In this episode, Emily interviews Elise Glickert, a fifth-year PhD student in organic chemistry at the University at Buffalo. Elise got married in the summer between finishing undergrad and starting grad school. Between their student loans and car loan, Elise and her husband were in about $85,000 of debt. With two irregular incomes, they quickly realized they had to change something to do more than just get by with their finances, and they implemented a zero-based budget. Elise compares long-term debt repayment with the process of completing a PhD—both require a long-term mindset, creativity, discipline, and intentionality. Elise and her husband are now debt-free, planning their next steps with their finances, and expecting a baby.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- Elise’s Website
- Elise’s Twitter (@Vadergirl16)
- PF for PhDs Webinar for Rising Grad Students
- Ramsey Solutions
- PF for PhDs Webinar: The Graduate Student and Postdoc’s Guide to Personal Finance
- PF for PhDs Community
- Wyzant (Tutoring Platform)
- PF for PhDs S1E9: How This Grad Student Had a Baby, Landed a TT Job, and Defended Her PhD within Six Months (Money Story with Dr. Heather)
- PF for PhDs Subscribe to Mailing List (Compiled Advice)
- PF for PhDs Podcast Hub (Transcripts/Show Notes)
00:00 Elise: Even with that, I think that was helpful. Just even for both of us to see, “Man, like, it is kind of cool how, like, you know, you can increase income just by like approaching or working towards something from a different angle.” And again, I think just like when you’re working on research projects, right? Sometimes you need like a different angle or different thought process to kind of come in and be like, “Oh, cool. Actually, I could approach this problem, look to solve this problem from this angle, instead of just this way.”
00:30 Emily: Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast: A Higher Education in Personal Finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts. This is Season 11, Episode 9, and today my guest is Elise Glickert, a fifth-year PhD student in organic chemistry at the University at Buffalo. Elise got married in the summer between finishing undergrad and starting grad school. Between their student loans and car loan, Elise and her husband were in about $85,000 of debt. With two irregular incomes, they quickly realized they had to change something to do more than just get by with their finances, and they implemented a zero-based budget. Elise compares long-term debt repayment with the process of completing a PhD—both require a long-term mindset, creativity, discipline, and intentionality. Elise and her husband are now debt-free, planning their next steps with their finances, and expecting a baby.
01:30 Emily: Speaking of the transition from undergrad into grad school or the working world into grad school, I am giving away an incredible resource for rising graduate students later this week! The resource is a live webinar on the financial actions that people who will matriculate into graduate school in the coming months need to take right now. It’s really, really practical. We are covering why and how to right-size your housing and transportation expenses, budget and save up for your start-up costs, and investigate your paychecks prior to receiving the first one. I’m really looking forward to sharing this material with you and hearing your questions and concerns. If you are headed to graduate school in the fall, you can register for the webinar at PFforPhDs.com/rising/. If you’re already in or past graduate school but wish someone had sat you down to warn you about the financial pitfalls in your path to the PhD, please share the registration page with the rising graduate students in your life. Again, the URL to register for the free, live webinar on Thursday, April 28, 2022 is PFforPhDs.com/rising/. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Elise Glickert.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
02:59 Emily: I am delighted to have joining me on the podcast today Elise Glickert. She is a fifth-year PhD student at the University of Buffalo, and we are going to discuss her financial journey, along with her husband, from when she started grad school to this year, when she’s nearly done. And it has been quite a journey. So, I’m very excited to talk about Elise. Elise, will you please introduce yourself a little bit for there for the audience?
03:20 Elise: Yeah, so what’s up everyone? Yeah, just like Emily was saying I’m Elise and a fifth-year PhD student at University of Buffalo. I do organic chemistry research. So that’s kind of what I’m working on right now, synthesizing different compounds. And then primarily as well, the hope is with that to ultimately go on maybe into like academia, do some teaching or some like business type stuff. Especially like I tutor now, we’ll probably talk a little bit more about that with like kind of like side businesses and side hustles as well and stuff, so, yeah, it’s exciting.
Finances at the Beginning of Grad School
03:57 Emily: Okay. Sounds great! Let me know, let’s kind of take it back to the beginning of graduate school. I understand you got married right around that time as well.
04:05 Elise: Yes. Yeah.
04:06 Emily: So, what was going on with your finances and also, you know, your understanding of finances or your outlook on finances at that time?
04:13 Elise: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, so my husband and I, we got married in May of 2017, and we actually got married the day after we graduated, which I will say made finals week very, very stressful. Very, very stressful. Yeah. And so, you know, because it’s like you still have all your tests and everything and then also double-checking, like, Hey, is the DJ good? Is the catering, all this stuff. But it was also a lot of fun because we went to a small college in Ohio, and so it was cool getting to you know, just like kind of have like a final like celebration per se with all of our friends and everything. So that was really awesome. And then after that, we actually headed out to Buffalo. One of the reasons I even chose Buffalo or UB was because at the time when we had started talking about like getting married and stuff I didn’t really care where we lived at all.
