Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Taking advantage of workplace benefits: Employee Assistance Programs January 6, 2018

Filed under: baby,Careers — Stephanie @ 11:34 am
Tags: ,

[Note:  This is not a sponsored post.  I just wanted to share my experiences and make people aware of a program they may not realize they have available through their job!]

I had never really heard about Employee Assistance Programs before I started my current job.  EAPs tend to be offered by bigger companies, and my previous job at a startup was a bit more lean when it came to benefits.  It’s one of the many ways employers can help out with that ever elusive “work life balance”.

It turns out, there are a lot of potential resources from these types of programs.  I myself was able to take advantage of quite a few of their offerings when it came to having our baby.  My employer offered a Lactation Consultant program, and sent me a “Life Events Kit” for Baby Care, with books for pregnancy and the first few years, and other goodies to help me out.  They also ran a search for me for local daycare centers that had spots available for our daughter around the time she’d be starting daycare.  This was such a time saver, since they found out what places were available and how much they would cost, without me having to do a bunch of searches and phone calls.  We still had to make calls and visits to the few places that we liked from the search results, but it was still such a help!

Another great benefit they offered was one geared towards mental health.  You can get up to 8 visits with a mental health professional (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, etc.) at no cost.  This is such a valuable benefit, since, with most insurance plans, you’re likely spending a lot out-of-pocket before you even hit the deductible, which might deter you from seeking the help you need.  I went through a few rough patches emotionally these past few years, and getting these sessions for free made me willing to go and deal with things rather than keeping my issues bottled up inside!

There are plenty of other resources available for other life events and issues.  There are other “life event kits” for when your kids first head to school, for when your kids are teens, and one when you’re dealing with elder care issues.

My EAP also has advice lines for financial and legal questions/issues.  There’s also assistance for navigating special needs and other parenting situations.

Not sure if you have an EAP at your job?  My benefits are through Optum, and it looks like quite a few other companies offer it through there as well, so check to see if your employer is on the dropdown list here.  If your company isn’t listed there, check with your HR department to see what they offer.  And maybe you can help convince them to start something if they don’t currently offer it!

Have you taken advantage of employee benefits like these at your job?  What do you wish your company offered?

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Women’s Money Week 2014: Kids and Work March 6, 2014

It took getting prompts from the Women’s Money Week list to get me back to blogging.  Sorry for my absence, I thought I had run out of things to say (it turns out I still have plenty to talk about).

Women’s Money Week is an annual week leading up to International Women’s Day.  The goal of Women’s Money Week is to discuss personal finance related topics that may especially be of interest to women.  But don’t worry if you don’t identify as a woman!  This week has some pretty good topics.  Check the list of topics here.

Monday’s topic was Kids and Work.   (and yes, I know it’s Thursday…you know I’m not the speediest blogger around) Let’s dive in.

I feel like this is something that has been on my mind recently.  I’m getting married soon, and I’m pretty sure that within, oh, an hour of us officially tying the knot, nosy folks will be asking, “so, when are you having children?” (and probably also, “when are you buying a house?”).  Part of it is just people seeing you go through one big life change and assuming that the other big life changes will follow soon after.  I get it.

The part I don’t get is why it actually matters to them.  Granted, I can be as nosy as them sometimes and hope for my friends to start having kids.  Babies are pretty  darn cute, and visiting with friends’ children can be fun in small doses.

My fiance and I both want kids eventually.  But we have no real idea when we should start having kids.  We’re both 29, so we’re probably at the age where we should start seriously considering the whole “having kids” thing.  But one thing we also need to consider is the whole “kids and work” issue.  Will one of us stay home while the other works full-time?  Will we both work and then send the children to daycare?  If one of us stays home, who should it be?  How will taking these breaks impact our career?  We’ll have to crunch some numbers for how much childcare costs vs. salary, and consider the tax brackets we’re in with one vs. two incomes, and childcare tax credits vs. dependent care FSAs.  And this is only considering the direct work/money questions.  You’d think as a person obsessed with personal finance and planning ahead, I’d have a better idea about all this.  But…not so much.

I know there are plenty of other expenses to consider, including everything the baby needs (food, clothing, shelter, DIAPERS) and then there are the future costs of college and everything else beyond the initial baby stage.  I know Save Spend Splurge has a listing of all her baby-related expenses so far, as does J.Money.

