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Saving Pennies

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I've been slacking on posts and comments of late. I've got a few excuses up my sleeve (mostly relating to finals, graduation, and an intrusion of Real Life) but I won't trot them out here. Suffice it to say that I'm back.

And I've been thinking.

I just graduated from a good school with a fair amount of debt to my name. Rather than going on to more education -- to law or grad school, like I've planned -- I've decided to take at least the next year (maybe more) off school and work to start paying off the debt I have now and to save up for when I want to go back to school so I can have less debt coming out of that -- especially if I decide to go to law school.

I interviewed for a position yesterday. I did well, I think -- I was on my game, full-force Arwyn, knowing that I'm the sort of person they're looking for and that I can succeed in the field even though it's a far cry from what I majored in. And though I didn't say it during the interview -- where I praised the value of gaining work experience and wanting to get out and learn about the real world for a while and hone my skills while making a valuable contribution to something bigger than myself -- basically, I'm in it for the money.

Now, don't get me wrong. Everything else I said was true: I do want to get out and experience life, and I do want to hone my skills, and I do want to take the next little bit off school to do something different for a while, and I do want to make a bigger contribution...

...but I can't help but think the main reason I want to do it is for money.

And that's legitimate, right? That's why people work, right? That's why people quit school sometimes. That's why people stay at jobs they abhor. That's the main point of working.

Isn't it?

Basically, I'm approaching a quandary.

I feel that I should approach the job as something more than just a paycheck. That it should be part of my personal development, something that can help me grow in the direction I want to grow, something I'll look forward to doing in the mornings.

And I can't say I won't. But, as it stands, what I'm most looking forward to is getting the paycheck every couple weeks, paying rent on an apartment of my own, paying off that debt, and putting some aside for future education.

In the end, I feel like I'm being eminently practical.

And to tie it into the Mormon theme here, I feel that I'm being so very practical because I was taught from a young age not to spend money I don't have, not to stay in debt, not to accumulate it if I can avoid it, and to work hard independently to take care of myself because that's what the Prophet said to do and that's what the pioneers did.

I feel like I've been rambling here, but it's been on my mind for a while: from the perspective of Arwyn-raised-LDS, this job seems perfect; from the perspective of Arwyn-liberally-educated, it seems lacking in so many aspects.

What do you guys think? How do you approach it? Any advice for the just-entering-the-workforce on how to appreciate the money without losing sight of bigger goals? And -- to ask a question that is grounded only in my own observations and no other facts or figures -- do you think a Mormon upbringing inclines one more toward money (for supporting a family or paying off debt rather than necessarily just for the love of money itself) over satisfaction in a career?

11 Responses to “Saving Pennies”

  1. Anonymous Dallas Robbins 

    There's nothing wrong about making lots of money, as long as you love what you do. If one job is just a stepping stone for bigger life goals, then go for it!

  2. Blogger W. Lyle Stamps 

    let me give you another analogy, which many LDS lawyers have faced:

    do you take a job where you will be primarily working on tobacco cases defending tobacco companies?

    Some think it ok; most don't. I turned a position down where "liberal-multicultural lyle" would have been very happy...traveling from one latin american country to another defending tobacco companies in imitations suits spawned after they lost in the U.S. I could even have done missionary work on the side. However...the tobacco thing didn't sit well with my conscience so I didn't take it.

    p.s. how do you like arwyn as a name? my wife says that if we have boy/girl twins, that they should be named aragorn and arwen [ok, not quite the same...but fairly close].

  3. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Lyle- Your twins need Book of Mormon names. Like Nephi and Shephi or Helaman and Shelaman.

  4. Blogger Arwyn 


    That's the thing. I'll enjoy making the money, I think; but I'm not really sure how much I'll love what I'm doing. So I feel like I'm sacrificings the one for the other. Now, when I start work (if I start work -- no word back yet), I might find I adore it; but...maybe I won't. Is it still worth it?


    I love Arwyn as a name. I hated it when I was little -- couldn't find anything readily personalized like my brother Pat or my sister Sue -- but after I read Lord of the Rings, I came to really appreciate it as a pretty, unique name that reflects how I feel about myself (if that doesn't sound too cheesy). Then again, I've gone through life with a simple name that no one seems to be able to pronounce correctly; any Arwen or Aragorn will face the same problem. But I think it's worth it -- has been for me. :)

  5. Blogger Kaimi 

    You may want to consider working as a legal assistant at a law firm.

    It pays well. It's great experience if you're planning on going to law school. Well, not great, but as good as you're going to get.

    And it gives you connections to legal people, which can be useful post-law-school.

    We hire tons of legal assistants -- nearly all very recent college grads who are considering law school and want to save money, check out the career, or both.