05:03 Elise: My family’s originally from Jacksonville, Florida, and my husband has a lot of family in New York. We had some friends in like this New York area as well. And so yeah, so UB was one of the places I applied to that accepted me. And then, yeah, basically after that got married, graduated honeymooned, and then headed out to Buffalo and I started doing some TAing during the summer, and then my husband was also working in retail at like a DICK’s Sporting Goods. So, yeah, so that’s kind of how we started with that. And then in regards to finances, I will say we are complete polar opposites. I’m a huge spender. One of the like embarrassing stories I share is so like my senior year, so entering my senior year of college, I had this goal. I have no idea why, it’s not even really that great of a goal, honestly, to just like blow a thousand dollars in a day. And I was a college student.
05:54 Elise: I didn’t, I mean, it was bad. But anyway, so I did that, and then I hadn’t actually read my like student bill correctly, so I didn’t even have enough money. So I blew the thousand, and then like three days later went into the admissions office and was like, “Hey, like I, is there any way I can get more money? Like I don’t have.” It was so bad. So very, very, yeah, very irresponsible, I would say, was more of my mindset. And then my husband is the complete opposite. Absolutely hates spending money whatsoever. So yes. Yeah. That’s kind of like, again, my financial background there. Yeah, I would say definitely no financial literacy whatsoever. It was just kind of like, yeah, you know, as long as the bank account’s not zero, enjoy spending.
Combined Debts and Incomes
06:38 Emily: Got it. And what about your like net worth or your combined net worth at that time? Did you all have debts? Did you have assets coming out of college?
06:46 Elise: Yeah. Yeah. So we both had student loans coming out of college. And so I had around like $30,000 or so, and then my husband had around like $46,000. My loans then went in deferment. But for his, right, we were then like six months later began making those payments. And then we also in like the fall, so like fall of 2017, we then also financed a car. And with that again, I will say I’m more so kind led this as a spender, but again, something I would recommend not doing. I remember we both walked into the dealership and I like told the dealer who was there, like the salesman. I was like, “Hey, yeah. So, you know, we’re looking for a car, our budget is $15,000, but we can go up if needed.” So again, not the best, really just not the best lines to use there. So as I said, yeah, I was super yeah, not super intentional with money or anything, so yeah.
07:46 Emily: Okay. Let me know about your incomes as well at that point. So like, what was your stipend when you started grad school? And what was your husband earning?
07:53 Elise: Yes. Yes. So for me, it started out around like basically $26,000 a year, like $26,300. And usually, that would be split up into like $23,000 the full like semester, both semesters, and then $3000 during the summer. So, like $3,200 during the summer.
08:13 Emily: Interesting. So you would have to prepare a little, I mean, in theory, you could prepare a little bit through savings to supplement over the summer, but I’m not thinking that was something that you were trying to do at that point.
08:25 Elise: No, definitely not. Yes. I remember even when we saw this you know, you’re like talking with other grad students, you see the forms and stuff. And yeah, I remember where both of us, as I said, since we were kind of more like opposite-minded, there kind of started to be very much a “Man, something’s going to need to change. Otherwise, this is going to be kind of disastrous.” Right? And even, I know like one of the things that can be like one of the leading causes of divorce, right, is like financial issues. And we didn’t want to have that. So, yeah. Definitely again, that kind of was what even really started, I would say especially for both of us, a passion for finance was kind of realizing, “Man, we are going to, just like what you’re saying, we’re going to have to start planning.”
09:08 Elise: Because like my income’s a little bit irregular. And then as I said, at the time he was working at DICK’s and so that was I think that like first semester or whatnot, that summer again making like $15,000 or whatnot. Or like 12 to $15,000. And then again, that was kind of irregular because he was working at DICK’s part-time and then also had like an internship as well. So, it again was like part-time. So not, yeah, we weren’t bringing in a ton of money. I think those first six months’ gross was maybe like $25,000 or so. And again it was all irregular, always irregular paychecks.
Money Mindset and Strategies in Grad School
09:52 Emily: Yeah. So let’s kind of talk through, you know, we have a good picture of the start. So let’s talk through like how those next few years went, and what you were learning. And maybe what strategies or mindsets you started to use along the way. Because you know, we’ll get to what the current picture is, and it’s a lot rosier than, you know, what the start was. So like let’s talk about that evolution.
