In this episode, Emily interviews Eun Bin Go, a PhD student at the University of California at Los Angeles. Eun Bin reflects on the financial changes she made during 2020, and which ones of them will stick post-pandemic now that she has developed more DIY skills. Emily and Eun Bin discuss Eun Bin’s housing decisions during her time at UCLA and why she moved out of subsidized student housing. Eun Bin shares the tricks she used to max out her Roth IRA for the first time in 2020 and how she discovered she can contribute to UCLA’s 403(b). The strategies Eun Bin uses to keep her finances and time management on track might be unique to her, but are a great example of how powerful it is to know yourself and find the strategies that work well for you.
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Eun Bin Go @jjiangeunbin (Twitter)
- Eun Bin Go (LinkedIn)
- I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi (affiliate link—thanks for using!)
- Emily’s E-mail Address (for Book Giveaway)
- PF for PhDs: Podcast Hub (Giveaway Instructions)
- PF for PhDs: Tax Center
- PF for PhDs: What You Can Save in Grad School Has a 1 Million Dollar Value on Your Net Worth
- PF for PhDs: Community (Challenge)
- Quarterly Estimated Tax for Fellowship Recipients
- Be a Fly on the Wall During a Financial Coaching Session (with Elana Gloger of Dear Grad Student)
- PF for PhDs: Coaching
- PF for PhDs: Subscribe to Mailing List
00:00 Eun Bin: Honestly, things like IRA, investing, like 403(b), 401(k), all those things. Like if we are new to it, it can feel really overwhelming. Like if I read an article about this topic, like three years ago, I would be Googling like every other word, like, what is this? What is that? And it can be a lot of information. Just taking the time to digest through it slowly, I think, gave me the confidence to go for it. Because if you don’t know what it is, it’s hard to put your money into something you don’t know a lot about, right?
00:35 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 eight, episode 10, and today my guest is Eun Bin Go, a PhD student at the University of California at Los Angeles. Eun Bin reflects on the financial changes she made during 2020, and which ones will stick post-pandemic now that she has developed more DIY skills. We discuss Eun Bin’s housing decisions during her time at UCLA and why she moved out of subsidized student housing. Eun Bin shares the tricks she used to max out her Roth IRA for the first time in 2020 and how she discovered she can contribute to UCLA’s 403(b). The strategies Eun Bin uses to keep her finances and time management on track might be unique to her, but are a great example of how powerful it is to know yourself and find the strategies that work well for you.
01:34 Emily: I was very excited to discuss the effect that 2020 has had on Eun Bin’s finances, as it’s not a topic I’ve covered much on the podcast over the past year. It’s difficult to speak about positive financial changes while so many in the U.S. In the world are grieving, sacrificing, and experiencing hardship. Yet, I think the financial course of Eun Bin’s year is likely relatable to people whose income has not faltered during the pandemic. The American personal savings rate spiked during the pandemic. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the personal savings rate at the end of 2020 was approximately double what it was at the end of 2019. So what is a grad student whose income has stayed steady do with her extra cashflow, at least for the time being? That’s what Eun Bin shares with us in this episode. I hope you’ll use this listening as an opportunity for a retrospective on your own finances over the last year.
Book Giveaway Contest
02:36 Emily: Now it’s time for the book giveaway contest. In March, 2021, I’m giving away one copy of I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, which is the Personal Finance for PhDs Community book club selection for May, 2021. Everyone who enters the contest during March will have a chance to win a copy of this book. If you would like to enter the giveaway contest, please rate and review this podcast on Apple podcasts, take a screenshot of your review, and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll choose a winner at the end of February from all the entries. You can find full instructions at pfforphds.com/podcast. The podcast received a review this week titled helpful advice to help you take action and optimize your personal finance. The review reads, quote, I share this podcast with all the academics I know. It is exciting to hear frank and relatable advice that can be actionable rather than just theoretical. A lot of the personal finance space doesn’t speak to the nuance of the academic life, but Dr. Roberts covers a wide variety of helpful topics. I found her work when I got a fellowship and was confused as to how to do my taxes, but I use the information across my whole financial life. A must-listen for every grad student. End quote. Thank you so much to AK for leaving this review. My subtle plot to lure grad students in with talk about taxes and then help them improve their finances overall seems to be working. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Eun Bin Go.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
04:11 Emily: I am delighted to have joining me on the podcast today Eun Bin Go. She is a graduate student at UCLA. We have been long-time Twitter correspondents. This is very exciting to get to talk with her live. And, you know, when she came to me wanting to be on the podcast, we kind of talked it over and decided on a theme of 2020, because Eun Bin decided that 2020 was the year that she was going to get her finances in order. And 2020 turned out to be a crazy year, as we all know. So it’s around this theme of kind of like pandemic life and stay at home order life and all of that, of course, that has extended into 2021. We’re recording this in February, 2021. Still going on. So it’s kind of still 2020, right. So, Eun Bin, I’m so happy to have you on the podcast and, you know, will you please introduce yourself a little bit further to the listeners?
