In this episode, Emily interviews Andy Baxley, a Certified Financial Planner who specializes in working with academics and PhDs. Andy pursued graduate school in psychology immediately after undergrad, but quickly realized the career path wasn’t right for him and the financial pressures were too great. He eventually started practicing financial planning, realizing that it is psychology ‘out in the wild’, and decided to serve the academic community he so closely identified with. Andy shares his insights from working with PhD clients nearing retirement about what they are glad they did when they were younger and what they wish they did. At the end of the interview, Andy explains how his career plans have brought him back to graduate school again. Andy brings deep insights to the interview from his years of study and practice in this space—ones you won’t want to miss!
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- Find Andy Baxley on The Planning Center
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Live Call on purchasing a home as a grad student
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Tax Resources
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Community
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to the mailing list
00:00 Andy: It was sort of that long-term existential financial dread mixed in with just the day to day, “I don’t have enough money for anything.” I was living in a big, fairly expensive city and just was very, very much living like the proverbial graduate student. I didn’t mind that, but it was that in tandem with feeling like everyone else was just taking like leaps and bounds beyond where I was in their financial journeys, that confluence of things added a lot of anxiety.
00:34 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 17 and today my guest is Andy Baxley, a certified financial planner who specializes in working with academics and PhDs. Andy pursued graduate school in psychology immediately after undergrad, but quickly realized the career path wasn’t right for him, and the financial pressures were too great. He eventually started practicing financial planning, realizing that it is psychology out in the wild and decided to serve the academic community he so closely identified with. Andy shares his insights from working with PhD clients nearing retirement, about what they are glad they did when they were young and what they wish they had done. At the end of the interview and explains how his career plans have brought him back to graduate school. Again, don’t miss Andy’s deep insights from his years of study and practice in this space.
01:36 Emily: I have my own insights that I will provide to you next week, specifically regarding the home buying process. My husband and I closed on our very first home a week ago. My podcast episode next week is going to be all about our journey to home-ownership. Like many other PhDs and millennials generally, we put off buying our first home for quite a while. I’ve been open on the podcast about my regret that we did not buy our first home back when we were in grad school and I’m pretty bullish on grad students and PhDs buying homes if it’s financially feasible.
02:10 Emily: To that end, I’m publishing the episode next week on our personal home-ownership journey, which I hope you’ll listen to. I’ve also scheduled a special event with my brother, Sam Hogan, who is a mortgage originator specializing in grad students and PhDs. You’ve heard Sam on the podcast previously in season eight, episode four; season five, episode 17; and season two, episode five. We are going to do an AMA style live call over zoom on Thursday, May 6th, 2021 at 5:00 PM PDT 8:00 PM EDT. We will do our best to answer any question you have about buying a home, especially as a grad student or PhD. You can register for the event and my mailing list at pfforphds.com/mortgage. I hope you will join us.
02:56 Emily: Now it’s time for the book giveaway contest. In April, 2021, I’m giving away one copy of Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas, which is the Personal Finance for PhDs Community book club selection for June, 2021. Everyone who enters the contest during April will have a chance to win a copy of this book. Walden on Wheels made a splash when it was published, because the author wrote about how while he was a graduate student at Duke, he lived in a van on campus instead of renting a home so that he could avoid taking out student loans. This was an even more counter-cultural move than it appears to be now because it was before the rise of hashtag van life. I’m looking forward to learning more about the author’s motivation to make such an extreme choice and discussing it with the members of the Personal Finance for PhDs community. 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 email@example.com. I’ll choose a winner at the end of April from all the entries. You can find full instructions at pfforphds.com/podcast. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Andy Baxley.
First Go at Grad School
05:12 Emily: Yeah. And we’re going to get ton of that insight later on. I’m so excited for it. But first we want to go back in your own history back to when you were pursuing your own PhD the first time, so could you please tell us about the graduate program that you entered and what you were studying?
05:30 Andy: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, when I look back on my own personal history, I would have been really surprised 10 years ago, if I could have gotten in a time machine and seen where I am today, I don’t think I ever would have guessed that I ended up exactly where I am, but I also wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be as professionally fulfilled as I am either. It turned out well, but definitely a number of unexpected turns along the way. To go way back, I think the best place to start this story is probably in high school. I was a really sort of uninspired student in high schoo,l to say the least, and my parents always said, you have to get a 3.0 at minimum, so I always got like exactly a 3.0, I just didn’t really have much direction or passion.
