I’m 36 Years Old and Living the Life of a Millennial

A lot of writing has been devoted to how difficult the economic landscape is for young college graduates these days, how they are realizing that their big city dreams must give way to affordable second-tier city realities. I should not relate to these stories nearly as much as I do.

At 36, I am not a Millennial. I graduated from high school 19 years ago, when it was possible to get into NYU with a 3.4 GPA and high-but-not-stellar SAT scores. Both of my parents were poor and unemployed when I went to college, so I paid very little, and even though I was scraping by on my post-graduation AmeriCorps stipend and tips from waiting tables, I was able to pay off my loans in just over a year. I had a large two-bedroom in Brooklyn, splitting the $800 rent with one roommate, and when I finished AmeriCorps, I easily found a decent job doing something I liked.

In 2001, I was making $35,000 and had the potential to move up at work and make more over time. I had amazing health insurance (I worked for a labor union), a healthy 401(k), and no debt. I was living with my fiancé in a lovely little place in Brooklyn and planning a wedding that I didn’t even have to pay for, because her wealthy parents insisted on footing the bill. In short, my prospects were looking pretty good.

And then I tried to get grown up all at once.

Let me be clear—I do not regret the career path I took. I love being a lawyer. Not quite 10 years after graduating law school, I make a good salary, I have flexible hours, and I do what I always dreamed of doing: I help poor people every day. But for me, going to law school was the first step in a quest for a conception of middle-class life that was always slightly out of reach, a quest that proved financially disastrous. I don’t know whether this was simply a question of biting off more than I could chew or whether I was led astray by easy credit and an unrealistic notion of how I ought to live. But there must surely be some lessons here for the 23-year-olds who seem to share my financial profile.

When I was 23, I got married and moved to Boston, because my wife got into Harvard for graduate school. I applied to all the law schools in Boston and went to the one that gave me the most money. I didn’t even ask about loan forgiveness, because the idea was not to take out any loans. I had been employed continuously in one way or another since I was fifteen, and it was inconceivable to me that Boston, a smaller, less important city than my native New York, could possibly be more expensive, or that law school wouldn’t allow me time to wait tables or move furniture. (It will not surprise you to learn that I did absolutely no research on the financial or practical realities of law school.)

So I ended up going to the one Boston law school with no loan forgiveness program, even though I knew I would go into public service. And it proved appreciably harder to find a cheap apartment than it had been in Brooklyn. And it turned out that success in law school demands more than simply attending class—everything is geared toward finding extra activities that will bolster the first-year resume that will land you the cushy summer job that will usher you into a world of money and prestige that will justify (and extinguish) whatever debt you might have incurred to get there. I found work, of course, but not as much as I’d hoped. Credit cards became indispensable. I took out a small student loan to cover the tuition that wasn’t paid for by financial aid.

I soon learned that for aspiring public interest lawyers, the most coveted, door-opening, first-year summer jobs were all unpaid, and often required taking up residence in another city. So long, Innocence Project and ACLU. I found a down-to-earth summer law job in Boston that paid $15 an hour, and a house moving job that brought in an extra few hundred a week. My wife and I stayed optimistic. After all, we never thought this would lead to a $125,000 gig straight out of school, but we were confident that I’d settle into something around $50K and move up steadily, that we could have kids before we were 30, buy a house before 40, be debt-free and saving in no time. Our credit card debt kept growing.

The day I graduated from law school was the same day we came home from the hospital with our first child. We were all excitement and optimism and joy. I had an appellate court clerkship lined up for the next year that would pay $45K. With my wife’s grad student stipend of $30K and her mom across town to help out with childcare, we figured we’d be fine. I took out a private loan to pay for a bar review class (because law school actually doesn’t help you pass the bar!) and cover my expenses for the summer. I sat in the shade of our Somerville apartment’s little patio and studied property law with my baby son in my arms. Our credit card debt, joined by our bar loan debt, kept growing. The student loans waited patiently.

