It’s that time of year again!
No, not Shark Week. (*slowly puts away popcorn and shark pajamas*).
Hundreds if not thousands of people across the Northern Hemisphere are drafting up their resumes and cover letters. If that’s you, you’re probably sending out dozens of letters on a wing and a prayer like the hordes of children at Christmas writing to Santy Claus (which, let’s be honest, probably responds to more applications than hiring officials).
I’ve done this annual dance too up until a year ago. Here’s what I wish my college would have taught me regarding how to plan financially for seasonal positions. It would have helped me out a hell of a lot more than the Lotka-Volterra equations I memorized.
A Money Plan? Pshaw. I Need To Live Up To Being A BROKE Biologist.
I get it. Financial planning is about as sexy as Steve Buscemi in tights and a tube top.
But here’s the truth:
If you can’t afford to deal financially with seasonal work, you won’t get a seasonal wildlife or fisheries job. At some point you just can’t make the numbers work.
And if you can’t get those seasonal positions to start out, you can almost certainly kiss your already-miniscule chances of becoming a real Grownup-pants biologist goodbye.
Meanwhile, your student loan payments won’t stop. Because do you know who doesn’t give a flying turkey shit about your job prospects? Loan servicers, that’s who. Trust me; I’ve tried. Those guys are colder than Steve Austin.
One of the sad truths of this industry is that you actually need to be in a financially privileged position to afford to work.
Some of us rely on parents for financial support. Others of us have sugar mommas and daddies we rely on (and while I love my own husband dearly, he’s no Bill Gates).
For the rest of us, we only have ourselves to rely on. Normal jobs just starting out of college are hard enough to nail down. But for wildlife and fisheries folks? You’re looking at way more uncertainty since most employers are fond of dropping seasonal technicians like a bad habit once field season ends.
That means you need to bring you’re A-game when it comes to managing your money. Even more so than your prodigal cousin Jeff who landed a six-figure job out of undergrad.
So suck it up, cupcake! You can do this, but you need to learn how.
Start A Budget…No, For Realsies
Budgets are the remedy for anyone who wants to a) have a nice life, and b) not die with $61,554 of debt. And, for lower-income people living with precarious job situations, they’re especially important.
A lot of people think budgets are restrictive. Instead, think of them like this: with a budget, you tell your money where to go, rather than wondering where the hell it went.
There’s a lot of tacos, beer, and outdoor equipment in this world for you to spend your money on. Just walk into any REI. For me, that’s like walking into a crack house. I can’t resist.
But if you’ve got a limited income and field season’s right around the corner, you need that cash for other things. Because a wildlife or fisheries job is better than tacos, right?
Related: If you’re looking to learn how to start budgeting even if you think you suck at it, try checking out the Budgeting for Budget Haters e-course. I totes recommend it for anyone looking to better manage their money.
Save Up An Emergency Fund
The most important thing you can do right now is to save up an emergency fund. This isn’t a fund to pay for that cool photography set that’s for sale cheap on Craiglist before others snatch it up.
An emergency fund is only meant to float your living expenses for a short period of time—say, three to six months. Ideally it’d be longer than that, but let’s be honest, saving up just three months’ worth of expenses is hard enough if you’re just starting out.
This is what will give you the freedom to pursue that cool seasonal job across the country. If you don’t have an emergency fund that can float you for a couple weeks before your paychecks start coming in, or for a few months after the job ends while you’re looking for the next position, you’ll be up shit creek without a paddle.
It’s the worst kind of creek for a biologist.
Stay One Step Ahead Of Your Position
It might be tempting to lay off the job search once you’ve landed a seasonal job. After all, sometimes agencies have additional funding to keep a spunky tech or two on board for long after the field crew says their good-byes in the fall.
But that’s far from a guarantee. Trust me; I’ve been promised things by the government that then fell through (*cough* a GS-07 Ecologist position *cough*) due to no fault on my supervisor’s part. It’s just how my hand was dealt.