05:05 Eun Bin: All right. Yeah. Thank you, Emily. It’s really exciting to be on your podcast after being an avid listener for about a year and a half. So thanks again. Thank you again. Hi everyone. My name is Eun Bin Go and I am a fourth year PhD candidate in biochemistry at UCLA. And like Emily said, this is a year or 2020 was a year that I really decided to be more intentional about my finances and how I invest, how I spend. And so I’m really excited to discuss that here today.
Housing Decision at the Start of Grad School
05:38 Emily: Yeah. So we’re going to go through kind of a few different financial areas in the course of this conversation. And the first one is starting with housing because as, well, we’re both California residents. I recently moved to California, but we all know that housing is a major, major, major expense in California. So how have you made different decisions around your housing in 2020?
06:00 Eun Bin: Right. So I started at UCLA in summer of 2017, and my first year of grad school, I just decided to go apply for the on-campus graduate housing at UCLA, reasoning being that I didn’t have too many months before I committed to UCLA and was about to start my program. So there wasn’t really much time to do all the research into different housing options. So that was like the simplest option for me, I suppose. And I thought, well, a lot of other first year, my classmates were also going into graduate housing. So I thought it would be a good idea to just go into graduate housing with my cohort members so that I can spend more time with them. And it was pretty close to campus. It’s about a three-quarter mile to my lab and because I don’t have a car, I don’t drive. Like I can’t drive, so I can’t live too far away. And so I thought, well, pretty close to campus. Like price was about like 15, like mid 15 hundreds, but apparently that’s a pretty good price for how close it was to campus. So I was okay with that. Sure, I’ll go with that. So that’s where I lived for about one year, my first year of grad school.
07:14 Emily: And did that housing choice live up to your expectations? Did it help you bond with your peers? And did you like living that close to campus?
07:21 Eun Bin: So living close to campus, I think had its pros and cons and the con is actually something I’ll mention later about why I decided to move a bit far away. I was okay with the price per se, like with grad school, like spending more time with my peers, because it’s not really like a dorm life as in like a college, like you live in your own room. I didn’t have a roommate. I was in like a one-room studio by myself. So that made it a bit harder to, I guess, connect with my fellow, like apartment-mates because I’m in chemistry and not all chemistry students were in the same housing. It’s really hard to connect with students from other departments, as you might know, if you don’t have any other connections outside. So that didn’t really work out, but it was nice that at least so it’s close to campus. And I just wanted time to settle in, focus on my first year of classes and research and not have to worry too much about housing stuff. So I think it worked out overall well. Yeah.
Housing Journey After the First Year of the PhD
08:24 Emily: Yeah. I think when it’s available to first years, it makes a lot of sense to them to move there. But you lived there for one year and then you moved somewhere else. So what was the choice you made after that?
08:35 Eun Bin: Right. So after my first year, so in the summer of my second year of grad school I have just been, not constantly like every day, but once in a while I would browse like the Facebook housing group and other like listings, local listings. I would constantly look to see if I can find something a bit cheaper that’s still in a reasonable distance now that I have settled it. And I like found my rhythm in grad school, if you will. So I did come across in the summer, July of 2018, exactly after one year, a listing for just one room in a house for $700. And that happened to be at a place that was pretty accessible via bus from just outside of my lab to the house. So I thought, Hm, it might not be a bad idea to move there.
09:32 Eun Bin: I mean, it’s about like seven, $800 cheaper. And this is, I guess, now is a good place to bring up one of the cons for me in terms of on-campus housing is that if I live too close to campus, I’m, it’s just me. Like, this is my problem, but I’m terrible at establishing like physical boundaries with lab. And it’s always so tempting to just go check in what’s going on in lab, even if it’s like 11:00 PM or 6:00 AM, like if I’m awake, I’m thinking about lab. I just want to get myself there. And that was not the best for like, just like work-life boundaries. And so that’s what made me, I guess, decisively move to the other place. In addition to the lower housing costs is that I wanted sufficient boundaries so that when I’m at work, I would be a lot more focused. And if I am far away and the bus doesn’t run anymore at midnight, I can’t just go to lab because I want to, for example. And I have to be sure to get my work done by the last bus so that I don’t end up having to like walk or Uber cause that also costs money and takes a long time. If I’m going to walk like four miles, it was a four mile distance if I were to walk that, for example.
10:50 Emily: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting like way to help enforce the boundary. I don’t know that I’ve actually heard of like, you know, distance from campus as a time management tool, but it sounds creative. And did it work out, you know, did it play out according to your expectations?