10:13 Elise: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So, I would say the big thing for us was kind of a desire to make sure we were on the same page. Because I will say, when we did first get married, there weren’t I guess like a lot of like financial stressors per se, it was just, everything was very disorganized. But we weren’t having like I will say we were sort of blessed. We didn’t have like any huge thing that kind of like came up where it was like, oh no, it was just, it was like, man, we are, you know, we’re little just organized and stuff, but Hey, you know, it’s good, life’s good. Like you know, I’m doing school he’s working. And then again, I would say is more so because our paychecks were so irregular, it was kind of like a “Man, we’re going to need to be a little bit more intentional with this.”
11:00 Elise: And so that was when I started doing a little bit more research into just personal finances of like, “Hey, you know, how should we like set up a budget?” You know, what’s the best way to do that. And we ended up finding like a zero base budgeting type method. And so with doing that, it’s kind of where you’re like setting up, Hey, at the beginning of the month, this is how much we’re going to spend, which was really helpful for us, especially because of, again, that irregularity. We were then able to be like, okay, well this is for sure, you know, like our expenses. And then you know, even though the incomes are irregular, this is how we can use this excess. And then we also decided that it was like, “Hey, let’s also look to start having some financial goals together.”
11:48 Elise: I would say we both do love setting goals and achieving them together. So it was also a lot of fun kind of setting like one of them was, “Hey, let’s become debt-free.” So again, let’s be intentional with that zero-based budgeting of how can we pay off our debt? And then also like, you know, getting savings account set up, stuff like that. So I would say, but the big start with that shift was really kind of like those again, how irregular the incomes were and kind of almost seeing, “Man, if we’re not intentional about this, sure, it’s fine now. But like five years down the road, this would be just disastrous, right?” It would not, because again, if anything comes up, like it’s going to be really, really bad because we’re just not keeping track of everything thing well.
Debt Repayment Goal
12:34 Emily: I’d love to talk more about the debt repayment goal. And so, you mentioned that you both had student loans, but yours were in deferment. And you had the car loan. And so, did you use any particular like methodology? Or like how did you decide what to tackle first or how much to pay? How did all that work?
12:55 Elise: Yeah, so I will say one of the big things. So we really liked Ramsey Solutions. That was again, when I was doing like the basic Google search, right, for personal finance. I mean one of the top things that came out, and they talk about doing like the debt snowball method, paying off just smallest debt. And it was fun to feel like all of those wins with things. And then, this is interesting because like I would say at the same time as all this is happening, right? I’m also like progressing in my program as a grad student, and it was interesting, I guess kind of the similarities of, I really liked the focus that like they kind of talked about of like delaying gratification. And obviously, I mean that’s a hundred percent grad school, right?
13:40 Elise: You’re constantly delaying gratification. So, I guess as my brain was already being rewired to some degree of going from, I would say like my senior year where it’s just way more you know, kind of like, “Hey, whatever feels good right now. Like let’s just do it” to a “Man, okay. Let’s put you know, kind of submit to a process.” You know, get that like I’m delaying a pleasure, right? And then again, that intentionality. I would say that was kind of the big methodologies, but I’m not going to lie. I don’t actually know if I wasn’t in grad school, like at the same time as we were doing this, that might have been honestly a little bit, maybe too much of a rewiring all at once. But it was cool because you know, at the same time I’m running experiments and I’m learning, “Hey, this is what happens when this doesn’t work.”
14:25 Elise: Then I have to come back in, you know, or “Man, this is going to be like a five to six-year journey.” You know, like my brain’s already getting used to longer journeys than just, “Oh man, I can’t like pay off all the debt in like three months. So what’s the point, you know? So it’s just interesting all the similarities there that I would say really helped both of us, especially as we were going about achieving those goals. But the big one was yeah, just paying off smallest to largest and kind of, for us, it was realizing, “Hey, this is not going to be something that we finish in a year.” But again, it’s like grad school also, right? It isn’t something that you finish in a year. So, it was difficult, but at the same time, I don’t know, like obtaining a PhD is difficult. So I think it was nice to have like those similarities.
15:14 Emily: I love that you brought up this point because this is actually something that I bring up at the beginning of one of my seminars, which is The Graduate Student and Postdoc’s Guide to Personal Finance. And so, what I say because I know that people who attend these seminars are not necessarily, you know, like you are now like, are a super podcast listener would be like, oh, I’m super interested in personal finance. Like yeah, I’m going to really dive in. You know, they may just be like casually like, oh, I probably should learn something about money. So I’m going to show up at the seminar. So what I do to kind of like frame this is like say, you as a graduate student or postdoc, you have already made the decision to commit to this, you know, as you said, five-ish year, at least maybe 10 years, training period to set yourself up for this wonderful successful career at, you know, the start of that.