Unless you have your next position lined up, you still need to be scraping around the Interwebz for that next gig. And even if it is lined up, don’t let that lull you into complacency. Keep an ear to the wind for what else might be out there.
Here are some of my favorite places to check:
Get Your Health Insurance Together
Once upon a time, people didn’t need health insurance.
That was back in the days when the preferred treatment options were a) bleeding, b) tapeworms, or c) cocaine.
It was a hell of a time.
These days, you can’t get by without a Grownup badge unless you have health insurance. Literally—for 2018 at least, if you don’t have health insurance (or an acceptable substitute), you’ll pay a penalty of either $695 or 2.5% of your income, whichever is highest.
An even bigger danger is WTF happens if you get sick or injured and don’t have health insurance. And lest you think you’re too young and spritely for something bad to happen, pack up these little factoids and put ‘em in your back pocket:
In 2015, 1.3% of the population was involved in a non-fatal accident.
In 2013, the average medical injury insurance claim from an auto accident was $15,443.
In 2007, 62% of bankruptcies were caused from medical debt.
Medical bills aren’t anything to mess around with. Bears? Sure. But medical bills?
Hopefully your job will provide medical insurance while you’re employed. But if not, and definitely once your seasonal job ends, you’ll be on your own for health insurance.
If you’re still under age 26, bless your heart and pop yourself a high-five from me. You still qualify to be listed under your parent’s insurance plan for a heck of a lot cheaper (assuming they’re up for it), even if you’re married and not financially dependent on them anymore.
If not, you have two options, each almost equally crappy. Crappy option one is to buy an expensive health care plan from the ACA marketplace. Crappy option two is to join a health sharing ministry where people share medical bills and sing kumbaya.
Just kidding about that last one. But no, they are super discriminatory for realsies.
Consider Disability Insurance
Remember those car accident statistics I mentioned above?
Turns out it gets even worse, just like your ex-boyfriend who won’t leave you the hell alone!
25% of 20-year-olds will become disabled at some point before they retire.
Second—retirement? Are you kidding me? While I am personally enamored with the FIRE movement and am saving up for retirement come hell or high water, the reality for a lot of folks is that they just won’t be able to retire at a traditional age. They won’t have saved enough on their own, social security won’t be enough to live on, or it won’t even be there.
My point being: people who choose this career path will probably have to work longer than most other folks (who already have to work a long-ass time). That means there’s way more chances for you to become disabled, and a longer time you’ll have to support yourself in the event you do become disabled.
But here’s the good news: disability insurance isn’t that expensive. Especially if you’re a spry young person that the old white dusty actuaries like to ogle from behind their statistics books (or at least that’s how I imagine it in my head).
For someone making $30k/year, your monthly cost for long-term disability insurance can be as low as $25/month.
Get Your Side Hustle On
You’re probably looking at me like I’ve sprouted a set of antlers by now. I haven’t, but I was once sent to the ER two weeks before Christmas by a collision with a reindeer outside of North Pole, Alaska (but that’s a story for another time…).
How the heck are you supposed to pay for all this?!
I’m glad you asked, my friend.
With a side hustle.
Specifically, a flexible side hustle. Something that doesn’t have the commitment requirements of a part-time job, but that still pays more than gumball change.
The truth is that seasonal jobs just don’t pay enough to keep you financially stable long-term.
That worked great when it was easier to get a permanent job, since it was a temporary situation.
But now the competition’s as fierce as the Persians fighting at the Battle of Thermopylae and governments are ratcheting down the funding for biology programs like this little guy below, things are tougher.
If you’re a decent writer, check out freelance writing. It’s definitely helped me bridge the gap between seasonal jobs (in fact, it’s what I’m doing right now to stay afloat until my next wildlife job comes along).
You can always feel free to email me personally anytime if you need someone to bounce ideas off of. My email address is lindsayvansomeren at gmail dot com.
What ideas do you have to better prepare financially for dealing with seasonal jobs? Anything else to add? Leave a comment below!