It turned out that the increase in income was outstripped by the increase in costs associated with having a child, especially when combined with loan payments. We were holding steady, but not getting out of debt. Nevertheless, we started to look at condos. We entered the Somerville affordable housing lottery, twice losing out on beautiful, impossibly affordable apartments. (They did the lottery for each apartment by putting envelopes with each applicant’s name in a big, cylindrical hopper with a crank on one side, like the kind used to pick bingo numbers. On one occasion, there was only one other family there, childless forty-somethings. I was there without my wife, chasing my toddler son around the room, and when their name came out of the hopper, they looked almost sad about it.) When I finished my clerkship, an unusual opportunity came my way to work as a public defender—my dream job, and one that is hard to get in Massachusetts. I took the job even though it meant an initial pay cut, expecting to move up. My wife was working on her dissertation and would soon be pregnant with our second child. Our debt was growing a lot.

After a financially trying year for me as a public defender, my wife was offered her first tenure-track professor position, at a small, prestigious liberal arts college in Connecticut. I was able to find a job as a staff attorney at a well-respected non-profit in Hartford. We were each making about $60K a year. This should have been the moment when we regrouped—we could have found a modest apartment for us and our two sons, spent a few years getting our debt under control, and been back on the track we had foreseen for ourselves all along. But this was in 2007, just before the mortgage crisis, and who wants to postpone their inevitable middle-class comfort when they have solid jobs and access to inexplicable amounts of credit? Not us! We bought a house in an upper-middle-class suburb and a new car. Mortgage + car payment + bar loan + credit cards + daycare costs for two children = American Dream.

My job ended up being fascinating and challenging, but it involved two things I’d never dealt with before: a difficult relationship with my boss and a miserable commute. The addition of a second child and a mortgage had swallowed the gains our salaries should have provided. Money and work stress and hours of driving were straining our marriage. After three years, I left my job for something closer to home with a slight pay cut but less stress and the promise of a raise after six months. Instead, there was a state budget crisis and I got laid off. It was 2011. I tried to get a corporate law job, but my seven years of non-profit and criminal defense work were no match for a market glutted with newly minted lawyers willing to work for next to nothing. I ended up opening my own small firm, doing wonderful, compelling work and making even less than before the layoff. After a year, the mortgage, the car loan, the bar loan, and the credit cards were joined by the $13,000 of self-employment taxes I hadn’t figured out how to pay.

And then, finally, the reset button: at the beginning of 2012, my wife and I separated. I moved into an empty three-bedroom apartment in a Hartford triple-decker that my friend owns. The place was empty because he hadn’t had the money to fix it up enough to rent it, but I managed to plaster and spackle and paint and trashpick it into a condition where I didn’t feel bad having my sons there half the time, and my friend the landlord, happy to have any income at all from the place, charged me just $400 a month, cheap even for Hartford. In the fall, just as my divorce was getting finalized, the state agency that had laid me off before, now recovered from earlier budget woes, offered me a job that paid $70K a year. That was a lucky thing, because the suburban house had become unsellable. My ex couldn’t afford the mortgage on her own, and we didn’t want to uproot our sons from their school and neighborhood at the same time we were getting divorced, so we agreed that I would help her out with the mortgage for a couple of years while she went through the tenure process and the kids settled into the back-and-forth of divorced life. My 1/3 share of her mortgage was double my Hartford rent.

And now, fifteen years after graduating from college, I’m living very much like I did back then, and very much like recent college graduates today. My girlfriend and I just moved into to a 2.5-bedroom apartment in a converted factory building. Our rent is $900 a month. We live in the second-poorest neighborhood in one of the poorest cities in the country. We love New York and Boston, but are satisfied with Hartford’s small but accessible art and music scenes. We play in a band. We share a 17-year-old truck that we almost never drive. We slowly pay our debts.

Of course, I make more money than most Millennials, but my expenses include not only the usual $400 monthly loan payment, but an $800 monthly subsidy of my ex-wife’s mortgage and a $208 monthly installment payment to the IRS. And my girlfriend and I have two deadbeat roommates who eat a ton and don’t pitch in at all: my two sons, six and nine years old.

