Winter is here in the Midwest. A breezy, 20-mph wind cuts through everything. The roads have an icy sheen. My breath is eviscerated as I walk out the door. I choke. My commute — a brisk jog — is bone-chilling. With my backpack rustling back and forth, I gingerly move from foot to foot. Frankly, despite the cold and madness of running in work clothes, I’m going to miss these days. I’m going to miss the toughness of this work and school routine.
I can feel my time in Iowa City is winding down. Over the next year and a half, I’ll move on to my internship (similar to a medical doctor’s residency). That internship will be in a new location — new peers, new streets, new names, and… new weather. As one chapter closes, another opens, right?
The decisions I make today will greatly affect where I end up — physically, emotionally, and financially. The next couple years include challenging financial concerns and I want to openly process them with you. There are three domains of my life that I’d like to consider: possibly buying a car, planning for travel/lodging costs associated with internships, and potentially moving three times in three years.
To buy, or not to buy… a car
One and a half years ago, I said sayonara to a hefty car loan and excess liability. The 2006 Honda Civic coupe was cool, efficient, and reliable. But paying off an $11,000 car loan with little money leftover to save or afford repairs felt dangerous. So, I sold it.
Since then, I’ve used my bike and feet to travel nearly everywhere. While I didn’t need to lose weight, the decision has kept me svelte and fit. When all you have is your physical health to get around, you tend to take better care of yourself. Simply put, I’ve enjoyed being car-less — it’s freeing.
I don’t lavish browsing Craigslist and other used car websites, but I’m increasingly sneaking peeks. In the next couple semesters and moves, a car could help me immensely. I’ll use it to go grocery shopping, visit my girlfriend, and potentially move into a more affordable housing complex. Without a car, these tasks become exceedingly difficult.
Now more than ever, I’m conscious I might be trying rationalize buying a car. That can be financially disastrous. Thankfully, I’m engaged in a careful consideration — unlike my first car purchase, which includes:
- Talking openly with family and friends
- Browsing used car sites patiently
- Scoping out values, which will hold resale and reliability
- Considering two price points: dirt cheap and car loan levels
- Reviewing how I could potentially get by without a car
I’m motivated to try and buy a car in cash, but heavily limited by my bank account, the stock market’s recent decline, and the two following tasks: internship applications and two apartment moves in the interim.
When I look at my bank accounts, I’m seeing a tiny number: $3487.93. While I’m happy and privileged to have a positive number between my checking and savings accounts, I’m concerned. I make little net income each month as a graduate student. Buying a car would drain nearly all of my liquidity. It’s forcing me to be careful — along with the reminder that I hate debt. I desperately want to stay positive in my net worth. If you’ve got some special advice about car buying or an offer I can’t refuse, hit me up!
Let’s talk about your future, young man
My time in Iowa City always had an expiration date. Graduate school is a relatively fixed duration of 5 years here and then a year-long internship — 6 years total. Afterwards, it’s time to finish up the requirements and look for professional opportunities. And this final transition can be painfully expensive.
In 2011, the average out-of-pocket expenses for applying and traveling to internships cost doctoral students $1,800. When asking classmates, they’ve cited costs around $2,000-$2,500 nowadays. With this financial burden in mind, and aforementioned funds, I’m in a bind. In the best case scenarios, it seems I either use a major portion of savings towards a car — with little remaining for internships — or dedicate it towards internships and remain without a car. At this point in my life, neither sounds smart.
Worse, I might have to take out a car loan to afford the internship experiences or a student loan to afford everything else. Those are both worst case scenarios for my financial present and future. I loath loans and cannot envision them being part of a healthy budget right now. These aren’t home mortgages; rather, complicated instruments that encourage spending, manipulate critical thinking, and have led me into deeper holes.
One thing I can do is redirect some poorly performing investments into internship savings, follow a close food budget for the next year and a half, and pour every extra penny into internship savings. With this drastic action, I might be able to buy a car in cash right now, while continuing to save for this decision. This version is an ideal, though. I’ve learned that financial decisions are often controlled by unexpected and unpredicted events, but I can try.
Moving out, moving on
After four years of easy living in graduate student housing at the University of Iowa, I’m dealing with one of the sadder moments of my time here: being forced to move. Financially, the current apartments I live in have become financially burdensome. When I moved to Iowa City, rent was a competitive, amazing $435 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Compared to the greater community, rent was dirt cheap and offered month-to-month leases.
Two years after I moved here, a private company built new buildings and prices skyrocketed. Next fall, rents will be $999 for a one-bedroom apartment. That’s $564 in rent increases. I can’t afford this place anymore. It went from graduate housing to luxury living for staffers and University of Iowa faculty making far more than fixed-income students. While complicated, it’s a symptom of the privatization of public resources and universities.
Despite the previous increases, I’ve stayed for consistency and friends. Now, it’s time to move out and on. I’m looking further out from the city center. Prices would be lower and I’d be closer to grocery stores. With my final year in Iowa right around the corner, this is an inevitable and financially necessary decision.
Although, despite savings in rent prices each month, I’ll need to afford moving costs and rental deposits. Even in an effort to save money, I’ll need to spend some. Oh, the irony! And the situation becomes even more challenging: over the next three years, I’ll need to move three times. Moving costs and new rental deposits will be a theme for my life temporarily.
In short, money is tight. Three domains necessitate savings, planning, and careful consideration. Purchasing a car, financing internship applications, and moving will drain my savings, but I’m dedicated to avoiding debt and making smarter financial decisions. Previously, I would’ve made rash judgments and rationalized them as “completely necessary.” I would’ve said “I need to buy this [insert expensive item here].” Today, my financial state of the union is better than ever, but precarious. I have to be careful and decisive — rational and reasonable.