I’ve been in Paris for more than a week, and I’m reminded of how little money you need to spend in order to have an amazing experience. This morning I woke up, ate a freshly-baked baguette (88 cents) with cheese and olives, and sipped a homemade cappuccino in my living room while I got some writing done. This afternoon I’m taking a long walk to a free local park, where lilies are in full bloom.
Today’s spending: Pretty darn close to zero. Today’s enjoyment: Complete.
Welcome to the latest edition of Reader’s Ask. Today I’m featuring two questions: one from a reader who is debating whether or not to attend grad school, and the other from someone who has a logistical question about travel and money.
Reader Question #1:
I’m 24 years old. I have a marketing job making about $40k per year (before taxes), half of which I live on, the other half goes into a savings account, which I use for my student loan payment and my Roth IRA contribution. I have about $18k in student loan debt. I have about $15k saved in a Roth IRA, and a few thousand in a 401k plan. I’m happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish so far, but I want to do more.
I’ve been accepted into the MBA program. Total tuition and fees will run me about $15,000. The motivating factor for me wanting to get my MBA is to be able to teach business and marketing classes at a University. In my area, these positions are typically paid around $50,000 per year. Not a bad rate of return, invest $15k and earn $10k more in just one year….. BUT is it worth taking out the extra student loan debt? (This would take my total debt up to around $35k — yuck!)
Afford Anything’s Answer:
You’ve stated that your motivation is to teach business/marketing classes at the college/university level. That’s key information, and its good to hear. Getting a masters degree is a mandatory prerequisite to getting that job.
If you had written to me and said, “I want a marketing position at a company,” I’d be a bit more hesitant about recommending that you go to grad school. After all, you can get a marketing job with your bachelor’s degree, and then climb your way up by being an awesome performer. Once you’re on-board with the company, most people won’t know what your highest level of education is. And your rockstar performance at the company will matter more than your education.
But teaching at the college level is different — the degree is literally a requirement; it’s an unavoidable price of entry. So if that’s what you really want to do, then I think that you should go for it.
BUT — and here’s the but –
First I want you to ask yourself one question: Is this your dream?
Don’t take that question lightly. Are you going to want this same dream (teaching at the college level) within two years, when you graduate? Do you want it badly enough that you’re willing to sacrifice traveling, delay investing, delay buying a home and throwing a wedding and having kids, for the sake of pursing this dream?
If your answer is yes, then absolutely go for it. I have no objection to people consciously making sacrifices in other areas of their life for the sake of pursuing a dream. In fact, I think that’s admirable. Everyone who has done anything noteworthy has made plenty of sacrifices along the way.
My only “beef” is with people who assume they should go to grad school because they’re “expected” to, or because they’re dissatisfied with their current job, or because their friends did it. That’s not sacrifice on behalf of a dream … that’s sacrifice for no real good reason, other than succumbing to social pressure.
Reader Question #2:
How do you pay for things when you’re traveling? Is it safe to carry that much cash around?
As always, the answer is: It depends.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, street cart food vendors in Cambodia don’t take credit cards. The more you’re off-the-beaten-path, the more likely cash is your only choice.
If you’re in Burma, buying a cup of tea from a market stall, you’ll need cash. If you’re haggling over the cost of a $6 per night hostel – trying to convince the host to let you have it for $5 – you’ll need cash. But in more developed countries, and in higher-end, on-the-beaten-path destinations, you’ll be able to swipe plastic.
Don’t assume that “developed countries” is synonymous with the Western world. There are plenty of highly developed countries across the Middle East and Asia. The UAE, Egypt, Qatar, Malaysia – these nations, especially their major cities, are far more advanced than you might imagine. (The flashy wealth in Kuala Lumpur is unbelievable. It’s what I imagine Beverly Hills to look like.)
So, onto the second part of your question – how do you keep your money safe? Credit cards give you the highest levels of fraud protection, so use it when you can. When you use cash, withdraw money from an ATM rather than going to a moneychanger. You’ll get the best exchange rate.
Withdraw ONLY as much cash as you need for about a week. Put the majority of that into a “money belt” that you wear under your pants. Stash only one day’s worth of cash into your wallet. That way, if you get pick-pocketed, you’ll only lose a day’s bills.