In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. Ana Romero Morales, a counseling psychology PhD and a financial coach through Brewing Dinero. Ana specializes in undocumented people and mix-documentation families, having gone through undergrad and graduate school as an undocumented student herself. Emily and Ana deep-dive into how documentation status affects graduate school funding and the considerations prospective graduate students should have during application and admissions seasons. They also list underutilized resources available on campus to help all graduate students balance their budgets. Ana also cautions financial coaches and content creators about knowing the boundaries of their expertise and when clients and audiences should be referred for professional mental health counseling.
Links mentioned in the Episode
- PF for PhDs Tax Workshops (Sponsored)
- PF for PhDs Tax Workshops (Individual Purchase)
- Dr. Ana Romero Morales’ Instagram
- PF for PhDs Subscribe to Mailing List
- PF for PhDs Podcast Hub
Ana (00:00): And so I think that by the time I got to grad school, it was a different experience. Like I knew exactly how to talk about my situation, how to ask for money. By then, I knew that universities have money somewhere, somewhere there’s a pocket of money that they can dip into to help you.
Emily (00:20): Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast: A Higher Education in Personal Finance. This podcast is for PhDs and PhDs-to-be who want to explore the hidden curriculum of finances to learn the best practices for money management, career advancement, and advocacy for yourself and others. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts, a financial educator specializing in early-career PhDs and founder of Personal Finance for PhDs.
Emily (00:49): This is Season 17, Episode 3, and today my guest is Dr. Ana Romero Morales, a counseling psychology PhD and a financial coach through Brewing Dinero. Ana specializes in undocumented people and mix-documentation families, having gone through undergrad and graduate school as an undocumented student herself. Ana and I deep-dive into how documentation status affects graduate school funding and the considerations prospective graduate students should have during application and admissions seasons. We also list underutilized resources available on campus to help all graduate students balance their budgets. Ana cautions financial coaches and content creators about knowing the boundaries of their expertise and when clients and audiences should be referred for professional mental health counseling.
Emily (01:41): The tax year 2023 version of my tax return preparation workshop, How to Complete Your PhD Trainee Tax Return (and Understand It, Too!), is now available! This pre-recorded educational workshop explains how to identify, calculate, and report your higher education-related income and expenses on your federal tax return. Whether you are a graduate student, postdoc, or postbac, domestic or international, there is a version of this workshop designed just for you. I do license these workshops to universities, but in the case that yours declines your request for sponsorship, you can purchase the appropriate version as an individual. Go to PFforPhDs.com/taxreturnworkshop/ to read more details and purchase the workshop. You can find the show notes for this episode at PFforPhDs.com/s17e3/. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. Ana Romero Morales.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
Emily (02:48): I am delighted to have joining me on the podcast today, Dr. Ana Romero Morales. She has a PhD in counseling psychology and also works serving in the financial area as well as a side hustle. And her brand is called Brewing Dinero. I actually met Ana at FinCon this past October in 2023, and we ran into each other just about at the very tail end of the conference, the last event the last night, and I just knew we had to talk further the podcast. So that is what we’re bringing to you today. And Ana, thank you so much for joining me. Will you please introduce yourself a little bit further for the audience?
Ana (03:21): Thank you so much. Yes, I’m very happy that as I was running to the bathrooms to, you know, catch myself before I peed myself, that we got a chance to, to meet one another. As you said I have a PhD in counseling psychology and my biggest area of focus is working with undocumented and mixed status families. And similarly in my side hustle, I actually started Brewing Dinero with the goal of increasing bilingual financial education specific to the first generation undocumented and mixed status communities. So definitely that’s my, my population of passion.
Ethical Boundaries: Personal Finance and Mental Health
Emily (04:05): Excellent. I know that’s gonna resonate with like so many of the listeners. Some of them may be undocumented, but a lot of them are gonna be first generation for sure. So I’m really glad to have you on for this interview. And so I was really curious because of your background in psychology and understanding mental health, I was wondering how you react or how you respond when you see financial people like me delving into like talking about money mindset or like this other kind of like mental or emotional areas of money. Like how do you, how do you think that we’re doing with that? Or how do you react or how would you how would you present it if you were doing it?