    So do many other firms in New York, DC, Chicago, LA, etc. I think the practice is less prevalent as you move out of the big cities.

  6. Blogger NFlanders 

    My only caveat would be to make sure you don't lose momentum and forget about school all together (since you seem to be planning on going further). Once you get a real job, you get accustomed to the lifestyle that a regular paycheck provides and it's very hard to go back.

    I finished school four years ago and I can only go back now because my wife will be supporting us.

    Kaimi must be joking. Being a paralegal is good if you're planning on going to law school, but otherwise it seems like a lot of work (and overtime) for a barely adequate salary.

  7. Blogger Carrie 


    Since you haven't decided between grad school and law school yet, I think taking a year or two off to make money and think about what you want to study is the ideal thing for you to do. If you're seriously considering law school, Kaimi's advice is excellent--either you'll make good connections as a legal assistant or you'll decide the law isn't for you. (It seems common for people to decide to go to law school without really knowing what they'll be in for at the end, which makes for unhappily matched people and careers.)

    No matter what job you take, even if you end up behind the counter at McDonald's, you will learn things about yourself and about "the real world" that college simply cannot teach you. It's not the same personal development that you'll get from an advanced education, but it's certainly personal development and very, very valuable--even if you hate your job and quit it after a few months.

    NFlanders is right about the momentum thing. It's possible that a year from now you'll decide you prefer getting a regular check to going to school. But so what? I say that if you don't want or need an advanced degree as much as what you have to give up to get one, it's better to find that out before you spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years on one. On the other hand, if you do decide to continue your education, you will know that that's what you really want to do with your life. And you'll have more life experience and less debt, which can't be a bad thing.

    p.s. My advice would be different if you knew for certain exactly what you wanted to study.

  8. Anonymous Steve (FSF) 

    Good post. I’ve been on both sides of the fence as both an applicant and hiring manager. Fair and proper compensation is very important and hiring managers and HR people who down play it are intellectually dishonest, in denial of commercial realities or just plain stupid. Money is how contribution is measured in a commercial environment. A common interview question is “What motivates you?” My stock reply is “pride in a job well done and compensation”. If the hire manager is taken aback that money motivates me, I follow-up w/ a question: “You personally and this division are graded on the numbers, correct?”. To which they always admit that, yes, that is indeed how success in business is measured. My follow-up is (said with a big smile) “We’ll, my family grades me on the numbers too.”

    That said, money specifics are best (and easily) deferred until there’s an offer on the table you can respond to.

    Good luck.

    P.S., if/when you decide to do grad school, think it through carefully and look at the careers of others to assess the long term impact it might have for you. My Ph.D. in chemistry only cost me time (tuition was waived and I was paid a living allowance for research and teaching), but the degree has no bearing on my career now and I consider those grad school years somewhat wasted. Most people just need some periodic additional graduate education to expand their skill set, not a grad degree. For example, many years ago as a laboratory middle manager, I had a general manager boss that insisted I take some marketing and accounting classes so he could delegate more tasks to me. Today, most people assume my grad degree is in business.

  9. Blogger Kaimi 


    Granted, it's not enough to live the high-life on, but paralegal salary is nothing to laugh at. Paralegals for the big firms in NYC tend to make 25 to 30 an hour, starting, plus overtime.

    If they're just putting in 40 hours a week, that's 50k gross. If they're doing crazy overtime -- and I've been on teams that worked the paralegals for 80-100 hours a week for months on end -- they can make upwards of 10 grand a month.

    That won't get you a swanky Central Park apartment, but it's more than enough for most paralegals' needs. On that salary, you could rent a one-bedroom or a shared apartment in Brooklyn or Inwood, pay all regular expenses, and still have money to play with and money to save.

  10. Blogger Arwyn 

    Thanks, all, for the advice -- I appreciate it!

    One thing that I'm pretty sure about is momentum. What I ultimately want to do involves more schooling, and frankly -- I love school. I'll miss it while working, and I'm pretty sure that within the next few years, I'll be ready to go back. So I'm not too worried about that.

    I did consider a paralegal position, Kaimi; and if what I'm looking at right now really doesn't fit, I'm planning to give it a shot.

    Ultimately, coming straight out of school here, the problem I'm dealing with is simply the idea of working for money -- that is, what people have been doing for hundreds of years. To my academically-idealized mind, the money should be a byproduct where the goal of the work itself should be the focus and the exciting bit; the idea of making the money a more central part seems...odd.

    And practical. Again, it makes sense. I think maybe it's something I just need some time to get my head around. Or else, maybe I'm better suited for the non-profit world than the business community.

  11. Blogger Stephen 

    If you are thinking of law school, pick up a copy of Planet Law School's second edition. Skip all of the editorializing and follow the preparation guidelines.

    It will make a real difference.

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