15:57 Emily: And you making the decision to do that gives you certain like personality, characteristics, like going through it, like you were saying like forward-thinking, planning ahead, committing to a process. And that, I say, if you take this sort of the personality you’re developing by being a graduate student, by being a postdoc and you translate it over to the financial side of your life, you are going to be successful. Because it does take long-term thinking. It does take delayed gratification. It does, you have to think about it as an investment in your future, whether it’s debt repayment, saving, investing, whatever it is, it’s all setting you up for an easier time in the future than you’re necessarily having right now. So, I really love that you, you know, clearly saw yourself going through this process as well. Brilliant.
Student Loans and Savings
16:39 Emily: Well, I want to ask though about, you know, regarding the debt snowball, which is a great method to use, how did you treat your student loans in there? Because they were in deferment. So, they’re a little bit different than the other types of debt.
16:49 Elise: Yes. A hundred percent. So I will say with that I should say, I guess maybe like a caveat should be, we use like a debt snowball hybrid <laugh> because yeah. So, because with the deferment, right? You did have the 0% interest and yeah, basically, the way we did it was, which, I mean, we just kind of thought of all of our debts as together, I will say. But I guess if you technically split them up, we paid off like my husband’s loans first that were broken off into the like, you know, $3000, $1000, $2,000 chunks. And then did the car, and then did like the student loans that I had. But technically the student loans that I had were higher than like our car.
17:35 Emily: So, sort of a combined avalanche snowball method. Because of the 0% due to the subsidy and deferment and so forth.
17:42 Elise: Mm-Hmm <affirmative> yes.
17:44 Emily: Gotcha. And you mentioned also earlier savings. So, how were you thinking about cash savings versus this big debt payoff goal? Like how much cash did you decide to keep on hand and for what purposes? How did you think through that?
17:57 Elise: Yes. So I will say we did use where for us, we kept it a thousand dollars. I will say though, also we did keep our expenses very, very low. And we were like pretty much every month, again, once we started being intentional and doing that zero-based budget, we had usually like $2000, $3000 a month or again, depending on the year. And as I said, our incomes were irregular. But yeah, we had the $2,000, $3,000 a month where like, if something did come up, we would just take like a pause on the debt payment. But we always had with like an emergency fund of, as I said, a thousand dollars. Again, just in case like because when we were looking at kind of like our lives, it was like, “Hey, you know, the like worst thing that could happen would not exceed really like a thousand dollars, honestly.”
18:53 Elise: Because the biggest thing for us would’ve just been the car repairs, and we actually only had, and still have, one car. So, it also kind of worked out that way. And yeah, most of our expenses I will say, and even now, are like under $2,000 a month. So it also makes it again a little bit easier to with that intentionality of okay, cool. Well, you know, I always have this amount of cash flow. And we did have later on like in our marriage, whatnot and in our journey where technically, I will say, which is bad on my part, like I have actually totaled like two cars. So, when that happened, like we did have to press pause on it and we then like saving up money. And so instead of it just going to the debt again, like $2000 or again, depending on how the income varied, it would go into savings or towards yeah getting a car.
19:51 Emily: I also skated through graduate school with a thousand dollars in a designated emergency fund savings account. Because I mean the way that you described it was also sort of similar for my husband, me, like we were renters, we only had one car, not a whole lot of financial responsibilities at that time of life. Now I did have other savings in other, like I’m really big into targeted savings accounts. I had other cash in other places that were like designated for car repairs or like other purposes. So, it wasn’t like that was our only cash on hand, but I like what you said, because you know, you had the thousand dollars in savings, but every month, if something came up, you had a thousand, $2,000, you could devote to that new thing that popped up because you were so, you were cash flowing so much debt, you know, above the minimum payments every single month. So I definitely, I don’t know how much I’d recommend it, but I definitely see how you could, you know, get by with that. Were there any other like strategies or mindsets or anything that you wanted to share from, you know, that time in graduate school?
20:49 Elise: Yeah. I think honestly the big thing is just kind of what we’ve been talking about. Just like the intentionality. Like, I don’t know, even, I feel like just kind of when you’re choosing a lifestyle. Again, that’s another thing that I think for us going straight from like college to grad school and everything we didn’t do a lot of like the lifestyle creep. And I will say a lot of that maybe I should probably should credit as well to like my husband, because as I said, he’s way more like frugal than I am, but it is really nice, I will say. And again, this is kind of similar thinking to like grad school, it’s like once you’re in a process, it kind of becomes the norm, you know, and you don’t even think about it. So even for both us, like when people are like, “Oh man, you guys don’t,” you know, there would be times where people would say like, “You don’t have two cars?” And it’s like, well, you know, yeah, we have one, but actually we’re like good <laugh>, you know, but it becomes the norm.
