What Constitutes A Worthwhile Expenditure?

My husband is finishing up his Ph.D. this month. His defense is scheduled, and everything should be wrapped up by the beginning of May. This means, of course, that he will be looking for a job. He has already applied for a few jobs, and has been looking for openings, but many potential employers (mostly universities) want to see that he already has the Ph.D. Even though reports are that the job market is improving, things are still tough out there. Which is why we’re looking for advantages. One of these advantages is going to conferences.

Projects my husband has been involved in have been accepted for presentation and exhibition at various conferences, although he doesn’t always present it himself. Conferences add something to your CV, and they offer chances to network. One of these conferences is taking place in less than two months, in Madison, Wisconsin. My husband isn’t sure he wants to go, since it will cost about $600. He’s already been accepted to present, but he’s thinking that if he doesn’t go, he can use that money to buy an iPad. Here’s how our conversation on the subject went:

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Him: “I want to buy a nice laptop and iPad more than going to that stuff.” (His current laptop actually belongs to the school and he has to give it back at the end of the month. He can’t use mine for personal reasons because it has already been deducted as a business expense.)

Me: “We’ve already budgeted in a laptop for you. We’ve been saving up for it.”

Him: “It would be nice to have an iPad. I doubt I’ll get a job by going to the conference.”

Me: “Well, a presentation at ISSRM looks better on your resume than an iPad.”

Him: “True.”

Me: “If we’re going to spend $600 on something, I’d rather have it be something that could potentially advance your career, rather than something we’re pretty sure won’t.”

Does Your Spending Help You Reach Your Goals?

When deciding whether an expenditure is worthwhile, I like to consider whether or not it will help our family reach a goal. It’s true that one of our goals is to have a tablet computer with a low-end data plan so that we can access the Internet from anywhere, comparing prices while shopping, or looking for restaurants while traveling. However, this goal has a lower priority than helping my husband get a job.

At the conference, he will have the chance to meet other people and network. This could, potentially, help him find a job. On top of that, the date of the presentation shows that he was doing something after finishing his degree. In a world where you are practically unemployable if you have been out of school and jobless for more than six months, an international conference presentation can buy you a little time. In my mind, the chance that something will help my husband’s career is more important than a fun gadget. After our conversation, my husband admitted that my argument had merit. So he’s going to Wisconsin.

When you are making similar decisions, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Consider what is more likely to help you in the long term. Consider your financial priorities and goals, and choose to use your money in a way that helps you move forward on the path to financial freedom.

What process do you go through when trying to make spending decisions?  Tell us about it in the comments!

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Miranda is a freelance writer and professional blogger. She writes for a number of personal finance blogs, including Planting Money Seeds. She has a M.A. in journalism, and is the author of Confessions of a Professional Blogger. Miranda lives Utah, where she enjoys spending her free time reading, traveling and playing with her son and husband.

Last Edited: 21st April 2011


    Share Your Thoughts:

  1. says

    I believe it is called value analysis. I think about it every time I am making a substantial purchase. In your husband’s case, can he reduce the expenses? If it were only $350, would he do it? For example, I can justify spending a lot on a computer, because it is an important part of my business. The conference may fall into the same category. Can he lower the cost? .

    • says

      We found a way to get the conference cost down. Part of our issue is that we were worried about when they would release the schedule. We needed to book soon, or lose the block rate, but we didn’t know when he would be presenting. We just the schedule, so he’s just going for a couple of days — enough time to present and still do some solid networking.

  2. says

    I think it depends on the utility. For example some people can use items like the ipad to network. I was able to network with a woman because my mom had the same palm pilot (this was years ago). At the same time if you guys have budgeted for a regular laptop why exactly does he need an ipad?

    -Ravi Gupta

    • says

      My thoughts exactly, Ravi! He probably doesn’t “need” it at all! I think he wants an iPad, but knows it won’t really do much for him. The laptop he uses to make presentations and to work on. The iPad is more of a “fun” novelty. If we get one, you can bet it will be for the whole family — and not for a few months, when all the summer fun is over. Because I already know that summer is going to be full of expenses…

  3. says

    With 2 kids and a stay at home wife, our expenses are more needs than wants so I tend to just work on prioritizing the needs.

    I have gone through my share of gadget buying but in the end, it’s a bit of a waste of money to be honest… Gadgets are cool and exciting but often time it’s about keeping up with the jonesses.

    However, with my kids getting older and the computer usage increasing by everyone, I doubt that one computer can do it. In fact, I have a work laptop that I continuously use. The ipad could be a nice addition but for the same price you also get a nice laptop :)

  4. Christian gross says

    Having gone through what you are facing the iPad neither helps nor detracts as does the conference. I have spoken professionally for nearly 17 years, started consulting right out of university, trained, etc.

    I also entered a canadian job market in 92, much like now where nearly 2/3 of my class mates had no job. I also came from one of the best Canadian engineering universities.

    The solution to your problem is what unique skills does your husband have? At the time for me it was my ability to write windows code. In 92 there were no programmers or people skilled enough to write windows and vb code. And my wife and I moved to Europe where there were even less skilled prgrammers.

    If I had to do my post university days again I would leave the us. The us like Canada was completely buggered. It took a decade before Canada got onto it’s feet again. Do you want to be part of that lost decade? I didn’t. If I were you leave for either South America, or Africa. These places need skilled people. And you will get great international experience.

    My aunt who’s daughter travels all around the world said to me, “if she does not travel now then when?” You should ask the same of yourself.

  5. says

    Ok, I REALLY want an iPad too, so I completely sympathize with your husband. But my husband and I also have PhDs and really understand the value of networking. (I also grew up in Madison and can attest to the fact that there are plenty of inexpensive fun things to do outside of the conference.)

    Here’s how I make purchasing decisions. Go to the store and physically hold the item that you desire. Then think about what you desire most. Do you want to get a job after working so hard to get your PhD? In my case, I usually think about how I would rather sip an expresso at a sidewalk cafe in some European city.

    After I go through this little thought experiment, my desire for the item is erased (or I buy the item because I really want it) and it doesn’t consume my thoughts anymore.

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