Reader Mailbag: Critical Mass of Stuff to Do

My biggest problem in terms of personal organization: whenever my “must be done” list reaches a certain length, I have this incredibly strong desire to just shut down and give up.

If I can handle things in manageable chunks, things are good. When things build up, though, and alter my routine, I run into trouble.

Right now, the birth of our child is the big “deadline” sitting just down the road and there is so much to do. Focus, Trent, focus.

Over the course of the past year or so, thanks to your advice, my live-in boyfriend and I– both about thirty years-old– have cut back a LOT on our eating-out spendature– instead of having brunch with our friends every weekend, we cook breakfast at home and meet up with the friends for post-brunch board games. Instead of eating out at medium-priced restaurants every night, we go out to one nice meal per month and cook at home the rest of the time. Instead of exercising our sushi-obsession at sushi restaurants in town, we go to the wharf and buy fresh sashimi-grade fish and cut it up at home. And we almost NEVER buy expensive drinks when we go out anymore, but sometimes have drink-themed nights at home.

The problem is, we still have expensive taste, and this is displayed in our grocery shopping. Although we do compare prices and try to be thrifty, we only buy organic produce, top-grade seafood and meats, quality alcohols, and our recipes are so complicated that we end up buying a lot of ingredients that we never (or rarely) use again.

Do you have any suggestions for simplifying our recipes, critiquing generic brands, and just reducing the overall cost of our grocery bill?
- Jamie

We somewhat fall into the same situation you do. We tend to buy high-quality ingredients for our meals and we’re fairly picky about what we eat and consume.

There are really three things that guide us. First, we recognize that eating well is something we value. I’m willing to pay more for organic produce, good cheese, or other specific ingredients. Second, we don’t shy away from at least trying lower-cost alternatives sometimes. We rarely spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine – in fact, most of our wine purchases are straight from a local winery we quite like (if you happen to go there, tell them you heard about it on The Simple Dollar!). Third, we don’t strive to spend a lot on food or drink – we focus on the meal and appropriate beverages to accompany it, not on “expensive.”

In short, if good food is something you deeply value, don’t sweat it too much. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the sticker price, but it does mean you don’t have to feel too guilty about it.

I need some advice. I am 24 and have been working as a freelance theater lighting technician in New York City since graduating from college in 2008. I have about $17,000 worth of debt in student loans which my parents are helping me out with and $3,000 owed to my dentist (I’d neglected my dental care during college resulting in more cavities than I feel comfortable disclosing. Get those twice-yearly cleanings!). I made roughly $21,000 last year but thanks to your blog and Your Money or your Life I’ve managed to scrape by without using credit cards and have created a two-month emergency fund.

I am not particularly happy in my line of work and am barely able to make due money-wise, so it is pretty clear to me that I need to find another career. I applied to a two-year MFA program (Design Criticism) at a prestigious art school in New York and was accepted! However, I haven’t found any scholarships that apply to my degree and the school doesn’t offer teaching assistantships like most universities. At this point, in order to attend I will go into debt to the tune of $100,000. The program is only two years old so there is no data regarding the employability of its graduates although possible post-grad careers include “design writer” and “design curator.” The potential income of this kind of work is widely variable. But the program has remarkable connections within the design community and some really excellent instructors. I know that I would receive a good education and would challenge myself.

I feel caught between staying where I am in a job I dislike which barely pays me a livable wage or attending this amazing program which could change my life but put me into more debt than I can wrap my head around.

Would love to hear your thoughts.
- Barb

Go for the education.

Education is one thing that I don’t mind telling people to go into debt for. When you couple that with a career you’re unhappy with and an educational route that deeply excites you, then you need to chase that.

Don’t worry about employability too much post-graduation. Instead, just throw every ounce of energy you can into learning, creating, and making connections. Throw your passion out there and run hard with it when you’re in school. Dive in deep and don’t be ashamed of it.

If you don’t do it, you’ll spend an awful lot of time regretting it. Go.

I really love your blog and have taken a lot of advise from it. I was wondering, what you think about school portraits and their costs. When I was young, we got our pictures taken every year and got a few pictures, group pictures and wallet sized pictures for a reasonable price. And it’s also a great memory and we love to look at our pictures.

Now my son is in daycare and they offer school pictures. However, the price for one picture is $20 up front and additional costs for additional pictures (and you probably would need to order additional pictures for grandparents for example). I’m not from the US originally so I have nothing to compare, but isn’t this price too high?

I didn’t order any picture, but the decision was really hard for me since I have only good memories from my pictures when I was in school. Also, aren’t school portraits a little outdated? When I was young, not everyone had a camera and the school pictures were a nice way to have a record of how the kids grow up. But now everyone has a camera so that’s not really an issue anymore (I’m trying to convince myself I made the right decision not to order the picture ;-).

I also don’t wont my son to feel left out when everyone gets a picture taken except him.

Would love to read your opinion about this.
- Sabine

This is very much a personal value thing. I don’t think there’s a strict right or wrong when it comes to school pictures.

They are unquestionably overpriced for the item you get in the end. On the other hand, they’re very convenient (compared to the effort it would take to produce professional-grade stuff at home or to take the kids to a studio) and they have the benefit of those class pictures (I still enjoy my class pictures from grade school).

If you can take some good “portrait-style” photos at home and have a chance to capture a lot of your child’s playmates in other images, it’s completely fine to skip out on the portraits at daycare. It’s really up to you, I think.

I have a question about “renting out” a room & capital gains. I am considering renting out a room in my primary residence, to generate some extra income. It would probably generate about 7000/yr, less taxes. I’m assuming I would pay taxes on that money as rental income. My question is if I rent the room does this make my property a rental (for capital gains purposes)? I would still be living there & likely living at the property until I sell it. I would only anticipate renting the room for a year or two max. If doing this makes me have to potentially pay capital gains in the future, it’s probably not worth it to me to do so. I have read some things that say if you take a depriciation on the property, that will make you have to pay cap. gains. Can you just declare the extra income & not take a depriciation? I need an answer sooner than later, because I have a potential renter/colleague who is looking for a place now.
- Jenny

I contacted a friend who not only rents two homes he owns, but also rents out part of his own home.

He told me that the correct way to do it is to, on paper, divide your home into two separate properties. Calculate how much of your home’s square footage you’re actually renting out (what portions will they be using? what portions will you share?). Then, figure out the fair market value of your home before you begin to rent and calculate the market value of that portion of your home.

So, for example, if you’re renting out 800 square feet of your 2,000 square foot home and the home’s fair market value is $200,000, then the value of the part you’re renting is $80,000.

