesn’t sound like she wants to go off and be an actor like the guest poster; just that she doesn’t want to be in Big Law.

          • anonymous :

            I think her point is that’s it’s all about knowing yourself and your lifestyle standards? And how long one plans to be unemployed, or pursuing dream x?

            Kryss, I mean no disrespect to you, but in another post you point out that you have 3 roommates and don’t buy shirts over $30. So you make choices, like we all do. Nobody has it all. And while we don’t know what the OP wants to do with her life, other than travel and have a lot of family time, those 2 things – traveling a lot, and having a family – are expensive. And not so easy to do without a steady stream of income.

            Anon’s estimate may not be right for OP, but it’s right for some people who want to keep a certain lifestyle standard for whatever reason, and who need major savings cushions, apparently.

          • ChicagoLit :

            Eh, I was with you anon until this judgy post. I get that Chasing the Dream is not for you. It’s not for me either. But I get a little happy in my heart when someone who does want to take that path goes out and does it. I don’t see why you are suggesting to those someones that they should be more realistic. There’s no reason to think that they aren’t–their reality is just different from yours.

          • MissJackson :

            You say that “there is obviously nothing wrong with that lifestyle” but your tone conveys the opposite. Let’s also keep in mind that there is a happy medium between living paycheck to paycheck and making six figures.

            I’m sorry if this response sounds a little defensive. I was raised in what I now realize was a very low income home (when I was little my parents made about $30k combined, and their income never crossed the six figure line — my dad died last year and my mom makes about $25k, and she’s doing fine, although she does own her home outright). My parents still saved enough for retirement, put my sister and I through [private] college, and we always had health care. My mom doesn’t know what Tiffany or Fendi are, and she has never shopped at Nordstrom. She would probably faint if I told her that shoes can cost $1,000. We didn’t eat out much. But… she loves her job, and she is an incredibly happy lady. I hope that someday I will be as happy as she is.

            Security is necessary, but I think you’d find that security costs less than you might imagine.

            PS since when are jobs in corporate America “certain”?

          • This is so unattractive. Maybe you should get out more. Please don’t tar the readers of this site with that brush.

        • “What in gods name do you need 250K in liquid for?”

          That is barely enough to cover one major surgery. I might indeed need 250K liquid to pay for my parents’ medical crises in the next ten years. Or to buy a home. Or to have a shot at retirement for myself (since I will be saving much less in a lower-paying job).

          • For sure, we all make choices… I choose to live with roommates so I can live a 12 min walk to work (saves me train fare, an average 45 min commute that most NYCers have, and it’s free exercise built into my day). I seldom buy clothing over $30 because I don’t often see the need. That said, I saved and purchased a Michael Kors jacket last fall which fit me perfectly and is classic enough to last for years.

            I agree that we all make choices, but my point was that it’s not as black and white as you presented it. If this person (or any person) is willing to make the choices, who is anyone else to judge?

          • I think most people can come up with worst case scenarios in which they’d burn through $250k, but at a certain point, the question is, do you want to live your life based on worst case scenarios that are pretty unlikely to come true if it’s making you miserable in the mean time?

            As for medical expenses, it truly sucks that we live in a country (I’m assuming your U.S., apologies if not), without much of a social safety net for medical crises. That said, if your parents are disabled, can they qualify for medicare? The paperwork and appeals process can be time consuming, but might be something to get started now to give you more options down the road.

            As for retirement, you might be overestimating how much you need – remember that once you’re living at the lower salary rate (which actually, you’re realistically already living at), you need to save a smaller amount of money to ensure you’re still having that salary come to you in retirement. You have – what – two years of living expenses saved now? I think most retirement calculators would put that ahead of where you need to be for your age. Again, yeah, you can’t guarantee that things won’t collapse in a way that will make retirement difficult for you. But almost nobody can, unless they’re independently wealthy. And you also can’t guarantee that you won’t get hit by a bus at 35 before you reach $250k and make the whole effort worthless. It’s all a series of calculated risk assessments.

          • I’m sorry ET but I think Em sums it up perfectly. You might need $250K for what you list. But you also might need $1 million dollars tomorrow when Dr. Evil tries to destroy the planet earth and you’re the only one to save it.

            For proof that you can’t plan for all disasters look to the poor victims of Bernie Madoff. I’m not quitting today or living the dream with my 80 hour weeks at the moment, but by golly I will and I’ll have a years worth of savings, and still pay $500 a month to the gov with my loans. :) I’m just saying you chose a very high, arbitrary cutoff financially for yourself. And being miserable for a decade is soooo not worth it.

          • "In Case" Money :

            ET: I had the same concern when I left private practice to go in house. A friend suggested I take out a line of equity on my house (back when such things existed and one could get them) before my salary dropped and I no longer qualified. Then I would have access to a couple hundred thousand dollars very quickly in case a family member got sick and/or needed help. I did it and it eased my mind tremendously. I have never used the line (it’s been several years now), but every year I pay the $40 annual fee happily because it gives me peace of mind. Might something similar work for you?

          • healthcare anon :

            That’s interesting. I just ran into someone last week at the Vet who’s husband (she was only in her 50′s) had triple bypass by a surgeon I work with. It was over 170K before insurance. Even at 20% (which is the standard co-pay/deductible, based on Medicare guidelines) that’s still 3400 out of pocket. Granted I’m a working mother, but I don’t know any of my colleagues who have even that 20% laying around. It’s scary.