Ana (04:43): Yeah, so I think it’s true what, what they say. And when I was studying in college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, that like psychology is in everything. And I think one of the great things about social media is that now we are able to reach a wider audience and talk about subjects that maybe back in the day you would only ever hear in the classroom or if you were someone who went to therapy, you would get exposed to to the language um and understanding of, of mental health. And even nowadays, there’s so many books with very catchy phrases that I remember my sister told me about and she and I was like, yes, this is all psychology, that it’s absolutely all psychology. And same thing in the financial world. I think it’s wonderful to see all of this financial content talking about money, mindset being positive and, and thinking positive about money and working through financial trauma and also at the same time as someone who went through many, many years of schooling and ethics and all of that sometimes I wonder also the other side of it, if anyone can call themselves a counselor or anyone can call themselves a trauma specialist. And I think about it from like an ethical standpoint of like, well, what if the people you’re working with truly have trauma or truly need something that you can’t provide? Which is understandable, right? Like if you have no educational background, I wouldn’t expect you to. But sometimes when people are uninformed about the difference between a psychologist, a therapist, a counselor and someone online, it gets very blurry and very messy. And so I think in some ways I’ve seen it done well where people are very much clear at the beginning like, I am a financial counselor, this is what I do. I talk about money and how it affects your life and how we can budget and pay off debt and all of that. And if there is any mental health concerns, here are resources or here’s where I can send you to to make sure that one, we’re we’re being thoughtful, that we’re being transparent, but also that we’re making sure that we’re not taking advantage of people who have maybe no knowledge of that. And so I think that’s my only thing. It’s wonderful in many ways. And also we have to be very mindful of the mental health implications that can have for, for the populations that we’re working with. Mm-Hmm.
Emily (07:22): And I’m thinking about this now, from the perspective of a consumer of this kind of information, you have to be mindful that when you see someone on social media or listen to a podcast like this, like the person is talking like one to many. And there are some issues that are gonna be better tackled by a professional, as you said, in a one-on-one setting. And so as a consumer, you just have to be aware like, is this something that can be solved by this person who has no awareness of who I am at all? Or do I really need to seek out a different resource here? Because there’s a lot more going on than just money stuff.
Ana (07:54): Yeah. And I think that’s hard, right? ’cause It’s like the responsibility isn’t on one versus the other, right? You, you wanna be a mindful, you know, informed consumer and you also wanna be the person who’s providing a service where you are also mindful in understanding of what you’re offering and being able to express that. ’cause I mean, it’s like even in therapy when I work with people, sometimes people hate the conversation of mindfulness and, and maybe for them it’s more therapeutic to go to church or to talk to their pastor or to go to the gym, right? And so there’s so many different avenues of how people find care. Same thing in the financial world, like maybe you don’t wanna talk to a financial advisor, maybe you do wanna work with a coach and they provide the thing that you need, which is wonderful. And then as the coach being aware of like, when is what I’m offering not enough for this person? Or do they, could it be harmful to them if they need something that greater than what I can offer?
Emily (08:59): What are some of those areas like you mentioned earlier, like financial trauma, like what are some areas where it might seem like it’s presenting as like a money issue, but it’s really something else that needs to be worked on in one of those professional one-to-one scenarios. Can you give us an example or two there?
Ana (09:18): Sure. for financial trauma, like I could, you know, I see a lot of people who work on maybe their debt, right? Or like, they are so triggered at, you know, the mail coming in with all these, you know, credit card companies or debt collection that are coming after you and you just can’t handle it, right? You’re avoiding it, it’s triggering, you’re losing sleep over it. And maybe you have a coach who’s walking you through that, okay, let’s work through it. Let’s go one at a time with each of the things that are being mailed to you. Let’s look at writing a letter to the debt collector, right? And so they’re walking you through those things and now you’re noticing like, great, my sleep is, is better, my stress levels are down. I’m not as anxious about it. I’ve learned some techniques on how to manage that anxiety um wonderful. That is very different where you’re going through that stuff and you’re like, well, no, I’m still having a lot of triggers, or I’m, I’m now deeply depressed. And like, it’s not just that I can’t open the envelopes, it’s that I’m also not eating and I’m also not going to work and I’m also not, you know, different aspects of your life are being impacted by whatever trauma you’re experiencing. And that is something where like, as the money person, sure I’m helping with the money part, but all the other things seem to require a much more intensive intervention by like a therapist or, or someone else. So, you know, like it’s knowing where that, where that boundary starts to shift.