Once you’re done renting, figure out the fair market value of your home again, and again figure out the value of the rented portion. So, let’s say your home’s value went up to $250,000 during the rental period. The value of the part you rented would thus be $100,000, meaning your rental unit gained $20,000 in value. You would then have to pay capital gains tax on that $20,000 gain. Obviously, you’d have to be renting for quite a while to see that kind of jump given how housing markets are right now, but you get the idea.

His explanation made perfect sense to me, plus it logically makes sense within how I would expect tax laws to work.

I lost my job about 3 months ago and have not been able to find another position. Meanwhile, my wife and I have pared back expenses so that we are able to live on her salary (which isn’t much) and my unemployment. We have not dipped into our emergency fund yet, which is $50,000. This is about 10 months of expenses for us.

Now our dilemma is that before I lost my job, we were thinking of taking $20,000 of our emergency fund and paying off a car note we have. The interest is relatively low (3.9%), but we were looking forward to paying it off and having extra money every month to allocate elsewhere.

We put that off for a while, but now that it seems like we are able to meet our expenses without dipping into the emergency fund, I wonder if it would be a good move to go ahead and pay off the car, or just keep the money in the emergency fund until I at least secure another job.
- Bruce

If you are able to meet your expenses without tapping your emergency fund and your emergency fund accounts for about ten months worth of expenses, I think it would be reasonable to take four months of those expenses to pay off that debt to improve your monthly cash flow.

In the end, that’s really what this question is about: cash flow and discipline. If you can improve your cash flow without letting your emergency fund get too low, you should do it. Why? If your cash flow is better each month and you already have shown financial discipline, you’ll have less likelihood of actually tapping that emergency fund in the future.

You clearly have the discipline. You’re clearly in a situation where cash flow will help you out. I’d go for it.

I am a 31 yr old living in NYC (Manhattan) for the past 13 yrs. I have been living downtown all those years in a tiny apartment averaging around 450 sq feet to where the rent averaged around 1700-2000 per month. I had roommates majority of the time so in average, my rent plus utilities came out to be $1000/month. For the past 2 1/2 years, I have been splitting the rent plus utilities again, costing us each $1000/month. Both of our jobs are pretty close to us where we can either walk or ride a bike and get there within 25mins max so we don’t have to rely on the subway. Note, a monthly subway cards would add $178($89 each) to our expenses.

6 years ago my mother passed away and I had inherited some money that would be enough for a 20% down payment and still leave some emergency fund for myself for a home $450-500 max but that’s really pushing it.

I have been looking at real estates in the city for a while now and with what I can afford in my price range, the apartments are averaging to be about 500sq feet big which is tiny and doesn’t make sense to invest into since I eventually want to have babies so now I started to look in parts of Brooklyn where you can get a little more for the money. There, I am hoping to find a 2 bedroom apartment, at least 1000sq ft in size, $500,000 max (idealistically something in the low 400s will be perfect for me but I can’t find a 2 bedrooms in that price range). I have been looking for a while now and of course have had missed opportunities as well as experiencing certain relief to not being bound to such big commitment. If I succeed in finding a good 2 bedroom, with tax & maintenance, my mortgage would probably be around $2300-$2500 not including utilities nor the subway cards. I am looking at 2 bedrooms because if I ever have babies, they can have that room. If my boyfriend and I broke up, I can always get a roommate so I don’t get stuck paying $2300+ on my own. We also think we can get a roommate for the first 2-4 years till my boyfriend and I settle down with babies to pay more towards the mortgage if we really had to.

My question is, at this moment in my life, 31, not married, no kids, no real attachment to my job, should I be purchasing a home? With the rent vs mortgage calculations, I feel like I can go either way but I can’t help but to think I am throwing money down the drain with rent but I also feel like I am not stuck although I don’t know where I plan on going since I’ve been in New York forever. I am looking to do this solely under my name. My boyfriend and my plan is to be together (but really who can predict the future). Instead of looking for a 2 bedroom (mortgage of 2300-2500), should I be looking for a one bedroom (mortgage of 1700-1900) or should I just keep renting since realistically I’m just paying $1000 a month for an good location apartment that fits my needs in my life right now?
- Rika

Keep paying rent on the apartment and keep socking away for the house.

Right now, you don’t need the house. Yes, that might change in a year or two or five, but if you went for the house now and things didn’t turn out exactly like you’re dreaming they will, you’ll be stuck in a house that will be sucking every dime from your wallet.

Don’t make a $450,000 purchase based on what you think might happen. If I were you, honestly, I would probably wait until you were pregnant to start apartment shopping, because the bigger the down payment is, the easier the move will be.

Another factor: owning a home has many more expensive factors than renting. You’re usually in charge of maintenance, whereas in an apartment you usually have a landlord to call. That’s an additional layer of expense.

A big change is coming up – we´re moving with my husband to Virginia, from Latin America, where we currently reside, because of a great job opportunity for me.
It as been a difficult stretch, since the exchange rate is 8.5 to $1, so we`ve been saving like crazy, and managed to put together a nest egg of about $4000. I will start working about two weeks after we arrive, and will earn about $50 k a year.

Do you have any suggestions to make this move less traumatic? Is our nest egg enough, or should I accept a loan my family has offered (which we have tried to avoid – we`ll still be paying off about $4000 in CC debt from abroad).

And, what bank would you suggest for us to open our accounts in?
- Mel

It sounds like you have a job in place already, which is a great boon.

My biggest advice for making the move is to go minimal at first. Take as little stuff with you from Latin America to the states, then when you arrive, furnish your home minimally. Shop at Goodwill stores and buy very low end stuff, just enough to provide the very basics at home. You can upgrade all of that stuff as needed later on.

As for a bank, I would find one in your community. I would start by checking into the credit unions in the area, as credit unions often have very good banking choices as compared to the large for-profit banks. From there, once you’re settled, you can look at online banking options if the credit union doesn’t match your needs.

My wife currently operates a small business from our home. In late 2008 we obtained a personal loan through our credit union to procure the initial startup equipment and supplies. This loan currently has a balance of $14k at 11% interest. We are currently making full payments towards this account but wondered if there would be a benefit in taking out a home equity loan (HEL) to pay off the loan with a much smaller interest rate.

Do banks (or credit unions) typically allow a HEL to be used to pay off personal loans?
- Bill

Usually, HELs can be used for pretty much whatever you please, and a personal loan at a credit union falls under that umbrella.

Does the initial loan have any collateral (I’m not sure based on your email)? I’m guessing by the interest rate that it does not. If that’s the case, you’re essentially swapping a high interest no-collateral loan for a low interest loan that uses your house as collateral.

