I’m still over here, contemplating freedom and what it means to me. Consider this Part Two of another rambling set of posts. (Part One is right here!)
As all of my regular readers know, I’m a postdoc in biology, and I am lucky enough to have discovered a project that I love and that my advisor has been willing to support. As far as postdocs go, I am living the dream. It’s still work, which means it still requires a lot of time, effort, patience, and persistence, but still—I am living the dream. Now, science postdocs are famous for complaining about how poorly paid they are, and I am here to refute that claim, at least in my case. How much money a person needs depends on a lot of factors, including where she lives, how many dependents she has, and how much debt she’s carrying.
Money is one of my biggest anxieties, and yet, I live quite comfortably on my postdoc salary. This month, as I was thinking about Christmas and gifts and whatnot, I realized that I want for nothing. There is nothing lacking in my life for want of money. I don’t have a car, but to be honest, I don’t really want a car right now. I’d like to buy some new glasses, but I’m content to wait until January to make that happen. I might buy some “grown-up” furniture for my bedroom (which is currently sporting a look I like to call “dorm-room chic”), but I’m happy to roll that into 2013’s big budget items. For me, budgeting has become such a way of life that it doesn’t feel like deprivation—it’s just me being the planning geek that I am. And right now, I’m way over budget for travel (damn you, holiday plane tickets!), but I’ll make up for that with contributions over the next few months. After December, I am not planning to take any big trips until October 2013, so that’s plenty of time to reimburse myself for what is always a spendy time of year.
I’ve been out of graduate school for more than three years now, but to be honest, I have maintained a similar budget to my grad school budget. Staying (more or less) on that budget has allowed me to save a lot of money, which gives me a certain sense of confidence about an uncertain future. And that, I think, is a wonderful freedom of the mind. Who knows what I’ll do next? I might try my hand at teaching, or science editing, or more writing. I might find a groovy company doing something really cool and decide to work for them! In the meantime, I find myself relaxing a bit about money (though I do worry sometimes, like when I have to buy plane tickets for December travel). It’s nice to feel like I don’t have to pinch pennies any more. It’s nice to go to Target and feel like I can buy whatever I want. Like this pretty polka-dotted shirt dress.
(The shoes, however, are from Kohl’s.)
It’s that everyday freedom that probably adds the most pleasure to my life. I worry, of course, that my grant might not get funded, that I’ll be back on the job market sooner than I would have liked. In the meantime, I’ve grown somewhat lazy about policing my spending. I toss a bottle of wine into my shopping basket. I meet with friends for our weekly wine date. I indulge in a new dress from Target or I comb the racks at Plato’s Closet, just for fun. Because clothes are fun, and buying secondhand is almost like getting something for free. I buy big bags of yams and cuties at the grocery store because orange foods make me happy. I buy a new cookbook because I can’t resist adding just one more to my shelves.
I worried a lot about money in graduate school because I was young, anxious, and naïve. I wanted my freedom from Mom and Dad, but the cost of that freedom was being financially responsible for myself. Now, I am grateful for the discipline that was inspired by my grad school anxiety. Because now I know what my budget can look like during a frugal time, and I know what it looks like when I spend as I please. And perhaps as much as being able to buy a new dress, guilt-free, at Target is a kind of freedom, I think knowledge is the very best kind of freedom. Knowledge will set you free.
PS Interesting in hearing more about my perspective on money? Check out this post: Survival Strategies, Part Two: On Wallet.