11:06 Eun Bin: Oh, absolutely. Right. So I was sure because the last bus stops after like close to 11:00 PM. So there were never times I could stay beyond that. And I definitely was more focused with the time that I had in lab in school, knowing that it’s going to take a lot more effort for me to find my way back home and then find my way to lab for example. Yeah.
11:33 Emily: Yeah. And how about the price? Because when you said that you were dropping your rent by about 50%, I’m thinking what is wrong with this place? Was there anything that you encountered like that?
11:44 Eun Bin: Not at all, no. It was just a one room. It’s probably just big enough to have a tiny desk and a tiny bed, nothing. It’s a tiny, tiny room, but that was honestly enough for me. I just needed a desk and a bed. Nothing else super fancy. And then there was a bathroom outside my room, but then there was only one other lady who lives in this house and then she had a master room with a bathroom inside. So that bathroom was pretty much mine. So it felt I had a lot of privacy. Good distance, nice roommate lady who rent me her room. So there were no issues. Yeah.
Additional Housing Moves During the Pandemic
12:23 Emily: But, you said you moved in 2020 as well. And so why did you give up that housing situation?
12:29 Eun Bin: Right, so only because of the pandemic when we got the notice that, Oh yeah, we absolutely cannot go into lab for however long it may be. I figured, well, do I hold my place here and keep paying rent while I can’t go to lab? Because there was no reason for me to like live in LA cause my family, my parents are in Orange County, in Fullerton, not too far away from UCLA. So if I were to move back with them, which I did, it’s like, is it worth holding onto this place? Because as you might know, like housing around UCLA is very, very competitive and I had a really nice deal, but that is a question I had to wrestle with. Do I keep paying rent and then hold this place? Or do I just give it up and then start over when we are allowed to go back to school and when will that be? We had no idea when it was February, March. We have no idea what time that would be. Right.
13:24 Emily: Yeah. I think a lot of graduate students have been in that exact situation this year. You’ve told me I can’t come back to campus. Why am I here? Why am I paying massive rent in this area? Okay. So, so are you still with your parents or have you found another living arrangement?
13:38 Eun Bin: Right. So I moved back to my parents’ place in March and I came back out to LA in June in 2020 when the school said, Oh yeah, we can let grad students work in labs now just under limited time. But, and the students have to come and shift, but still students can come in. So that’s when we got that notice, that’s when I started actively looking for a new housing arrangement because someone else, as I had worried about, moved into that place, so that place was no longer available. So I just had to find something else. And my priorities this time was I wanted something that’s in a walkable, reasonably walkable distance, just in case like I can’t take the bus, for example, it’s too dangerous to take the bus. I had to have a way to get to school and I can’t drive because of a condition that I have. So I had to find a place where I can walk. Yeah.
14:38 Emily: And so, where are you now and what rent are you paying?
14:42 Eun Bin: So right now I’m living in an apartment. My roommate is a lady whose children have all moved out of this house. So they had a room open and I was able to move in here. This is housing that I found from a UCLA housing Facebook group. And I’m paying now 1300, which is about 600 more than what I was paying in my earlier apartment, but it’s reasonably close to campus. I like the location, my roommate. And my roommate is also very generous with like her sharing her supplies in the kitchen and things like that. And sometimes she cooks for me occasionally. So that’s a nice bonus to have. Yeah.
How Did Housing Changes Affect Your Finances?
15:32 Emily: I feel like I’m experiencing like whiplash, like thinking about all these different amounts that you’ve paid for housing. How has this affected your finances over these last few years with these big swings?
15:43 Eun Bin: Mhm. Right. So like my first year of grad school, when I was living on on-campus housing I knew that based on talking to the grad students at UCLA, all I knew was that they, the pay is good enough for you to live in on-campus housing and be able to like eat and do a little fun things occasionally. So after hearing that, I thought, well, then I’ll just pay the rent that I have to pay. And with the rest, like feed myself and maybe go out once in a while. And so that’s the time in my graduate career where I did not think about money at all. I paid what I needed to pay and that was it. And whatever I had left, I did whatever I felt like kind of.
16:31 Emily: Yeah. Kind of a conventional grad student mindset. Right? All I have to do is pay bills. If I do that, I’m good.
16:37 Eun Bin: Exactly. Right. Yeah. And like, like retirement account, like what is that? Investing like, Ooh, do I even have enough money to give that a try? I didn’t really consider that seriously at the time. And so food, rent, and the remaining money, I just kept. Right.
17:01 Emily: And then when you moved to the much cheaper place, did you make any changes how you were managing your money?