21:37 Elise: Or same with when I’m talking about like grad school to people, right? And you know, sometimes you get the whole like, “Wait, you mean you don’t just work like a nine to five in grad school?” And it’s like, no, no, but it’s like, that’s the norm for me. You know what I mean? So again, once you’re in these, I think it’s just the same with personal finance. Like you really do get to set and determine, to some degree, you know, “Hey, this is the lifestyle I’m going to have.” And, I would also say with that, it also becomes harder if you like set a norm that’s maybe a little bit higher that you can’t maintain. Because then you, again, you have to like almost rewire your brain, which is one of the huge benefits, again as I was saying, I think of like being in the PhD program and also the personal finance journey. Because there are just so many similarities that can really, really assist you.
22:24 Emily: I agree.
22:27 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. If you are a fan of this podcast, I invite you to check out the Personal Finance for PhDs Community at PFforPhDs.community. The Community is for PhDs and people pursuing PhDs who want to take charge of their personal finances by opening and funding an IRA, starting to budget, aggressively paying off debt, financially navigating a life or career transition, maximizing the income from a side hustle, preparing an accurate tax return, and much more. Inside the community, you’ll have access to a library of financial education products, including my recent set of Wealthy PhD Workshops. There is also a discussion forum, monthly live calls with me, and progress journaling for financial goals. Basically, the community exists to help you reach your financial goals, whatever they are. Go to pfforphds.community to find out more. I can’t wait to help propel you to financial success! Now back to the interview.
Supplementing Your Stipend
23:33 Emily: You mentioned earlier that you were tutoring. Like what was your, how did you supplement your stipend? I guess I’ll put it that way, during grad school.
23:41 Elise: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. Yes. So I will say, yeah, so for us, again, as we were kind of on like our debt repayment journey. You know, there kind of starts as you’re like going, going, going, it’s like, “Man, like what, are there any other things I can do to like speed up the process?” Again, similar with like grad school, right? Sometimes you might have weeks where it’s like, “Man, I actually, yeah, I’m going to put in more time. Or okay, I’m going to not do this because I want to, you know, I’m so close. I just man, just got to push through.” And so that was kind of how that started. And then I was looking for different like side businesses or side hustles and things to do. And during the pandemic, actually we did a little bit of like DoorDash, you know, just because you’re like in your car and just dropping off.
24:22 Elise: I mean, it was great, you know. You just pick up the food, drop off the food, and then like wave to the person from your car or whatnot. So super safe and everything. And so doing that, it was kind of like, “Oh this is cool. Like we can supplement income, you know, doing this.” And then also, as I said, our incomes have always been very irregular. And my husband, after working in the retail then went into more of like sales, which was still making around like a 30, 35 or again, depending, because it’s very irregular. But even with that, I think that was helpful. Just even for both of us to see, “Man, like it is kind of cool how like, you know, you can increase income just by like approaching or working towards something from a different angle.”
25:06 Elise: And again, I think just like when you’re working on research projects, right? Sometimes you need like a different angle or a different thought process to kind of come in and be like, “Oh cool. Actually I could approach this problem, look to solve this problem from this angle instead of just this way.” And then with that, so then it was like, man, I’m doing all this stuff with organic chemistry. And so, what would be a good like side hustle I could do that’s more related to organic chemistry? Because obviously DoorDash is not really related to organic chemistry at all. And I had always tutored like a little bit, but it was more so like I would help out like you know, like tutor some like high schoolers at like church or whatnot. Or there’d be someone who would recommend like, “Hey, can you help this student?” I’d be like, “Yeah, sure.” But I use a platform called Wyzant.
Wyzant Tutoring Income
25:50 Elise: And so I started doing that last year actually. And it was awesome. It was I think really, really cool just because I loved it, because I loved being able to teach. I love being able to talk and like communicate with students and explain concepts. And it was great too, because it’s like an online platform, and I feel like you know, obviously everyone has different like opinions and stuff about online learning, but I think a lot of people have really gotten used to it as well. And so it’s also really cool. Because this platform’s just great. And the students like they’re great, you know, it’s just awesome. Being able to like teach and communicate again that one-on-one. Yeah, so it’s just been really, really awesome and it’s been great too. Because then I get to do like organic chemistry on the side, which is also what I’m doing in lab. So I think that’s been really awesome.
26:35 Emily: Another tie-in with what I teach in many different venues, which is if you can somehow employ the specialty that you’re developing in graduate school in some other arena, you’re probably going to get paid like at a better rate than, well, one staying inside academia, like, you know, maybe tutoring at your university, and also, or just trying something totally different that doesn’t use that skillset, like you were saying with DoorDash.
27:00 Elise: A hundred percent.
27:00 Emily: Can I ask what your like pay rate or how much you’re earning like monthly is from Wyzant?