I’m not bemoaning my situation. Quite the contrary: for the first time in years, I feel like I have a workable plan. I’m paying down my debts. I don’t have a credit card. I’m saving exactly enough so that my savings get wiped out every time unexpected expenses come up (brake lines! dental work! mooching relative!). When I stop helping my ex with her mortgage next year, I can start saving in earnest, or make some real progress on my debts. When my ’96 Ranger dies, I will buy something from 2006. My apartment is big enough for my kids to live in until they leave for college (or prison, or whatever). I have no plans to buy a house.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from my decade and a half of treading water, it’s to resist the pull of material things. I don’t mean that we should all renounce our possessions and become ascetics—I like smartphones and cool sneakers and going to the movies. I mean that it’s worth questioning our assumptions about what it means to be grown up, and about how we measure success. In the nearly two decades since I left home, I have lived in $400 ghetto apartments and a $325K three-bedroom house in the suburbs, and I am certain that the house and the suburbs made me no happier than the apartments and the city. I have driven a fresh-off-the-assembly-line Scion and an aged truck with no radio, no power steering, and no automatic anything, and the new car made me no happier than the old (except for the power steering; parallel parking without power steering is hard work). I’ve been lucky to find work I loved during most of my adult life, and I’m lucky to have two wonderful, healthy children. Those things have consistently made me happy, and I realize now, I could have had them without a lot of the debt and stress and suburban ennui.

 

Josh Michtom is a public defender in Hartford, Connecticut. He spends way too much of his spare time decorating his children’s school lunch bags.

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50 Comments / Post A Comment

francesfrances (#1,522)

I HAVEN’T READ THIS YET BUT THE USAGE OF THAT PHOTO OF RUFUS IS GENIUS AND AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

sherlock (#3,599)

@amyfrances YES!! I also read the title, saw the picture, and immediately jumped right down here to comment.

ratatosk (#3,495)

@sherlock agreed! that was also my reaction.

ThatJenn (#916)

@amyfrances I just came back to reread this post and fell over laughing at the photo all over again. And then left it open in a tab and laughed again when I rediscovered it a couple hours later. Yes.

LydiaBennett (#121)

TRINITY??!! Tell me your ex wife was a prof at little TrinTrin! I miss school but bless you for staying in the Hartbeat, I couldn’t have lived there after my 4 year stay.

kbn22 (#1,414)

@LydiaBennett I too figured he was talking about Camp Trin! Glad to see it alluded to on my favorite website (though, like you, I never planned to move back after I left in 99).

EM (#1,012)

This was very thoughtful and excellent, thank you for writing it!

I didn’t know Hartford was one of the poorest cities in the US- Gilmore Girls led me to believe it was entirely populated by Richards and Emilys.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

Great post – thanks for sharing your story. A $2400 mortgage – oy!

Sully (#5,382)

@EM It used to be. There’s a couple streets with beautiful mansions on them but the rest of the Richards and Emilys live in the burbs. Stars Hollow is actually based on the town of Washington Depot, but it’s like an hour away from Hartford. I know…far too much about the Gilmore Girls.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Sully As long as others (like me) don’t know the GG trivia yet, it’s an educational writeoff for you!

EM (#1,012)

@Sully Gilmore Girls trivia is always welcome in comment sections. Just typed “Washington Depot” into Google and it autofills in “Connecticut Gilmore Girls”

I mean that it’s worth questioning our assumptions about what it means to be grown up, and about how we measure success. This, forever.

Also I really want to see some of these lunchbox creations!

@polka dots vs stripes The lunch bags are at lunchfortwo.tumblr.com (it’s the link from my name above).

Fear Biter (#981)

@Josh Michtom@facebook Oh man. I am currently on the 6th page of decorated lunch bags, and I am in awe of your skilz and creativity. Thanks for sharing that with us Josh!
It also evoked some very happy memories from my own childhood. My mother, who was also a lawyer, used to draw on our lunch bags, or put a little comic about this imaginary family she created on a napkin in with our lunch sometimes. I can vividly remember when she had a summer clerkship during law school and didn’t have time to do that anymore and my sister and I were such brats about it! My poor mom.
Anyway, your boys will probably remember some of those bags for the rest of their lives.

ragazza (#4,025)

Based on this I don’t understand how people who want to have kids and also be professionals do it without already having a lot of financial resources. My first thought was “why did they have two kids, jeez,” but of course a lot of people want to have kids while they are younger, understandably! I never wanted to have kids so that is a huge financial drain off my back. I am impressed with anyone who can successfully balance all that stuff.