17:07 Eun Bin: Ah, yes. The one big change I would say. So, even though I was paying less in rent, I still treated my life as if I were paying the equal rent that I was paying at the more expensive on campus housing. So with the 600 or so that I had left over every month, I put that into a high yield savings account. And that’s money like, that’s a way for me to just like put money away so that I don’t feel tempted to like just spend it all away immediately. So that was like my first real attempt at saving if you will.
17:44 Emily: Yeah. I think that’s a great little psychological trick is if you manage to reduce a bill, I mean, reducing it by multi hundreds, hundreds of dollars a month is very impressive, but whatever you can manage to do, as you just said, don’t think about that as now available spending money. Divert it towards whatever purpose is, you know, your real priority, which, okay. So you’re building up cash savings during that time. And then, and then you have this short period when you were living with your parents. And now that you’re back paying a higher rent price, how are things going? Are you still saving that little different, that smaller differential? Or how are you thinking about it now?
Weekend Side Hustle Toward Roth IRA Contributions
18:18 Eun Bin: Right. So I guess there are some things that have changed. I also, in addition to moving to a more expensive housing in 2020, I also got a weekend job that pays about 700, 800 a month. So I guess that kind of helps offset that a little bit, but again, I still treat my real rent in my brain as being in the mid 15 hundreds. So every like excess of my rents up to 1550, I just put away. Before I had my Roth IRA account, I just would put it in my high yield savings account. But now I just funnel that to my Roth IRA account for a regular contribution throughout the year.
19:07 Emily: Awesome. Yeah. Well, we will come back I think to the Roth IRA in a moment, but now I’m curious about this weekend job that pays so well. Is this something pandemic-related?
19:19 Eun Bin: No. So it’s like a high school tutoring and like mentoring job that I just do on the weekends, every Saturday. So it’s just helping students with various topics. Mostly I do like chemistry and calculus, high school level calculus, and just like providing peer support for high school students.
19:41 Emily: That’s very interesting. And is this a W-2 job or are you a contractor, self-employed?
19:46 Eun Bin: Yeah, it’s a W-2 job. Yeah.
19:49 Emily: Wow. Okay. That sounds fantastic. I also tutored for a little bit after college, it seems like it’s a kind of a natural job for a grad student to have, but it’s very interesting that you have it as a W-2 job. And how do you feel like that is like balancing with your role as a graduate student? Like, are you able to keep up, you know, good time management? Does your advisor know about this?
20:11 Eun Bin: My advisor, I may have mentioned, I mean, he does know that I go home every weekend and sometimes like, he takes me to the train station. Like before the pandemic, he would give me rides to the train station. So he is aware of the fact that I go home and I’m not in the lab during the weekends. And this is another one of my psychological tricks, I guess. I need to physically distance myself from whatever that I’m tempted to do, whether if it’s lab, I need to move myself far away so that I’m not tempted to like, keep thinking about it. Oh, should I go into lab and do this or not? So going home on the weekend is another way of like, enforcing like a work-life balance that works for me. Yeah.
How Else Has COVID Changed Your Spending?
20:50 Emily: Yeah, wow. Okay. So you definitely, weren’t going to be in lab anyway, so it’s not affecting that. That sounds really good. Okay. So what are the other ways that like COVID social distancing has changed your spending? I mean, I know it has for mine, but how has it affected yours?
21:05 Eun Bin: So because when I moved back into my parents’ place I did pay them a little bit, a couple hundred dollars just because they were feeding me and housing me, but not like what I was paying out here. But besides that, I really had no other expenditures really. I can’t travel. I can’t go out to eat in restaurants. And really, I would say besides housing, food, just eating out was a majority of my other non-housing expenses. So I naturally got to save a lot in that regard.
21:42 Emily: So you have been eating out less during the pandemic. Because I know that some people are still eating or, you know, getting takeout or whatever the equivalent is quite a lot.
21:50 Eun Bin: Yeah. Right. So, yeah, I pretty much like never ate out for like, at least the first month where it was like really picking up, like the news is like encouraging, Hey, people stay home. Like don’t do so many things outside. And so like early on, like I barely even left the house, for example. Yeah.
22:11 Emily: Okay. So yeah, you just had a lack of outlets for your spending. Like you know some people have been like shopping more, like shopping more online or like maybe they’re subscribing to a few more things for like streaming entertainment. Did any of that have an uptick for you?
22:24 Eun Bin: Yeah. I know a lot of people like signed up for a new Netflix account and stuff for like watching a movie, but I did not do that either. And I didn’t really notice any differences in spending online shopping necessarily. I mean, I didn’t do too much of that to begin with, and it’s not, it’s just not something that I started doing more necessarily, I would say. Yeah.
22:46 Emily: Okay. So you’ve just been stacking up your cash throughout much of the pandemic because yeah. The spending outlets don’t, don’t interest you. And what do you think, like in the future, at some point when spending opportunities are available again, are you going to go back to your prior level of spending or have you made any changes that you’re really happy with and you want to have stick?
