some thoughts about money

Money, or the lack thereof, has been on my mind lately. Like almost everyone else I know, I'm paying off debts from years of education, several moves, car repairs, etc. I plan to be debt-free in three to four years, assuming that nothing catastrophic happens to me or my partner.

I'm employed by a state-funded institution, which means that we don't get cost of living raises. The only raises we get are distributed according to merit scores -- so if you happen to publish an article in a year that we have a raise pool from the state legislature, you get a small raise that year. But if you publish something in an off year, you get zilch. Salary compression is a significant problem in our department, as in most -- when my most junior colleague was hired two years ago, her salary was more than mine at the time, even though I had significantly more publications and experience. That differential will probably never be rectified.

Our rent is going up $200 March 1st. To be fair, they hadn't raised our rent since we moved in three years ago, so it's probably not out of line. But it's kind of a steep jump all at once. My tenure raise, which is the biggest raise I'll ever see unless I get promoted to full someday, doesn't cover this rise in our rent.

Yes, we rent our house. I can't afford to buy a house in a neighborhood we'd want to live in. The only things I would get approved for would either be in gang-run neighborhoods or the far suburbs, neither of which are really viable lifestyles for us. The neighborhood we currently live in is an older inner-city area that developers have been buying up recently. It's entirely possible that within three years we will no longer even be able to afford to rent here.

At the bookstore recently I skimmed through a couple of books on reducing debt load, managing your finances, etc etc -- most of which tell you the same things I already know and am doing. But it is really irritating to me, these recommendations for ways to cut expenses. I don't know anyone who drinks a latte every day and could thus save $15-20 a week by cutting that out. I don't know anyone who buys lunch every day. I don't know anyone who spends $200 on hair cuts. The people I know who are trying to manage their money and curb expenses are already living pretty carefully. I'm not saying that my partner and I can't tighten our belts somewhere -- in fact we've been working on that recently. You can always cut out something. But when you're already bringing a thermos of homemade coffee with you to the office and packing your lunch, it's really irritating to hear how you could shave off $100 a week for your debt if you were already spending your money that way.