There are risks and benefits on both sides of this. Obviously, if you default on either loan, your credit is shot, but your HEL can put your home ownership in danger. On the other hand, the high interest loan is eating away more at your raw dollars.

If you have a very steady source of income that exceeds your bills by quite a bit, I would probably go ahead with the HEL. Otherwise, I would consider it too big of a risk.

We have very little non-tax deductable debt left and all our spare money goes into paying off the last 10K of that loan which should be paid off by November. This money is in a flexi-mortgage from which we can withdraw or pay off as we want to. We also have a $140K mortgage which is on a rental property, and in Australia is tax deductable against the rental income. After we pay the 10K off, we will then concentrate on paying this $140K off as soon as possible.

Regarding the emergency fund. Do you think we need to have savings or would it be best to leave the flexi mortgage open and concentrate on paying the rental property mortgage off? This is what our accountant has recommended, but you are very big on recommending the emergency fund. I figure if the worst happens, we can redraw on the flexi mortgage and if it gets really bad we can always sell the rental property, which is worth multiple times the value of the loan, allbeit not very portable.
- Louise

The big problem with using a line of credit as your emergency fund is that it’s trivial for a bank to close that line of credit at the very point where you’re having a true emergency. For example, if you lose your job and are suddenly struggling with bills, the bank may see this on your credit report and clamp down on your line of credit, leaving you in a very serious pickle.

That’s why, for emergency funds, nothing ever beats cash. This money is for genuine emergencies and do you trust your bank, which likely has policies right now to cut lines of credit at the first sign of trouble, to be there for you when you need them?

I don’t. You shouldn’t either. Cash is king. Keep a cash emergency fund.

I am a 20 year old college student who is having a lot of trouble trying to build up credit. When I was 13 years old, some debt collections were put on my credit report (these were medical bills put under my name that my mother was not aware of. She isn’t aware of her finances AT ALL). I was not aware of this until I was 18. I fought those debts but they were counted as legitimate under the law even though they were established when I was still under 18. At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I finally paid off those medical debts. However, I am still being denied for a credit card, even those that are targeted towards college students! The only other way I can start building credit is by paying my student loans but early payments to those aren’t counted (I have to officially start paying after I graduate in June 2011). In the meantime, how else can I build credit without a credit card? Also, the new laws requiring that parents co-sign with children for student credit cards if the latter doesn’t have any income will only serve to hurt me because my parent has really bad credit. I feel very frustrated that I worked hard to pay off bills that weren’t really my responsibility from when I was 13, and yet am still being punished by lenders for it. Is there any way out? I have heard of secured credit cards but I am unsure which ones are trustworthy. What do you recommend?
- Valery

A secured credit card is one way to help you build credit in this situation. Unfortunately, they’re pretty expensive.

In order to get a secured credit card with a $500 limit, you have to deposit $500. You only get that deposit back when you cancel the card and have made all payments on it. Once you’ve made that payment, the card works like a normal credit card.

If you decide to go that route (and, yes, your options are pretty limited for building credit in your situation), I would start by looking at offerings from one of the large banks, like Citi or Chase. The biggest reason here is that you want a bank that has a strong standard of accurate credit reporting, which sometimes doesn’t happen at smaller banks.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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49 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: Critical Mass of Stuff to Do

  1. Sabine, I think you made the right choice. The quality of school pictures really isn’t that great most of the time, and they are overpriced. Like you said, digital cameras are so available these days, the odds of anyone’s child not being properly documented is slim to none!

    I might be a little biased here, though, because I’m kind of into photography. I never take my children to portrait studios anymore because I’m usually unhappy with the quality of the work.

  2. J says:

    @Jamie – look into Community Supported Agriculture in your area. CSA’s are not only for vegetables, but you can also find beef, chicken, fish, cheese, etc. You get local, high quality stuff and the costs can be substantially lower than other alternatives. You could also check out local farmer’s markets, too.

  3. Jeff says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree about going into debt for school. I’ve seen too many friends finance an education in a field that they THOUGHT they wanted to go into. The worst example is a dear friend who thought he wanted to be a doctor. He’s now deeply in debt and back in school (financing it again!!!) to be a political science teacher. Guess how long it’s going to take him to pay of med school on a high school or community college teacher salary?

    Until you truly know where your passions are, do NOT borrow money for an degree that you’re uncertain about. Barb mentions “potential income” and that should be a red flag. Don’t chase a career for money. Chase it because that’s what you want your life’s work to be.

  4. Johanna says:

    @Jamie: Without knowing what kind of recipes you’re making, or what ingredients you’re buying, it’s hard to offer specific suggestions, but here are some general ones:

    – Try buying smaller portions of meat/seafood/cheese, and rounding them out with larger portions of vegetables/grains/beans. (There are lots of interesting, “foodie,” things you can do with vegetables/grains/beans – be creative.)
    – Focus on fruits and vegetables that are in season where you are. CSAs and farmers’ markets are great places to get these.
    – Set a budget for how much you’re willing to spend on specialty ingredients each week or each month. If you hit that limit, focus on using up the ingredients that you already have rather than buying new ones. Cook the same recipe more than once if you have to.

  5. Kat says:

    Rika, if you purchase someplace that you end up not wanting to live in, it is very likely that you would be able to rent that out very easily for a good portion of the cost of the mortgage, and it therefore won’t be sucking every dime you have, as Trent assumes. Also, it depends on the actual place you buy, but a lot of times, maintenance fees cover a lot of things and you still have a landlord to call (I have friends that own in Manhattan, and they still call their landlord for everything). This isn’t a house, like Trent has, where if the roof leaks or the boiler breaks, you pay for it. I am also confused by Trent saying “you don’t need the house” as you are not buying a house, you are buying an apartment that you can rent out or have a roommate in the excess bedroom. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do it, but Trent’s reasons are more focused for buying a house in the Midwest and not an apartment in NYC.

  6. Ellen says:

    Jenny – Check to see if your city or county also charges a Transient Occupancy Tax to homeowners who rent out rooms or other properties. This has become an issue in our small town, where people often rent out rooms or homes & didn’t realize they (the owners) were subject to this – the city is gearing up to start enforcing this (it’s similar to the taxes you pay when staying in a hotel room). It could take another chunk out of the potential income.

  7. Karen M. says:

    When thinking about taking loans out for school, I’ve heard that a good rule of thumb is never take out more than the average starting salary of the career you are planning to enter. For example, don’t take out $100,000 in loans if the starting salary in your field is $25,000. The art/design field doesn’t pay well at the entry level, and Barb, you are young! If this is something you really want to do, start saving for it and find some employment now that pays better and that you can live with for a few years. If this program is worthwhile, it will still be around in five years, you will be ONLY 29, and you will have a better idea how the graduates from this program are performing in the ‘real world.’ Good luck.