23:08 Eun Bin: Yeah. So something that, some things that I realized as a result of, I guess, like my lack of outlets for spending is that I started cooking more at home and that, that truly led me to like I guess, meal options that are cheaper to prepare and also are healthier because I can actually pick what I decide to put in my food instead of if I were eating out, I can’t necessarily do that. And that’s something that I’ve come to appreciate a lot more, doing more cooking healthier. And I think just because I realize this doesn’t mean I’m never going to go out to eat again. Of course, if like friends come over or there’s a special occasion, of course, I will go out to eat once in a while. But I think I’ll try to be, I guess, more conservative in my spending on restaurant dining, I would say. Definitely. Yeah.
24:08 Emily: Yeah. So it sounds like the pandemic in that respect has given you an opportunity to expand your skillset, expand your repertoire of, you know, menu items and so forth. And so it’s really kind of, you sort of up-skilled yourself in the cooking department so that the eating out differential is not so attractive.
24:24 Eun Bin: Right. Mhm.
24:24 Emily: Yeah. Gotcha.
24:26 Emily: Emily here, for a brief interlude. Taxes are weirdly, unexpectedly difficult for funded grad students and fellowship recipients at any level of PhD training. Your university might send you strange tax forms or no tax forms at all. They might not withhold your income tax from your paychecks, even though you owe it. It’s a mess. I’ve created a ton of free resources to assist you with understanding and preparing your 2020 tax return, which are available at pfforphds.com/tax. I hope you’ll check them out to ease much of the stress of tax season. If you want to go deeper with the material or have a question for me, please join one of my tax workshops, which you can find links to from PF F O R P H D s.com/T A X. It would be my pleasure to help you save time and potentially money this tax season. So don’t hesitate to reach out. Now, back to our interview.
Starting a Roth IRA in 2020 (for 2019)
25:34 Emily: So you mentioned earlier that at some point along this way, you started on a Roth IRA. Can you tell us about deciding to start that and what you did and also when that was?
25:45 Eun Bin: Alright. So honestly, so I have to say, I did not know about Roth IRA. I didn’t know what a Roth was, what IRA was, any of that term until I have chanced upon one of your articles describing compound interest, that was very informative and very eye-opening. So I’m very thankful for that.
26:03 Emily: We will link that in the show notes. I think you’re probably referring to…
26:06 Eun Bin: The $5,000 initial investment one, the compound interest.
26:10 Emily: Yeah, like what you can save during grad school has a $1 million impact on your net worth. Yeah. That’ll be linked from the show notes.
26:19 Eun Bin: Right. So when I first saw that I was like, no way that can be like seven-digit figure. Like, but when I actually did the math out, it’s actually true. I was like, wow, that’s amazing. And that was like the first catalyst I would say. And the second was when there was the announcement that the IRS has delayed the tax filing deadline to July of 2020 for the year 2019. And that also gave you more time to contribute to your 2019 Roth IRA if you desire. And honestly, that delay is what made me think, huh? Should I actually start this thing? It actually gave me time to think about, because that was not on my mind at all before that. And so after having done some more research, like seeing more articles that you had on Roth IRA, and I knew that I had W-2 income and that I had money in my savings account that I can just funnel over to a Roth IRA account when I realized that that’s when I decided here, let’s go for it and start contributing. Yeah.
27:26 Emily: Okay. So if I have the timing on this right, in 2020, you started contributing to your 2019 IRA. And for the listener, just anyone who’s not familiar, you can contribute to your prior year IRA contribution limit, which is currently $6,000 per year. You can contribute up through tax filing day. So, normally, April 15th. In 2020, it became July 15th. So you took, you saw that extra three months as an opportunity to reevaluate and have a little bit more time to fill up that 2019 IRA. So did you end up contributing like a lump sum or did you start dollar cost averaging or what was your strategy?
28:01 Eun Bin: Yeah, so I had about, about like two years worth of IRA contributions from just my savings in a savings account. So I actually had more than $12K in my savings account at the time. So I just, it was like a one lump sum deposit for both the year of 2019 and 2020 that I made in mid-2020 to my Roth IRA.
Roth IRA Contribution Strategy in 2021
28:22 Emily: Wow. All right. So you maxed out two years at once. You’re all set through the end of your, you were all set through the end of 2020 now we’re in 2021. And is your strategy the same? Are you saving up cash and doing another lump sum contribution or have you started contributing on a regular basis?
28:38 Eun Bin: Yeah, so I have a direct deposit set up where I put in about 500 every month into my Roth IRA account. And that should come out to exactly 6,000 in one year. Yeah.