06:15 Andy: All that kind of changed when I got about halfway through college and I just got very inspired by a couple of professors and started doing research assistantships and teaching assistantships in my undergraduate work and ultimately decided to pursue becoming a professor myself in psychology. The second half of my academic career, I think I was an excellent student and that was the first time I’d ever been excellent at anything. I really was just very excited to be good at something. I started thinking about life after undergraduate work and ultimately went to a master’s program, that was well-known for being a feeder into really good PhD programs, and so I thought that was the path. It didn’t end up working out that way, and I can tell you more about that story certainly.
What Drove the Decision to Leave Grad School
07:07 Emily: Yes, please do. I mean, I think we all know the beginning of this path, but where your story gets interesting is when you start to deviate from it. So why did you end up leaving that master’s program?
07:17 Andy: It was a mix of things, it was definitely a confluence of things. First and foremost, I think I got there and I realized that while I was fully funded in the program and I had a stipend, I sort of looked around and I realized that I didn’t have the same sense of purpose or direction that a lot of the other students in the program did. At first it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the further on I got in that journey, the competition was only going to get fiercer and fiercer. I sort of had this mindset that as long as I can do the next thing, that’s where I’ll find happiness. If I can just get into this master’s program, then my path is paved and I’ll find happiness and all will be well.
08:05 Andy: Then I was like, well, that’s obviously not true and I was thinking, okay, well maybe if I get into a great PhD program, once I do that, all will be well and my life will be pretty much set at that point. And I kept talking to people who were either one step or two steps or three steps along in the journey and realizing that some of them are happy, but a lot of them were under a tremendous amount of pressure financially. They just had a lot of stress in their lives that I wouldn’t have expected, and that wasn’t just true. One or two steps beyond. The more people I talked to, I realized that even all the way up to tenured faculty, those folks were under a lot of pressure as well. Some folks were extremely happy with their lives, but not all of them were and I just realized that I wasn’t on a path to sure happiness or professional fulfillment.
08:52 Andy: Also, I was going up against people who were really super passionate about the research topics that they were focused on and I just didn’t have that. All I had was that I was really excited to be good at something and excited to be a good student, but I just didn’t have that passion and didn’t have that drive. Those were sort of the personal reasons. And then there were certain financial ones as well, which I’m certainly happy to go into.
09:15 Emily: Let’s do that in a moment. I am really impressed with you as a, whatever you were 22, 23 year old person, really being able to kind of take a step back from the day-to-day rush and rigor of the program and evaluate “is this really where I want to go” and to do that, looking ahead to your older people ahead of you in the program and older mentors and so forth and asking yourself if you really want that out of your life. And to do that so early on, right within the first, it sounds like about a year of that program doing that evaluation. I really encourage the listeners to periodically step back and reevaluate and see if the path that you’re on is really the one you went to beyond because bailing out like you did earlier is much, much less sunk cost, than getting to the end of the PhD and realizing that you don’t want the career that’s on the other side of that PhD, the one that you thought you wanted. I really commend you for that. Can you talk a little bit more please about the financial pressures that you were experiencing and observing?
10:13 Andy: Absolutely. And one thing I’ll add to what you just said as well, is that that was the hardest decision I’ve ever made to leave that program. It felt like it felt like my world was crumbling down. So much of my identity was wrapped up in that path that I had chosen for myself. At the time it was truly like crushing at a personal level to make that decision, but looking back, it truly is the best decision that I’ve ever made. That’s not to say of course, that everyone should leave their PhD programs or that everyone should leave graduate school, but it is to say that if you have that hunch, that maybe that’s something worth considering. It may feel like the end of the world in that moment, but it will get better later on as you find your path, it just doesn’t seem like it in the moment.
10:57 Andy: To circle back around to the financial side of things, I think I had this experience that a lot of folks probably do, which is that I was seeing a lot of my peers from college who hadn’t chosen the same path, start to experience some degree of financial success. I always had assumed like, “Oh, financial success isn’t for me like that that’s for other people, that’s, that’s not really a thing for me”. But then I had this weird experience where I started to see other people get jobs and decently paying jobs and I felt a little bit of jealousy there. Also I just felt, my stipend was generous, but it wasn’t quite enough to live on, so I was accumulating more student loan debt on top of what I already had for my undergraduate work.