        • Woo-hoo! I spent all of my 30s as an extremely poor – and incredibly happy! – grad student. Life is not stuff, it’s experiences. Once you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and people to love, go out and LIVE, whatever that means for you.

          • oops. That was in response to rew’s comment along the lines of ‘life is short, be happy.’

    • Wow if I had 120k in the bank, I’d write a fat check to my six figure student loan debt and be done with it.

    • MissJackson :

      It’s probably different for everyone. For me, it means paying back all of my student debt, having an emergency fund of about a year’s living expenses, and moving to a job that will cover the (less than $200k) mortgage and all other living expenses.

      My “other living expenses” are pretty small, though, because my husband and I are using a big chuck of our salaries to pay down our three figures of student debt (right now about half of our combined take-home is getting thrown at student debt, and that’s on top of our liquid savings). So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that I can find a “lifestyle” job that can still meet my financial needs. If I planned to quit working altogether, or if I really didn’t think I could live without luxuries and be happy, it would be a different story.

    • “At this rate, by the time I have “enough” to leave I’ll be 35, and too exhausted and old to enjoy any of the things I want to do with my life (like travel, having a family, etc.).”

      Wow. Being 37, I guess I should just hang it up? Get some cats, buy some orthopedic shoes and retire? Thanks, totally needed to hear that refreshing perspective this morning.

      • c’mon, this is your cue to laugh about how naive you were when you were 27 (or however old the OP is).

        No offense to OP either, it’s just that our perspectives on age really change for the better through time.

        • You’re right – was just a smidge too grumpy for that this morning. Perhaps if I’d checked in after my first cup of coffee rather than before.

        • Try 53 (and still running marathons and hiking mountains). Age does give you a different perspective, especially on age!

          • Exactly! My 44 can kick 35′s butt every day & it just keeps getting better.

      • Now THAT is funny

      • I am 25 and by no means would ever consider 35 or 45 or X5 too old to travel and enjoy life.

      • Dammit I’m 35 and wore regular 3″ heels today, no one told me I needed my orthopedic ones! I need to go buy some granny panties later…

        • Agreed! I’m 33 and apparently reaching the “stinky and needing tossed” stage of shelf life. :( Sure, I’m tired, but I’m pregnant with No. 2 and chasing No. 1 everywhere. That doesn’t *seem* empty to me! :)

        • OldieButGoodie :

          LOL. I was 38 when I graduated law school. I should be dead by now according to these standards.

        • lol. Totally picking up some granny panties on the way home tonight …

      • Another Anonymous :

        Haha, my thoughts exactly!

        My almost-90 year old grandparents still go on cruises, drive, volunteer, and GO HIKING. So anyone should be able to do ANYthing at 35. :-)

        • Age is totally relative. If the OP thinks 35 is too old to enjoy those things, then for her it IS too old. I’m well past 35 and I can imagine myself backpacking over SE Asia when I’m in my 60s, so for me it’s not too old.

      • 30 seemed so old then . . . :

        I started law school at 26. My then-husband (27) and I thought we were ancient. I could hardly believe I would be THIRTY when we graduated. I am so glad I started anyway.

        Now I am 45.

        Profesionally better off: worked in BigLaw for 10 years to pay off loans, buy house and save a lot of money. Personally better off: divorced 15 years. Met my current husband (actually fiance, with stepkids and their mom, so we’re waiting) when I was 40. Much more satisfying relationship.

        What am I saying? 35 is not the end of the world.

      • I actually thought “35″ was a typo. Goes to show how old I am!

      • he he! life is better than EVER! i would NEVER go back to my mid-20s.

        I’ve traveled more, worked harder, produced more, loved more in the past decade than any time before.

    • Just a few things:

      1. First and foremost THANK YOU ladies for offering your thoughts! I love this board, and it is great to benefit from your perspectives!

      2. Re paying off my loans now….I do think about doing just that…I am certainly a product of my up-bringing, during which my parents were constantly stressed about money. Constantly. Thus, I am terrified of having nothing in the bank or being unable to help my loved ones in the event of an emergency. Or pulling through a long period of unemployment (as many Americans are now doing).

      3. To the poster who was offended by my age comment, I truly did not mean to offend. My mother was 38 when she had me, and I am well-aware of the trade-offs in choosing to start a family later in life. I have been hell-bent since a young age on NOT following my mother’s example, for many reasons. If I do not have a family by 35 (and I am 31), that option is closed to me. I will not put my kids through the trials of dealing with older parents. Another example of how we are all products of our upbringing I guess.

      • Have you talked to a financial planner? It might help you with your fears about money. Having a good plan and control of your finances should feel good, not scary.

      • Older mom :

        I’m curious, can you say what some of those trials are? I had two children in my 30s, one past your cutoff age and I’m just wondering if they’re doomed to feel this way as well. In fact, I was thinking of one more (unlikely to happen though), so this could be informative for me.

        • Anon for this :

          Not the prior poster, but agree with the desire to have kids prior to 35 or not at all.

          My mom was 41 when she had me and my dad 36. They were always the oldest and not like the other parents, which was partly because of their intense work schedules but partly due to their age. They just didn’t relate to the parents that were 10-15 years younger than them. As a result, when I was in grade school my mom in particular was never involved in school activities or my extracurriculars. It lead to a pretty isolated childhood because I just didn’t do the activities that other kids did.

