Tales from the Wallet: Financially Preparing for Grad School

financially preparing for grad schoolWe had a great discussion a few weeks ago about wedding finances, and now it’s time for the next post in our Money Milestone series:  grad school. We’ve talked about how to adjust your new student budget once you get to grad school, how to pay off student loans, how to juggle grad school and a full time job, and even whether you should get an MBA — but not this. Some of the best tips came from folks on the Corporette FB page and some of my personal FB friends, so a huge thank you to everyone! (Check out U.S. News & World Report’s Paying for Graduate School Guide for some additional advice.) (Pictured: J.Crew Factory Magic Wallet, $14.50.)

Before Grad School

  • Live like a student before you go. Keep your expenses down while you’re saving up — and create a new budget. This helps you save more, and also prevents culture shock once you have to dial back your lifestyle when you get to grad school.
  • Manage what you’ve already borrowed. Form a strategy to pay down your existing debt. In some cases you may even want to postpone applying to grad school until you have more of a handle on your finances and achieve a higher credit score (which can earn you lower interest rates). Consider deferring your undergraduate loans if it makes sense for your financial situation.
  • Make sure you know the numbers. In a recent post, Above the Law mentioned a new, “brutally honest” student loan calculator that shows you your future monthly payments in comparison to your expected salary after earning the degree.
  • See if your current employer offers tuition reimbursement. It may be slow going but you can pay for a grad school degree through this method alone!
  • Set up a 529 plan for yourself. While you’re saving, you get a deduction on your state taxes, and you can then use that account to pay for your grad school expenses. If you have money left over in the plan, you can roll it over into your kids’ plans. (Rules vary widely by state.) Resist the urge to raid your 401(k) for tuition costs.

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The Next Step: Professional Clothes

workwear next stepHow to Upgrade Your Work Wardrobe | CorporetteA lot of people know where to go for inexpensive professional clothes — and then they know the brands that celebrities wear.  But the middle ground can get confusing for people — particularly, how to step up your game when it comes to fashionable workwear.  We talked a few weeks about what the next step is for furniture (based on a commenting thread a while back), and this week I thought we’d talk about the spectrum for professional clothes. (Obviously, some of these brands could fit in multiple buckets — any big disagreements, though?)  Readers, where did you shop when you started your careers — or when you need budget pieces?  What was your next step, and the step after that, and the step after that? When did you notice a big change in quality?  Am I forgetting any brands?  What are your top 3 in each bucket? 

Bucket 1: Budget Fashion

  • Dorothy Perkins
  • Express
  • H&M
  • Loft
  • Modcloth
  • New York & Co.
  • Old Navy
  • Target
  • Zara

Bucket 2: Midlevel Fashion

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Guest Post: From Growing Up Poor to Working in Big Law

Growing Up Poor | CorporetteHow does your background — like growing up poor — affect your life in Big Law or other conservative jobs? After all, Big Law (and other Big jobs) can be interesting places, full of strange traditions, big personalities, and a lot of assumptions — that everyone knows what to wear yachting or for a golf scramble, for example. Today, I’m happy to welcome back Ruth Moore*, a lawyer turned actress (who’s currently a recurring character in a TV series) with some deep thoughts on how growing up poor affected her legal career. Ruth has guest posted before, with a Tales From the Wallet post about how to break free from golden handcuffs (and get used to paying tuition again). Welcome back, Ruth! – Kat.

This post came about because I was telling Kat about how I’d always been curious which of my Big Law colleagues had also grown up below the poverty line. I have this theory that there were certain habits and ways of thinking from growing up poor that stuck with me as a young adult, when I suddenly went up a couple of rungs on the socioeconomic ladder.

