Author Topic: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?  (Read 5657 times)

onehappypanda

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Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« on: February 24, 2012, 10:00:17 PM »
This is something that has been at the back of my mind for quite some time, as I've been reading more about frugality and financial independence. When you get an advanced degree, like a PhD, you give up 4-6 years of money making power. In some fields this is offset by oodles of extra money upon graduation, but in other fields you get to do cooler work but the increase in paycheck in minimal.

I'm in the second type of field. I'm 22 and in route to getting my PhD in an educational research field. With my bachelor's, I probably could've started a career around $30-35K and worked my way up. With a PhD, I could expect to make around $55-60K to start, and probably with better benefits based on the type of job I'd qualify for. Also, a little more upward mobility. But I'm also giving up 5-6 years of post-bachelor's degree income to do so. I'll be 27 or 28 by the time I graduate, and I probably won't be able to invest all that much until then.

Granted, I'm in a pretty good situation for a grad student. I have less than $4K in student loans from my undergrad ($2K subsidized and $2K unsubsidized, both pretty low interest). My hope is to use side job money to whittle away at that while I'm getting my PhD, so I can graduate debt-free. My PhD is fully funded, and I have a small (very small) stipend to live off of. Thanks to my undergrad job benefits, I have a teeny weeny retirement fund that I hope to roll over into a better plan and contribute to as I'm able to. So it could be worse.  But like I said, it's unlikely that I can save or invest very much until I have a "big kid job" which won't be until I'm 27 at the earliest.

I'm not really planning on adapting my educational plans much, as this is something I love doing and I don't mind living like a brokeass student for a few more years to get there. I don't even really mind delaying retirement for a few years if necessary, since I do love the field I'm in. But I'm wondering, philosophically, is getting an advanced degree even if the potential income difference isn't huge an inherently anti-Mustachian thing to do?

ghyspran

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2012, 10:13:31 PM »
I wouldn't say so. Mustachianism is about letting money work for you so you can do what you want to do. If that means waiting an extra 6 years before significantly building your 'stache, then that's fine. That said, Mustachianism would require you to be as frugal as necessary to live those 6 years debt-free and financially safe. So long as once your income shoots up your spending doesn't shoot up, those 6 years of necessary frugality might even help build those frugality muscles so necessary to the Mustachian way of life.

Mike Key

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2012, 05:58:52 AM »
What is the honest job forecast for that field?

There are to many people today getting degrees without researching what the job forecast over the next 30 years looks like for their field.

Tackling all your debt in school will probably put you ahead of everyone else, should you not be able to find work after finishing school.


I'd be worried if I had a PhD 400K of debt and working at McDonalds. A PhD and no debt doesn't make McDonalds seems as awful.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2012, 06:00:58 AM by Mike Key »

catalana

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2012, 07:41:14 AM »
"I don't even really mind delaying retirement for a few years if necessary, since I do love the field I'm in."

This it the interesting bit to me.

I believe Mustachianism is about constructing your life so that you can live the way you wish and spend your days doing what interests and pleases you.  I actually don't think that is necessarily NOT working.  If you love the field you are in, why are you striving for retirement? 

Are you doing the PhD just to earn more per annum in the future?  Or is it because you have a genuine interest in the field and the study area you have been offered?  A PhD is a long hard slog, and I would discourage you from undertaking it purely in the hope of increasing future income.

My OH did a PhD, and continued to work in research afterwards.  He earns a lot less than me, but do you know what?  Despite loving his free time, he enjoys what he does so much, that he has no desire to retire early.  Im still not sure which of us made the wisest choice!

onehappypanda

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2012, 08:47:56 AM »
@ ghyspran- I like that way of looking at it. I think that's what drew me to the whole idea of frugality and mustachianism in the first place- the idea that you if you live frugally and save or invest your extra money instead of spending it on lifestyle things, you can gain the freedom to do what you want with your money and time. Or  in other words, I like the idea that not everyone has to chain themselves to a desk for a paycheck.