11:42 Andy: I was by no means into personal finance yet at that point, but I was just doing some very simple math and thinking about when am I actually going to make enough money to start to dig out of this hole? I started playing around with compound interest calculators and realizing how delayed I was going to be, not only in paying off my debt, but also in starting to accumulate assets long-term. It was that long-term existential financial dread mixed in with just the day-to-day “I don’t have enough money for anything”. I was living in a big, fairly expensive city and just was very much living like the proverbial graduate student. I didn’t mind that, but it was that in tandem with feeling like everyone else was just taking like leaps and bounds beyond where I was in their financial journeys, that confluence of things added a lot of anxiety, I think.
12:32 Emily: Yeah. I think what you’re expressing is, again, common enough if people take the moment to think about it. And certainly when you’re actively taking out student loan debt it’s really in your face that this it’s not a long-term sustainable thing to be doing. I think it’s a little harder when you have the stipend and it’s enough to live on, but you don’t quite realize, like when you were playing around the compound interest calculators, you don’t quite realize the long-term effects of not being able to save, not being able to invest, so you can make it day to day, but it’s easier to not think about the long-term. You had the pressure of both the day-to-day and the long-term bearing down on you. I really appreciate those observations.
Life after Leaving Grad School
13:12 Emily: Can you tell us what you did next — after you left your program, after you world crumbled around you? And on that path, how you fell in love with personal finance?
13:22 Andy: Yeah, absolutely. After the program, I spent a couple of months just sort of wallowing in uncertainty and not knowing what I would do. Ultimately what I landed on — I love to travel, so I moved to South Korea and taught English as a second language. I intended to do that for one year, just to sort of get my financial house in order and also have a really neat, unique experience. I actually ended up staying for four just because I really loved it. And I knew that I didn’t want to be — I was teaching anywhere from kindergarten to middle school, depending on which year I was there. I knew I didn’t want to do that forever and I also knew I didn’t want to be a teacher forever necessarily, but I just found the experience kept getting more and more interesting and so it kept me there longer than I thought.
14:07 Andy: Somewhere about halfway through that journey, I picked up a book called Millionaire Teacher by a guy named Andrew Hallam. And first of all, the term “millionaire teacher” seemed like an oxymoron to me, which I think is kind of the point of the title. And again, like I said earlier, building wealth, and certainly becoming a millionaire, never felt like something that was for me. It just always felt like that’s that’s for rich people and I just don’t know anything about that. I sort of always buried my head in the sand and was never a great saver, never even thought about investing. I don’t remember why exactly I read this book, but I started to read this book and realized that actually, if you start early enough and you save even just a bit, and as your earnings increase, if you can save a bit more, there’s a pretty clear path to wealth for a lot of folks. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s, it’s available to everyone because I think we have systemic structural issues that do make it really hard to build wealth. But I think it’s, it’s available to a lot more people than most people think. If you can be prudent, especially in your younger years, that there is a path to wealth and, and that wealth isn’t, we can talk more about this certainly, but wealth isn’t just about, how big your accounts are getting, but it’s also about what does that allow you to do. What sorts of freedom does that allow you to pursue? Once I realized number one, that wealth isn’t just for rich people, you know, building wealth isn’t just for people with trust funds, I think I just started reading every book I could possibly find on personal finance and just became sort of obsessed. So that’s how the interest was born in personal finance and then the career part came later.
15:41 Emily: That’s a fantastic entry point into the subject matter. Finding that perfect book that you could see yourself in — The Millionaire Teacher. And I love that you said it’s a provocative title, it’s an oxymoron. I also have a program called the Wealthy PhD, which is similarly designed to be provocative and “What a PhD can be wealthy? How could that possibly be?” Of course, we’ll talk about that in a moment.
Transitioning into a Career as a Financial Planner
16:05 Emily: You’re falling love the subject of personal finance. How did you make it into your career?
16:10 Andy: The first part was the realization that building wealth isn’t just for rich people, but the most important thing was the second realization, which was that personal finances is not just about finance. It’s not just about the numbers. There’s kind of a corny saying that I’ve heard, but I actually like. It’s that personal finance is more personal than it is finance. I started to make this connection. I was also really deeply immersed in the positive psychology movement at that time. I was reading a lot of work by Marty Seligman and other folks who were really just making the statement that it’s not just about fixing our deficiencies, it’s about how do we get from our baseline and transcend beyond that and live a life that is maybe even better than we ever could have expected.