  8. Johanna says:

    @Barb: No, no, no. Do not go for the education. Some other education, maybe, but not this one.

    You say you have two problems – you don’t like your job, and it doesn’t pay enough money – but you don’t say anything about whether this degree you’re considering would solve either of them! You don’t mention whether you think you’d be any happier as a “design writer” or a “design curator” (do you even know what those things are?) than as a lighting technician. And you have no idea how much money you’d be making with the new degree – or whether you’d even be able to find a job.

    And you’ll be taking on a hundred thousand dollars in debt. Read it again: a hundred thousand dollars. What happens if you finish this degree and end up in another poorly paying job that you don’t like? Will you spend another hundred thousand dollars that you don’t have to get another degree?

    Chasing education for education’s sake is all well and good, but only to the extent that you can afford it. At some point you have to enter the grown-up world and figure out a way to pay for all that education.

  9. Nicole says:

    I also disagree with the response to “go for the education.”

    It MAY be worth going into debt over this degree but you MUST do it with your eyes open, realizing that you will most likely be paying off this debt for the rest of your life, and may not find a job in your field right away or even sometime after graduation. You should only do this if you are absolutely passionate and willing to take on the debt for little to no monetary payout in the end.

    There are some red flags about your situation. 1. The program is only 2 years old and not offering scholarships. You can’t have any idea how good the program is, and the lack of scholarship suggests they’re not willing to spend to build up the student body (or alternatively, they’re giving scholarships but didn’t think you were good enough to merit one, but they’ll let you in if you pay in full).
    2. If a degree is not a high-paying professional degree, you are generally better off not getting it unless it is heavily subsidized. It is generally better to just do whatever it is as a hobby in your free time. As in #1, if the school doesn’t think you’re worth offering financial aid to, then chances of getting a job afterward are smaller compared to classmates who do get the financial aid.

    I cannot tell you how many humanities PhDs I know who are angry, bitter, and just generally miserable because nobody told them what the job market was like after graduation.

    It isn’t an either stay in your current miserable job or take on 100K in debt situation. There must be other opportunities that are more proven that haven’t been explored yet.

  10. J says:

    @Jenny – look for a community college course on being a landlord. They will typically cover the finances, as well as the legal aspects you need to be aware of. The ways in which your state or city does things may be similar to what Trent explained, or could be significantly different, and you (and your tenant) could get a nasty surprise.

    And please, please, please have a signed lease agreement with anyone you rent to.

    I’d also suggest renting the movie “Pacific Heights” :)

  11. M says:

    @Jamie – You mention that you often buy ingredients for a recipe that you then have no use for. I’m guessing, from my own experience, that those ingredients tend to be spices and herbs/garnishes. Both of which are fightfully expensive to buy when you only need a teaspoon! My Whole Foods sells spices in bulk, so you can get just a teaspoon or two. (If you don’t have a Whole Foods, maybe stop in next time your on travel somewhere with one and load up?) This saves me a LOT of money compared to buying jars, not to mention it amuses me to see something ring up for $.17=) As far as herbs etc go, I save a lot of money (and hassle) by growing basic herbs (parsley, oregano, basil, etc), green onions (very expensive to buy!), and lettuce. All very easy to grow on your patio (look at Gardner’s Supply for examples of containers). I love having fresh lettuce; it’s so easy to go harvest some right before dinner, and soooooo much cheaper than the $5 pre-washed bags at the store. Get a salad spinner to wash and dry the lettuce – your life will never be the same=)

  12. J says:

    @Barb — It seems to me that you are drowning in your current situation (or treading water), and someone threw you a life ring with “MFA Program” written on it. While I generally am OK with people spending money on education, it seems that your plan is a bit desperate, and you are expecting that this degree program is going to somehow make your life better. However, with 100K in debt, you are once again going to be living “under the gun” for 10-15 years.

    If you know for sure this is where you want to go, then do so. But it seems that you are looking for a “way out” and the termination of this program isn’t necessarily going to offer you what you think you are going to.

    I would think long and hard about it, and also try to model your life after graduation and living under 100K in debt. How will that affect your life choices?

  13. JonFrance says:

    @Barb: I also strongly disagree with the advice to do the MFA. This is $100,000 you don’t have and there will be NO JOB after you finish the program. Many people love art and design. But nobody has any reason to pay someone to appreciate design–that’s a leisure activity, not a job. None of the magazines, journals, or other outlets for design criticism are in any way financially strong, and the articles are going to exclusively consist of work by faculty and grad students in your field. The faculty posts are going to be extremely, extremely competitive and (as a result) have very low pay.

    Trent’s advice comes from noble sentiments, but is not realistic (and neither is your plan). Heck, if I could I’d just keep doing taught master’s degrees year after year. It’s fun.
    But unless you are independently wealthy, you can’t live life like that.

    Use the library. Use iTunes U–it is amazing how many free lectures are out there now from the most prestigious experts and institutions in the world. You live in NYC: attend public lectures and participate in the local design community. You can do all of these things without spending crazy money to end up in the same place you’re in now.

    At the very, very least if you decide to do this program you HAVE TO seek out some of the alumni from the last two years and talk with them about their experience and satisfaction with it. No one bad-mouths a program they just went through (there is a psychological need to justify the cost and effort they put into it!), but at least you can form a more informed idea about what kinds of people are getting what kinds of jobs.

  14. kat says:

    Valery,
    Who told you that the medical debts were your responsibility? Minors are not liable for debt, as by law they are not capable of entering a contract. Those debts were your parents’ responsiblility not yours. Please don’t pay anything else from before your 18th birthday, and contact legal aid at your collage about finding some recourse on this or at least getting the whole thing expunged from your credit record.

  15. Gretchen says:

    barb:”I am not particularly happy in my line of work ” is not the same as miserable.

    To me, it indicates you like some things and dislike others. Which parts?

    Why did you pick this school-because of it’s Prestigious one?

    Have you talked to other design writers and design curators to see if they like the job? If they are making enough money?

    To the food bill cutter: I try not to buy ingredients unless I’ll use them more than once.
    I also don’t buy organic (*certified* organic, anyway) and use very little meat. It’s an accent, not a third of the plate.

  16. chacha1 says:

    To Valery, I’m with Kat – you don’t need a secured credit card, you need legal advice, FAST. You were NOT liable for those debts, and whoever told you so was a liar. You need help dealing with the credit bureaus so that all record of those debts is wiped, and also to make sure that your parent’s other debts are not being tied to you. If s/he stuck you with the medical bills, s/he may also be using your name for other improper purposes. Run, don’t walk, to your college administrator’s office and ask for help. I’m sure they will be appalled when they hear what kind of burden you’ve been working under. Good luck!

