Michael on June 24th, 2009
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This is a guest post by Kathryn Marion, author of Grads: Take Charge of Your First Year After College. Last week, I posted Transitioning to the Real world and asked for questions for Kathryn.  Today, Kathyrn provides her answers:

I know that saving money is important, but I also love traveling/vacationing which gets expensive. Some friends tell me to save all that I can and have fun later, while some other friends tell me to have fun now and that I’ll make money later in life. What’s a good balance of saving vs. spending when I’m just starting out and not making a lot? — Diana

That’s a great question, Diana! Both sets of friends have good points. Most financial advisors would probably side with the save-now-travel-later approach. More free-wheeling types would definitely lean toward the travel-now-make-up-for-it-later strategy. But my first inclination is to ask: do you really have to choose? I don’t, necessarily, see this as an either-or proposition. Take a close look at your skills (both technical and functional) and see if you can create a way to combine your love of travel with paid work.

The possibilities are virtually endless-it just takes a creative person to get the two interests to dovetail. Here are just a few possibilities that come to mind:

  • teach English in another country, or even more than one! Check out www.TeachAbroad.com or CIEE’s site for information and opportunities;
  • teach anything you’re good at (cooking, crafts, music, sports) through schools, non-profits, Chambers of Commerce or their equivalents-around the US, the continent, or the world;
  • exchanging a few hours’ work per day for room and board through www.WorkAway.info or www.GoNomad.com (see their article on Short-Term Vacation Work Abroad);
  • making a name for yourself in a field like photography, writing (including blogging), or speaking, then finding a way to sell your services along the way or even get a company to sponsor trips.

You sound like a good candidate to get Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four-Hour Work Week. Tim’s approach is a little different: he created a business that runs so automatically that he spends little time on it each week while he travels the world doing all the fun things he wants, but many of the strategies he lays out are very applicable to your situation. I’m sure you would find some good ideas in the book.

It’s easy to paint an exciting or romantic picture of this kind of lifestyle. Many people may think they want to live that way, but in reality few are probably well suited for it. There is little feeling of financial security because no one ‘gig’ lasts for long or pays a large lump sum to cover expenses during gaps between jobs. I think it takes an entrepreneurial spirit as well as a true sense of adventure and a high comfort level for risk to make a successful go of it.

All that being said, I would recommend that you not jump either way too quickly. If you think you can stomach the lifestyle (even get energized by it), find and talk to as many people who travel in their work as you possibly can. Find out how they created a way to get paid and travel at the same time. Write down what you would like to do (and where). Then set goals, figure out what you need to do to make it happen (such as save a minimum amount of cash or polish up an important skill), and work your plan.

The most important piece of this process is the self assessment-be honest and realistic about what you can, and want to, handle as far as risk and adventure. When you’ve made your decision, commit to it and throw yourself full force into making it a success.

My brother in law recently graduated with a degree in accounting and finance and, with the job market being what it is, he is thinking about staying in school to get an MBA.

From what I’ve heard recently, an MBA doesn’t necessarily open any more doors for people anymore because they are a-dime-a-dozen these days. His parents think he should get the MBA, because his father did and it really helped to spark his career, but that was a different time when not everyone had MBAs and also his father’s company paid for him to get it. My brother in law will be paying out of his own pocket.

He has a steady job (blue collar) that pays sufficiently that I recommend he stick with and keep applying for accounting jobs, and then when he does get one, see if they will pay for the MBA.

Any insights into this would be much appreciated. — Jeffrey

You’re a good brother-in-law, Jeffrey, and I commend you on trying to help. I also like the way you think. You’re right that an MBA does not automatically spell more opportunities or higher salaries these days. And not all MBA degrees are equally valuable, either. Spending two or more years out of the job market, paying tuition at a second-rate grad school, is more likely to land someone in the unemployment line with a load of new debt. If your brother-in-law wants to pursue that degree, he needs to get into the best program possible-which, of course, is going to be more expensive. Not to mention that while in school full-time he will likely not be covered under a health insurance plan-what will happen to his finances if the unexpected were to happen during that time?

There’s something else to consider as well: entering an MBA program right on the heels of earning an undergraduate degree is not an ideal plan. He will get much more from the program after he has at least two years of related work under his belt. His experiences, coupled with the coursework, are what will make him a more valuable candidate upon graduation.

Has your brother-in-law looked into making a change right inside his current company to a finance or accounting position? Or would his current employer be willing to let him spend some time in the accounting department on top of his normal hours as a sort of trial period or on-the-job training before making a switch? It would be longer hours, but the experience would be valuable, no matter what the outcome.

Alternatively, he could offer to work for free for a limited time at another company in their finance or accounting department as a way of getting his foot in the door. If he did his research and made this offer to companies that provide education benefits to their employees, so much the better, since he could then pursue the MBA if he got the job.

If those options don’t work out, your brother-in-law’s father has to realize that the world of work is very different than it was when he was in his twenties-his son has to deal with the reality of today’s market. Sticking with the steady, blue-collar job while searching for other opportunities is the wisest course of action. If he still wants to work on an MBA, that can always come later, either full- or part-time, if it’s really needed to move up in his chosen field.

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