27:05 Elise: Yes. Yes. So in general, which, I will say I started it last year in June, so it wasn’t actually a huge part honestly, even of like our like debt-free journey per se. But yeah, I make on average around like a thousand to 1200 a month from it. And then I charge with it like $50 an hour for the tutoring. And usually it’s like at the college level. And then there’s a couple of students in high school that I tutor as well. But yeah, it’s awesome because again and just like what you were saying, and even like some of like the articles and things that you have posted as well, right? It’s also nice because, to some degree, right? Especially like you’re becoming like an expert, you know, in a field.
27:53 Elise: And so, it’s very, very helpful for me honestly just continuing to man, make sure I’m really communicating well. And then also it is great when, you know, they can both kind of coincide. Because like I do, you know, organic chemistry at work and I can come home in the evenings, you know, for like a couple hours or so, or during the weekends for a couple hours. And yeah, it’s really, really nice. And then, I will say, it does slow down a little bit like in January and then December as well. Just because, you know, not as many students are taking classes and stuff during those times, but yeah. So far it’s been really, really great. And I’ve really been yeah, enjoying just the one-on-one tutoring and mentoring with students.
Current Financial Situation
28:35 Emily: Yeah. That’s a great pay rate. That’s a great addition to your budget. I mean, you know, you’re on the order of magnitude of like a grad student paycheck. I mean, you’re not quite there, but it’s the same, you know, you’re in the neighborhood. So, that’s awesome. Give us an update then on how, like what your finances are like right now. You know, we went over at the beginning of graduate school, you know, the various debts that you had. What do your finances look like now? We’re recording this in January, 2022.
29:00 Elise: Yes. Yes. So now yeah, we’re a hundred percent debt-free. So got rid of all of that, the $85,500. And as I said, that was a process, right? The 47 months paying that off. But again, like grad school’s a process too. So, you know, I think that’s one of the cool things about processes is like all the stuff you can learn about yourself in them. And then right now we’re working on increasing just like our emergency fund. So, as we were talking about like a thousand, you know, it’s fine for like, in my opinion, it’s fine for a starter emergency fund. Really, I would not recommend, you know, spending the rest of your life with a $1,000 emergency fund and especially you know, we have a baby coming, so that’s really, that of course changes things where it’s like, yeah, a thousand dollars isn’t, you know, we don’t want to have that for like 20 years.
29:47 Elise: But yeah, so we’re looking to increase that right now to, which more would be like four to six months for us, which is like $10,000, just to have that nice and set up. And that should be set up in like early March or whatnot is when we should have that. And then right now, after that, we’re also looking to, we’re going to start investing, so we’re going to max out two Roth IRAs. So just kind of again, which that’s a way longer process, you know, but just getting that money saved up for retirement. And I think for that, we’ll probably I’ll be using Fidelity and then my husband as well, who set his up either with Fidelity or maybe Vanguard, because he works for Geico now. And so with that, I think they have Vanguard.
30:39 Elise: So yeah, we’ll see with that. And then, I mean I suppose we’re not a hundred percent sure what like the next five years will look like for us. And so we’re also in the process of we’ll look to get something, once our daughter’s born, we’ll look to get something set up for her for college or just future educational goals. We’re thinking of it’ll probably just be we’ll just set up a 529. And New York has some nice like tax benefits when you set up a 529. And then yeah, and then it will be like saving up for a house. Right now, our goal is to buy a house in cash, because again, with the current lifestyle that we have, as I said, it’s less than $2,000, but we are very content with that. Obviously, when our daughter’s born, you know, that will increase. That will increase a little bit.
31:28 Elise: But yeah, we think we can probably cash flow, because again, my husband’s income continues to go up and my income, hopefully, you know, will also go up beyond the graduate stipend cash flow, hopefully around like 30,000 so a year and we’re hoping to then buy, I don’t know, maybe like a condo or townhouse or single family. Again, depending what, you know, where we go for like maybe $120,000 or something like that. So we’ll see. Yeah, but that right now is kind of the plan with everything. And right now the biggest focus is just yeah, getting that savings increase from a thousand to the, or like I think right now it’s like $1,800 to $10,000. And then yeah, getting those Roth IRAs maxed out.
32:13 Emily: I really like it actually when, this point that you’ve volunteered to do this interview, at this point of we just became debt-free, and now we are ready to start these next steps. I love it that we’re talking at this point. Because whenever you have someone like you, who’s gone through this very intense, very intentional debt repayment journey, you get all of your, you know, systems and processes and mindsets, everything’s set up. So your cash flowing above your, you know, your expenses a thousand, $2,000, $3,000 a month. And it’s all been going towards this debt. And now you get to the point where you get to switch it, and it’s like this massive, you know, amount of cash flow. Like I think of it as like a huge like fire hose like you now get to direct to other goals. And I love that you have this like order. Okay, first is the emergency fund, Roth IRAs, 529, you know, you have your priorities set out. So, absolutely love that. It’s very apparent, you know, these last years have been preparing you for this state. I also want to add that I went through, again, the exact same process when we were pregnant with our first child, that I was looking at that thousand dollars emergency fund going, “Not going to cut it anymore.”