          Then my mom passed away at 65, which is earlier than one would expect but its not that young either. It was just after I graduated college and was working my first real job in a city far away from where my parents lived. While she was sick I spent almost every weekend flying home to be with her, which was hard professionally but also personally.

          My dad has had several health issues related to him playing too much sport as a kid. He’s already had one hip replaced and needs the other done, as well as both knees. I’m only just starting my career as an attorney and I know soon I will be in the position of taking time off work to help him recuperate from these significant surgeries and I’m not even 30 yet.

          Starting my own career, being in a relationship, contemplating having my own kids, and taking care of an aging parent is a lot. I suppose if I had siblings or other family (passed away already or live overseas) to help it would be easier, but I don’t.

          • I’m still open to having kids later in life but I understand the burdens you describe. When I’m 30 my dad will be 75 and my mom 64. My brother will be 21. Having older parents has affected my life choices. I refuse to move more than 4 hours away because I know I will have to help them with certain things.

            My parents have tried so hard to never burden us but it is painfully obvious there are things they just can’t handle. A tree that crashed in their yard just sat there for months. There was a flood in their basement and they weren’t physically able to clean the stuff out.

            They refuse to accept money and they can’t afford to pay the help so instead I go down there occassionally and just do the things they aren’t taking care of. I know they are so thankful. I don’t resent them because they gave me an amazing childhood and put my brother and I through school on a low-middle one parent income. My mom stayed home with us. I enjoy caring for them but it has most certainly impacted my life choices.

          • I hope this doesn’t come off as diminishing anybody’s struggles. But another perspective is that in a way, with the older parent question, we’re talking about timing rather than anything else. At one point or another, almost all of us will have to make hard choices related to our parents’ declining health (and if we don’t, it’s because we lost them suddenly). Of course, we all hope for as much time with them as possible and that’s not insignificant. But choices related to care and moving – if they have to be made at 30 or 40 or 50 – well, they will have to be made regardless, and will come with a different set of challenges for us at each age. At 30, we may wonder about starting our own career versus being near our parents. At 40, we may wonder about balancing our own young children’s needs with our parents’. At 50, we might be dealing with our own health concerns and fading energy. There’s no easy answer or smooth path here.

          • Anonymous :

            Another perspective – at the age of 30, my mom had a toddler and a newborn and was providing end of life care to her 50 year old mother, who lost a long and painful cancer battle. You never know how old your parents will be when they need your help.

          • I think it’s much more common for new parents to be in their late 30s or early 40s now, and also much more common for 40-somethings to be able to relate to and be friend with people in their 20s. I am 28 and have friends who are new parents, and hang out with each other, ranging in age from 31 to 42. This seems to be the norm, at least in my social circle.

          • I would just add (a day late, I know) that while it may not be ideal, I doubt that you would have wanted your parents (especially your mother) to have foregone the joy that having children can bring to their lives even in the face of these difficulties you faced. I would never have wished that on my mother and I’d like to be as kind to myself. Maybe that sounds selfish, but being 32 and single, I want children more than anything else in my life. I wouldn’t jeopardize my children’s health by having them at an age where the health risks to them are very high (say 45) but I won’t give up that dream for any other reason. Even if it means I’m the oldest mom on the playground/high school graduation.

            And I’ve had friends who have lost their parents at much younger ages (like in their 50s) so you never know.

            I just think you should be more forgiving to yourself–life doesn’t always go as you’ve planned and that should be a load off in some ways.

        • This is so interesting – i’m planning to be an older mom myself (late 30s) and haven’t thought about the burdens that it places on children. Given how many women are having children later in life, I wish I knew more about this concern.

          Does it help if you’re in a position to not (ever) be a financial burden on your children? Or if most of the other parents in town are similarly-aged and career-minded? We safeguard our health like nothing else, but you never know. I worry sometimes that I won’t have the energy I did 10 years ago, but that’s balanced with happiness that I have the financial security and emotional maturity that was still missing back then. I suppose you can’t have it all.

          • Yet another anon :

            Another perspective on this- my husband’s parents are old (they are in their early 70s, we are in our late 20s). It isn’t as bad for us as some of the posters describe because my in-laws are well off, so they can (and do) pay someone to help them with stuff – they have a regular housekeeper and landscaper, and can call in help in case a tree falls over or the basement floods and they can’t handle it themselves. This takes a lot of pressure off of us. The fact that they will not need our financial assistance while we are still establishing our careers makes all the difference in the world.

            Growing up, he had lots of friends with “old” parents so I don’t think it mattered that much to him.

        • My Dad was 38 and Mom 34 when I was born and I’ve heald a similar feeling towards having children after 35 (I’m 37 now, not married, not really looking to get married, no relationships right now that would lead me to marriage — so I have more or less considered the children ship sailed — and I am OK with it).

          Granted by the time I was born, my parents already had three daughters (I made it four), but by the time I was a junior in college (I was 20 years old — making my parents 58 and 54) my parents more or less said that I needed to hurry it up as they hoped to retire soon. My parents paid about half of the tuition and most of the living expenses for each of us while in college (and all four of us went to college). Essentially, many years of working + some health issues + raising four children = hurry it up JM. I got off the parental dole a week after moving back home from college and they retired when Dad was 63.

          I don’t think that it is so much that one “shouldn’t” have children after 35 as much as there are many things (do you want to retire? will you pay for your childrens education?) that should be taking into consideration if one is considering having children in late 30s/40s.