28:48 Emily: Yeah. So you’re on track to max out in 2021 as well. Yeah. Incredible. And did you, so you explained how you went about this in terms of saving up cash and so forth. Were there any other like tricks you want to pass onto the listener about yeah, how to start this process of contributing to an IRA or how to contribute more than they have been before?
29:11 Eun Bin: Right. So, honestly, things like IRA, investing, like 403(b), 401(k), all those things. Like if we are new to it, it can feel really overwhelming. Like if I read an article about this topic, like three years ago, I would be Googling like every other word, like, what is this? What is that? And it can be a lot of information. But I think honestly your resources have been very helpful for me. You have a lot of resources regarding Roth IRA. And so going through them one by one, like slowly digesting, Hey, what’s an IRA, what’s Roth? What are the different types of investment, I guess, products available to you? Just taking the time to digest through it slowly, I think gave me the confidence to go for it, because if you don’t know what it is, it’s hard to put your money into something you don’t know a lot about, right? So I think part of the solution was just to spend the time to learn about this whole IRA, retirement savings investing. Yeah.
30:12 Emily: Yeah. I’m really glad to hear that you used some of my resources and that, that like worked well for you of course, in combination with some other things. Yeah, I agree. It can be really daunting. And I do correspond with a lot of people who, I have, if you subscribe to my email list, there’s a certain point in the sequence where I ask you, what’s your biggest challenge right now in your finances. And if I can help you, I’ll try to, and probably, I don’t know, at least 25% of the responses are, I want to open an IRA and I just don’t know what to do. Like I know it’s important, but what do I do to get from here to there? So I want to mention, I do have a resource available for people who are in that position.
30:48 Emily: I think you probably opened your IRA before I created this resource. So you didn’t actually use it. But it’s inside the Personal Finance for PhDs Community. So if you go to pfforphds.community and sign up for the community, there’s a challenge in there in the forum called open an IRA, or like open your first IRA, something like that. And so I wrote out like a seven-step process, like every sort of decision point where you need to, you know, figure out what you’re going to do and we need to learn about, and I have resources inside the community like webinars and things I’ve written that sort of support that. So step one, okay. Here’s what it is. Here’s a support item. If you’re not sure about this yet, go watch this or go read this. So I’ve had great feedback from people who have been through that seven-step process and have opened and funded their IRA at the end of it. So if anyone is still sitting on the sidelines, you have money like Eun Bin did, you know, this could be a resource available for you. So pfforphds.community, if you want to check that out.
31:41 Eun Bin: And if you don’t have, like, I mean, I made a lump sum because I had money saved up, but honestly it takes us a little as a couple tens of dollars to make the initial investment. You don’t have to contribute all at once, just little by little and you don’t necessarily have to max out. So do what you can. And I think like, as Emily writes in that one article, 5,000, that’s not even like a maximum of one year’s contribution, but compound interest can do a lot of great things to that 5,000.
Transitioning from NSF Fellowship to W-2 Income
32:08 Emily: Yeah. Thank you so much for saying that. I love talking about investing and I understand there’s actually been another exciting investment change on for you in 2020.
32:19 Eun Bin: Right. So in 2020 is also when I transitioned from my NSF graduate fellowship to TAships so just regular W-2 income. And after having learned about different like retirement savings options, I started looking into like, what retirement options does UCLA provide for its employees? And I did find that they provide like the 403(b) and so with this, I decided to also contribute like 5% of my pay to this 403(b) account. Honestly, this was, I mean, Roth IRA, I would say is like my primary retirement saving vesicle, but I just wanted to, I guess, try it out. That’s what got me into this. And this is also a way for me to, now that like restaurants are opening back up and there are more opportunities to spend, that’s just another way of me just putting money away so I can’t take it out. That’s how I deal with like managing my savings, I guess, like similar to, I need to physically move myself away from the lab so I don’t think about it. It works the same way for me with money as well. Yeah. So.
33:40 Emily: Absolutely, me too. I love the pay yourself first strategy. I use it myself. I recommend it everywhere. And it’s just because I’m a bit of a spender also. So like, I just want that money, like out. I’m a forced saver, but a natural spender. I think I’ll put it that way. I like saving, but I have to put systems in place to make sure that I do it or else I’m really not going to.
33:58 Eun Bin: I’m exactly the same way.
34:01 Emily: Yeah. That’s so exciting that like you had, you know, you found out that you had the 403(b) access. And this is a good tip for anyone else at UCLA or anyone at any of the UCs, I would imagine. And also just anyone anywhere to check to see if you have access because you know, I don’t think many graduate students can, you know, save the full 6,000 for the IRA and then be looking for their next like savings opportunity. But you have, especially with this like awesome side job, I mean, it seems like you have, you know, plenty of pocket money already, so yeah. So it’s worth looking into, sometimes you’ll be surprised and the answer will be, yes, you do have access to the 403(b). And switching from fellowship to being on W-2 has also come with some tax changes, right?