Preparing for Baby’s Arrival
33:15 Emily: And I think our goal was also something like 10 or $15,000 as that next thing to do, like before the baby comes. Which turned out to be very useful. I actually wanted to talk a little bit more about that. Are there any other, you know, you just mentioned sort of long-term financial plans and of course getting the emergency fund together, but are there any other specific financial preparations that you’ve been making or thinking through for your baby’s arrival? Like, I don’t know, like health insurance or childcare like these other, maybe leave? What other sort of major financial things are you working through right now?
33:46 Elise: Yes, yes. No, that’s a great question. So, I will say in regards to like preparing for our daughter and everything, the big thing was I got to have a fun time. Well actually, yeah, both my husband Kyle and I, but kind of doing stuff where, yeah, like reading those actual like health insurance statements. Not going to lie, when I first got to UB, they gave me the handbook and I was like, “Okay, cool, thank you.” And then did not even glance at it. And so, but just, you know, making sure that we know like, Hey, this is like our deductible, this is the amount we will be expected to pay. And it’s actually kind of cool. I will say I have been very blessed, like the lab I’m in, there’s actually like three other students who have also had kids as well.
34:27 Elise: And so for them, it’s also nice because you know, we all technically have the same insurance, and so yeah. And UB I will say does have pretty good health insurance as well. So it’s nice. So we’re of course planning for that where it’s like, okay, cool. We should you know, that’ll cost us like $200 and then, you know, you have all the visits as well, which we again, since we do the zero-base budgeting, we just budget for like, okay, this month, you know, it’s going to be this much for these visits. And then everything else in regards to just like kind of preparing for like stuff and everything, that has more so come from just kind of like asking other people in our lives and also just like other grad students, “Hey, like how much, you know, do you find yourself like spending for diapers?”
35:13 Elise: And I will say also there is a lot of information that is online as well. So it’s kind of like using a mix of like the online plus, like what, you know, our friends are actually just telling us that, “Hey, this is how much I spend for this.” Which has also been super, super helpful. Or like, “Hey, you need this, you know, this is the cost of this.” And just like adding all of that up, like, you know, car seat yeah, cribs, stuff like that. So that’s good. I would say that’s been kind of how we’ve been primarily preparing financially for that. In regards to leave, I’ll have three months of maternity leave that I’ll be taking. And then I have, yeah, kind of like a fellowship that goes through that. And then, so that’s kind of something like, again, me and my boss talked about like maybe a month and a half ago or so, just about, “Hey, this is kind of like the expectations there.”
36:04 Emily: So that’s paid, just to be clear?
36:06 Elise: Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
36:08 Emily: Fantastic!
36:09 Elise: Yes. Yes. So I would say that is, that is a nice thing again about like you know, every state’s different, but like New York does have that paid family leave. And then my husband as well is going to be taking, because as I said, yeah, he’s working for Geico now. So they do paternity family leave or like paid family leave as well. For him, his is a month though, is what, yeah, right now we’re planning on for him. And then, yeah, so that’s kind of, I would say those are the big, like financial preparations we’re doing. But again it is something that, especially, I don’t know when we first like kind of found out, I just like Googled like how to prepare for a baby. And it’s amazing how like just many articles and all this stuff that comes up, and it’s all so different again, based on the insurances, which I’m sure even, you know, right? Like there’s, so there’s just so many different variables. So I think it’s very helpful, at least for us, it’s been very helpful, like talking with other people, talking with peers, talking people from church, talking with people from our places of employment. Yeah. And just like to get that information.
37:08 Emily: I agree. I think those, especially your labmates. Same insurance, same advisor.
37:12 Elise: Exactly. Yeah.
37:13 Emily: Been through it recently. Like that’s going to be the absolute best resource. Yeah, definitely. And I asked about childcare earlier, so do you have a plan yet for after your leave ends what’s going to go on?
37:25 Elise: Yes. Okay. So I will say so for that plan, we will. Yeah. We’ll kind of see, because right now, again I don’t think, so we don’t have like anything against daycare or anything like that. Like I think, and UB’s daycare actually is supposed to be like fantastic again, like two of my coworkers use it and they’ve been very, very pleased. For us though right now, so since with every, and again, we don’t know everything will happen with the pandemic, but so my husband, technically he does work from home right now. And then for me, I’m man, I’m just not a hundred percent sure if I would just, you know, maybe just have a weird schedule as opposed to like putting our daughter in daycare because one of the things my boss, obviously he wants us to make sure like we’re getting our research and everything done, but with organic chemistry, there’s a lot of stuff where like you set up a reaction for like six hours or you set up a reaction for four hours, you know, and then you’re like doing some writing stuff and like research stuff.