At any rate, I suppose this post is not fully focused on the Kids and Work issue…. so can I be a little more introspective here for a moment?  I see so many friends posting facebook updates about their children.  Some friends are stay at home parents, others are juggling full-time work and children.  It all seems so overwhelming, like my friends all have magical doing-it-all-and-doing-it-perfectly powers.  I suppose that’s the power of facebook, I’ll only see the good moments in their likely hectic lives.  But it does make me worry.  Will I be a good mother?  I hope so.  Will I be enough of a mature adult by the time kids come around?  Do I have to be?

I’ve heard two different sides of the “when to have kids” idea.  Either “you’ll know when you know” you’re ready, or “you’re never ready, but you have kids anyway”.  I’m not sure which camp we’ll end up in.

What about you?  Have you figured out the Kids and Work thing?  What did you end up doing?  If you don’t have kids (but you want to have them), do you have a plan?  Or are you as clueless as I am?

(Interested in seeing some more perspectives on this topic?  I really enjoyed eemusings post on the subject (we have a lot of the same concerns).  Also check out the other posts on this topic here)

 

End of September, time to recap September 28, 2013

I promise I’m still here.  I’ve got a few updates.

Fitness:

Last Sunday was the Tavern to Tavern 5k.  I ran it last year, but it was a different route this year.  I wasn’t sure I was ready, because I’d been traveling, then sick, so I wasn’t fully in tip-top training.

Major upside of this race:  I have a new personal record for my 5k time!  I’ve got a pace just over 10-minute miles.  Next goal, get the pace under 10-minute miles!

Downside of the race:  I’ve become a bit of a road race connoisseur (read: snob).  I was disappointed they didn’t have a water stop (I found out afterward that the person in charge of the water stop got stuck in traffic).  Also, there were no signs saying how far we were (1 mile, 2 mile, etc.)  Luckily, I did have a general idea of where I was based on the voice-over on my iPod (it has Nike+ and reports approximately how far I’ve gone).  Another weird thing, they had blocked out an area across the street from the Tavern for the race, but then didn’t use it for the post-run party, and instead had a crowded, long line leading into the Tavern.  It seemed like a waste of blocked off space!  Lastly, and most importantly, there wasn’t quite enough police coverage.  I understand that local residents HATE when road races get in the way of Sunday morning traffic.  But there were plenty of intersections along the route where cars were just going right ahead and nearly running over runners.  SCARY!

Wedding:

In case you missed my last post, I’m engaged!  I’m trying to not let the whole planning process stress me out.  The good news is I have some stuff nailed down.  I’ve got the date blocked off, the ceremony and reception locations reserved, the wedding dress (I still need to get it altered), I’ve asked my bridesmaids to be my bridesmaids (and they’ve picked out dresses), and I have a vague guest list made.  The next steps near term are to make a few phone calls with some local photographers, and actually get serious about our guest list.  And then we can meet with the manager of the reception location to nail down our food and drink options.  Yes, this wedding seems to actually be taking shape.  Still in the works long-term will include finding a florist (or identify alternative options for getting flowers), and calling hotels to get them to put aside a block of rooms.  But I’m not worrying about these just yet.  Anything else I should think about? (Besides our registry and our honeymoon, both of which I’m not even close to planning out yet)

Careers:

My sorority (yes, I was in a sorority) at MIT hosted a “career night” where local alums were invited to come chat with current students about resumes, interviews, job fairs, etc.  They had a panel where alums could give more advice.  I was proud to be able to share the gospel of personal finance to the ladies there:  Save your money.  Take advantage of the 401(k) plans and matches at your new jobs.  Spend less than you earn.  You know, the usual.  But it got me thinking, I’d love it if my sorority hosted another event focused solely on personal finance.  I think I’ll ping the alumni relations chair and suggest it.

Random blogger meetup:

Leslie is in town for the Massachusetts Indie Comics Expo.  And Deena already lives in Boston.  So it’s a perfect chance for the 3 of us to meet up!  My expectations for tonight is that I will find out that Leslie’s last name is Freslie.  Stay tuned.

Well, that’s the latest from me.  Up ahead will be Birthday Fondue (just like last year, and the 4 years before that) and I’ll try to get back on the blogging train with more posts for the Graduates Guide to Being a Grownup series.

So, what have you been up to?  Have you become a road race snob like me?  Have any new running or fitness accomplishments to share?  Any advice for my wedding planning (what am I not thinking of that I should be)?  Had any opportunities to spread the word on personal finance to unsuspecting friends?