@ Mike Key- I agree that people going for advanced degrees with no concept of the job forecast is a big problem, especially if they're taking out loans for it. The job forecast in my area is okay but not fabulous if I want to go into academia, though it's better if I'm willing to look at jobs outside of academia, which at this point I am. Of course 4-5 years ahead of now, when I'll graduate, nobody really know what it'll look like- depends a bit too much on what the government does with education funding. Also depends on what exactly your skills are. The market is significantly better for people with applied statistics knowledge, since lots of people need to use advanced statistics and not enough people have working knowledge in it. I'm looking at getting a minor or other credential in that, which should hopefully make me employable even if the market still sucks when I graduate.

@ catalana- I'm not sure that I AM striving for early retirement. I guess that's the core of my question- does being mustachian necessarily require the goal retire early? Is potentially delaying retirement in order to attain a job you love anti-Mustachian, assuming you follow the other principles (frugality, saving, investing, etc.)? I sound a lot more like your OH- I'm getting a PhD because I love the field I'm in, I love doing research, I get nerdy thrills of excitement when I stumble across things I didn't know before. Also, to do the research I want to do someday, it's necessary to have a PhD. I agree that it would be not the wisest choice to get a PhD just to earn more, at least not in my field where PhD's are brutal and the pay increase barely makes up for the lost years of work. In other fields it might make sense.
"I believe Mustachianism is about constructing your life so that you can live the way you wish and spend your days doing what interests and pleases you." <-- This is kind of what I was wondering.

Thanks for the discussion everyone, this has helped clear some things up for me.

arebelspy

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2012, 09:13:38 AM »
Live the life you want.

Don't get an advanced degree because you're "supposed to," get one if it is what you want to do.
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AJ

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2012, 09:32:34 AM »
I've had to answer this question for myself as well. I'm a software developer, but I would like to go back to school for an advanced degree in another field. However, no matter what way you slice it, it will mean a pay cut, even as it requires more education.

My decision is to power through and retire first, then I'll be free to pursue my studies at my leisure. It also means that once I'm done, I can take whatever job I'm most interested in without regard to pay. The tradeoff is that I will be behind my peers in my next field career-wise. For me personally, that is worth it to have the creative freedom that comes from not having to work for money. Everyone is different, though, and I don't think getting an advanced degree is inherently antimustachian. Just live with tons of roomates, save and invest everything you can, eat healthy but simple, get straight A's and do special side projects. That will put you in the best possible financial position after graduation.

cosmie

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2012, 12:15:06 PM »
The market is significantly better for people with applied statistics knowledge, since lots of people need to use advanced statistics and not enough people have working knowledge in it. I'm looking at getting a minor or other credential in that, which should hopefully make me employable even if the market still sucks when I graduate.
If your university has a decent business school, check and see if they offer anything in this. More and more business schools are offering applied statistics programs, usually labeled something like business analytics. They also usually involve interdisciplinary course options. They're extremely applied courses focused on predictive modeling, process controls, data mining, design of experiments, etc. They're usually easier/faster to get than a traditional statistics degree, and offer a more indepth view of application. The classes simply use business-oriented use cases, but the processes can agnostically be applied to other disciplines. With the knowledge you must possess to get to the point of a PhD program, you'll be able to intuitively understand the underlying concepts that are skipped over in such an applied program. Another perk is that you get really good corporate contacts, which could lead to good private-industry opportunities in the future.

Chemistay

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2012, 12:28:51 PM »
Live the life you want.

Don't get an advanced degree because you're "supposed to," get one if it is what you want to do.

I completely agree. You'll see people all over this forum (and even the MMM family) point out examples of things they do that cost more money that it could/should - like living close to family even though it adds a small commute or buying organic food because its something they believe it. For me, it's all being honest with yourself about priorities.

I could get a lab job today that makes decent money but I wouldn't be very happy at it. (In fact, when I'm feeling burned out in grad school I check the listings for science jobs in my field for people with just a B.S. and it reaffirms the fact that I want to push through with the Ph.D.). Currently, I live within my means, manage to save a little money, and generally enjoy life. If for some reason I got kicked out of my graduate program tomorrow, I'd have enough money to live off of while I figured out the next step, and I hope that I would be resourceful/talented/frugal enough to find another way to make some money while living on a very low budget.