The Financial and Educational Experiences of an Undocumented Student
Emily (10:58): Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for that like example. Okay, I want to go now to your special area of interest, undocumented, mixed, documented families and, you know, kind of your own personal journey in this area as well. So back when you were undocumented how, how did finances like strike you? I, I bet it was intimidating in a lot of different ways. And what were some resources that like you availed yourself of at the time and then may maybe also someones that you didn’t know that you could have accessed then, but you now tell people in your community, oh, don’t forget, you still have access to this even though you’re undocumented.
Ana (11:36): Yeah. So I found out I was undocumented when I was 17. I am first in my family to go to college, so I was listening to my friends and teachers saying like, make sure you apply to FAFSA. FAFSA is free money, financial aid. And I’m like, great, I’m gonna do that. And then the time came and I found out like, well actually I can’t apply because I don’t have a social security number. And back then in 2007, very different from now there were no resources. People didn’t talk about being undocumented. It was very much just like finances, like a very taboo subject. You don’t talk about it. And so I didn’t have the language at that point to express what I was experiencing and how to ask for help. And so I ended up going to the school that accepted me, didn’t ask me for any documentation like other schools did out of fear. And I felt like I was, you know, trying to keep my head above water for four years, just trying to figure out the financial aid system and coming to terms with like that they too did not know anything. Like I remember I got a research grant that I applied for with the help of a professor and I couldn’t get any of the money because they didn’t know how to give it to me without having documentation. I mean, I technically still used it ’cause they used it to pay for other things. So it was one of those things where like, I don’t know what I’m doing. The institution doesn’t know how to help me. And so I think I, I think just like other people who have like their financial experiences, like I just learned that like money exists, but it’s not there for me. And so I need to find other ways of making money, other ways of financing my education. And so I learned from other people who are undocumented. I’m like, how did you do this? And they’re like, oh, like, you get a scholarship or you talk to the professors in this way using this jargon to sort of get the point across without necessarily exposing yourself. And so I think that by the time I got to grad school, it was a different experience. Like I knew exactly how to talk about my situation, how to ask for money. By then I knew that universities have money somewhere, somewhere there’s a pocket of money that they can dip into to help you if they want to. So I think, you know, it, it’s a very difficult system just like any other one. But when you’re undocumented, there’s a lot more like, you know, personal things that also come into play. So now after going through a master’s program and then going through a PhD program, like now I’m very aware of how resources work, especially in the California system. So when I work with grad students who have come to me being like, I’m undocumented. I don’t know how I’m gonna pay for grad school. I’m like, all right, let’s sit down. Let’s look at scholarships, grants, fellowships that don’t require status, but also how do we talk to your department in a way that can help you maybe access money that’s, there might be somewhere that someone’s willing, willing to give you. So I think it’s been, it’s been a learning curve and policies are constantly changing. So I think that’s also something where I have to keep myself up to date with, with things both at a federal, at a state and at a local level.
Fellowships, Scholarships, and Employment for Undocumented and DACA Students
Emily (15:07): Well this is so fascinating to me ’cause you may be aware I’m a total like tax nerd and so talking about like different types of income sources is like really, really up my alley. So I really, I would love to drill down on this a little bit more. So what I’m hearing is that some fellowships and scholarships don’t require you to have documentation. Is that right?
Ana (15:25): Yes.
Emily (15:25): At both at the undergraduate and at the graduate level.
Ana (15:28): Mm-Hmm, .
Emily (15:30): What about employment?
Ana (15:33): Mm-Hmm.
Emily (15:33): And maybe this is different with like DACA versus maybe when you were first going through this. Can you explain about like, would someone is undocumented be able to get like a research assistantship at the graduate level?