 

A Graduate’s Guide to Being A Grownup June 8, 2013

I was chatting with an old friend yesterday at one of the events at MIT’s Tech Reunions and she asked me how I got into all this personal finance stuff.  Well, as my blog’s sub-heading reads: “I got a degree, I got a job, now what?”  That’s really how it started.  I graduated (with a hefty pile of student loans), and started a job, and realized I had a lot to learn about this “being a grownup” stuff.  How should I attack the student debt?  What do I do with all these retirement plan options? WHAT DO I DO?!?!

So, that’s how it all started.

Well, this same friend told me that when she went through orientation on her first day of work, she also started having all these questions.  With new college hires getting training in the same class as experienced professionals, the topics discussed (401ks, health plans, etc.) were all things that the “grown ups” already knew about.  It felt awkward and confusing to try to learn when the “grown ups” were asking higher level questions about the benefits that the newbies didn’t even know about yet.  She wished there was a separate class just for the recent college grads so they could get into the basics and not feel intimidated.

She also wished there was a guidebook to life after college.

Well, here’s the thing.  There are TONS of books, blogs, websites, articles, etc. to guide you through your transition to being a grownup.  A lot of the personal finance blogs I’ve read over the years touch on these topics.  I consider my blog to be all about this, too.  After all, my blog is called Graduated Learning:  Life after College.  (Is it because I’m learning after graduation?  Or because I’m gradually learning new things?  MIND BLOWN!)  While I’ve touched on quite a few of these topics in the past, I figured I might as well kick off a new series to my blog.

That’s right.  Here it is.

A Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup.

I have a few specific topics in mind.  I’ll share what I know/learn, and invite comments on each post so others can share their thoughts, or ask more questions.  On this post, I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas:

What do you wish had been explained to you when you graduated?  What did no one tell you on your first day of work that would have been helpful?  Are you a new graduate who has a million questions?  What resources have you found useful in your transition to the real world? (p.s. I’ve also heard really good things about Jenny Blake’s blog and book, Life After College)

If you’re a recent grad, or even a not-so-recent grad, I want to hear your questions!  We’ll get this figured out!

Commencement 2006

 

Celebrating Awesome: National Engineers Week in Boston and Beyond! February 16, 2013

I wrote a post 2 years ago about how excited I was about National Engineers Week.  Guess what?  National Engineers Week 2013 is starting!

First of all, the theme for this year’s Engineer Week is Celebrate Awesome.  Frankly, I think that’s one of the best ways to talk about engineering.  It’s AWESOME!

I really love being an engineer.  I get to work with other smart people to create new materials and dream up solutions to problems.  I know engineers who are building robots, designing cars, or creating video games.  They get to be creative and have fun while improving the way we work, live, and play!  Basically, being an engineer is, in fact, AWESOME.

If you live in or around Boston, there’s plenty to do this week to celebrate e-week.  Whether you’re a student, a teacher, a parent, or just a curious individual, there’s something cool to see or do. These aren’t the only events going on, they’re just the ones I know about.  Please share events in the comments!

Any other events going on to celebrate engineers?  Let me know!

And if you don’t live near Boston, you can check out events for National Engineers Week at My Discover-e (or Google Engineers Week events in your city).  Or you can visit the Discover Engineering website to learn more about engineering without leaving your house!

Are you an engineer (or aspiring engineer)? What’s your favorite part about being an engineer?  And if you’re not an engineer, do you have any questions about engineering?

 

Let’s Talk About Student Debt: Part 2: Digging Out June 2, 2012

Filed under: Careers,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:56 pm

I went over how I was able to load myself up with student loans.  Now for a few ways that I think I was able to work my way out from under them.

I earned money to pay off the debt:

I picked a major with decent potential future returns.  I know that a lot of people don’t want to just go with a major that will make them a lot of money.  I know money isn’t everything (even if that’s what I blog about all the time), but it’s important to consider your potential earnings compared to the debt you’re taking on.  Yes, lower paying jobs can also be rewarding.  But until employers recognize the importance of these other, less lucrative careers, taking on a lot of debt to get there is a dangerous game.

I got a job every summer.  The summer after freshman year, I didn’t have my act together as much as many of my classmates.  While they got internships or summer research positions, I was stuck working at the mall near my parents’ house.  On the upside, I was able to live rent-free with my parents.  And I got some cute clothes at a discount from the store I worked at.  On the downside, it was not really a resume builder, and it was painfully boring and not at all mentally stimulating.  This experience would often come back to me whenever I thought about giving up on school.  Whenever I wanted to quit, I’d think back to how much I hated my summer job, and I’d get back to work.  Way better to finish college than be stuck doing what I hated for the long term.