Andy: I started to make this connection that like, “Oh my God, if building wealth is available to everyone, maybe that can also be a tool for helping people, to use another cliche, live their best life.” How can wealth become a tool to live in accordance with our values and live a life filled with joy and fulfillment? And once I made that connection, that personal finance is the best applied psychology there is, it just clicked for me. I was like, Oh my God, I can do this thing professionally that I’ve become really interested in and sort of honor my love of psychology and that original career trajectory I had set for myself. It was like psychology out in the wild. And that was really exciting for me. I didn’t have to just become, I shouldn’t say just, I didn’t have to become a professor. There were other ways to do that. That was really exciting for me. I was hooked at that point and I haven’t really looked back even a single day since then.
17:49 Emily: That’s such a beautiful expression. I’m completely on board with you, but I hope the audience is hearing this as well, the insights that you just gave, because I think it can maybe explain a lot to them about why they haven’t been successful with personal finance in the past. Even if they’re obviously super smart if they’re PhDs or whatever. But like you said, it’s psychology. It’s personal.
Insights into Personal Finance for PhDs
18:09 Emily: So, you get into this as your career, and I know you’ve had a couple of jobs, but what I want to focus on now is what you have learned from and observed in the academic clients you’ve been working with since you did switch to having a focus on that population in your practice. What does the future look like for someone who is maybe currently in graduate school or otherwise early on in their PhD career? What happens a few decades from now, if they are intentional now with their money?
18:40 Andy: Yeah. That’s such a good question because the answers are very different about when you think about the person who’s intentional versus the person who isn’t. To talk about the people who are intentional, there’s this quote I really love by a guy named Morgan Housel, he just came out with a book called the psychology of money and he says “the ability to do what you want when you want with who you want for as long as you want is priceless. It’s the highest dividend money pays.” And so what comes later down the road for folks who are really intentional and diligent about their personal finances early on is freedom. I guess that’s just the best way to put it. And that can be intellectual freedom, it can be creative freedom, it can be — the one thing I would add to Morgan’s quote is the ability to be wherever you want to.
19:25 Andy: I think when people are investing and saving, it can feel abstract, but the way I think about it is they’re just saving little units of freedom and flexibility and how they end up using those units of freedom and flexibility later on, we don’t necessarily know that on the front end, but when they get there, they’re so happy to have them. I’ve had clients who spend half of the year abroad in South America. I’ve had clients who retired and started a little boutique motel. I’ve had clients who were able to afford to do sort of part-time work very early on, like in their fifties and do a half retirement, half working thing for a period of time. So truly the limits are non-existent. The possibilities are as big as your creativity. What comes later on, I can’t say specifically what comes for each individual person without knowing them, but I can say that everyone I’ve ever talked to who did a good job saving early on was really glad they did. I’ve never once heard somebody say that they regret it.
20:24 Emily: I really love the way you phrased that of, saving up units of freedom and flexibility for the future. I’ve expressed that before as money gives you options. Whatever you want to do, having money is going to make it easier to accomplish that. But I really like the way you phrase it, because I know that for me earlier on when I was in graduate school and so forth, and I still don’t to a degree, didn’t have a clear picture of what my retirement or my long-term future would really look like. I wasn’t really sure what kind of career I would have. I wasn’t really sure where I’d want to live or. I have children now, but when I didn’t, I didn’t know how big my family would be. There was a lot of uncertainty and I think that’s really common for PhDs because if you stay on that track, like you may end up moving many times, it’s very difficult to tell what your life is going to look like many decades from now. That can make it a little more difficult to save for and get motivated about because if you think about the vision board technique, for example, you are supposed to have like a really crystal clear vision of like what you’re going for. When you’re facing reality about what your career might look like as a PhD, it might be difficult to have that clear vision, but I love the way you phrase that of just whatever it ends up looking like, saving up for your freedom and flexibility now we’ll give you your options later on for living wherever, doing whatever with whoever, everything you just listed from Morgan Housel. I really love the way you phrased that.
21:51 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 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, or have a question for me. Please join one of my tax workshops, which you can find links to from pfforphds.com/tax. 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.
Pitfalls to Avoid as an Early-Career PhD, According to a Financial Planner
22:57 Emily: Do you want to talk about the converse side about mistakes that you’ve seen your clients make or pitfalls that younger people earlier on in their career should avoid?