Ana (15:44): Sure. So yes, if you are a DACA recipient, which means you are eligible to get a driver’s license and a social security number specific to work that is very different, right? That’s, I always tell people like, if you have DACA, you just gotta go about it like you’re a citizen where you don’t even have to disclose that you’re, you’re someone who has DACA. You just simply provide your social security number. You know, and so you’re fine. The, the one thing that gets tricky with DACA is that you are reapplying to that every two years. So like you as the person have to be on top of it of like, I gotta make sure I apply for the renewal of my DACA in time. So there’s no overlap between your DACA expires and now you, you know, have to tell your job you can’t work or grant or however that works in your department. So that’s one thing to consider. If you’re undocumented, you don’t have a social security number, but the IRS doesn’t care what your status is. They just want their taxes paid. So the IRS created the individual tax identification number, it’s ITIN for short. And that is what people can use to basically file their taxes every year because the IRS knows that people are working somehow whether that’s under the table or however you wanna call it, the IRS still wants their cut. And so I talk to students about using their ITIN to sort of see if the university or your professor advisor is willing to hire you as almost like a contractor, right? Maybe the grant allows for that to happen, right? I think it gets very nitty gritty ’cause every program is willing to do these things or not. Um so I think it, it’s very much an individual basis of whether, you know, if your professor’s like I have this pot of money, I have to, of course, you know, people above me need to know who’s it going to, how is it being filed? And so if you have a tax, your your ITIN, great, I contracted you to do this job for me and all I need is your ITIN number to be able to do that. So that’s always an option that I tell students to talk to their advisors to, to see if that’s one way. I know other people have been like, we have this extra money that we can use for whatever, I’m gonna give it to you as a stipend or a scholarship or a grant, right? It’s not something that you don’t have to pay back in order to have.
Emily (18:24): So it sounds like there’s a question mark there around will this person be able to be straight up W2 employed? That’s gonna depend on maybe the state, the university, different policies if they’re fully, fully undocumented. But maybe there’s this contractor like work around. I, I’m more, I’m more interested I guess I, I know the taxes have to be paid . I’m more interested on the, like how does the university handle this like side of things.
Ana (18:49): Yeah.
Emily (18:49): But I totally agree with you. I’ve seen that flexibility too of like, oh okay. Like for instance, when people ask for, when they negotiate for an increase in stipend, a lot of times their base stipend might be coming from a research assistantship and the university doesn’t have flexibility in the department or whatever, doesn’t have flexibility in how much they’re gonna pay there. But they might say, oh, we have this other pot of money that we have freedom to use in however we want. We’ll give you a little top up fellowship, you know, on top of that employee situation. And so I can totally see how funds could be, oh this student has a special situation, we have a little bit of flexibility on our side, we’re gonna work with them and get them the money that they need to be here. Even if it’s not the regular course of action we would do for other people.
Ana (19:29): Yeah. And I think, yeah, and it’s hard because I think now with policies changing from 2016, right? DACA is something that students who are entering the education system or who might wanna go to grad school, DACA may not be an option. And so I think it’s, it’s forced people to be creative and try to find different ways to help students. So yeah, it’s unfortunate ’cause if you’re undocumented you can’t be a W2 employee, right? ’cause the university can’t hire you in that category. But there’s so many other places or other ways that you can do it. I mean I know at the undergraduate level they have in California College Corps, which is like a program you apply to, you’re a volunteer for like nonprofits or schools or whatever, but you get paid for that service. And so you know where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? If people really want to help, they figure out other ways of doing it. And I know every state is different on how they are about those things. California has been doing it for quite a while. So I think they have more flexibility with that versus other states or other programs.
Emily (20:39): Emily here for a brief interlude! Tax season is in full swing, and the best place to go for information tailored to you as a grad student, postdoc, or postbac, is PFforPhDs.com/tax/. From that page I have linked to all of my free tax resources, many of which I have updated for this tax year. On that page you will find podcast episodes, videos, and articles on all kinds of tax topics relevant to PhDs and PhDs-to-be. There are also opportunities to join the Personal Finance for PhDs mailing list to receive PDF summaries and spreadsheets that you can work with. Again, you can find all of these free resources linked from PFforPhDs.com/tax/. Now back to the interview.