    To Rika, I’m with Trent. You are in a good financial place now and things will only get better. Incidentally, if you really want to have babies, you really need to straighten that out with the boyfriend. For your own financial protection – and the babies’ – it would be better if you were married.

    To Barb, I’m against Trent and with many others who say please DO NOT go into a lifetime of debt for an MFA! Lighting design has more applications than you might think. I would advise instead to learn photography skills. Then you can rent equipment and set up shop doing portraits (or whatever) and use your lighting skills to create unique work and build your name.

  17. Cathy says:

    I think Trent is right on about not stressing too much about meals costing too much. Besides, I’ll bet you’ll find that soon you’ll get tired of making gourmet, 50 ingredient type meals and your bills will naturally go down. Throw out twenty half-used tubs of creme fraiche and THEN you’ll figure out a way to make sure you use all of it next time.

  18. Kat says:

    As someone who has 100k in student loan debt, DO NOT DO IT unless you get scholarships. There are tons out there and they aren’t degree specific.
    I happen to love my profession, but wish I had gotten more than the 50k in scholarships I did.
    If you truly want to go to this school, ask them to help you out, find scholarships and work, even if it means you take longer in the program.
    Student loan debt is NOT worth it, no matter what people say. It is a crippling crutch. With 100k in loans you are looking at $600-$800 am month in payments and that is if you have good credit.
    If the economy tanks again after you have taken on this debt, you will be very hard pressed to get any relief from your payments from deferment or income sensitive plans. I know too many people in this position and the banks are not kind, no matter how sparkling your repayment history has been.

  19. Jane says:

    Count me in as someone who also thinks Trent’s advice to Barb is really not good advice. DO NOT go $100,000 in debt for an MFA. No, really – DO NOT go into that much debt for that degree. You will not be making enough money someday to pay off that amount of debt on top of what you already have. That would be a huge mistake. Sorry if I’m not mincing words, but I think in this situation it would clearly be a mistake.

  20. Thea says:

    @Barb:

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus telling you not to go for the MFA. I’m in debt (not as much as 100,000, thank God) for my education, and while I love, love, love my degree, life really changes when you’re in debt to someone else. It will cut down significantly on your choices. You won’t have as much flexibility in your career and in your life because you have this giant burden hanging over you. There is, in my opinion, NO degree that is worth going into debt 100,000 dollars for. (If you want to pay for it outright, that’s another thing.)

    As other posters have said, educate yourself on your own time. Take other classes and read the literature in your field. Make contacts. Maybe take a second job or internship (some institutions have them for people who aren’t currently in school) to see if you actually like the work. 9 times out of 10, the actual experience you have will be much more valuable than the fancy degree–especially in the arts (that’s the field I work in also.)

    Also, play around with the job you have now and see what else you could do with it. What other skills do you have that you could augment it with? Are there other firms you could work for, or other ways you could apply your skills? That might bring you more income.

  21. Dawn says:

    Trent-I know what you mean, I am often in the situation of having more to do than I can and feeling myself shut down. I’ve found the following effective:
    I make 1 giant list of everything that must be done with the dates (I separate work and home into 2 columns because some stuff requires me to be at one place or the other). Starting at the top, go down the list and do anything that can be done in less than 30 min. that does not require communicating with someone else (no phone, no e-mail) Do this for a couple of hours-now I typically have a feeling of accomplishment which bolsters me. Then, work on a more difficult project for a couple of hours (I use a timer). At 4 p.m. (reasonably late in my work day), I respond to communications.

    The next day, I respond to communications before 9 a.m., then repeat the method. Once emergencies are under control, I do the GTD thing of advancing everything on the list in some way.

    It never works perfectly, but helps. Good luck!

  22. reulte says:

    chacha1 — regarding your remark about “For your own financial protection – and the babies’ – it would be better if you were married.” Uh, not necessarily — don’t decide to get married for that reason alone! Still . . .

    Rika – if you and your boyfriend DO decide to get married, make sure you have a pre-nup in place. Not that that answers your question about buying an apartment. I agree that Trent is equating buying an apartment with buying a house. I would have also, then read remarks like Kat’s and realized that this is, indeed (bad pun intentional!), a very different beast. Still, unless there is a compelling reason to purchase now (great buyer’s market??) I think you’d be better off waiting. Good luck.

  23. matt says:

    Glad i’m not the only one whos poor dental hygene in college screwed them, i dont care how lazy you are, floss damnit! $1000 out of pocket (even with a good dental plan) for each crown is not trivial

  24. jim says:

    Barb : I agree with other commenters against the schooling. $100k of debt for an art related degree with no real idea of employability doesn’t seem like a good bet to me. That is a lot of debt to have without a good certainty that you’ll have an income to pay it off. I don’t want to tell you to not pursue your dreams or education but I’d think twice about that much debt. Are there other cheaper schools? Do other grads from that school have good history of getting decent paying jobs? Unless you have a good shot at making $100k a year then I think $100k of debt is a bit too much.

    Valery: I agree with others that you should seek legal advice in that area. It really does not seem that you should be liable for that debt and I would expect you should be able to get it removed from your credit report.

  25. Stacey says:

    i’m a school portrait photographer. Your opinion about school portraits is pretty strong. How about you pay my insurance, continuing education, lab fees, buy the right equipment (lights, cameras, lens, backdrops), pay for the printing of the envelopes, the kick-back to the school, take care of the hours of customer service on the back end (“I forgot to order for grandma, can i still order more?”) wipe runny kindergarten noses, straighten messed up shirts, comb hair that wasn’t touched by an adult that morning and then, after all that hard work, tell me you’re paying you too much for your priceless memories of childhood. It’s not just about showing up with a camera and taking snapshots to those of us serious about our profession.

  26. Steffie says:

    Sabine, I feel for you, we had ‘graduation’ in kindergarten, complete with cap and gowns. People are trying to make a buck any way they can. I have a camera but a professional picture always looks better. I love the school photographs, especially the ones taken when the kids forgot to bring home the paper telling me it was picture day ! Talk about a real life picture, they look the way they always look at school, not all gussied up. Plus they make excellent gifts, a thrift store frame and I have ready made Christmas gifts that will never get returned.