23:08 Andy: Yeah, absolutely. The number one mistake is a pretty obvious one and it’s just not saving. It doesn’t have to be, Oh, I didn’t have a super high savings rate, it’s people who just decided, I’m going to wait until much later to start saving. And the thing about investing and saving is that time is your best friend. A lot of people think Warren Buffet’s secret is that he’s this fantastic investor, but the truth is Warren Buffet’s secret is that he’s a fantastic investor and he’s been investing now for like 80 years or something like that, so he’s had that time for, for compound interest to take effect. I think starting really late is one thing that a lot of folks end up regretting. When I meet clients who are 60 and maybe they didn’t start saving until they were 45 seriously and they’re a bit behind or a lot behind, I think what really rings true for me is that it makes it very clear in meeting with these folks is that money doesn’t buy happiness, certainly, but it does pave the way for you to build happiness and joy and fulfillment over the time.
24:13 Andy: Conversely, a lack of money can make it really hard to achieve those things. When you’re 60 starting to think about retirement, but knowing you don’t have enough money to fund a decent lifestyle in retirement that you can enjoy, that’s a really tough place to be. And that stress really weighs on people, in my experience. I think a piece of advice I would give to younger people sort of like cautionary advice is just we’ve all probably experienced some version of resource scarcity at some point in our life, especially folks who’ve gone through graduate programs where you just feel like it’s really hard to make ends meet. And we know how stressful that is. I guess the pieces of advice I would give to a lot of folks is that that stress is amplified by 50 to a hundred times, if you’re at the end of your career, because you no longer have three or four decades of earning potential in front of you. It can be really scary for folks. That’s one of the things I’m most passionate about when I work with younger clients is these small changes we can make on the front end, end up making these tremendous differences on the back-end.
25:15 Emily: Compound interest truly amplifies your actions from early on, given that timeline that you were talking about. I’m thinking about someone in the audience who — you mentioned earlier, systemic barriers to building wealth that many people experience. Of course, we have a student loan crisis now that did not exist for the people who you’re working with who are nearing their retirement years. I’m thinking about someone in the audience who is really struggling, or maybe they were really struggling until recently and only in their thirties or forties, they’ve finally gotten to a point where they feel like they have a career and they have the paycheck and they can start saving. What can someone who is struggling or has been struggling do to — I know that time is your best friend, but like what can we do to make up if the time has already passed?
26:04 Andy: What I often tell clients who come to me with that question, because I do get clients who are like, honestly, it’s too late for me. What I tell them is certainly the best time to start building wealth is the first paycheck you get. That’s the best time to start doing it. Knowing that the vast majority of people don’t start then, the second best time is just today. Just start today, wherever you are, whether you’re 30, 35, 45, 55. And I think the best advice I can give people is just start really small. If you don’t have a lot to save, if you don’t have huge amounts that you can put towards paying off your debt, start very small and build up from there. Even if say you’re almost done paying your student loans off and you’re starting to think about saving for retirement, even if you can start saving 1% of your pay and then commit to moving it up by a percentage point, say every three or four months, programs like that eventually will get you on track.
26:58 Andy: And I think taking those baby steps is important because the idea of saving for retirement, it’s one of the biggest financial burdens we’ll ever have to face and it can be really overwhelming. I think for a lot of people, when they hear numbers like, Oh, you need to save 15 or 20% of your income, they think of it in this very binary way. They’re like, well, can’t do that, so I guess I just won’t do it at all. I think what I would really emphasize is just start small and just build up incrementally and you will get there and no matter how much you’re ultimately able to save, you’ll be really glad you did it.
27:32 Emily: Yeah, I completely agree, especially about people being turned off by the big numbers of savings percentages. I remember when I was in graduate school and reading the advice of like have a three to six month emergency fund, I was just like, no way, there’s no way I can save up whatever that would have been at the time, $6,000 or something like that. I saw that as totally out of reach and so I really just didn’t even try. I fell prey to the same kind of psychology that you just said there. But like you said, just saving as much as you can or putting as much as you can towards debt — could be $5, could be $10 — I think one of the most transformational things about that is not necessarily the amount of money that you’re putting towards savings, but just the fact that you have changed your identity to “I am a saver, I am repaying my debt and I am a person who invests” and that alone can be super powerful and is a great building block on this path towards wealth, even if the numbers are not that big yet.