Deciding Which Universities to Apply for as an Undocumented or DACA Student
Emily (21:31): Yeah, just one more follow-up question on that point. I don’t know if you, you probably sometimes work with like prospective graduate students, people who are choosing what schools to apply to deciding where they wanna attend. Do you, are you able to advise them at all about like, oh this state’s, like you said, California more experience in this area, they’re gonna be more familiar with your situation. Maybe definitely apply to a school or two there to give you some options. But do you give them guidance on like state level, you know, kind of decision making?
Ana (21:56): Yeah, I think one of the things I have found is that, you know, when I was in, when I was applying for grad school, a lot of people would be like, you need to go to the state, you know, in the middle of nowhere who have so much more extra funding who can give you the full ride. And I think that’s great, right? If that’s an option that you have. Wonderful. And also as someone who works with undocumented people or DACA recipients and who has, you know, gone through that phase, I’m like sometimes living in those states right there, there’s a sense of safety, there’s a sense of like there’s no community there. If the school’s not informed about DACA and things like that. Like is it worth it to you to have to be the person to educate and figure that out or stay in California or any other states, you know, where they do have a system already in place because grad school is already so hard and so draining that sometimes, you know, the money is important but also other aspects. And so I help people in that sense. Like I tr- I definitely when I applied to Boston, I had to be, I had to talk to financial aid, be like, you know, in-state tuition out-of-state tuition, do you guys have the DREAM Act? Which is the financial aid program for undocumented students. You know, I going through, especially if their website is not up to date with that information, right? You have to be the one to be in the position to educate other people. So it’s really going through all those multiple aspects of deciding on grad school, not just the, you know, the advisor that you want and and the degree that you want and area study, but all the other dimensions of your wellbeing as well.
Emily (23:43): Absolutely. So you would say this is something that has to come up once they’ve given me the go ahead, they’ve admitted you, then you bring up, hey, are you gonna be able to accommodate me in this way, in that way this is what my status is. Those conversations have to be had before decision day it sounds like.
Ana (23:58): Yeah, so definitely when I, you know, and everyone’s different, right? ’cause In California I feel like it’s, it’s a less taboo to talk about immigration status. But I know some people are not comfortable and so I’m like okay, you don’t have to put it in your letter, you don’t have to write it in your personal statement that you’re undocumented. But definitely when it comes time to talk about the financial aspect of your, of five t- plus years of being here at this university, like you want to know where they’re at with helping you. Maybe they don’t know much but they’re so willing to figure it out with you and help you. Great. Versus other universities who are like, yeah, no, we’re not gonna do anything with that. You can come here but we’re not able to give you any, you know, financial assistance. Then that’s a whole different conversation.
Student Loans for Undocumented and DACA Students
Emily (24:47): That makes sense. And one thing you haven’t mentioned so far is student loans. So I’m wondering, are student loans at the federal, let’s take federal and private separately. Is that not an option for people who are undocumented? Is it an option?
Ana (25:00): Yeah.
Emily (25:00): For people who are DACA recipients?
Ana (25:02): So from what I know, no, like, you know, federal student loans are not accessible. I think it’s only been a couple of years where like there are a lot of companies out there who provide private loans, which of course come with its own stuff, right? Higher interest rates, all of that stuff. I do know that at some universities, again California ’cause that’s where I’m mostly I went to schools. Some universities create their own loan system to give to undocumented or DACA recipient students. Not everywhere and not, I think at my school they had it at the undergraduate level, but they didn’t have it for grad students at that point. So no, like the, the loan situation tends to be more private based. You can definitely apply for the DREAM Act and I think it’s dependent on state’s, not nationwide. So it’s like fafsa but for undocumented students where you can apply and again that’s very state specific. ’cause If you went to school in California, you know you went through high school there, right? They have way more options for you as an in-state student versus someone else coming from a different state and coming to study in California.