Winter (#4,527)

@ragazza I would say divorce, suburban house and law school were more of a factor.

cjm (#3,397)

@ragazza You have two choices if you want children, 1) Have them young and have everyone say you made a terrible financial decision, and you should have waited blah blah. 2) Wait until you are 30-35+ and have everyone worry about your fertility and write articles about how women these days are too picky and selfish. Or 3) don’t have children and have everyone say you are selfish and missing out on the best thing in the world. YOU CAN MAKE NO GOOD CHOICE with respect to child timing.

@ragazza I agree that the suburban house and the loans were more of a drain. I think we could have been fine with two kids if we had lived within our means and not our aspirations, which is kind of my main point.

Wow, as my husband & I consider moving from one city where we’re living comfortably within our means to another city where we’d be down 1 income, up 1 tuition payment & by no means guaranteed a cheaper cost of living… thanks for this. There’s a lot to think about here.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@cuminafterall Yeah . . . When you put it that way, it sounds like a pretty bad move.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

I liked this very much! Your last paragraph is something important to keep in mind

clo (#4,196)

Great read! Thanks for sharing.

RachelW (#2,605)

My first year working as a public defender, my parents sent me $100 every month so that I would have enough money for food (I know, I am very lucky to have amazing parents who did not want me to starve). I did get a raise after that year, so things improved somewhat BUT I also had to dramatically adjust my attitude and expectations. I was spending too much on dresses and going out to dinner because I thought I deserved it. Like hey – I’m a lawyer, I’m in my late 20s, I should have enough money to wear the clothes I want to wear, and go out to eat when I feel like it. I had to learn that just because I felt like I should have it, didn’t mean that I actually could have it. It sounds dumb now, but I wanted the life that I see depicted in movies and TV shows and commercials and magazines, and also the life that I saw other people living around me (people who, it turns out, are also struggling with credit card debt and budgeting). I had to stop looking at all of the societal cues about what sort of lifestyle I should have, and start looking at the reality of what kind of money I had in my bank account and how much the things I wanted cost. All I can say is that I wish I had figured it out earlier.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@RachelW It doesn’t sound dumb at all, it sounds like a LOT of the stories we read here (including Logan’s).

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

I’m trying to understand the desire of people to work at non-profits. Based on what I’ve read, they pay less, which obviously conflicts with goals of house ownership and children. What is so attractive about non-profits?

(I’m not trying to demean non-profits. I’ve never worked for one. I’m just trying to understand them.)

aetataureate (#1,310)

@WayDownSouth Is that a serious question? People want a chance to directly work for causes they support, and often the fact that an organization IS nonprofit is a huge draw — it affects how they distribute their resources, etc.

cjm (#3,397)

@WayDownSouth Based on this comment and your comment in the Walmart thread, I suspect you are a troll.

Do you believe in charity, and that people should help other people rather than the government having to do everything? Then some people need to WORK at the charities. Or do you believe the government should provide everything? In that case some people need to work at the organizations that try to mold the government! Or do you really think everything is perfect in the world right now?!

@WayDownSouth I thought about not responding because this seems awfully troll-y, but I’ve seen your comments on other stuff and you seem like a genuinely interested person who happens to have a different perspective than me, so:

I am a person who has never seriously considered working for a profit-making enterprise. A lot of this is my background– my parents were both military and most of my aunts and uncles work for military/government/social services/education organizations. Service is the #1 value I grew up with.

Now, there are lots of companies out there who I’m sure are very ethical and care very much about improving the world with their products and services. But a for-profit company does not exist to break even while improving the world.