          • I don’t really understand this logic. A child’s college education will cost relatively the same amount, no matter if you are paying while retired, or pre-retirement. College will still cost $XX, and will still take the same amount of time/effort to accumulate. This rationale has always seemed to be a cop out to me. When your children are, for example, 8 and 10, just choose to “pay for college” then, rather than when they are actually college-aged, and this problem is solved.

        • In the generation being born today, many people will have ‘older’ parents. It’s better than not having been born. There will be more older and plenty of younger, less in-between, previously ‘normal’ parents.

      • I don’t mean to sound preachy *at all*. But I look back at my college days and what I thought I expected from life, and everything completely changes when you’re truly faced with the decisions that will *be* your life — marriage, starting a family, deciding where to live (near family?) and how to live the life that you are shaping.

        After thinking I wanted a 6-figure income and stability before I would ever consider starting a family, life happened. My amazing husband happened. And then my child came along. Now I want to provide for her in so many other ways than financially. We paid off our house in a year, because it meant more to us to have the debt gone than to have a stockpile. As someone posted above, money is a tool. It’s a great tool to have, but there are other life tools that you must have too, and money can’t buy them. Don’t forget to be grateful for the times you can enjoy or appreciate the non-monetary things, and ask yourself how much they’re worth to you, and whether being focused on money is depriving you of them. (Please understand, I don’t mean to say that you’re “focused on money” as if that’s an unequivocally bad thing. I’m just saying that it can crowd out other considerations before you realize it.)

        Good luck to you. I hope nothing I said was harsh. I admire your financial discipline.

      • Also, it may be too late to get a good deal, but maybe long term care insurance for your parents? That might help you get a little peace of mind.

        Honestly, I think it’s commendable for you to be so fiscally responsible, but I agree with the other poster upthread who said it’s okay to spend some money on yourself. No one should be sleeping on a 20-year-mattress, it’s basically all skin flakes and dust mites at this point!

        Signed, someone who, despite a tendency toward extreme frugality arising from years of grad school, finally got a new bed when hers was 12-15 years old and has absolutely not regretted it!

      • Another perspective: My mom was 43 when she had me, and was very involved in all of my school activities. She was my girl scout troop leader, and regularly participated in events with other parents. And, unlike the parents of my many of my friends, she was financially and professionally stable. I hope to follow her example.

      • ET, I think it is very hard to get away from money attitudes we learn growing up. My parents grew up during the great depression, and to this day my Mom can’t understand how anyone has money. Her attitude still affects my own spending habits, even though my reality is very different from hers.
        I think you need to give yourself a treat once in a while, whether that’s a blouse from the clearance rack, lunch out somewhere, or a nice walk outside. Take care of yourself.

      • goirishkj :

        Keep in mind that none of us know what our future holds. I was born when my mom was 25 and my dad was 29. Dad died at 48 after a long (15 years or so) illness and my mom has fairly serious health issues as well. Even “young” parents die early and there are “old” parents who are active and spry well into old age. Some of the trials of “old” parents can be borne by children of “young” parents. Just something to consider.

        • Anon for this :

          I agree that there’s no way to predict what will happen, and its probably not worth trying to plan around such vague “what ifs.”

          I also think having kids older is much more common now than it was when my mother had me, so in that respect things have changed. I think she perhaps wanted to participate in my activities but they were all between 2:30pm and 6pm and she was almost never able to leave work before 7pm. Schedules were not set to accommodate full-time working mothers, whereas now I think that is more common.

          With regard to the financial burden – obviously it helps if you’ll never be a financial burden on your kids or at least not before they are ready to handle it – but I don’t think that’s really what I find hard. My father is in no way a financial burden to me, its more the overwhelming nature of being brand new at a demanding career, trying to keep my own relationship going / thinking about children, and wanting to be there with him rather than hiring a nurse to be there for him. I’m sure this isn’t easy at any age, but I think I would find it easier if at least one part of my life was more settled, i.e. if I had been at my job for more than a year.

      • I had my first (recently!) at 28, a good friend at 38. Guess what – I’m the youngest of the moms, by far, and I’m the odd-one-out of the late 30s early 40s moms conversations — they’re the norm at my daycare and in my neighborhood, not me. I also had an extremely difficult pregnancy and she sailed through. She has a level of stability and resources I don’t. So there are trade offs no matter what.

    • With all due respect to your choices and your fears about money and health care for your family, I think you may one day regret that you wasted your youth at this job. Money is important, but it’s not everything. And as someone who left a Big Law job only having paid off half her debt and having no real savings (apart from some savings in my 401K), I can tell you that, yes, it is nice making a lot and saving a lot. But you also adjust.

      I would just say that you can probably slow it down now–make a little less, save a little less, worry a little less.

      All I can say for sure is that your messages here make it sound like you’re miserable–and misery from financial difficulty sucks, but so does this sort of misery.

    • To be honest, I did not read all of the comments but I see you are getting some flak about wanting $250K in liquid assets. For what it’s worth, I think you are on the right track.

      People can be incredibly unrealistic about what it takes to live on savings alone. Your savings won’t generate much interest income, so you’ll have to be drawing down principal. Principal will obviously not last forever when you’re drawing it down.

      My sister works an incredibly stressful yet incredibly lucrative high tech sales job – The lucrative part comes from her being incredibly good at it. But she has young children, three of them, and she’d like to stop the business travel and the stress and generally the rat race. I advised her not to quit unless she has over $3 million in assets – not all liquid of course, but still $3M, preferably more if possible. She got the same advice from a certified financial planner.