38:22 Elise: And so for me, yeah, I’m not, I think right now the plan is kind of where it would just be I would just kind of have a schedule set up of like, I’m just going to be in lab at weird hours, like from eight to noon and then maybe come back from like eight to 10 or you know, just weird scattered hours. But we’ll see, that could also, you know, we could also start that and then a week in if I’m like, “This is terrible.” And it’s like, okay, well she’s going to go to daycare. So, it’ll kind of depend too, I think that’s another thing with even talking with people in regards to pregnancy, it affects every woman differently. And so yeah, as much as I love to be planner, sadly, I can’t plan out exactly, “This is how I’m going to feel a hundred percent.” So yeah. But right now the plan is just, I would just have kind of weird hours and just stagger things. And again with that, at least right now, it doesn’t sound all that bad because again, it’ll take a lot of intentionality, you know, I would have to like schedule things out, but yeah, I think it would be fine, but we’ll see. We will see what happens.
39:21 Emily: I will recommend for you in case you haven’t listened to it or any other interested listeners, the interview I did back in season one with Dr. Heather. Because she talked about when she had her first child at the end of graduate school, similar timing to you, how she and her husband set up a overlapping “we’re providing our own childcare” schedule. I think he was teaching actually, he had like a visiting professorship, something like that. So like you said, there was some work that could be done from home. There was some work that had to be in person for both of them, but they just kind of worked out the schedule so that.
39:51 Elise: I like that. Yeah.
39:52 Emily: You know, they could each be with their child. I will say that since then, I believe all their children are in all the daycare and all the preschool, like as much as possible after they got out of this grad student phase. But that’s what they did for kind of the finishing up of grad school, like period. Yeah, so that’s a really, really interesting interview if that’s kind of your like philosophy and the approach that you want to take. And it’s actually a little bit similar to what my husband and I wanted to do as well.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
40:14 Emily: So, awesome! Well, Elise, this has been such a delight to chat with you. Congratulations on becoming debt-free! Congratulations on the pregnancy! I’m so excited to kind of see where, you know, where your new financial next phase of your journey takes you. Because like I said, you, you have all these goals and you’re really ready, right, to tackle them. So it’s awesome. I would like to ask you the question that I end all my interviews with, which is, what is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD? And that could be something that we’ve touched on during the interview or it can be something completely different.
40:45 Elise: Yes, yes. So I would say, yeah, the biggest one I always recommend is just to do a zero-based budget. Again, you can also budget, right, where you just kind of look at the end of the month. But I just think, especially even honestly more so when you’re working on like a stipend, just get into the habit. Because again, you’re already learning how to be intentional anyway. So just go ahead and get into the habit of with finances as well, “Hey, this is how much I’m going to spend” you know, in each of these categories. Or, you know, whatever stuff you have set up, or this is much I want to save. You know, in our case it was like paying off debt and then building up savings and investing stuff. But again, whatever your financial goals are like, it’s just so much, I feel like, yeah, just so much easier and so much more helpful when you just zero-base budget it. And it also just like again with grad school, as you like are disciplined and are intentional, your confidence grows, you know?
41:42 Elise: And so I think that’s another thing too, where it’s awesome to, you know, be confident as you’re like doing experiments and stuff, but also confident in the way you’re handling your money. And when you’re able to create a plan and then, you know, like it doesn’t have to be perfect, but then able to like achieve some of the things within that plan. It’s just awesome. Yeah. To then be able to grow that confidence. So for sure.
42:05 Emily: Great advice. Well, thank you so much, Elise, for joining me for this interview!
42:09 Elise: Yes. Thank you, Emily. Thank you so much for having me on.
42:17 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode! I have a gift for you! You know that final question I ask of all my guests regarding their best financial advice? I have collected short summaries of all the answers ever given on the podcast into a document that is updated with each new episode release. You can gain access to it by registering for my mailing list at PFforPhDs.com/advice/. Would you like to access transcripts or videos of each episode? I link the show notes for each episode from PFforPhDs.com/podcast/. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, here are 3 ways you can help it grow: 1. Subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. 2. Share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media, with a email list-serv, or as a link from your website. 3. Recommend me as a speaker to your university or association. My seminars cover the personal finance topics PhDs are most interested in, like investing, debt repayment, and increasing cash flow. I also license pre-recorded workshops on taxes. See you in the next episode, and remember: You don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance… but it helps! The music is “Stages of Awakening” by Podington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing by Lourdes Bobbio and show notes creation by Meryem Ok.
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