Emily (26:27): I see. Yeah. I’m just, I’m trying to think about the safety uh net or the safety release valve that is student loans. Like for, especially for people who you know, maybe they’re first generation, they don’t have family that can help them out financially. If they get into a tough situation, where can they turn? Right? Okay, the stipend isn’t sufficient. What’s the next ? What’s the backup plan there? If it’s not your family, is it private student loans? You know, it’s just something you have to think through when you are looking at a stipend that is borderline enough to support you. You know, like where’s that, where’s that emergency fund gonna come from? Where’s, where’s that backup?
Ana (27:01): Yeah. And I think, you know, I think one of the great things is that even though you can’t access like federal student loans at the state level, there is a lot of money that is there that is sometimes untapped. Because again, if you’re undocumented and you don’t know and the people around you aren’t educating you on those things, how are you gonna know? But there is a lot of, at least at the state funded level, a lot of financial aid that can, that you can have access to. And you never know, right? Some universities have private scholarships, donors money that doesn’t have, you know, as many like rules about how they can use it. And I think that can also help your advisor, right? If your, if your advisor might have access to different pockets of money or know of organizations who can help, right? I think it’s just a matter of asking and and the other people willing to kind of do some of that work with you.
Resources for Undocumented and DACA Graduate Students
Emily (28:02): Well that was fascinating, thank you so much for that deep dive there. Were there any other like resources that you wanted to point out to pe- let’s say graduate students who are undocumented?
Ana (28:14): Yeah so I think especially when you’re in grad school, I know there’s often this like mantra of like your PhD should be fully covered and everything, which I totally agree. But I also tell people maybe your first year is covered and then the second year about figuring out where else you can get the money from and it’s just like undergrad scholarships. Like there’s money everywhere. I think it’s just about sitting and dedicating yourself to even applying to the $500 scholarship or the, you know, however much amount. But yeah, a lot of graduate student programs have their own like databases where they have scholarships, grants, fellowships. I highly always tell people like look through your databases. You never know what’s in there. And especially if you’re undocumented, usually they have filters where you can kind of put citizenship as not a requirement. Um so I can funnel it down at the same time I’ve had the experience where I look at scholarships or fellowships or grants and they don’t really say, or they say you’re a US resident, which could mean you are a US citizen or it can mean you’ve lived in the United States right? And have a US address. And so that’s enough to, that’s enough to apply. The same thing with bank accounts. Sometimes like they say like you have to be a US resident to open a high yield savings account. I always have to call and be like, what do you mean by that? Because that doesn’t tell me anything.
Emily (29:46): I think that’s great advice to always that that term resident is so difficult and it means different things in different context. So absolutely just asking that question ’cause you never wanna rule yourself out, right? At least ask and let them tell you. No,
Ana (29:56): Exactly. I will say, ’cause I was just remembering I think if you are undocumented or a DACA student, especially for student loan access, you can access a wider net. But I think with that you have to have someone who’s willing to co like be the co-signer. And the co-signer has to be a US citizen or permanent residence. So I always tell people that’s an option. But again, it’s a very delicate one. Like you have to have someone that you trust who’s willing to go to bat for you, who has a good credit score and has the income guidelines, right. And all the other stuff. But I even tell people like especially at the university level, go to financial aid, you never know what financial aid has to offer you as an undocumented or DACA recipient. They might know of someone, of someone of someone who found some way to get a student fully funded at a graduate level. I’ve heard of it. And so everyone’s situation is slightly different when it comes to status, but there might be something in there that can help.
Emily (31:05): Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the same kind of guidelines that are for international students. So like it’s not impossible to get a student loan, it’s just more difficult if you, your family’s not in the US you know, et cetera.
Ana (31:17): Yeah. So I mean if if they have a whole system for international students right there ha- there is definitely some for students who’ve been living here forever.
Emily (31:28): Yes. Okay. Let’s talk more now about university level resources that you’ve either used yourself or that you’ve just observed other grad students using that can help them. Let’s see. There’s the phrase like sometimes there’s more month than money, right? And so how can they get to the end of that month using some resources that the university provides?