      This takes into account my sister’s specific lifestyle, which is upper middle class but not extravagant. She’s not wearing designer anything or driving fancy cars, but she has a beautiful suburban home and likes to take a foreign vacation every few years.

      But the advice also assumes that she’ll live a long life, may never work again, or at least not at the salary she earns now, and will probably not collect Social Security (which is a good assumption for all of us, if you know anything about SS’s serious funding issues.) It also assumes inflation, which even at modest levels can make a huge difference in effective income. Additionally, there should be a cushion against risk to principal, which you inevitably have when you invest large sums.

    • Another Sarah :

      So I’ve read all the comments so far, and I still have one question: are you investing some/all of that 120K in assets? If not, it would grow much faster than if you just put it in an account. Granted, it wouldn’t grow faster right now, but over time you’d have a lot more. Yeah, it would take a really long time to amass 250k worth of cash if you had to work for every single dollar, but if you let it work on its own for a bit, it’ll grow faster. And it’ll keep on growing, even after you start taking money out of it.

  7. This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time – I recently left BigLaw for TeenyTinyLaw (3 people!). This is my first fall not being able to snap up every trend and shoe I covet in those thick, fall fashion magazines. I know it sounds so spoiled, but one of the nice things about working so so hard for the money at my old job was the ability to indulge my love of fashion a bit. But this post identified for me something of which I am frequently guilty: buying that not-quite-right thing and ending up with a ton of stuff in my closet that I just never wear. I’m actually excited to go shopping in my closet and be a bit more selective. By the way, has anyone ever heard of tried Project 333 (the general idea that you really only need 33 things in your closet in a given season)? http://www.theproject333.com/ Wondering what your thoughts are.

    • The First Year :

      I understand the “this is the first year that . . . ” feeling. The first year I left private practice and went in-house at a government agency, I had the strangest feeling from about December 15 to the first week of January. I didn’t know what was wrong, but something just felt so strange. Then I realized: no bonus!

  8. Thanks for this post and best of luck to you in your new adventure.

    I’m having a hard time reconciling “quality over labels” with shopping at 1) H&M and Uniqlo, which are more “quantity over quality” albeit cheap, and at 2) Marshalls & C21, which specifically pride themselves on selling high-end labels (but also for cheap). Do you simply mean that you’re shopping more at these stores because they’re cheaper, and you’re pruning your tastes/lifestyle to adapt to more inexpensive lines? I’m curious about the “quality” items you’re finding at H&M and wondering if your new lifestyle allows you to be more generous with your quality standards than before. That sounds completely reasonable but I’m not sure if that’s what you are saying.

    • I read that as saying that she is not looking at labels so much as is this particular item, wherever it happens to come from , perfect for what I need it to be.

      FWIW, Uniqlo often has fantastic quality items for very cheap (esp. if you catch their “promotions”). H&M is much more hit or miss, often 90% miss, but I have gotten some fantastic quality things there over the years, including cotton tops made in England, 2 great pairs of leather sandals a couple of years ago, a silk dress that I get asked “where did you get that” every time I wear it, etc.

    • Hi there and thanks for your question! I think the commenter below (AIMS) said my point more clearly than I did in my post. :) What I mean by quality over labels is that sometimes, higher-end labels also offer poor quality product. I can’t even count all the times I’ve had barely used buttons fall off items from fancy labels. Also, when buying basics such as white tee’s, I’ve been able to find good quality, well-fitted basics at different price points, in H&M and as well as fancier joints.

      The solution for me was to stop thinking about labels and just look at the item itself, in my hand –is it well made? Does it feel durable? Does it fit me well? When I had more money and less time, I could use labels as a short cut to identify quality –BUT it was never a sure thing. Now I diligently sort through a lot of crap at H&M to find a few jewels, and do not –as far as I’ve noticed– suffer in quality for it.

  9. AtlantaAttorney :

    This is a great post no matter what the financial situation. I especially love the advice of “heighten your standards,” because it is such a positive approach. Buying things that are “good enough” rather than perfect is a fault of mine that I am actively working on. Hard habit to break, but now I have a new mantra for reminding myself to do it.

    • Research, not Law :

      It really works, too. While friends are buying a dozen cheap bras from VS and handfuls decent of handbags on clearance and street corners, I buy a couple of high quality bras from Nordstrom and shop around for a handbag that will last me ten years. (Seriously, I just had to retire my last one after a decade – was still getting complements on it until the end). And yeah, I will drop a chunk of change on a single pair of shoes… but only the peeerfect pair of shoes. Overall, I spend less AND have nicer things.

      I’d much rather live in the same perfectly-fitting, perfectly-me leather flats every day than have a closet full of not-quite-right shoes.

      • The problem for me is that I LOVE to shop and like to switch up what I wear/carry (handbags)–so if I went for just quality, I’d just buy way more at higher quality!

  10. I think this is a great post! I worked in corporate America before starting law school and stupidly blew most of my savings during my first year and then worked for the government for free this summer. My spending habits have definitely changed now and I think the first tip to heighten your standards is the most important. I am picky and it works. And I spend my casual days rocking $5 boyfriend tees from Target – so COMFY and the best thing I’ve bought this summer.

    • Just wanted to chime in that I own both the tank pictured in the post and one of the same comfy boyfriend tees and they are both AMAZING budget additions to my wardrobe that could easily have cost 3x as much at another store. You have to be discerning at Target, but every season they have a few really great pieces, particularly basics.

