In this episode, Emily interviews Bailey Poland, a rising second-year PhD student in rhetoric and writing at Bowling Green State University. Bailey earns a stipend of just $14,000 for the academic year, but manages to live a comfortable life thanks to her disciplined budgeting and two side hustles. Unlike many of her classmates, she devoted her first summer as a PhD student exclusively to research, relying on her side hustle income and savings from her stipend to tide her over until the next academic year started. Emily and Bailey discuss in detail Bailey’s housing choice, frugal habits, and unique Patreon side hustle that complements her graduate work.
Links mentioned in episode
- Personal Finance for PhDs Membership Community
- Volunteer as a Guest for the Podcast
- Frugal Month
- How to Financially Navigate an Unfunded Summer
- Bailey Poland’s Patreon
1:26 Q1: Please Introduce Yourself
Bailey Poland is a second year PhD student in the Rhetoric and Writing program at Bowling Green State University. Bowling Green is a city in Ohio, located to the south of Toledo, Ohio. Bailey’s stipend is $14,000 per academic year. Additionally, Bailey earns $460 per month from Patreon and $150 quarterly from copy-editing a music magazine focused on Texas. She is the only person in her household.
Bailey’s PhD stipend does not include summer funding. She budgets savings over the academic year in order to meet her expenses over the summer.
3:25 Q2: What are your five largest expenses each month?
Bailey’s largest expenses are rent at $600 per month, car payment at $200 per month, health insurance and fees at $400 per month, food at $150 to $200 per month, and car insurance at $112 per month.
4:14 #1 Expense: Rent
Bailey rents a two bedroom apartment for $600 per month. She says this rate is higher than other options available in Bowling Green. She looked at options for rent at rates of $350 to $450 per month, but these apartments were in poor quality or clearly undergraduate housing. Bailey used to own a house, so she approached her apartment search with those expectations.
Bailey’s apartment is in downtown Bowling Green. She walks to campus, so she doesn’t use her car or have a university parking pass. She drives to the grocery store, but she lives above a coffee shop. She thinks she is in the perfect location. She lives by herself in the two-bedroom apartment, so she sleeps in the smaller bedroom and uses the extra bedroom as her office and library.
6:18 #2 Expense: Car Payment
Bailey pays $200 per month for her car. She has a 2017 vehicle that she bought new. She traded in her older Toyota Corolla when she bought her new car. Due to unfortunate family circumstances, Bailey received money from inheritance and estate closure. She used this money for her car payments. She has stayed ahead of interest and has gotten ahead on payments.
8:06 #3 Expense: Health Insurance and Fees
Bailey pays health and insurance and fees in lump sums a couple times a year. The amount works out to about $400 per month. She uses her credit card to make the payment at the start of each semester, but she pays it off immediately. Her credit card pays back 1.5% so she received a small kickback. Generally, she doesn’t keep a balance on her credit card so she avoids interest payments.
She made her first health insurance and fees payment before she received any of her graduate school stipend. Because she formerly worked as a marketing analyst for global HR and payroll company, she had enough savings available to make this payment when she started graduate school. She chose to go to graduate school because she was much happier in a classroom than behind a desk in a corporate office.
10:25 #4 Expense: Food
Bailey pays $150 to $200 per month for food, which includes groceries and dining out. She plans and prepares meals ahead of time. She cooks two or three times a week and freezes leftovers. She takes food with her to campus.
She has a limited set of go-to recipes. One of her favorites is chile garlic tofu. She says the meal is filling and takes half an hour to prepare. She gets four meals from one block of tofu. She eats lots of eggs, pasta, and rice-based meals. Her vegetarian cooking has increased since she started PhD program.
Bailey learned meal preparation from trial and error in the first few months of graduate school. She figured out which meals took too long or she didn’t like enough to have leftover. She used the Budget Bites website to find recipes. She cooks on the free nights of her week, because she knows which nights she’ll want to eat dinner as soon as she gets home. Bailey is on campus from 8am to 6pm most of the week. The latest she gets home is 7pm or 8pm. She takes lunch and a small snack with her to campus, and she eats dinner at home.
14:51 #5 Expense: Car Insurance
When Bailey purchased her new car, her car insurance rate increased from $85 per month to $130 per month. She has a plug-in for diagnostics of her driving habit, which lowered her insurance rate to $112 per month. She only regularly drives to and from the grocery store, which is a 10 minute drive. She also drives to her mom’s house, which is 30 minutes away and all highway driving.
Bailey says graduate students can get by without a car in Bowling Green. In her PhD cohort, at least one person doesn’t have a car. Busses run regularly to and from campus. Grocery stores deliver for a fee. Local activities are accessible to pedestrians. Bowling Green does not have cabs, Uber, or Lyft. It is pretty rural. Bailey needs a car to leave town to see her family.
18:10 Can you tell us about your side hustles?
Bailey has two separate side hustles. For one, Bailey copy edits a magazine about the country music scene in Texas. She missed doing copy-editing work, so she posted on Twitter that she was looking for an opportunity. Someone from the magazine responded to her and said they’d pay her to copy edit. Bailey has had this side hustle for three years. She receives $150 every few months and she has learned a lot about a topic that is unfamiliar to her.