34:44 Eun Bin: Right. Right. So when I was on the NSF, I know this is a very hot topic that you talk a lot about Emily, like quarterly taxes and filing. So for me, because my parents also run their own businesses, they have to do their own quarterly taxes. Thankfully, like, the CPA who helps with my parents’ finances, they were kind enough to help with mine as well. So that made it a lot less stressful for me. And in terms of like saving, because I know you mentioned in one of your articles, like have a designated savings account for your quarterly taxes. But what helped me in that regard was my actually side job that I had. Because of that excess income I didn’t necessarily, I guess, have to withhold my own taxes, I suppose and whatever I had to pay, I could just pull that from my weekend job money that I had. Yeah. That was enough to cover all my taxes. Yeah.
35:46 Emily: Yeah. So it sounds like you, with that additional income, you had enough sort of flexibility in your cashflow to be able to pay that somewhat larger tax bill in a given month. That’s awesome. It’s definitely not the case for most grad students. And that’s why I think that saving up in advance strategy is so critical for, I mean, for most people, right? All these strategies are, if it works for you, great. If it doesn’t like move on from it. And I think one of the themes that, you know, you’ve identified in this interview is that, you know yourself, you know your psychology, at least in a few of these areas, right? You know, what’s going to work for you and you set up systems that help you stay within the boundaries that you, that your like higher thinking self wants you to be in.
36:27 Emily: Whereas like in the moment you might not make that decision, but that’s why you have the boundary in place. So I think that’s an awesome takeaway for the listener to kind of figure out what those tricks are that, you know, are going to work really well for you. They may not be the same as what other people do. That’s okay.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
36:41 Emily: So as we wrap up Eun Bin, thank you so much for this interview, it’s really interesting to hear what’s been going on in 2020 for someone else. I feel like I haven’t had that many interviews that sort of acknowledge that we are in the middle still of a global pandemic. So as we’re wrapping up, would you please tell us your best financial advice for another early career PhD? And it could be something that we have already touched on that you want to emphasize, or it could be something completely new.
37:04 Eun Bin: Yeah. So I think based on my experiences, my advice for early career PhD students is number one, do this before you apply. Sign up for Emily’s website, they are very helpful. I wish I had discovered them way earlier in my career. Definitely. And second, like if this is like your first time making like regular income, which it was for me until after I graduated college it can feel very overwhelming to have just a lot of cash than you’re normally used to. So make a budget of like your essential I guess like costs that you need to pay and then like just develop a budget for yourself. And what I did was whatever that was above that beyond the budget, I just put away into a savings account that I can’t touch. But I guess Emily did mention also, but be open to, I guess, experimenting a little bit with your finances and figuring out a strategy that works for you.
38:11 Eun Bin: And do take the time to learn about like saving and investing. I know when you first get into it, for me, it was like, Oh, like investing in like the stock market or like mutual funds. Like what are those things like? How does it work? And like, are you sure that I won’t lose my money this way? I had a lot of these concerns, but I think there’s a lot of really informative articles. I like the one Investopedia, for example, they have a lot of really informative articles that are friendly to beginners and combined with Emily’s various articles. I think it is a steep learning curve but it is something worth putting your time into, I would say. Yeah.
38:53 Emily: Yeah, I totally agree. And the thing about learning about investing, especially learning about passive investing is there is an initial upfront investment of time of a few hours or 10 hours or 20 hours. Maybe if you want to be really like in depth. But after that, it’s very, hands-off like, it is not something that you have to continually be learning about and maintaining for the rest of your life. You make this initial upfront investment of 10 hours. Read one book, you know, read a couple of my articles, whatever you’re probably going to be pretty set for like a very, very long time on just that amount of information. And that’s the nature of passive investing. And so you have to find the time to make that initial push, but once you’re over that, it’s like, it’s like smooth sailing. It’s so easy after that point. Yeah. Great. Well, Eun Bin, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. It’s been a pleasure having you.
39:39 Eun Bin: Yeah. It was a really great time talking about these things with you, Emily. After being a listener for a very long time, it was really exciting to be a guest on this podcast. And I hope this would be helpful for the other listeners.
Listener Q&A: Making Smart Financial Decisions
39:56 Emily: Now, on to the listener question and answer segment. Today’s question actually comes from a survey I sent out in advance of one of my university webinars this spring. So it is anonymous. Here is the question: quote, what smart financial decisions should every PhD student be making with their money? End quote. This is an amazing question. So thank you anonymous for contributing it. I have to acknowledge upfront that not every PhD student is going to be able to make the decisions that I’m about to list as smart financial decisions. And that’s okay. I hope in those cases, that being in a PhD program overall is a smart financial decision for your longterm career. Maybe it’s not a short-term smart financial decision because you’re not being paid that well, but I still hope it is a longterm smart financial decision. Okay. First smart financial decision over the course of your graduate degree is backup, before you get into graduate school, choose a PhD program that will support you well financially so that you can do the rest of things that I’m about to list.
