I often read in the PF blogosphere about the importance of achieving financial independence through the generation of passive income streams. Some bloggers will go on to explain that until we achieve FI, we are trading time for money, and time should be recognized as a more precious resource than money because it is non-renewable.
I turned over the phrases “trading time for money” or “working for money” while Kyle and I traveled for Thanksgiving. (Aren’t long car rides wonderful for ruminating?) I realized that I don’t think of myself as trading time for money right now. I view my paycheck as incidental to the work I do, not the reason for it. I’m working to get my PhD, not to get money.
Over the course of writing this blog I’ve developed a description for the fiscal relationship between universities and stipend-receiving PhD students: The university expects us to work for free, and it pays us just enough to enable us to do so. What I mean by that is that graduate students are expected to turn 100% of their efforts over to the pursuit of their studies, and to prevent us from having to get outside jobs to fund our lives, the university pays (some of) us just enough to get by.
In my case, just this fall my pay became officially on paper disconnected from my work. I was switched from the compensatory payroll system to the non-compensatory payroll system, which means I’m being paid by a fellowship instead of a grant, which means that I don’t have “earned income,” which means that I have no work requirement for receiving my pay. Allegedly, I will be paid whether I work or not (though I’m not going to test this). Obviously this is ludicrous and if I don’t work I’ll be kicked out of my program and I will lose my fellowship, but the pay is kind of tied to my enrollment instead of my work itself. So again, I’m not working for money, I’m working for my degree.
A year or two ago when some lottery jackpot or another got really high, there was a lot of media and PF blog attention to the question of “What would you do if you won?” I didn’t buy any lottery tickets, but I did indulge in the fantasy of winning. And you know what? I would finish my PhD. Money or no, I’m banging this degree out.
My stipend is vital to my life, so I don’t mean to say that it isn’t important or appreciated, but it’s not my motivation for going to work every day. I’m not trading time for money, I’m trading time for this degree. Perhaps you could argue that the degree represents the ability to earn, but I really see it as so much more than that. I would have done fine in the work force with just my undergraduate degree, or with a master’s. This PhD has been a labor of love and ambition and determination, much more so since I decided not to pursue leading my own lab (the stereotypical/assumed desired career for a science PhD).
During our drive, I asked Kyle if he views himself as working for money. He said that he views working as having a dual purpose of pursuing the degree and earning money. (Kyle still technically does “earn” his stipend.)
Perhaps we’re just trying to justify to ourselves our abysmal pay, though. Like, we can’t just be working for money, because if we are that means we’re only worth what we’re being paid, and we can’t stomach what it says about us to only be marketable at that pay.
But I don’t believe PhD students are the only people working for something more than money. The adage about never working a day in your life if you love what you do is still fairly popular. There are lots of people in jobs that pay less than what they could get elsewhere who choose to be there because of the warm fuzzies or whatever that they get for doing that particular job or serving that particular population. Those people are definitely working for more than money – they are not simply trading time for money. They are trading time for money and the less tangible benefits they get from their jobs.
Are you simply trading time for money? What do you get out of your job aside from money? Would you keep your job if you were FI?
photo from Free Digital Photos