  27. Todd says:

    No MFA is worth $100,000. I only borrowed $20,000 for mine and the debt is crippling on my current salary. Find a place that does offer assistantships and be the most outstanding student they’ve ever seen. You’ll be far better off as an amazing student at a second tier program than as an average one at a top tier school. I now teach at a third tier school and we send some of our outstanding students to Ivy League jobs quite freguently, while two friends from my top tier MFA program are still working part-time in the college town where they moved to pursue the MFA ten years ago. It’s more about YOU than the school you attend.

  28. kristine says:

    Trent, you are advocating that this person go into debt to the amount of 5X their current annual income, in field that is not only highly clique driven, but shrinking by the minute. At curating and critiquing is loaded with PHDs as competitors, and the wealthy with entree.

    I have friends who are museum curators, and heavyweights in the design field. Everyone is fleeing the art and design industries like rats off a ship as museums hardly ever curate new work these days- they go with lowest common denominator crowd pleasers to meet the bottom line. Staff is expendable as toilet paper. The fun opening galas? Only for hi-level patrons now.

    Additionally, many “curated” exhibits are driven by the collections of the sponsors, who will exhibit new work by an artist they currently invest in, to drive up the value of what they already own. It’s rampant. Curators are not even used much.

    This is the WRONG time to expect to even make a decent living as a design writer or curator. The hi-paying jobs are similar to that of rock star, and the rest of the employees make peanuts.

    The kind of education this reader is seeking is one that is more of a wealthy cultured person’s hobby, than a livelihood. Suppose they had said they wanted to go 100k into debt to study obscure Scandinavian limericks? You might say, hey, that’s great, but that’s a lot of money for something that is not in demand.

    Same thing. My husband took out 60K in student loans for his PHD in WWII history. Standard, important history-great field, no? He works at a prestigious college, 10 years full time, and makes less than I do as a newbie public school art teacher. We chose degree over house. My children will never know a house we have owned. Is this reader so passionate about the filed to accept this risk?

    Fields have trends, right now in history, it is women’s and cultural studies. The art industry is no different. It is contracting, and becoming highly commercialized. Most I know are leaving to become teachers- probably of programs like the one this reader wants to attend.

    Many interesting jobs, especially in elitist and cultured fields, rely on the employees need for status as a substitute for money. The glamour wears off.

    What right do I have to speak about this? Accepted to Parsons, but got a full scholarship BFA in design from Pratt, friends to a few who achieved fame, and a 20 year design veteran with my work visible in every magazine you can think of, and my fine art paintings noted in the NY TImes. Now a teacher, and I make a great salary, but not enough to be comfortable with 100K student loans. There is taking gout a loan to go to school, then there is getting in way over your head with no clue.

    Barb, if you are that good, go to Cooper Union for something. If you can’t get in to Cooper, rethink. Or see if you can bargain for scholarships. Enrollment is down, WAY down, at most art schools. Or, go to the writing workshop at SouthHampton, and start submitting articles, attending event,s and making friends, to see if you even like it. Heck- volunteer at a galley or museum to get a chance to talk to the curator, see exactly what they do, what the day is like, and if they like it! Read magazines to see just what kinds of article you might like to write, and is it all done by one or two writers?

    Do your homework before you jump in. It’s foolish to guess and go on a “hunch” of an actual career.

  29. Debbie M says:

    @Bruce, your unemployment income won’t last forever and you have no way of knowing when you will find another job and whether your wife will be able to hang on to her job indefinitely. I’d think twice about paying off that car loan with such low interest.

  30. DB says:

    @Stacey #25 ~ No doubt all your equipment, training, insurance, etc etc etc makes the school portraits cost a ton. All the more reason NOT to buy them. Just because something is *legitimately* expensive doesn’t mean we all should buy it. I have four sons…times 13 grades…equals 52 school portraits (with many copies each) stored in some box in some closet somewhere. And NONE of them means nearly as much to me as snapshots taken around the house and yard, or while on vacation, or at a family reunion, of laughing, playing kids, shot with a small, inexpensive camera. Keep your posed headshots – I want REAL pictures!

  31. Christine says:

    Sabine,

    I highly doubt your child will be the only one not having the picture taken. I’m sure there are many other parents who feel the same way. I always hated school pictures. I always felt like I looked silly. All school pictures are good for is to use to embarass your kids when they are older. :)

    Valery,

    Try your local credit union for a secured credit card. I used to work at a credit union and at that particular one, you only had to put down 75% of the credit limit you wanted. So if you want a $1000 credit limit, you only have to put down $750. Also, there was no annual fee and an interest rate 9.9%. Some secured cards have very high rates and even require an annual fee in addition to the initial deposit. Make sure you do the research to get the right one for you.

  32. cv says:

    I’ve been in the same boat as Jamie. Some of my suggestions:
    1. Cook the same recipes multiple times. There’s one udon dish I make that calls for a particular unusual ingredient, but if I make it once every few weeks I go through the whole bottle. Also, make big batches when you’re making soups, stews, casseroles, etc., and eat or freeze the leftovers.
    2. Choose a cuisine or two to focus on for a while. If you’re making a bunch of Indian dishes or lots of Mexican food, you’re more likely to re-use that curry powder or cilantro or sesame oil or pomegranate molasses and not have to buy as many new ingredients for each recipe.
    3. Choose your cookbooks carefully. Some are much better than others for really good food without a million ingredients, or for offering suggested substitutions for offbeat things. Take a look at Mark Bittman, for example. If you’re buying high quality seafood and produce, it shouldn’t need many additional ingredients to make a really good meal.
    4. The more you can shift your diet towards vegan, the cheaper it will likely be. I’m not saying you should become a vegan, but good meat, seafood and dairy are really expensive. As others have said, use them as accents or where the flavor is featured. Many delicious dishes, especially from parts of the world that don’t rely on the American meat/starch/vegetable layout, are based around beans, lentils, grains, and vegetables, and can use meat in small quantities or not at all.
    5. Ethnic grocery stores are amazing, if you live near any. We spent less than $3 at an Indian grocery store for spices from bulk bins and got enough of 6 or 7 different things to last for months. The Mexican grocery store near me has cheap and *really* good fresh corn tortillas, dried chilies and queso fresco. The Asian market near my office is cheaper for many ingredients, too.
    6. Learn to enjoy the kind of experimental, impromptu cooking that’s needed to use up odds and ends. Pasta dishes, stews, omelets, and other dishes are great for using up odds and ends of what’s in the fridge. Sometimes what you make won’t be fantastic, but other times you’ll make something really good and surprising. This is how I discovered that black beans and butternut squash are really good together. Cooking from the fridge, rather than a recipe, once or twice a week can save a lot of money and be a lot of fun if you approach it right.

  33. kristine says:

    OK, have to chime in on the school portraits. The studio will likely take your child’s portrait anyway, then hard-sell you to buy the images. Do not give them your e-mail address! They will hound you.