Some of those habits were sartorial. For example, even though I was earning a lot of money, I was still very cheap with myself, especially in the beginning. I distinctly remember buying a pair of jeans from H&M for $39.99 and thinking, “Wow, I’m buying forty-dollar jeans at full price, I really made it!” For work clothes, I splurged on two skirts and three shirts (deeply discounted) from a chain that represented, to me, the height of luxury: The United Colors of Benetton. Dry cleaning seemed too frivolous so I’d just wash them by hand. I wore my Aldo heels with the same pride with which my officemate wore her Louboutins. I didn’t get a professional haircut until my fourth year as a lawyer, opting to trim it myself instead. It’s kind of a miracle that no one reported me to “What Not to Wear.” (Pictured: Money, originally uploaded to Flickr by loopoboy 2.0.)

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Tales from the Wallet: Wedding Finances

Money Milestones: How Your Wedding Affects Your Finances | CorporetteWhat are the financial implications of getting married — and how does your wedding budget affect your overall financial health? What other major milestones affect your financial health?  I’ve often read that how you handle a few major milestones in your life — wedding!  grad school!  baby!  buying a house!  divorce!  retirement! — can have a significant impact on your overall financial health.  So I thought we’d start a series on Money Milestones.  (We’ve already talked about how where you live affects your finances, as well as what a general money roadmap, through life, should look like.)

First up:  the financial implications of getting married.  The question to everyone who’s been through this: what choices did you make that affected finances? What would your advice be to someone just going through it (either for the first time or again)? To those of you who decided NOT to get married because of the financial implications — please share some of your thoughts with us!

For my $.02, these are my best tips:

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Tales from the Wallet: What’s Worth the Splurge (And What Isn’t)

When to Splurge, When to Save | CorporetteSomething that I’ve wanted to do for a while is talk about what’s worth the “splurge” (on a big or small level) versus what’s NOT worth the splurge. For example: I always joke that life is too short for cheap liquor and cheap toilet paper. On the flip side, I rarely notice the difference with a “fine” wine (ahem), and “good” coffee is wasted on me also — Folgers is just fine for my one cup a day. At the grocery store, I often buy store brands (or whatever’s cheapest).

On a day to day level, my cleaning lady (who now comes once a fortnight) is non-negotiable and an absolute essential (we love you Olga!), and I will give up other splurges (such as frequent dinners out) to keep room for her in the budget. (Pictured:  Fossil ‘Key-Per’ Wristlet, was $40, now $29.98.)

On a grander level, I think education is worth the splurge if other factors align; in other words, the more expensive program may be worth it if it offers enhanced networking capabilities / alumni base / career services / etc. In terms of housing, I’ve always prioritized living space over location or amenities (e.g., I’ve never lived in a glitzy apartment building in a super chic area but rather the largest apartment I could get in the safest area near where I wanted to live).

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Rewarding Yourself for a Job Well Done

Rewarding Yourself for a Job Well Done | CorporetteWhat are some good ways to treat yourself for a job well done? Reader L wonders how best to reward herself with a fun splurge…

I just learned that I received a huge promotion at work, for which I’ve been working very hard for a very long time. I would like to do something special for myself to celebrate, and was thinking about splurging on something as a reward. Many of my male colleagues will do something like buy a very nice watch for such a promotion, but I’m not really interested in that. What other options would you suggest? For example, I thought investing in a really nice handbag might be an option, or I’m also considering going on a bucket list trip somewhere exotic. I would love to hear your suggestions and those of other readers, and while I know this is a very personal decision, I thought it could make for a great discussion.

Great question, Reader L (and congratulations)! We’ve talked about how to celebrate a win, and even the splurges I thought were worth the money, but this is always a fun topic.

Given Reader L’s particular question, though, I have to say: TAKE THE TRIP IF YOUR SCHEDULE WILL ALLOW! A lot of readers noted that I didn’t include trips on my list of “best splurges,” but my schedule back then was always way too busy to fit in a bucket list trip (ditto for my friends’ schedules at the time). Material goods like watches usually won out over experiences. (Even if you can’t go out of town, though, I suppose you can always schedule a pampering spa day at a fancier hotel in your city.)

Readers — do you reward yourselves with travel and materialistic splurges, or do you celebrate work successes by treating yourself in other ways? 

(Pictured: Bali Paradise, originally uploaded to Flickr by Sean McGrath.)

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