  11. Off topic – is olive oil really good for your hair?

    • EVOO is good for sealing.
      You can moisturize your hair with either: water – rose water – glycerin – aloe vera gel etc.
      And then when you use oil on top of that you seal moisture in your hair.
      I recently learned (eponine?) that you can use that as deep conditioner.

      • also off topic, but I use 100% pure shea butter on my hair as an overnight conditioner. It’s amazing.

      • I’ve discovered that olive oil and baking soda make a nice face scrub. Moisturize while you scrub!

      • Slightly off topic of your off-topic topic – My facialist was telling me the other day that she uses EVOO as her moisturizer every night. The woman is 46 or so and has the skin of a 25 year old. When I sounded surprised, she said (in her fabulous Russian accent), “yes, after you leave the bathroom you are going to the kitchen.” Haven’t had the guts to try it yet.

        As to hair – I’ve been using the Kiehl’s olive oil shampoo/conditioner/hair masque for a while with good results. Leaves my hair shiny and soft, but it’s not too heavy. No split ends and not frizzed out. Recently switched away from the shampoo (after reading all of the comments on here recently about sulfates) but am sticking with the conditioner and masque.

      • For the shea butter and olive oil on hair comments, can I ask what type of hair you have (i.e, I’ve heard of my black friends using certain products, but does it work on other types of hair or is it too oily looking afterwards/does not wash out enough)?

        Thanks!

        • I have fine hair and an oily scalp. Shea butter shampoos out just fine for me, even better than deep conditioning treatments which tend to stay on my hair for a couple of days making it look stringy and kind of dirty.

        • I have very fine, thin, somewhat oily hair and I sometimes use olive oil as a hair mask. I find I have to shampoo my hair a couple times to get it out (which may just undo all the good the oil did), but after that my hair doesn’t seem abnormally oily.

    • I use it every month or so as a treatment for my coarse, dry curls and let it sit overnight before washing it out. Works better than anything else I’ve tried.

      • Oh, and I also use it as Houda mentions, to seal moisture in. I just take a tiny dab on my palms and rub it through my hair. Since olive oil has a distinctive smell, I prefer to use a different product for this purpose (currently from the Aveda Brilliant line) but olive oil works in a pinch.

  12. MissJackson :

    And — bonus — if you can implement some of these tricks before you give BigLaw (or whatever corporate hell you are stuck in) the finger, you’ll save faster and have an easier transition once you’re free!

    I mean, not that I am doing that or anything. LOVE my BigLaw job and can’t wait to make partner ;-)

  13. As a social worker in the non-profit sector, I finished school (undergrad and master’s) with over 125k in student loan debt. I also live near Manhattan. Combine that and I end up as a 28 yr old woman living with 3 roommates who considers a $30 clothing item a “splurge.” In a sense, I can’t imagine having more than 5k in the bank at any given time, let alone the 50k or 150k that so many of you do.

    I wonder if perhaps the answer to living without golden handcuffs is to find a friend (or many friends) in lower paying fields or positions. If you’re surrounded by others with 100k+ salaries, of course you’re invited to $200 dinners! If you hung out with me for a week though, I guarantee you’d come to love the $1.75 pizza slices, the 2-for1 drinks at nearby eateries, that you’d learn about the times when you can visit museums for free, and of how amazing it is to find a great piece of furniture on craigslist.

    I think most of us aren’t inherently wasteful or averse to lower prices, we just tend to surround ourselves with those who make what we do, so the behaviors encourage others to conform. Changing your group (or adding to it) may expand your horizons and your mind!

    College students are often some of the most broke adults, yet there’s never a shortage of fun… why do we outgrow the ability to have inexpensive fun simply because there’s more money coming in?

    (PS, for those living in the NYC area, I really am up for meeting for dinner that’ll cost us under $20/person, let me know if you’d like me to show you!)

    • great point. the influence of our peer group cannot be underestimated.

    • This is a great point. Thanks for sharing:)

    • As a fellow member of a helping profession (in my case, the master’s is in library science) who lives in Queens, I’d love to meet for cheap dinner sometime. Email me. :)

      (My linked name should lead to my email, unless I failed utterly. Always possible.)

    • On the other hand, family and friends with lower-paid positions do not understand why someone who makes ~$100k/year brown-bags it every day, buys clothes from Target, and uses public transportation.

      • Research, not Law :

        And your friends who make $100K+ do?

        I think this may be specific to your friends and family. Perhaps those aren’t things they value, period, without considering income. I make a fraction of what I expect our dual-lawyer family next door earn, but I understand their choice to have only one car and to primarily bus/bike commute.

    • I totally agree with the social circle statement–I have a ton of friends who make about what I do or less and “it’s not in my budget” is a very common refrain.

    • Research, not Law :

      This is so true. So true.

      It’s hard to watch some of my high-earning friends and siblings feeling pressured to maintain a lifestyle consistent with their other high-earning friends. We recently had dinner with a two Dr. couple who quizzed us intensely on how we live on my one-income. It was a fascinating insight for both of us.

      I used to designate one fancy meal or group outing a month. It was pre-children, so we were still going out and flush with cash, but it was a personal choice for saving purposes.

  14. How do people do this? I don’t think it’s stupidity (in most cases) … it’s usually a strong safety net .. like a reliable source of financial support (parents, trust money, husband, older sister, serious savings, whatever)
    _____________________________________________________

    Misery can also be a powerful motivator.