    Studios take better images than most people, and some people like the generic pose/background. I am not one, and I am a decent photographer, and do not even consider pro photos expect for my kids’ sports teams.

    Fewer and fewer parents are willing to spring for it so you are not alone at all. If you wanted to be completely unethical, and only want a med-res JPEG to e-mail to relatives, and have a mac, screen snap the emailed image, and crop it in PSD if you have it. I do not condone this, but everyone I know does it. I am against using copyrighted images illegally, but there is something about the aggressive “I will take your child’s picture with or without your permission, add it to my database, and send it to you a million times” that makes me less judgmental on this one.

  34. Cheryl says:

    Sabine, most Walmart stores have a portrait studion that will give you a package with 50 or more photos for a special price of $8-12. Just know that the special is for the first pose, so be sure you get one you like. They try to sell you other poses, but if you stick to your plan and just get the original package, you’ll have plently of “school photos” to share.

  35. deRuiter says:

    Barb….. let’s see, you’re $17,000. in debt for your current career which is freelance without job stability and benefits, and you’re not happy. How happy are you going to be with $117,000. in debt and no job or a job making $25,000. per year? Trent’s advice, in this instance, is terrible. You’ll never be a financial success with $117,000. in student loan debt, and no propsects for a high paying, or possibly any, job. This is on a par with paying $117,000. to get a degree in basket weaving, fabric dying, bead stringing. You’ll never be out of debt, you’ll be poor, bitter and unhappy for the rest of your life, possibly 70 years of being in debt. If you’re going in debt for education, FIND OUT THE SALARY YOUR EDUCATION WILL GENERATE AND IF THERE ARE JOBS IN THAT FIELD. Degrees in computers, science, mathematics, MIGHT generate enoughto pay the loans and live comfortabley, but your current choice is guaranteed failure.

  36. Sue says:

    Barb- I am echoing many of the other responders and telling you DON’T GET INTO $100,000 DEBT for this education. Investigate opportunities to intern with professionals in this field to get a feel for the work and its potential if you are truly interested in this profession. Education is valuable, but so is your life! Don’t make a life changing decision to enter into this type of debt!

  37. Christina says:

    @ Bill – I don’t know how your wife runs her biz (as sole prop on a schedule C for taxes or if it’s incorporate in anyway). IF she has an LLC or other incoporation just be aware that by placing a portion of your home into the business you are piercing the corporate veil by not keeping your personal and business seperate. If you are ever sued by a client for any reason, your home can be included in the suit. Just be careful anytime you consider putting your home up as collateral for anything. Please weight the risks completely.

  38. moom says:

    It’s a very bad idea to borrow money on that scale to get a degree like an MFA which doesn’t have great employability prospects. If you need to borrow a couple of thousand on a credit card to make ends meet sure OK but don’t borrow for tuition. Only borrow for program like an MBA, JD etc. which have strong, high paying employment prospects (and it doesn’t always work out there either). For non-professional grad degrees, usually you should be getting someone to pay you to do it. If you can’t then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. I used to direct a grad program…

  39. Nicole says:

    #35 Science and math will not. Those are also degrees where there’s an oversupply of PhDs. I know a PhD in physics from a top 5 physics program who was working for 50K/year as an econ research assistant, in a city where 50K is not a whole ton of money. He could have done that without the PhD.

    Heck, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) go into Economics for a debt of 100K, even though salaries can be 6 figures and jobs are more plentiful on getting out. The opportunity cost of my time during school was a big enough hit to my wealth without additional debt.

  40. Daria says:

    I used Walmart for graduation portraits. Borrowed a cap and gown from a friend whose child graduated before mine. Very pleased and they were so much cheaper than the photographer recommended by the school. For my last child, she wanted something original and so we went out to the river with my digital camera and took a bunch of photos in different locations and poses. She picked out her favorite and we scrap booked it into an original announcement. The only professional portraits I bought was on College graduation day because it was very difficult to get a clear shot of our children walking across the stage receiving their diplomas. It was a worthwhile expense to us. Out of four children, only one was interested in having a high school yearbook. My husband and I hardly ever look at our yearbook. Maybe twice in 35 years. We’ve never gone to a high school reunion. The people from high school we love, we keep in contact with and see. All of the rest, we don’t care.

  41. Diane says:

    Hi Valery,
    First, you have been given some great advice by #14 Kat, #16 chacha1 and #31 Christine. Please heed their excellent advice first and then consider the following options:

    1. Find a local credit union with a great reputation. See if they have a starter “signature” loan. (Check their website or call.) Make an appointment to speak with the CU Manager. Have your application form filled out prior to the appointment. Tell them your amazing repayment story. Seek a small loan on the strength of your character and integrity. (Don’t try this at a big bank or non-local CU.)
    When I was just starting out, my CU had a $1000 unsecured “first” loan program. I borrowed the 1K, stashed the money in a savings account there and made 10 monthly payments until the loan was paid off. The interest rate was low-ish and the fast repayment plan made the total amount interest paid fairly small.

    2. Once you’ve paid off the loan and have something positive on your credit report, ask the CU Manager for a low-limit credit card. Then, use it to make 1-2 small, pre-planned purchases a month. As soon as you return home from making the transactions, go online and pay your bill so you do not rack up an unmanageable balance while you’re still a student.

    3. If you are working your way through school, as I suspect you are, consider a retail job with a company that has a solid credit program. Apply for an employee credit card. Appeal directly to the store manager to be allowed to participate if necessary. Manage this card as previously outlined. Never run up a big balance, never miss a payment, never pay interest. Your credit report will not reflect that your card was part of an employee plan. When you have a CC through your employer, it’s safer for them to take the chance on you because their terms usually allow them to withhold your pay if you mis-manage the account. Never. Let. This. Happen.

    4. If it’s possible, consider taking the collection agencies who most likely lied to you about your medical obligations to small claims court. It’ll be a good learning experience for you, and you may come out of the experience with enough money to procure a good secured credit card. Do your homework, as secured CC programs are often full of bottom-feeding scammers who prey on people who are not financially literate. Don’t let this be you.

    5 Never, never pay anyone a penny to “fix” this debt and/or your credit report, score, etc. You must do this on your own. While we’re at it, never believe anything a debt-collection agency tells you. Go online and verify first. Check .gov sites first as they tend to be unbiased.

    6. From this day forward, vow to educate yourself on how the credit systems work in this country. Your effort will return huge dividends for the rest of your life. Since you’ve found Trent and TSD, I suspect you are well on your way.