28:31 Andy: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I think that identity piece is as important or more important than those initial dollars that you’re able to save. I hope people take heart and realize that when you’re just starting on the journey, it’s a little bit like when you watch a rocket ship take off, like watching a space X launch or something. It starts super slow at first. It’s really hard. There’s a gravitational pull that you have to get past, but the momentum builds over time. And once you start to build that momentum, it gets easier and easier. The hardest dollar to save is that very first dollar and every dollar will just get a little easier beyond that. Then eventually once you’ve started to invest as well when you’re at that stage, those dollars will be making more dollars for you while you sleep. That’s the idea of compound interest. Just know that it will never be harder than it is right now and that it does get easier progressively over time.
29:26 Emily: Yeah. Thank you so much for adding that insight. I totally agree. You hear it in the personal finance community: the first hundred thousand is the hardest to get to in terms of your investments and then getting to the $200,000, $300,000 is so much easier, it takes so much less time. But if we’re talking to grad students, let’s lower that scale — the first $10,000, the first $1,000, the first $100 — every order of magnitude that you go down, it is the hardest at that stage. Once you get that compound interest working in your favor, it happens while you sleep, as you said. I know I’ve experienced this in my own life from grad student years, scrimping to save even $5 more per month was like a big accomplishment and now things look very different 10, 15 years later, in terms of the compound interests working in my favor. I can kind of personally attest that yeah, that first hundred thousand, which I’ve well-documented in the first podcast episode that I published actually, was definitely the hardest. It’s been a lot easier since then.
Going Back to Grad School After a Career Shift
30:25 Emily: Andy, I want to get back to your own story because that’s taken another twist. You’re a CFP, you’re working with clients, but you’ve also recently decided to go back to graduate school. Tell us about that decision
30:40 Andy: There’s still that part of me that identifies as a great student and a person who loves school and I’m actually really grateful to have held onto that identity and so a couple of years ago, I started thinking about going back to school and I ended up signing on for the Masters in Financial Planning Program at Kansas State. I did a dual concentration. Half of the degree was really focused on advanced financial planning, so kind of the numbers side of things — taxes, estate planning, that kind of stuff. The other half was focused on financial therapy, so really taking a very deep dive into the psychology of money.
31:18 Andy: I’m finishing that degree actually in March, so I’ll be done in March and my next juncture is to decide if I want to do the PhD, which it’s so funny to me to think that I might yet again, be considering a PhD, but I think I’m doing so with a different head on my shoulders than before. If I decide to do the PhD program, which I think I will at this point, it’ll really be to further what’s been done with regards to academic research around the field of financial planning because not a ton has been done. It’s a very under-researched field.
31:52 Andy: I wouldn’t want to stop being a financial planner. The way a lot of folks do it in the industry is they get the PhD and then they sort of spend 70% of their time in practice and then the other 30% of their time doing research and publishing and doing some teaching. That for me seems like a pretty good balance, kind of having my foot in one door and the other as well, right now. We’ll see! Hopefully we can check in again in a couple of years and I’ll tell you what I decided.
32:17 Emily: Yeah, that would be excellent!
Best Advice for an Early Career PhD
32:18 Emily: Andy, I wrap up all my interviews by asking my guest, what is your best financial advice for an early career PhD? We’ve obviously already said a lot of advice throughout the course of the interview, but did you have something that you wanted to underline for us or maybe something new that you wanted to throw in?
32:34 Andy: Absolutely. I don’t know if it’s new, but I would definitely say that if it isn’t new deserves to be reemphasized and that is to me, the best investment you can make at any age, if you haven’t already made the investment is in your own financial education. Before you even start thinking about index funds and long-term savings and 401ks and things like that, just investing in your own knowledge and establishing a baseline understanding of personal finance, I think is the best possible thing anyone can do.
33:05 Andy: One critique I have the financial services industry is that I think a lot of the messaging has been set up to tell people this is too complicated or too time consuming or whatever “too this” or “too that”. It’s not for you to do, it’s for you to hire us to do. I think in some cases that’s true. When things do get complicated, it is really helpful to have a professional. I believe that obviously as a financial planner. But the basics are not complicated. It’s not to say it’s easy to master them because you know, saving money is never easy, but the principles are not complicated. I always just recommend folks, if you can take 10 or 12 hours, you will basically have mastered the fundamentals of personal finance.
