plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

January 7, 2009

decisions I nearly made

Filed under: Uncategorized — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

Yes, I know that you’re supposed to review the past year between Christmas and New Year, and then start on fresh stuff. I’m of the opinion that you can’t have too much reflection.

I also can’t be the only person that does *what if* reflecting. There are a few decisions that I’ve made that would have altered my life immensely all of which I took between the ages of 20 and 23.

early ideas

When I was a teenager, one of my heroes was the fund manager Nicola Horlicks. On paper I have the qualifications to make a great high finance person, or actuary.

If I’d chosen this career, I would be living in London, I would be much better off (probably earning around twice as much), job security more precarious but not too bad normally. In practice, I hate working with money. I hate ridiculously long hours. I really can’t imagine being happy with this choice – which is the actual reason that I decided against it.

a move abroad

In my penultimate year at University, I seriously considered moving to the States to pursue a graduate degree. It would have been in Mathematics (in particular probably complex variable theory or topology). My top choice was Northwestern University but I think I was also considering UT-Austin (my current all time favourite American city), UPenn, Columbia, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Chicago and Dartmouth College. I did extensive online research and got as far as buying GRE test prep books. In my final year, however, I didn’t really enjoy my project and started to find some of the algebra courses extremely difficult. I drifted in to the decision that I probably wouldn’t enjoy five or six years studying pure mathematics, and began to get enthusiastic about a new field of interest.

If I had taken up this option and managed to finish the degree, I probably would have ended up staying in the States either working in industry or teaching in a college. I would have lost out on several years income, but otherwise I would have a similar earning potential to the one I currently enjoy. The cost of living is lower in America, so I reckon eventually this would have ended up being a wash financially. If I was the type to enjoy doing the PhD this could have been a really interesting alternative career – I would have still ended up with a job that I liked a lot and a comfortable income but as an expat, which has its own complicating factors (how much does it cost to import Robinsons?).

a gap year

At one point, I contemplated taking a gap year and travelling round the world (again). I’m not too sure whether the main destination would have been Australia or New Zealand, but I’m sure the experience would have been amazing. If I’d taken up this choice, I’d almost certainly have ended up living and working in London once I got back. My likely career choice would have been in a similar field to the one that I work in now. I would be earning around the same amount that I actually do, but would be living in a house/flat share situation.

Financially, I think I would have had the same amount of money and income as I actually do. Other complicating factors might have included living at home for a short while in the midst of my parents’ separation and eventual divorce and also that I really hate living with other people. On the other hand I would have been living nearer to family, and in a city that I really, really love.

a different career

I often think that if I had to pick another career to follow, I’d be a librarian. This would need a further degree, and it’s not as well paid as the career that I actually have. On the plus side, I really love books. As far as one can tell without actually trying it out, I think I would enjoy this job. I’d be significantly worse off unless I managed to find a job in an area with a much lower cost of living (like rural Wales or something). Job security would on balance be about the same.

food for thought

What’s interesting to me is that some of my choices are semi-reversible. I’m probably too old to go to a top-flight graduate school in mathematics (pure maths is definitely a young person’s game). Now is not quite the time to switch to finance. On the other hand, I could try for a PhD in a more applied field if I wanted to. I could certainly move abroad temporarily, or permanently, and this is on my list of potential ideas for the future. As with everyone else, there’s an excellent chance that I’ll have a second different career, and that might be in library science. Just because I’ve moved on a few years, doesn’t mean that those doors are permanently closed.

It also means that many of the decisions that I make now and in the future can be decided again, differently, without impacting on my financial stability and piece of mind. The future is wide open, and full of possibilities.

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