Time and Money

yellow alarm clockWhen I received my first tenure-track job offer, from a public land-grant university in the midwestern United States, I was a bit nonplussed with the salary offered. I had looked at the MLA’s suggestions for salaries at various stages of the profession and suggested to my new department that they consider coming closer to that magic number. After they were done convulsing with laughter, they upped my starting salary by $500. Woo hoo.

I was, as I frequently remind myself, young and foolish and didn’t know the first thing about negotiation. Nor did I possess the smarts to talk to someone about how to go about negotiating a hiring package in the buyer’s marketplace that is the foreign language job market in North America. But part of my problem then is a common problem that is rather sticky and tends to hang around even after people learn negotiation skills: a lot of us just don’t like to talk about money. It is unseemly, uncouth.

I’m not quite sure how I wound up with the impression that my professors were well off. I did go to private universities for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, so the people who taught me were likely paid better than I would have been at Midwestern Land-Grant U. But even so, I now doubt that those people were much better off than I became. It might have been as simple as witnessing the pure luxury of a life of a professional reader. Getting paid any amount to read books and write and talk about them seemed to me like all sorts of riches. That may sound corny, I know, but my own background provided me with ample examples of work life being pretty draining and uninspiring; a future where I could set my own agenda and really dive into books and history was pure luxury.

What I maybe didn’t appreciate at the time, was that part of the remuneration of a faculty member comes in the form of time: summers free from teaching duties (and sometimes free from pay); autonomy in schedule setting, the familiar pace of the school year. I’ve heard more than one professor confess that part of the attraction of the job was knowing they’d have the flexibility to take their kids to dental appointments, etc.

In a scenario where academics are trading potential earnings for a certain amount of autonomy over their schedule (a scenario a bit more common in the US than in Canada, according to my experience), it makes sense to not only budget your time, but also budget your money. I think a lot about productivity measures and academic creativity, so thinking about time budgeting is right up my alley. But I avoid an actual household budget like the plague.

The more I work with people though, and experience their complex lives and where they’re succeeding and where they’re frustrated, the more I realize that how we spend our money and how we spend our time are closely related–or should be. Both, I think, need to be rooted in our understanding of what we value and hold most dear. Knowing what our individual values our, as well as our personal and professional goals, can help us make decisions around where to spend our time–do we engage in that activity or not? does this thing here get me closer to where I want to be or not?–but also around where we spend our money and where we don’t.

I don’t mean boycotts here (although you’re more than free to join me in attempting to avoid all Nestle products for the rest of time), but rather knowing where you want to get, financially, and making sure you’ve set up habits and systems to support you actually getting there. Automatic deductions for retirement and educational savings accounts, maxing the contribution to your employers 403b, giving charitable donations to institutions that do work you care about, etc. And, importantly, knowing where your money is going and feeling good about that at the end of each week. When I work with clients on time management, we always look at exactly how many hours in a day they have to commit to work. We account for their time, so that we know where it’s going and whether those destinations are where we want to go. Working with money can be much the same process.

If you’re interested in thinking about money and values (the value of money?), I recommend checking out Cait Flanders’ Mindful Budget process.

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