Look, I realize that my personal decision not to work for a for-profit company isn’t going to bring down capitalism. Nor is my vegetarianism going to end factory farming. These are just the lines that I’ve drawn for myself, reconciling my personal ethics and values with the world we live in.

And I could afford a house right now if I wanted, actually.

calamity (#2,577)

@WayDownSouth Are house ownership and children the only goals you have in life? Some of us want to make a positive contribution in the world.

Obviously nonprofits vary drastically – some are badly managed, some are great (just like “regular” jobs!). Personally I think mine falls into the latter category. Many of my colleagues have both homes and children, and what’s more, they also get to spend far more quality time in their home and/or with said children than they would in the private sector. Because here, after your 35 hour-week is done (yup, we work 35-hour weeks) you’re off the clock. We also get 20 days paid vacation on top of 12 federal holidays. All this AND we’re working towards a common cause that we genuinely feel good about supporting.

Having the free time – and mental energy – for a great personal life & hobbies is worth far more to me than money, and while I have neither a home nor a child, I want neither right now. I make enough money to live a pretty great life on my own, and rather like having the time to enjoy my youth, health, and copious vacation days.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@cuminafterall thank you for replying. My question wasn’t an attempt to provoke people. I’m genuinely trying to understand the motivation for working at non-profilts. After I graduated from university, I started working in private industry and haven’t ever worked for a non-profit. Since many people on this site do, it’s a chance to learn about a different point of view.

From what I’ve read in the responses, working at a non-profit is an extension of one’s personal beliefs. That is, by working for an advocacy group, you can help to make changes in a more direct fashion than if you simply donated money. This certainly makes a lot of sense and I now understand it. Thank you.

@calamity yes, the additional vacation time and reduced hours are also very attractive. As you said, you’re trading a reduced salary for more time to do what you enjoy. Again, this makes a lot of sense. One of the difficulties with working in private industry is that the hamster wheel doesn’t slow down, even after you’ve accomplished your financial goals. The reason that I chose the examples of home ownership and children is that I’ve read so many references by people on this site about being depressed about not being able to have either of them. Again, thank you for replying.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@cuminafterall Second the “never considered working for a profit-making enterprise.”

I’ve worked part-time for for-profit businesses. It mostly sucked. I have no interest in assisting other people tons of money. I make enough in my nonprofit gig to pay my bills, put about 10% of my income away in savings (split between retirement & short-term), and do the fun things I want to do. Sure, my younger brother will be making about twice my salary when he graduates in the spring and starts work as a management consultant. But I have no interest in doing what I do now for a for-profit company – marketing & outreach for the purpose of making money just sounds shitty and boring. Especially with the current philosophies of capitalism, that companies exist only to make money for their owners/shareholders? No thanks.

And crazy enough, in this economy, I’m probably making the same as many of my peers in entry level for-profit companies, except for people in banking/finance/consulting. But I get a more relaxed workplace, more vacation, a workplace that places value in its workers, etc.

Guys, I’ve had my share of arguments with @WayDownSouth in these here comments, some of them quite frustrating, but let’s not call people trolls just because they say things that reflect different political beliefs or world views OK? </hippie>

@WayDownSouth Also to answer what I think your question is, people don’t usually work for nonprofits because they hate profits or capitalism, but because of the kind of work they want to do — for instance, social work, political advocacy, international development, or law that isn’t reading boring corporate contracts. People work for them because they support a cause, want to help people, or want to effect change in society.

Note that big-name conservative groups such as Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute are also nonprofits, as are the NRA and most anti-abortion groups. The motivations of people who work at those places are probably very different from the motivations of the Typical Billfold Commenter, yet they also end up working for nonprofits. (Many hospitals are also nonprofits but that’s not usually what people mean when they say “working for a nonprofit.”)

honey cowl (#1,510)

@calamity When I worked for a nonprofit, I did not work anything remotely close to a 35-hour workweek, I hated my job and my upper management, and I wasn’t paid a living wage despite being in goddamn marketing. I know you know this, but it’s a vast generalization that the benefits make it worth it. Since leaving there, I’ve worked at conscientious private companies that are doing good and interesting work, and I really, really like it that way. If it helps, I’m pretty much as liberal as they come — but I absolutely cannot see going back to the NFP sector.

