|I hear behind these doors, there|
are hallowed halls.
I was accepted into the PhD program to which I applied. In 4-5 years, I should be a doctor (not a helpful sort of doctor, but, still, a doctor nonetheless).
This is a dream on many of levels. I'll get to do advanced study in a field that I love, for one. After I get the degree, I will be qualified for a career (teaching) I've always wanted, for two, and that doesn't even take into account the practical theatre work that I will continue to be a part of in the future. Even in simply getting accepted, there is a sense of validation for my life choices thus far, for three. I should be excited out the wazoo, right?
A few days ago at Grumpy Rumbling of the Untenured, there was a thoughtful article and series of comments concerning spouses and careers, with particular emphasis placed on the perils of one spouse paying the bills while the other worked towards his or her dream career through higher education. This post brought me pause for several reasons, not the least of which being the horror stories from women whose relationships with their husbands had degenerated when they were in similar situations.
So, right from the get-go, an immediate, extra-scholastic concern is for my marriage, and my immediate thought is that I should not do things that could cause a rift. I know that I'm maybe going a little "butterfly effect" right now in placing so much emphasis on things that "might happen if," but the sanctity of my marriage is of paramount importance to me. I do my best not to do things that will hurt my wife, and she does the same. I think that by looking out for your spouse's best interests, a marriage will work, and we've been blessed by the fact that neither of us has so severely violated the other's interests that our relationship has become irreparable.
However, apart from the very real marriage concern (and more to the point of the title of this post), I am concerned about the financial ramifications of the choice to go back to school.
To put it bluntly, between our two incomes, my wife and I make what I consider to be a stupid amount of money. We're not rich by any means, but we are very comfortable, and, if we both stayed at our current jobs through retirement, I have no doubt that we would easily be millionaires. Just from our 401(k) contributions alone (since the company we work for matches contributions 100% dollar for dollar), if the market averages 8%, we could be in the 7 figure territory by the end of the decade.
I don't know about you, but that amazes me. As both of our families are pretty solidly middle class, it's safe to say that should my wife and I simply stay the course we're on today, we will live our Baby Boomer parents' dream for us: we will have had it better in life than they did.
On the other hand, if I join the PhD program, things will obviously change. In the email note that told me I had been accepted into the program, the professor also acknowledged that funding was still up in the air. If there is funding that is at least equal to the first two years tuition (as tends to be the case, from what I've heard), then the decision is perhaps a little easier. But what if that isn't the case?
I would like to keep on at my current job while attending the program, but I am unsure if that will actually be a viable option. If I am unable (for scheduling or other reasons) to keep my job, am I really willing to give up a half-decade's worth of earnings and retirement savings, likely get into at least some student loan debt, and potentially destroy my marriage, all for the sake of following a dream and MAYBE getting a job that I THINK I'll like, while the earnings for which job will be less than what I currently make?
As a personal finance blogger, I know what my decision should be. I should stay at my job which I am good at and for which I am well compensated. I should keep maxing out my 401(k) and my Roth. I should not go to school if there is any potential that I'll need loans. If I'm going back to school at all, I should choose a more lucrative and/or in-demand field such as finance or science. I need to maximize my earnings early in life so that I can take advantage of the lowly investor's best friend, compound interest.
I know all that, and yet...
There has to be something said for making a change with your life and doing what you want.
It occurs to me that maybe I'm not a personal finance blogger at all.
I guess it's safe to say that I'm still undecided about this, so I ask you, unknowable voids of the internet: what do you think I should do?
Photo by jjorogen.