Is Grad School Worth It? Financially Speaking.

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of applying to / going to grad school lately. Not for the earning potential post graduation, but for the chance to focus on an area of study and build up my skills so I feel like an expert in an area (at least until those skills are out of date.) But then I wonder… financially speaking, is grad school worth it?

Really what I need to look at is how much I will have when I retire. I figure I should have at least $1.5M in my bank account when I “retire” (although I plan to work at least part-time well into retirement, but at this point I want to be able to travel and freelance and not have to worry if I get sick and can’t work.)
At the moment, if I can live up to my quasi-frugal savings plans for the year and maintain my current job and occasional freelance income (say $70k per year pre tax) and save $20k each year, according to the compound interest calculator if I start with $30k today and save $20k a year for 30 years at a modest average interest rate of 3% I will have $1.052M in savings by the time I’m 56 and $1.65M by the time I’m 66.
It almost seems silly then to add in the cost of grad school, which will put me into debt and for many reasons, not guarantee I will make more than I am now later and certainly will not allow me to comfortably save $20k anytime during or after graduation from a graduate program.
Additionally, if/when I have children, it will also become increasingly difficult to save $20k per year, if not impossible. This variable could effect both the non-grad school and grad school potential scenarios. And since my 27-year-old boyfriend refuses to work a full time job or put an ounce of his occasional earnings into a Roth IRA, it’s likely that I’m saving for the both of us and our families. Which makes that $1.65M, esp with inflation, seem like a few dimes and a penny.
That brings me to wondering if I should just keep living like I’m living now for the rest of my life. No kids (they’re expensive.) Roommates. A small room. Living in an area where heat isn’t necessary. Cheap bills otherwise. Saving $20k per year. Cutting back when needed to make that possible. Retiring single at 66 with $1.65M (some of it would be taxed, of course, but that’s still not bad.)
Then again… why should I be living life to save for retirement? I can’t imagine ever wanting to fully retire — I see my grandmother at 80 spending her days in the casino and I think if I had the mental capacity she does at 80 I’d be working. I might be limited in my job choices but still, I’d be working because I don’t want to be the type who just sits around and “enjoys” retirement.
Going to grad school is probably an easier choice when you’re making $35k or less. But once you’re making $70k it’s a hard trade in. I’m looking more and more at MBA programs (my career counselor seems to decided that I should consider this path and is in awe of my knowledge of social networking and certain aspects of the tech business) but I don’t know. I don’t see myself ever really following an MBA path — working 100 hours a week, traveling more than I’m staying… I could do that maybe for a few years but not my whole life. How much more can I really earn with an MBA vs. 2 more years of experience that I can gain through my current or next job? Alas, these days I’m liking numbers a lot more than I used to… and I think I’d like studying applied math. I like spreadsheets.
The debt truly freaks me out. People go into debt all the time for school but I don’t know if I can. Partially its because I don’t know if it will actually be worth it for me to go to grad school. It would probably make more sense to give a loan to someone more focused than I am and more dedicated to getting a high salary, pay for THEIR grad school, and earn interest on that… then for me to go to grad school.
And, anyway, I read that in 25 years a dollar today will be worth $.32 which means that my $1.65M when I’m 66 will not be enough to get me through retirement (unless natural causes like stabbing myself help me reach those goals.)
How much are you saving for retirement? How much do you think we will need to retire in 2050?

How much should I save and where should I put it?

Lots of my readers think I’m a spoiled brat with a spending addiction, and occasionally I get a comment along those lines. Part of the reason I started this blog is that I agree with that statement and I’m trying to be smarter about my finances. Without the PF world I probably would be in debt by now instead of having $45k in savings. Yes, I have a shopping addiction. Yes, I need to stop making excuses for buying expensive clothes. Yes, I need to focus on saving more. But my biggest problem is not knowing where to save. It’s not the best excuse, but it’s true.

I can easily put away $5k per year in my Roth IRA because I always save up that much the year before (I overestimate on my taxes and pretend that money doesn’t exist) but beyond that I am not sure where to put my savings. Spending the money is, sadly, a lot easier than figuring that out. Again, an excuse, but I really don’t know where to put my money. With no 401k at work, I’m not sure where I should save. Do any of you have ideas for me?

I have some automatic transfers set up. $100 / month to ING Direct liquid emergency fund, $50 / month to Sharebuilder, $50 / month to my 529 plan. I’m not really sure how to save for retirement beyond my 401k or if I even should be saving more than that right now specifically for retirement. If I could figure out HOW MUCH I should be saving and WHERE I should be saving it, believe me, it would be a lot easier to save it.

My current accounts…

Checking: $375
Basic Savings Account: $301
CD / Emergency Fund: $8,073.49
ING Direct Savings / Liquid Emergency Fund: $3000
PayPal: $70

Roth IRA: $14,482
Sharebuilder Stocks & ETFs: $9,801.43
Vanguard Index Fund: $4113.69
Vanguard 529 College Plan: $890.44
Lending Club: $555.95
Prosper: $233.10
HSA: $1000

Where on earth should I be putting my savings and how much should I really try to save each year?


Roth IRA: Just Maxed Out 2008, down $5000

Today, I put the last $300 into my Roth IRA for 2008. It feels rewarding to know that I’m saving for my future, yet the $5000 in losses to my Vanguard Portfolio due to current economic conditions isn’t exactly a fun “reward” to look at in my accounts.

Still, I’m investing with the hope… and faith… that the economy will recover again. I think it will, eventually, but it’s going to take a while. Had I followed my faith a year ago that the stock market was going to keep tanking, I would have possibly shorted some stocks and cold have been much better off now… but I don’t have time, or the heart, to deal with such “high risk” behavior. Instead, I put my money in the stock market, knowing it’s going to tank now, hoping it will rise in the future.

The question I have now is when do I invest in my Roth for 2009? Usually I put a large chunk of money in up front (money left over from taxes). By “usually” I mean over the last two years, since that’s how long the account has been open. I like to just get it out-of-sight, out-of-mind before I start thinking of myself as wealthy enough for luxuries. The stock market seems pretty bad right now, so I’m not too worried about adding another few thousand once I get my tax return back. Still, this all begs the question whether I should spread out my investments ($440 a month) or put a bunch in up front and finish up over the later half of the year (like I’ve been doing.) Dollar cost averaging is always the recommended way to go… but, eh, when the market is this down, maybe it doesn’t matter as much?

Also, as far as retirement savings go, I decided to do the HSA for my healthcare. In addition to my company putting $100 in the account per month, I’ll be putting $100 in. So that’ll be $2400/year for healthcare *or* retirement. I’m just worried my frugal save-for-retirement self will avoid doctors in order to save for my retirement, and I’ll end up killing myself slowly in the meantime. (Not that I ever go to doctors, even when I have full insurance, I’m too lazy and busy). In any case, the savings rate for the HSA is so sucky – 2.1 or something – and w/ the taxes in California taken out of that it isn’t a huge savings. But I’m going to look at it as a traditional IRA that’s being overtaxed by my bankrupt state. One that I can dip into if I need to go to the doctor for antibiotics every once in a while.

The HSA does have the option to invest with Ameritrade, so I’m probably going to look into setting that up soon. I won’t put all the money in stocks, but I’d like to diversify my retirement portfolio outside of Vanguard and I do want to get some Gold/Silver ETFs in it… since they don’t get taxed at the ridiculous collection tax rate if they’re in an IRA. Well, I don’t know how that works in an HSA… esp since it doesn’t get taxed federally but it does get taxed in CA. Hmm.