Ana (31:49): Yes. I think one of the great things that I’m always reminded every time I’ve left the university, whether was a undergrad and then my master’s program and then now my PhD is yes. How much resources there are there that you can access that people don’t think about. So when I was in grad school, I swear there was food every day of the week somewhere on campus. It wasn’t systematically. I think nowadays I have apps where like students can literally look up where these places are. When I lived in the graduate student dorms, like I had my schedule on like Monday they have bagels in the dorms. Wednesdays they have coffee and bagels at the graduate student lounge. And in between was I would often go to the graduate student resource center to do homework there. I worked there for a while so I knew they had coffee, I knew they had snacks. We had a writer’s room where the whole point was for you to go and be in absolute silence working on your dissertation or your thesis. And they always had snacks and coffee available or tea. And so I think for me, sure it wasn’t a full meal, but it saved some money to go and be able to get these free snacks. ’cause I lived in a town that was very expensive in California. Food banks, I think grad, you know, I think grad students often feel guilty or feel like they can’t use the food bank because food bank, you know, they’re like, well I have my tuition paid for and maybe I’m getting you know, some extra stipend as a ta. But I’m like, that doesn’t, that isn’t enough. Like you still are probably not making enough. And so I always encourage students, I’m like, there’s no shame in going to the food bank at all. If anything, that’s where I got actual vegetables and produce and I would go to the food bank. So there, that’s one avenue. I used a lot of like the gym resources, like sure we all should get our heart rates up and work out, but like using the showers, using their amenities. Like you’re, I always tell people I’m like, you’re technically paying for this, right? Like you’re paying for tu- tuition fees and res life fees. I’m like, you’ve, you are paying into all these things that you have at university. Like use ’em to your benefit. So those were ones that I really, that I think most people don’t think about when they think about being a student of like all these different resources. I remember they would have these like events where they would pay you. Like if you came and wrote a part of your dissertation, they would pay you for that. At the end I was like, that’s amazing. You have to write your dissertation so why not get paid for it at the end. So yeah, just really look at what your graduate, you know, student admissions or the graduate student group resource would just have all these benefits that sometimes people didn’t use, right? Parents, they were childcare grants. I used to work for the non-traditional student resource center and we would literally put on events where we would provide free childcare and make it so it, the point was for parents to other parents to get together and get to know one another. But sometimes parents would be like, instead of going to Chili’s to hang out with other parents, I’m gonna go study or I’m gonna go run errands while I know my kid is being watched, you know, by staff at the university. So you know, there, there’s all these little things, right? If you need, if you have to take a test and you need someone to watch your kid, there are grants for that. So I think wherever you are in your life when you’re in grad school, there’s definitely resources that can be geared towards your needs.
Emily (35:37): And I would say there’s another kind of secondary benefit, well you kind of just mentioned it with like the parent example of when you’re going out to these seminars or hanging out in this lounge or whatever is like you’re meeting other graduate students. You’re getting each know them, you’re networking. Like if you’re just in your lab or your office like all day every day and you never go out of it like how many people are you gonna meet? That’s not really maximizing the professional development and also personal development aspects of your graduate student experience. So I would say just like get into all the listservs, like all the groups that are relevant to you that are of interest to you. If they have food at their events, it’s a bonus. But just like get out there and do things and and meet people. This is kind of, I’m speaking to myself a little bit ’cause this is one of my re- regrets from graduate school is just like keeping my head down a little bit too much when I should have been cultivating relationships, which is really one of your main takeaways out of graduate school is the people that you’ve been around during that time.
Ana (36:29): Yeah. And, and it’s very easy to be like, I’m a psychology student. I only know people in my department, which is like probably five or six people right in your year or years above you. And then yeah, you forget like, oh yeah, there’s an engineering school and there’s a law school and there’s all these other departments of students who are all going through this experience of grad school together. Which is why I loved working for graduate admissions and, and creating events for grad students. ’cause That was the one way I was like, wow, I get to meet and see other people from different places who talk about different things other than mental health. And so and those are have been great relationships where I can, you know, I follow them on social media and kind of see that the work they still, you know, are doing either still in their program or outside of their program.
Emily (37:21): One more benefit I wanted to mention is checking out your health insurance slash dental vision, whatever kind of insurances you get and making sure that you are maximizing all of those. Like maybe they have like some preventative, you know, health kind of bonuses or whatever. I remember I got paid for, like if I reported that I ate like a certain amount of vegetables, like every week I got paid like a dollar or two or something per week at the end of the year. It actually like literally was one of the ways that I got like vegetables into like a habit in my, in my diet. But I Do you have any examples like that of like insurance related benefits?