What I take away from the MMM message is more about having financial freedom than being traditionally retired. I'm inspired by it to keep living a frugal lifestyle, enjoy all of the great things that I do have in my life, and think about how to make my money work for me if/when I find a higher paying job. :-)

onehappypanda

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2012, 04:08:23 PM »
The market is significantly better for people with applied statistics knowledge, since lots of people need to use advanced statistics and not enough people have working knowledge in it. I'm looking at getting a minor or other credential in that, which should hopefully make me employable even if the market still sucks when I graduate.
If your university has a decent business school, check and see if they offer anything in this. More and more business schools are offering applied statistics programs, usually labeled something like business analytics. They also usually involve interdisciplinary course options. They're extremely applied courses focused on predictive modeling, process controls, data mining, design of experiments, etc. They're usually easier/faster to get than a traditional statistics degree, and offer a more indepth view of application. The classes simply use business-oriented use cases, but the processes can agnostically be applied to other disciplines. With the knowledge you must possess to get to the point of a PhD program, you'll be able to intuitively understand the underlying concepts that are skipped over in such an applied program. Another perk is that you get really good corporate contacts, which could lead to good private-industry opportunities in the future.

I'll definitely check into this! My statistics department has an Applied Stats minor that I'm looking into, and the education department I work in also has their own applied quantitative analysis curriculum. But it's good to know there are other options as well.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2012, 04:11:31 PM by onehappypanda »

tannybrown

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2012, 04:22:29 PM »
My wife's currently in a similar situation to you, panda.  She's 3 years into a PhD program that isn't costing us anything, and she gets a small stipend.  With the largest issue (cost of the education + living expenses) addressed, I'd recommend taking the finances out of the equation and just making the decision based on your desire to earn the degree and its ability to get you the kind of work you desire.  I'd also recommend shadowing someone who has the job you desire.  Good luck.

MacGyverIt

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2012, 04:16:57 AM »
If you aren't sure of early retirement and you can manage these expenses, i would consider it -- just keep in mind your goals could change dramatically in a few years. As long as you aren't saddled with student loan debt at that point you can adjust.

For the most part I think college degrees are overrated, the U.S. is filled with young people graduating with BAs and MAs (with questionable "how do you get a job with that?" majors...) with enormous debt who can't find the work. Esp in this day and age, if I had to do it over again I'd probably have gone to an affordable trade school and started my own small business. Maybe once I retire and have the freedom to do so :-)

JanMN

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2012, 08:57:37 AM »
Live the life you want.

Don't get an advanced degree because you're "supposed to," get one if it is what you want to do.

Yes, this is it.

lastwaysleft

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2012, 10:14:58 AM »
I'm in a similar boat.  I'm pursuing my MPH right now, which is a 2-year program.  I have been very, very fortunate to find funding for both of my semesters so far, and my current funding should follow me through until I graduate in spring of 2013.  However, even though I do get a lot of my tuition waived and a good hourly wage for my 20hrs/week, I still have to pay over $3,000 in tuition every semester.  Which means by the time I graduate I will probably be nearly broke.  I've been doing better living within my means than I thought, I've always been frugal but have been trying to be even better since I started grad school.  I couldn't get the type of job I want with only a BA, and I really care about my field, so even though I will be starting at about $0 net worth when I begin my career after grad school, I think it will be worth it because I'll be able to do something I care about and make much more doing it.

Rich M

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2012, 03:55:04 PM »
Here is my experience.

I have a BS is electrical engineering and a MS in optical engineering/laser engineering.  I work at a university as a faculty researcher. 

When I graduated with a BS in 1990, the job market sucked but I got a job at a national lab.  Not only did I get a job there, my employer paid for me to get a masters degree and fund my research for my thesis.  I got really lucky.  Plus, being in school, I was able to defer my student loans. Total cost of my degrees from my pocket was $10k in student loans that I paid off before the 6 month period before I paid interest.  Otherwise I had a couple scholarships and a grant.