    And if you wait for the time to be “perfect,” you’ll probably never jump. It’s never the “perfect” time.

  15. I am in a different but somehow relevant situation.
    During my first year at work, I lived and was fully supported by my parents. My income was mainly to pay for school balance and shopping.
    Then one year ago, I bought my apartment and although my salary slightly increased, I have never been more financially strained. I have to pay my mortgage, food, furnishing etc.
    One year later, I just bought a tiny brand new car, and this cost increment was just the last straw.
    I decided, to takes matter in hand again so here is what I decided to do:
    - Quickly finish the dental work I was getting; and submit partial invoices to insurance. I got some insurance refunds which helped a bit pay the remainder of dental.
    - Stop going out unless I have some groupon (or the restaurant is affordable).
    - I didn’t get a vacation this summer, so
    a) I looked like a die hard worker, and
    b) I will go on vacation with a friend at her parents’ vacation home. I will only have to pay for my food.

    As I started these restrictions I was feeling a bit down so I maintained a few things to keep it positive:
    - I get groupons for a manucure pedicure once per month at my favorite nail salon. This makes me feel a bit attached to my previous lifestyle.
    - I still invite my friends every couple months but I cook at home and if I am tight on budget, it’s a potluck
    - Instead of buying normal clothes, I buy workout clothes that make me feel and look good and save shopping money to buy rewards items once I hit my figure goal.

  16. The mustard shoes and black tights make her legs look huge. Horrible styling. Lovely dress though.

  17. Somewhat related threadjack:

    I am looking to invest in a good winter coat this year. I own a wool coat but have never had to purchase a “real” winter coat for when the wool peacoat just won’t suffice. I’m hoping to make a smart decision and like this post suggests, buy the one right coat in high quality.

    I’ve heard good things about LLBean and LandsEnd but I don’t really know what I should be looking for. Does anyone have any particular winter coats from either (or any other suggestions) that they would recommend?

    TYIA for any suggestions!

    • Where do you live/how cold is it usually/what kind of outdoor activities were you considering in said coat? Oh, and how much is style playing a role? I’ve had great luck with both LLBean and Lands End. On the sites they can be sorted by how warm they are (as they list the temperature comfort ranges). At Lands End I got a hooded squall coat a few years ago and it’s held up well, and a longer puffy down coat for Syracuse winters (and now these wacky DC winters). I really didn’t give a hoot that it was boxy – as long as I was warm and dry!

    • Need more information:

      1) What sort of winter climate do you intend to wear this coat in? Winters in the Chicago or Minneapolis are very different than they are in DC.

      2) What activities do you intend to wear this coat for? After living in the Twin Cities for a few winters, I have a wool dress coat (for when I drove), a parka, and a long down “commuter coat” (for when I took the bus or walked). Once I moved to DC, I really only needed the wool dress coat, except when we go skiing or do other recreational activities.

    • DC Kolchitongi :

      This won’t do you any good for the upcoming winter, but every January Lord & Taylor has an AMAZING sale on winter coats. Last year I got a high-quality, stylish, warm down coat for $110 –I don’t remember what it cost before but $110 was a huge markdown. It was the first down coat I’d ever bought and then I promptly couldn’t believe I’d ever suffered through winters without one. Down keeps you SO warm! Before that, I was wearing multiple layers under a wool peacoat along with superthick hats/gloves/scarves and I was usually still freezing cold.

      I know a lot of you are shaking your head at me right now. Can’t help it, my family has lived in the south for hundreds of years and none of us have any clue what to do in the face of cold weather :)

      • I have the reverse problem – I grew up in Illinois, grad school in Michigan, then moved to DC. I have completely lost the ability to dress properly for really cold weather, so I totally freeze when I visit family in Chicago. I am convinced that my J Crew Lady Day coat, which is lovely and totally suitable for DC, will be sufficient to get through a week in Chicago in December. Not so much.

      • Second on the Lord and Taylor recommendation – if you can wait until their yearly “friends and family” sale – usually right around early December – they have some amazing deals. I usually get a new wool winter coat every 2-3 years during that sale.

    • Always a NYer :

      Larry Levine makes really good quality wool coats. I have two, red knee-length and navy long, that I bought at Macy’s years ago and they are still in great condition. I get them dry-cleaned at the end of each season or in between if they need it. I’d recommend checking out their selection online, they come in all colors and varying lengths.

    • Thank you ladies for the responses. I’m in DC. Like DC below I am originally from a warm climate so I get cold very easily and am worried about the upcoming DC winter (I know, I know, I’m a wimp and should visit a Dakota if I want to see “real” winter! I can’t help my thin blood!) I’m looking for something that isn’t horrible looking and that will keep me warm without having to wear 4 layers of shirts/sweaters underneath (which is what I’ve done with my wool coat when it snowed where I lived last winter).

      Things are so much easier when sundresses, shorts and flip flops work for the weather year round!

      • I grew up in a cold state and am still a wimp when it comes to cold in D.C. When it gets really cold, I pull out my shearling coat. It’s not the most stylish thing but when it drops to the teens or below I’m warm while the stylish girls are freezing. Even I have my comfort limits. ;-) For a cheaper alternative, you may want to try a coat like this: http://www.sierratradingpost.com/columbia-sportswear-melange-maven-down-jacket-mid-length-550-fill-power-for-women~p~3339j/?filterString=womens-winter-coats-and-jackets~d~673%2F
        Go through ebates for an additional 20% + 3% off.