    7. Consider that this painful experience could save you from countless expensive mistakes in the future. Learn the lessons that this situation offers and you will reap the benefits for the rest of your life. You sound like a conscientious, level-headed person and I wish you every success. You will get through this, and your future will be bright indeed.

  42. Nicole says:

    moom! Hey! I used to be a big fan of your posts on the Chronicle Forum. The world is such a small place!

  43. Nicole says:

    … Speaking of which… Barb, if you’re still reading, the chronicle.com forum is probably a good place to ask this question of yours. Though I seriously doubt you will get the response to go for it.

  44. Erin says:

    @Barb – I would not say don’t get further education in design, but I would say DO NOT go $100k into debt to get the particular degree you are talking about. Are there other ways you can get into this line of work? Could you get a BFA from a state school (yes I see you already have a degree, no reason you couldn’t get another one in another field, surely you would be able to apply a lot of credits from your undergrad towards it)? Is there a certificate program somewhere? Could you get an internship in that field?

    I got loans for my masters and later on it prevented me from doing what I wanted with my life because I was locked into those payments. I’m overcoming it now but I would say do not

  45. Suzy says:

    Trent’s advice is usually spot-on, but for Barb, it is way off the mark.

    I have worked at national organizations that do studies of graduate education and employment, and myself hold a PhD and am on staff at one of the nation’s top universities. Some people enter degree programs without a clear path to employment afterwards and it can completely devastate them (life-long) financially. (I nearly fell into this category myself–note that I am on staff, not faculty, because I couldn’t find a professorial job in my field, which my training was supposed to have led to.) MFA and other masters degree programs that do not financially support the students they enroll through assistantships etc. are often cash cows for universities. I’m not saying Barb should definitely not enroll in this program, but no way should the advice be blithely, “yes; just go.” She needs a lot more info. $100,000 in debt is a lot, with unclear employment after to enable repayment (and you can’t claim bankruptcy for student loans), not to mention the years of lost salary, 401k contributions, etc., while she’s in school.

    Here are some addtional red flags:
    1. “Design Criticism”: no clear meaning, and MFA level is very unlikely to lead to curatorial positions (competition for these is typically at PhD level, and is still highly competitive), whereas paid writing positions are a dime a dozen with the rise of the Internet and blogging; just ask arts journalists how they’re faring these days.

    2. New program. No track record of placement. May be structurally unsound and may not have the full commitment of the university behind it. They will say all kinds of great stuff about it–fabulous faculty, connections, exciting new field–but they are marketing it, as they need students for it to succeed. What is really going on behind the scenes will not be available to you. You must talk to current students, but given how new the program is, they probably won’t yet have a good idea of how it’s benefited them.

    See The Chronicle of Higher Education for articles and first-person testimony from people who have made graduate school decisions they regret. Lately the focus has been the humanities, but much of this applies to other disciplines (especially artistic ones) as well.

    In many artistic careers, work experience trumps education. Barb does not even sound like she knows what the careers the program representatives have mentioned really are, much less whether she’d like those jobs. She is looking for a way out of her current situation, but $100k towards a questionable degree (and no, it does not matter that it’s from a prestigious
    university) is not the panacea.

  46. Evita says:

    @Barb
    I’ll join the chorus of all the commenters who said that, for once, Trent’s advice was terrible (we know he has a lot on his mind with the baby coming soon so it is understandable).
    Please don’t add $100,000 to your already considerable debt unless you are considering a career as an airline pilot, a doctor, a vet or a surgeon! Liberal arts are very unlikely to provide you with the level of income that will allow you to reimburse this debt.
    You seem unsure of your future career, so why not invest a little in career counseling? A school or an unemployment office may be able to direct you to a professionnal who can help you match your tastes to the right career for you. Best of all, good luck!

  47. moom says:

    Hey Nicole. I recently started posting on the Chronicle again. I’m now known as “Totoro”. Glad you liked my posts!

  48. Nicole says:

    I’ve blocked myself from the chronicle since graduating and having a kid… way too much of a time-suck for me (especially since my datasets are smaller and processors are faster–fewer forum-sized blocks of time waiting for stata output). I poked at your blog and am very happy to see that you’ve found love with a snorkmaiden. :)

    p.s. Don’t tell anybody, but totoro is the password on my laptop (to-to-ro to-toro).

  49. kristine says:

    Barb- Just read the whole promo for the SVA MFA in Design Criticism. Don’t do it! The program is poorly focused. No one is a master critic of film and interior design, and fashion, and so on… All design critics I have read specialize in one. This “well-rounded” approach is a jack of all trades road to nowhere. You will be very sophisticated at the best parties, but that does not pay the bills.

    The names assocaited with this prgram are good. All I can say is that SVA is an excellent school, but their marketing team is even better! This program reeks of a bunch of design professionals who see their field shrinking, and came up with an idea that will keep them, at least, in a good salary. Good for them for reinventing themsleves, but not for you.

    I agree that this is a field where more professioanls are needed, but it is not a field where a market for thsoe professioanls currently exist. The quote about the need for these professionals is by the founder of the program. No one in coporate america is currently adding design manager job positions. It’s a fake job title. It goes Designer, Director, then Creative Director. (Design Manager is one I look at sideways on a resume.) And the only growth area in the art industry is digital media, where degrees matter much less- it is what you have designed yourself that makes you an expert.

    If you ant to be an art critic, or curate- you have to have a day job too- for a LONG time. AND get a PHD in Art History.

    If you want to be a writer, get a writing degree, and then work at a museum, make friends with a docent or designer and write at night. You could do a blog, or volunteer to Twitter for a known designer as a foot in the door. Wow one by sending a beaming critique of their latest work, and proposing you do a behind the scenes blog for them.

    If you just want to be in the arts, then pursue digital. If you want to be a creative director, get a hands-on art degree, and start climbing, but prepare for low salaries for the first 10 years. (In design, the average turn-over rate for the first 5 years is about 6 months.)

    Don’t bury yourself in debt for a career that sounds great, but is a bugeoning field only in the minds of those recruiting you to take their program. It is a program for rich kids, who love art, and want to do something in art, but are not artists themsleves, but instead are good writers with excellent taste, but who do not need an immediate high salary, or have to take on large debt. It would be a fabulous and stimuating edcation, but lacking monetary reward for along time. And the money stress will prevent you from then pursuing anything else with vigor.

    Please don’t do it. Pick something adjacent in skills, get a good paying job, and moonlight as a critic and writer, volunteering at first, to be a critic if you wish. Educate yourself on the proper terms. The marketable aspects of this program are things you can learn yourself. This degree will not mean much to anyone but you.

    Follow your dream, but sensibly. And remember- student debt is herpes of the wallet- it lasts forever.

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