I would have gotten the masters even if my work didn't pay for it because I felt it was only two years, I learned a lot of skills that I still use, and gives one an edge over other engineers because every engineer already has a BS.  I chose a MS for the skills over everything else.  Education for me was not for the degree, but for the ability to have the tools to get things done.

When I defended my thesis, which was quite detailed for a masters level thesis, I was asked, and encouraged to chase a PhD.  I liked the idea of getting a PhD from the prestige point of view, but didn't see how it would add to my skills other than give me some credentials to help me get proposals funded--A had already learned the 95% of the stuff I needed getting my masters.  I felt I am an engineer that likes to get peoples funded projects done rather than chase funding.  Also, I felt like the extra few years of getting one was a larger opportunity cost of not only lost income, but because a PhD student works all the time, it's a cost of personal time.  Mind you, that I enjoyed my educational experience and that time was kinda fun.  If your work is fun, it's not necessarily a loss of personal time.

Looking back, I feel I made the right choice.  Even if my job paid for a PhD, I'm not entirely sure I would have gotten it.  I enjoy my job now and am glad I made the choices I made.

But like others said, and Steve Jobs said, Chase your passion. '"Don't live someone else's life of expectation of your life."
« Last Edit: February 26, 2012, 04:00:36 PM by Rich M »

sol

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2012, 08:26:27 PM »
I had many of the same questions while slogging through seven (!) years of a PhD, and that was despite being in a scientific field that I knew I could find employment in afterwards.

Since finishing that degree and staring my working life, I have encountered a variety of people who make just as much money as I do who only have an MS.  They do slightly different work and have slightly less control over the kinds of things that they do, but they are paid just as much.  In that light, getting a PhD was definitely not worth it when measured in dollars.

But the real reasons for that much education have little to do with dollars. 

1.  People go to graduate school because they like being in graduate school, primarily.  It's like staying in college but without so much of the immaturity, and it's a lifestyle that appeals to a lot of people.  University life is in some ways better than retirement.

2.  Having a (science) PhD means you pretty much write your own ticket.  You choose what field you want to work in, what projects you want to pursue, what grants you want to submit.  If you're good at it, you basically get to pick what you do for a living.  That's a big part of the reason why so many academic researchers never retire.  Why would they, when they get paid to pursue interesting problems as much or as little as they like?

If all you care about is money, science is not for you.  No one advances the frontiers of human knowledge for the groupies.  Get an MBA or let your Daddy buy you and oil company, and you can someday take a huge pay cut to retire from your career and become POTUS instead.  I believe that financial security is offered first and foremost to people with connections and ambition, not talent and ability. 

MEJG

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2012, 07:52:40 AM »
I don't think it's antimustachian to get an advanced degree.  If you love what you're studying, and love the career you will gain by your studies than it's perfectly mustachian.  The caveat is, of course, to take on as little debt as possible through badassity, and plow through whatever debt you do accrue with lightening speed.  FI isn't about early retirement for some of us, it is about SWAMIhood (for some not all).

I just finished a 5 year grad degree.  It in a field that I've been telling everyone who would listen I wanted to be in since I was three!  Luckily the jobs I had in the field once I started working just cemented what I'd been saying.  I love my field, I could not imaging doing anything else (even if it were only for 7-10 years until I could retire early).  Now I wasn't hardcore mustacian and racked up $140,000 in government student loans.  I wish I had found this blog worked more during school, and spent less.  As it is I only have my genetic and parent taught frugality to thank for taking out slightly less than half the typical loan burden than others in my field.  Even with the knowledge I have now I would not change going back to school for this degree. 

Live the life you want.  Live with Badassity.  Seek FI and the freedom it gives you.  Your path will be different than anyone else.


shdrdr

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Re: Is it antimustachian to get an advanced degree?
« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2012, 12:27:34 PM »
I would recommend getting a job at a company that pays for the education, and then go for the degree you are interested in. Going to school part time while working full time is not easy, and takes a lot longer to finish than being a full time student. However, you won't end up with a pile of debt when done.