      • Another Anonymous :

        DC has two amazing Filene’s Basement stores, where they invariably have an excellent selection of coats. I have purchased two there, including a wonderful Larry Levine (which a poster mentioned above). I would check there for a big selection if you’re on a budget.

      • As a fellow DC-er, I get the most wear out of my wool peacoat during the winter. It is surprising to hear about your need to layer with yours – maybe that would be your investment instead? (Mine is a Nine West I got from Macys…. had it for several years now, is wearing quite nicely, and it didn’t break the bank).

        Having said that, I usually still layer anyway, especially since in the city you turn a corner and BAM! Wind tunnel! This makes your coat useless and your face raw and frozen. (For the occasions when it’s sleeting/raining/then switching to snow and wind, I’ll pull out a long down commuter coat, like the one a previous poster mentioned.)

        But… since you mentioned LLBean and Land’s End, here are ones that I was considering that sound like they might work for you too:

        LLBean: Winter Warmer Coat
        Lands End: Down Commuter Coat

      • Honestly, keep your commute in mind. Metro in the winter in DC becomes a sweaty tin can, so you may not need something super “heavy.” Also depending on your walk, you may find yourself getting overheated if you’re in a sweater and a full suit (or maybe I’m just really out of shape!). That said, I got a gorgeous full length cashmere blend coat at the Filene’s by 17th and L. You may have to dig, but it’s worth it

      • I don’t judge you for being cold: for some odd reason I am fine outside, even in the dead of winter, but put me in an overly-air conditioned office, or anywhere near a fan, and I am miserable. I am currently sitting in my office wearing a heavy wool cardigan and a pashmina scarf.

        I have the LandsEnd Commuter Coat. It is not the most fashionable, but it is VERY warm (waiting at the bus stop in February in Minneapolis warm), and waterproof (good for wet snow/sleet/freezing rain/just plain cold rain that we get here in DC). Also, it has a removable hood, which is good in the aforementioned miserable weather conditions. If you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of style to stay really warm, this is your coat. Mine is knee-length, but is also comes in a mid-thigh version. LandsEnd runs big, if you are on the smaller side of your size, I’d size down.

        LandsEnd also now makes a commuter coat in wool, which is a little dressier looking, but I have not seen it in person.

        For a recreation coat, I have the LL Bean Rugged Ridge Parka, and I love it. It’s also waterproof.

        As a rule, I find I am much warmer in longer coats and jackets. If your pea coat is like the one I used to have, it is too short to keep me warm–look for something that falls to at least mid-thigh.

        If you’re not opposed to animal products, shearling is very warm (albeit expensive).

        Also, I find wearing socks over my tights, under my boots helps tremendously.

      • I have lived in the northeast my whole life, and I HIGHLY recommend J. Crew’s winter coats. If you can get the styles with Thinsulate, all the better. They’re stylish, reasonably priced, and generally wool.
        Here is my message to cold people in winter:

        (1) Wear wool every day.
        (2) Wear knee high socks and a camisole every day.

    • Patagonia is having a 50% off sale on their website until Aug 25…there are some longer down commuter coats on there for very cheap (for Patagonia)! But lifetime warranty!!!

  18. Lostintranslation :

    I especially like your last idea! Nothing to add, but just wanted to send a little encouragement your + everyone else’s way.

  19. I find all of these stories very illuminating. It is easy to feel down or trapped in your own financial situation because finances are generally taboo to discuss and very few people, even amongst close friends, talk about finances in an open and straightforward fashion. You really don’t know what challenges other people face, although they may appear to be carefree spenders.

    In my case, we have no safety net–no family source of support in the event of a crisis. In fact, although we are solidly middle class and face the usual student loan debt, mortgage, high cost of living, child care and other issues, we are the ones whom our families turn to when they face challenges. Although we certainly have enough for our needs and we work very hard, our lifestyles are very modest. Our struggles center on whether we will ever be able to grow what we have (haven’t gotten raises in 3 years) or improve our lifestyle, how to get more time with our children and, most frightening, whether we could lose what we do have. Our jobs don’t seem terribly portable and after working so hard at them, it doesn’t seem that we have other significant skills to fall back on. Our savings certainly aren’t growing in any reliable fashion. Although I am tempted to leave for a part-time job to spend more time with our children, leaving our jobs just feels very risky.

    I do think planning and being more selective in shopping is very helpful. It is worth it to buy the perfect (slightly expensive) sneakers that I know they need for my kids rather than buy 3 pairs that are not quite right. That saves me both time and money. Cutting back on recreational shopping definitely helps both with the budget and with clutter.

  20. S in Chicago :

    I’m not always good about it, but I try to focus on only one thing when I’m out shopping so I’m not too tempted to stray into stores or departments filled with tempting things I may not need. So I will tell myself “this is a trip to find a swim suit, get new bras, etc.” If want something off my list, I make myself think on it and come back later. Often I’ll realize when I get home that I have something similar or won’t want to be bothered to go back.

    I also think Zappos can be handy for keeping your eye on the ball. I often order a bunch of something, compare, and will only get the “right one” and send the rest back. That’s kept me from my shoe weakness of buying a bunch of cute new shoes for work when all I really needed was something in X color to wear to a wedding. When I’ve done it with jeans, it’s really given me better perspective on what looks just ok and what looks perfect since I’m not feeling pressured by time or a pushy sales person–or I just happened to really like the music playing while I was in the dressing room. :)

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