charmcity (#1,091)

@honey cowl Yep! Non-profits vary so much. They are corporations with special tax designations … not necessarily awesome places to work. I have worked at ones that are fantastic and ones that made me miserable. I’ve certainly never worked 35-hour weeks, but I’m a lawyer and don’t expect to have a schedule like that. I like my job now a lot, but I’d say I work about 55-60 hours most weeks and make maybe half of what a first-year lawyer at a big firm makes. I tried that kind of work and it made me very unhappy, and decided it wasn’t worth it, just as I did when I worked at a bad non-profit making 30% as much.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@cjm He’s not a troll. And there are plenty of crappy non-profits and excellent private companies to torpedo any generalizations one might have about either one.

cjm (#3,397)

@Eric18 OK, I see that. It just seemed insane to me. And in fact, still does. I can see not wanting to do it, but not understanding why people other than you might to? @WayDownSouth says that working is a more direct change than donating money. The thing is, if you donate money it’s not like the money immediately solves the problem, someone has to work at the place and collect the money and distribute it in line with the goals of the organization.

rightclicksave (#2,662)

@WayDownSouth I would also just add that for me, one of the big draws of working at a nonprofit is that the organizations I’ve worked with have had great company culture. That’s not to say that everyone who works at a nonprofit is awesome and everyone who works in for-profit is terrible, but I’ve really enjoyed working with the vast majority of my colleagues. We’re all in it for the mission, but it’s important to have a good day-to-day, too. The pay is less than what you can expect in a for-profit, but I’ll happily trade that for good coworkers, interesting work, and a mission I care about.

This was really interesting to read because my husband and I were just talking about our plan for when he’s done with medical residency in two years. It’s a similar situation, he’ll go from making $50,000 a year to $150,000-$200,000 a year which is WOW HOLY SHIT MONEY FINALLY but we also have $100,000+ in medical student loan debt and some credit card debt. We were tossing around the idea that for the first year or so we’ll live off the old $50,000 salary and pretend like he didn’t get a raise and try to knock out the full load of med school debt in that year, and THEN start acting like we’re actually making money. Reading this story just turned that into a good idea we were thinking about into something we will absolutely 100% be doing, so thank you so much for sharing your story and confirming the idea that stuff and acquisition doesn’t really make us happy, low stress and security keeps us happy.

pokeable (#4,933)

@JNC Would recommend living like a resident for at least a couple of years. Lifestyle creep is a very dangerous, slippery slope for physicians. May as well start with a clean slate before you upgrade the house, car, clothes, etc. I’m in my 5th year post-fellowship (my wife is a doc too) and we continuously fight to keep our fixed costs low. Maxing out retirement, with only the mortgage, we can maintain our current comfortable lifestyle with just one of our paycheck with a bit (~20%) left over per month. The other paychecks gets split between investing and paying down our mortgage early.

You are going to need a decent stash saved away anyways for the end of residency (gap medical insurance, relocation expenses, and some blessed time off before your husband starts his job as an attending).

Gl!

charmcity (#1,091)

Thanks so much for writing this. I also went to law school to be a public interest attorney, and so far (6 years out), am still doing it. But the work itself is precarious because so much of it relies on grants or easily-erased lines i state budgets. I’ve changed jobs every 2 years because of that pressure, and it’s definitely impacted my longer-term planning for marriage/family/homeownership. On the VERY plus side, I got rid of my debt in about 3 years, so I am hoping that I’ll just keep being able to find jobs!

You did a lot of dumb things, which I am sure you realize by now, but it is hard to see at the time making the decision. I feel at times our generation is the real lost generaton. They used to call it generation Y, but it is now defined as the cusp period in between Gen X and the “Millennials.” Get a degree on debt, work work work, to pay off that debt, buy a house, have a kid, WHOOOPS houses were too expensive, your student loan debt isn’t absolved, your kids have to eat, your taxes and grocery bill just went up thanks to the government helping corporations and others who aren’t taking their fair share. . . you got laid off? that sucks, good luck too you and your two kids!