41:05 Emily: Okay, one smart financial decision that you should make as a grad student, but it’s certainly not unique to graduate students is to not abuse your credit cards. Use your credit cards, if you use any, exactly as you would use a debit card and never put a charge on it that you could not immediately pay off with cash from your checking account. That certainly means not carrying any credit card debt, but it also means not giving yourself an advance on your next paycheck through floating charges on a credit card. For further explanation of why this kind of use of credit cards is dangerous and how to get out of it, listen to my episode last week, season eight, episode nine with Elana Gloger. Another smart financial decision during grad school is to prioritize your savings rate. You might direct that savings rate toward different purposes throughout the course of graduate school.
42:00 Emily: Maybe it’s going to be cash savings. Maybe it’s going to be investing. Maybe it’s going to be debt repayment. But whatever it is, getting that savings rate higher, maybe even in the 10 or 20% or higher ranges, that’s a really smart financial decision. And you can work that savings rate up to those levels that I just mentioned by attacking both sides of the equation, both the earning more and the spending less sides. Now of course, an individual graduate student might have more opportunity on the earning more side, might have more opportunity on the spending less side. It depends on your personal situation, but you can reevaluate both sides. Start with the easier one for you, but eventually get around to thinking about how you might do the other one. On the earning more side, you know, I think you should be consistently applying for outside fellowships that might increase your stipend or for smaller grants that will add on to your stipend or your funding package.
42:59 Emily: Grad students can also try to generate a side income. In many cases, that’s not to say necessarily a side job or a side hustle, which are not accessible to all graduate students, but some kind of side income. On the spending less side, a lot of people are attracted first to tweaking and cutting back in the small and variable expenses in their lives. But that’s actually not where I recommend that you start. I think you should start with the big three expenses that most Americans have, which are housing, transportation, and food, specifically your grocery spending. But start on the fixed side of that. So start with your housing expense to reevaluate is there a way that I can pay less on a monthly basis for housing? Yeah, it might take months or a year to work into that next housing situation, but it’s very worthwhile if you think there is room for reduction right there. On transportation, any fixed expense you can reduce would be amazing. You know, if you own a car, if you have a car payment, how can you reduce or eliminate that? If you presumably pay for car insurance, how could you reduce that expense?
44:03 Emily: Food is the last one of the big three to address. And I suggest that you make long-term sustainable changes to your habits around shopping and eating rather than trying to use willpower in the short-term to reduce your spending. Okay. There are obviously many other budget categories to address after those, but I think you should start with the big ones. Another smart financial decision would be to work the steps in my financial framework. I have an eight-step financial framework that kind of toggles back and forth between building financial security in the form of cash and working to improve your net worth overall through debt repayments and investing. But these things have to come in a certain order.
44:45 Emily: If you go out of order, you can take on more short-term risk. If you want to read more in a lot of detail about my financial framework, you can join the Personal Finance for PhDs Community, pfforphds.community, or sign up for coaching with me, pfforphds.com/get-coaching. The last smart financial decision that I’ll recommend is to not languish in your graduate program. Get out as soon as you can. Really overall, the best thing you can do for your finances is finish that PhD and move on to a higher post-PhD income, whether that’s in a post-doc or a real job. I know there are good reasons to stay in grad school longer related to publishing, related to applying for tenure track jobs, but it’s not a smart short-term financial decision. So again, if you think that the extra year or whatever it is in your PhD program is worth the long-term investment, that’s great. But if you don’t see that ROI on the horizon, just get out as quick as you can. Thank you so much to anonymous for submitting this question. If you would like to submit a question to be answered in a future episode, please go to pfforphds.com/podcast and follow the instructions you find there. I love answering questions, so please submit yours.
46:11 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode. Pfforphds.com/podcast is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast. On that page are links to all the episodes show notes, which include full transcripts and videos of the interviews. There is also a form to volunteer to be interviewed on the podcast and instructions for entering the book giveaway contest and submitting a question for the Q&A segment. I’d love for you to check it out and get more involved. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, here are four ways you can help it grow. One, subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. If you leave a review, be sure to send it to me. Two, share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media with an email listserv or as a link from your website. Three, 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 taxes. Four, subscribe to my mailing list at pfforphds.com/subscribe. Through that list, you’ll keep up with all the new content and special opportunities for Personal Finance, for PhDs. 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 and show notes creation by Meryem Ok.
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