Ana (37:58): Oh my god. I had the best insurance while I was in grad school when I was a teaching assistant and working for the university. I had my health insurance covered and because of the town I lived in they had everything on campus. Like I’d go to the dentist on campus, the eye doctor on campus. I had all these like body aches and things that I’m pretty sure were stress related, but I went to pt, physical therapy they had massage, you know, like services. Yeah, I had the best healthcare for sure in grad school and it was pretty expensive, so it was nice not to pay for it. So yeah, I think that was a great benefit actually. They also would have someone on campus, I wanna say it’s CalFresh who literally would help students apply for food stamps and things like that. Which again, I’m like, no one thinks about that as a grad student. Sometimes like you hear about that from people who are like have families or you know, are working professionals and I’m like, well we are working too. Maybe we’re just not getting paid as much as other people. So those are all services that I think universities especially just do better about teaching their grad students of like, yeah, you guys probably aren’t making enough and you qualify for food stamps. Let’s help you apply for that so that you’re not surviving off, you know, free pizza or bagels every week and you actually get some like healthy fruits and vegetables.
Emily (39:31): Definitely. And that’s another like state by state one. Mm-Hmm. and it depends on your income type two. So like always investigate in your own state whether this is a benefit. But definitely if there is, if you’re in a state where someone like a halftime employee kind of graduate student would qualify for those kinds of benefits, having a representative on campus, having someone whose job it is to help you walk through that process, that’s an amazing resource and definitely should be offered on the university side if they’re, if they’re paying you so little that you qualify for those benefits sure, let’s help you get those benefits. Right,
Ana (40:00): Exactly. And also like mental health services, you know, gotta throw that in there as someone who provides services of like, you’re often, I think universities tend to again, focus on undergrads and you see a lot of promotion about it, you know, during orientation and things like that. But grad students got their own things too. Grad school is really hard. It can be very isolating in many ways. And so mental health services are free, right? Your tuition and all that pays for it. So I always tell students like, take advantage, like, you know, if you feel like you need to talk to someone or you need to work through something or you just need to like vent to someone who you know, is gonna keep everything confidential, like go see what you know, the mental health services that your school offers.
Emily (40:47): Yeah. Thank you for adding that. Well Ana, this, this interview is just like a treasure trove of information. I’m so glad that you agreed to come on. If someone in the audience is like, oh wow, you would be great to, for me to work with one-on-one, tell me how can they find you?
Ana (41:01): Yep. I am mostly on Instagram @BrewingDinero I am often on there checking out my messages. But yeah, if you’re ever interested in learning more, whether it’s specific to you or someone else’s undocumented position who are DACA recipients interested in grad school or just trying to learn more about what you have access to in the financial world, please feel free to reach out.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
Emily (41:28): That’s awesome. Let’s end with the question I ask all my guests, which is, what is your best financial advice for another early career PhD? And it could be something that we’ve touched on already in the interview or it could be something completely new.
Ana (41:42): I am always about the mantra now of like, don’t wait until after grad school to start building wealth. I think often we’re in the books trying to get through, trying to write our dissertation and then finally we graduate and we’re like, now what? Now I gotta get a job and do all the adult things. And so I, I always try to tell people like, you know, it’s hard when you have so many competing things, but starting to build wealth early on I think is a great thing to start thinking of. Whether that’s investing very little, but it’s a start to something
Emily (42:19): Absolutely underline, co-sign. Totally. It’s what we’re all about here. I love it. Ana, thank you again so much for volunteering to come on the podcast. I’m so glad that I ran into you at FinCon.
Ana (42:29): Thank you so much.
Emily (42:35): 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? My team has 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/. See you in the next episode, and remember: You don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance… but it helps! Nothing you hear on this podcast should be taken as financial, tax, or legal advice for any individual. The music is “Stages of Awakening” by Podington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing by Dr. Lourdes Bobbio and show notes creation by Dr. Jill Hoffman.