For another, Bailey uses Patreon, the crowdfunding platform for artists and creators. She receives $460 each month from Patreon. She got started after she defended her Master’s thesis and she quit her corporate job earlier than she had planned. She was working at a bookstore and she needed more income. Some of her friends had Patreon, so she was familiar with the platform. Bailey started by doing live readings of The Rhetorical Tradition, like live tweeting her readings with funny commentary. People got invested in her live readings and she transitioned the activity to Patreon. Reading The Rhetorical Tradition was a really long project. She planned in advance and read as much as possible during the summer so she wouldn’t need to read during her first graduate school semester. She planned to post about The Rhetorical Tradition on Monday and Friday, post photos of her mom’s three cats on Tuesday and Thursday, and post an essay style blog post on Wednesdays. She only writes one or two truly new posts per month. With her PhD work, she doesn’t have time to write four or five new posts a month. Recently she has started a new reading series that overlaps with her prelim list for her PhD. She is gaining familiarity with texts in her field, having interesting conversations with her patrons, and making some money.
Bailey has created a very niche platform. Starting a Patreon was a huge leap of faith. She used to be super active on Twitter with a group of 18,000 followers. She authored a book, which helped her gain an audience invested in her thoughts. She trusted that her audience would move with her from Twitter to Patreon. She front loaded the work during the summer, so during her first semester it was more like a passive income stream. Now it serves multiple purposes for her. She finds it fulfilling that her academic work is accessible to the public. Her work lately is archival, and through Patreon she can share what it’s like to work in an archive. Bailey finds joy in her patrons and appreciates that they pay for her to do this work.
26:35 How do your colleagues react to your side hustle? Do they take on side hustles?
Bailey says her colleagues know and are supportive. For example, Bailey did a public series on Patreon that was a reflection on teaching practices she learned at Bowling Green. Her program’s website’s homepage included a link to her series. Generally, PhD students are discouraged from outside work because they should focus on doctoral work, but her department gives no formal prohibition of outside work. Most other graduate students have some other work, though it may not be talked about.
During the summer, other PhD students in her department find jobs. Some find online teaching roles, and one is working in the garden center at Lowe’s Hardware Store. One is going to a writers retreat that comes with a stipend. PhD students with spouses don’t work or find part time work.
29:28 Q4: What are you currently doing to further your financial goals?
Bailey has a 401k from her corporate job that she will roll into a Roth IRA over the next few years. She has investments with Betterment that serve as her long-term emergency funds. She has a high earnings online savings account as her primary emergency fund. Her goal is to have three months of expenses saved, and she is $600 short of her goal. Generally, her goal is to have her retirement well planned. She wants to be in academia long term, but she can’t be certain about this path. She wants security and confidence during her job search. Having savings going into graduate school frees up opportunities.
During her first summer as a PhD student, Bailey is working on archival projects and taking a class. During the school year, Bailey has multiple things going on, like classes, teachers, committees, conference planning. Summer is really valuable to devote focused attention to a project. In subsequent summers, it is possible she will take teaching jobs.
34:30 Q4: What don’t you spend money on that might surprise people?
Bailey doesn’t have student loans. She paid all of her loans within two years after undergrad. She hasn’t taken out any loans for higher education. Because she went to a State school, had scholarship, and finished in three years, she had very manageable loans from her undergraduate education. She took a job after college right away.
She has stopped buying books, which is hard for her personally. Even if she buys used books, it adds up quickly. She tries to keep miscellaneous spending low every month. She used to buy $200 to $300 worth of books every month, now she just buys one book a month. She checks out a lot of books from the library, and she lives less than a block from local public library
She doesn’t spend a lot on hobbies. She likes to cross stitch. This is inexpensive and takes a long time. She can spend $20 on one project that entertains her for five months. She has hobbies that help her relax and are not difficult for her budget.
39:00 Q5: What are you happy with in your spending and what would you like to change?
Bailey’s rent is higher than she wants to pay and is more than what others pay. She negotiated for lower increase rate when she renewed her lease. She’s considering doing a spending fast over the summer because she has no stipend coming in. She wants to minimize the hit that her savings is taking. She can find entertainment in Bowling Green for free. For example, there is a huge arts community and a massive arts festival.
42:12 Q6: What is your best advice for someone new to your city who is budget-conscious?
Bailey recommends that someone new to Bowling Green shops around for a place to live. There a lot of good options. Graduate student housing is affordable and it is easy to find a roommate. She says to look for an apartment as early as possible. She started looking in July, which limited her options. She would have looked earlier if she knew.
She advises new PhD students in Bowling Green to plan on saving. She says make sure you have cushion before you get here. Graduate school is stressful enough without living paycheck to paycheck. You should get rid of debt completely if you can.
44:22 Q7: Would you like to make any other comments on what it takes to get by where you live on what you earn?
Bailey says it is definitely possible to live in Bowling Green frugally and have a good time. She says there is always stuff happening that’s free or inexpensive. Toledo is a twenty to thirty minute drive. It may not be possible to live on the stipend alone, but you don’t need much more. Bowling Green has a low cost of living and is a college town invested in the university community.