33:49 Andy: A couple of books that I always recommend to people — one is The Index Card by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack, which is rooted in this idea that basically everything you need to know about personal finance can fit on one five by seven index card. I love that idea and I tend to agree. A second one I’ve already mentioned is The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. If The Index Card tells you how to do it, The Psychology of Money is like a user’s guide to your money brain, which is a pretty interesting part of your brain as it turns out. And then the third is The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley. That’s probably my all time favorite because it really shows that the type of people who become millionaires actually aren’t the ones who you would think become millionaires. It’s not the people driving Mercedes and BMWs and living in fancy neighborhoods. It’s the people who have high savings rates. You don’t see their wealth because it’s all stowed away in investment accounts. I find that book just to be very empowering. Invest in your education, that would be my advice.
34:51 Emily: Yeah. I completely, completely agree. And also starting with books, I really love that idea. It’s kind of old school, but it’s how I started my journey into personal finance as well was reading some well curated material. Actually since you mentioned books, inside the Personal Finance Community, we are currently as of December, 2020 reading The Millionaire Next Door in our book club. Morgan Housel’s book is on the slate for January, 2021. And then The Index Card is one I have not read before, but it’s actually been on my list as another book to consider for that. I’m not sure when this will be published, but when it is, if you’re interested in reading these kinds of books along with some of your other peers, check out the Personal Finance for PhDs community, pfforphds.community, you can see what the current book is we’re reading, the next one on page. If that’s your thing, please come and join us and have some discussions around these books because I love taking these sort of general personal finance texts and bringing it into, okay, well, how does this apply to graduate students and post-docs and early career PhDs? What is this really saying to our population with our particular psychology and career path and so forth. I totally agree with your advice about investing in your education. That’s one way people can do it if they want to do it with me and with others in our community.
36:03 Emily: Andy, last, last question here is where can people find you if they have really connected with you during this interview? Or maybe they want to recommend you to someone in their life?
36:13 Andy: Yeah, absolutely. ThePlanningCenter.com, you can find me there. You can find my email there as well, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m on LinkedIn, very active on LinkedIn for a time. Tried to get active on Twitter so you can find me on Twitter, but I will say I’ve neglected my Twitter page and find the whole thing to be a bit overwhelming. So probably email or website or LinkedIn would be the best.
36:36 Emily: Thank you so much for joining me today and for giving us your insight
Listener Q&A: Are Fellowships Taxable
36:47 Emily: Now on to listener question and answer segment. Today’s question was asked in advance of one of the live Q and A calls I host as part of my workshop, “How to complete your grad student tax return and understand it too.” Here is the question. “Is the NSF GRFP fellowship taxable? It’s not listed on the 1098-T form. I have no tax documents relating to it.”
37:12 Emily: Yes, the NSF GRFP is, generally speaking, taxable income, even if it’s not reported on any tax forms, I’ll quote from publication 970, page five: “A fellowship grant is generally an amount paid for the benefit of an individual to aid in the pursuit of study or research.” Fellowships can be tax-free under certain conditions, which implies that they are not tax-free if they don’t meet those conditions. Publication 970 page five further states: “A scholarship or fellowship grant is tax-free only to the extent it doesn’t exceed your qualified education expenses.”
37:52 Emily: There are two additional points that further limit the conditions under which fellowships are tax-free but just going off of that first one, if your fellowship exceed your qualified education expenses, it is not tax-free. The NSF GRFP is composed of two parts, a $34,000 stipend and $12,000 for a cost of education allowance. If the $12,000 to the institution goes entirely to qualified education expenses, for example, tuition and required fees, that portion would be tax-free. To whatever extent the $34,000 stipend goes toward qualified education expenses, it would also be tax-free, but I suspect that little to none of it does, perhaps just some required course related expenses at most. You probably use the stipend for your personal living expenses and savings and that means that it’s not tax-free. Strangely enough, the IRS does not require universities and funding agencies to report fellowship income in any way. Some universities do report the NSF GRFP award on the form 1098-T, but others do not. It’s completely up to their discretion.
39:03 Emily: If you would like to learn more about the taxability of fellowships, please listen to season two, bonus episode one. To go even deeper into how to calculate your taxable income and higher education tax benefits as a grad student, whether you have a fellowship or not, please join “How to complete your grad student tax return and understand it too” at pfforphds.com/taxworkshop. If you’d 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.
39:41 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 list serve, 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. Music is Stages of Awakening by Poddington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC podcast, editing and show notes creation by Lourdes Bobbio.