Generation Y, more like Generation KY! Bend over and take it like a man!

ropese01 (#5,396)

I am also an attorney and I do public interest work. However, there is one foundational assumption I think some of my fellow public interest attorney’s have that is a fallacy: public interest = no money.

There is a great book for attorney’s “How to Start and Build a Law Practice.” That books forwards the idea that you must provide a valuable service, to your chosen clientele AND YOU MAY CHARGE A REASONABLE FEE. If you do not charge, you will be out of business and you will not provide the service. So, without charging a fee you help no one.

Now, I work with immigrants. EVERYONE said, “Mexicans don’t have money, opening your own firm is a terrible idea.” Instead, I am making more money than I ever imagined. So, the questions is “How can this guy claim to be public interest AND be making a killing?”

Multiple things. First, I always charge LESS than the prevailing prices. For example, last year I helped 45 young immigrants get their papers through a new immigration program. The going rate for the work from private attorney’s is $1,000 bucks. Some attorney’s gauged clients for much more. I charged $750 to each client. Plus, I have a 100% success rate. Is it public interest to provide excellent service for less than any other private attorney in town? I think so.

Another example, I have had multiple clients be seriously injured in car accidents. I have secured the maximum settlement from the insurance company. The going rate for these services is 33% of the settlement. I sign agreements for the going rate, then I give reductions for thousands of dollars on the back end. Is it a service to charge 30% or 28% of a $100,000 settlement instead of always collecting every last penny? Is it a service to do it in Spanish, and with attention to detail? I think so. I hope my clients agree.

As I said, the work I have done has created a large amount of money. With that I have established a strong, client oriented institution that provides high quality legal services to immigrants in their native tongue. I have hired people. I have, in my opinion, provided a public service to an undeserved community AND made money.

My point is not to insult anyone. My point is to challenge the assumption that public service means you can not make money. I know there are many challenges and personal restrictions that might stop others from enjoying the same success. But do not take it for granted that doing good means being poor.

Lastly, I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of this article: examining our expectations to be sure they reflect intrinsically valuable ends (rather than materialism) is absolutely wise. Also, I love Public Defenders (I do private Criminal Defense for Immigrants). So, keep up the good fight.

jennystockton (#4,656)

I’m 32 years old and living the life of a millennial AND I’VE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

Oh dear, this is alarming. My partner and I are thinking of moving to Boston after partner finishes school this spring (provided a very specific job opportunity works out) and probably having a kid. If I can’t find a job right away, partner’s job could provide anywhere between 75% and 150% of our current joint incomes. The example of this demographically similar couple who couldn’t make ends meet on $75K in Boston with one kid? Kind of terrifying, because that’s our 150% scenario.

What’s the alternative though? I think if you really want kids, that’s a major life priority, and telling people it’s a bad decision to do so unless they have buckets of money is pretty cruel.

@eatmoredumplings The key is to live more cheaply than we did, which is doable.

First, I liked your blog. It was good and real. I cringed at what happened to you and the pain of your divorce and being separated from your children just moved me. Secondly, I completely understand your pain. I am an older man (61) and have children your age and younger. I have tried to express what happened to you to them and it is slowly sinking through to them. My recommendations to the young are as follows:

1. Get out of California and the Northeast. I live in Texas. No state income tax saves you a lot of money. Also, housing in Texas is much cheaper than those areas.

2. Why law? There are a million lawyers. If you have that intellectual capacity, be an engineer. It is way cheaper, no graduate school required. Interns get paid. And engineers right out of school get paid good money. For example, in Houston, we hire gets right out Texas and Texas A&M with petroleum, chemical, electrical, or mechanical engineers $80,000 to $100,000. I have kids working me for him (literally, 21 year olds) making $100,000.

3. Control debt. Don’t take college debt. One thing nice about engineering, you get paid about the same whatever school you graduated from. Engineering just doesn’t have the “old boy” harvard, yale network.

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