My summers after sophomore and junior years, I worked at summer internships in the materials field.  Both jobs were interesting, and I learned a lot more about materials processing and analysis.  And it looked pretty good on my resume!  Plus, the internships (and reports I later presented about them) fulfilled a degree requirement that I would have otherwise had to write a thesis for.  So, gain experience, get paid, and get closer to my degree?  Excellent.

Besides trying to make more money, I also took advantage of any way to lower my interest rate or principal.

I consolidated my public loans right before an interest rate was set to go up.  I didn’t actually know what I was doing then, but I was told to do it before the end of June.  So I did.  I wish I knew more about loans then.  Sometimes consolidation will get you a better interest rate.  It will help you keep track of all your debt in one easy payment instead of multiple payments.  But it’s not always a best plan.  Like I said, I wish I knew more.  I think I did the right thing, but I don’t know if it was.  But it was too late to go back after I did it!

I signed up automatic debit, which lowered my interest rates by .25%.  And then continued to pay on time (through automatic debit) for long enough that they lowered my rate by another .50%.  And by luck, my private loans were pegged to the fed rate, so my interest rate dropped with the crumbling economy. :/  Check with your lender/loan servicer to see what discounts or other payoff options are available to you.

I (occasionally) paid extra on my loans.  I went  for the loan with the highest interest rate, and then I paid down the principal as much as possible.

I know none of these steps are earth shattering.  I just figured it was important to follow-up my first post with the ways that I’m dealing with the debt.  It still is a lot to pay off (I still owe a bit less than $29k at 2.75%), but I just keep paying the minimum, plus any extra I can to keep whittling away the principal.

I wish I had been paying extra towards the principal the entire time.  Especially back when the interest rate on my private loans was around 8.5%.  As this post on ImpulseSave’s blog says:  Pay off your student loans now, not later! But I didn’t know better.  Which is why I’m glad I’ve learned a lot about personal finance since graduation.

So, what have you done to help dig yourself out of debt?  What did you wish people had told you?

 

Seriously Considering Grad School March 21, 2011

I’m very wishy-washy when it comes to making most of my decisions.  And I get even more anxious the bigger the decisions get.

Which is why I’m feeling incredibly anxious about the idea of going to grad school.  But I know it’s important.

Every once in a while, I start thinking about going back to school.  It’s usually around the time I go to an interesting lecture, symposium, or other educational event.  Sometimes it’s when I talk to my sister, who is pursuing her Ph.D. right now.  And I’m usually reminded about grad school whenever people at work discuss the opportunities through their advanced studies programs.

This time around, I was talking with a coworker about my goals at our company.  We recently both had our yearly performance reviews, and with that, we were required to list our goals for the following year.  So he asked me what my goals were.  My near term (within the year) goals were basically to get better at technical writing and presentation and to get even more involved on higher level work within the project I am working on.  But long-term?  I want to be like the people I work with now who are basically genius problem solvers.  I want to be a subject matter expert. I know some of their skills and knowledge merely comes from experience.  They’ve been working a lot longer than I have.  But I also know that if I really want to keep advancing up the engineering ladder, I’ll need some advanced education.

The plus side of all of this is that my company is really supportive of this sort of ambition.  They’ll reimburse me for classes I want to take.  And if I decide to go back to school full-time, they’ll pay for my tuition, and still pay me half my salary while I’m gone.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.  Granted, you’re committed to the company for a few years afterward, but I don’t mind that.  I’d want to stay at a job that I enjoy!

So, what’s next?  Between my craving to learn more, my desire to advance in my career, and the sweet deal my company offers, this decision is a no-brainer, right?

Just thinking about this plan makes me really anxious.  I have to figure out what schools to apply to, what degree I’m going for (Masters vs. PhD), and what subsection of my major I want to study.  Materials Science and Engineering is a pretty vast field.  I took a lot of classes in polymers and environmental materials selection during undergrad.  And my internships were mostly in metallurgy.  And now I’m working mostly in ceramics.  So, I could go in any of those directions.  Do I pursue what I loved in undergrad, or get more schooling on my main focus at my job (since, well, they’re paying for it, and I’d want to do what would be good for my career)?

I also realize that I would like to go to grad school sooner rather than later.  It gets tougher to go back to school the longer you’re away.  I’m getting pretty used to this post-college lifestyle.  Then again, I could try going to school part time…which would take FOREVER.

I’m still very unsure of what I am going to do.  But I keep seeing signs in my life that I need to get serious about my grad school ambitions.  I can’t put this off forever.

To those of you who have gone to or are currently going to graduate school, how did you make all these important decisions?  I feel so overwhelmed!