In this episode, Emily interviews Michele Remer, a first-year PhD student at Michigan State University, about her financial goals for graduate school. Michelle graduated in spring 2020 and worked a few different jobs during the pandemic, so she was able to generate some savings and open a Roth IRA prior to starting grad school. Thanks to a summer 2022 internship and one-time bonus on top of her ongoing fellowship, Michele is in a strong financial position at the start of graduate school. Michele shares her investing goals and values and why she’s considering buying a house hack in the spring. She also breaks down her budget and shows how she’s keeping her large, necessary expenses under about 40% of her gross income.
Links Mentioned in the Episode
- Michele Remer LinkedIn
- PF for PhDs S13E1: PhD Home Buying Updates for 2022 (Expert Interview with Sam Hogan)
- Sam Hogan E-mail (Mortgage Originator)
- PF for PhDs S13E8 Show Notes
- PF for PhDs S10E1: How This Grad Student Plans to Contribute to His Roth IRA Using 529 Money (Money Story with Ben Wills)
- PF for PhDs Tax Workshops
- PF for PhDs S8E4: Turn Your Largest Liability into Your Largest Asset with House Hacking (Expert Interview with Sam Hogan)
- PF for PhDs S13E2: This PhD Student-Nurse Is Confident in Her Self-Worth (Money Story with Brenda Olmos)
- PF for PhDs S10E18: This Grad Student Purchased a House with a Friend (Money Story with Courtney Beringer)
- I Will Teach You to Be Rich (Book by Ramit Sethi)
- PF for PhDs S5E15: How a Book Inspired This PhD’s Financial Turnaround (Money Story with Dr. Amanda)
- PF for PhDs Subscribe to Mailing List (Access Advice Document)
- PF for PhDs Podcast Hub (Show Notes)
00:00 Michele: And then I also was able to start my program during the summer and I did an internship in D.C. which, technically, I wouldn’t be allowed to do because you are only supposed to, you can’t work more than 10 hours a week with your fellowship at Michigan State. But because it was part of a class, I was able to overcome that requirement. So, I had money from my internship to like live on in D.C. and then I also had that like fellowship money that I could use for like saving and investing.
00:38 Emily: Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast: A Higher Education in Personal Finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts, a financial educator specializing in early-career PhDs and founder of Personal Finance for PhDs. 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. This is Season 13, Episode 8, and today my guest is Michele Remer, a first-year PhD student at Michigan State University. Michelle graduated in spring 2020 and worked a few different jobs during the pandemic, so she was able to generate some savings and open a Roth IRA prior to starting grad school. Thanks to a summer 2022 internship and one-time bonus on top of her ongoing fellowship, Michele is in a strong financial position at the start of graduate school. Michele shares her investing goals and values and why she’s considering buying a house hack in the spring. She also breaks down her budget and shows how she’s keeping her large, necessary expenses under about 40% of her gross income. By the way, we recorded this interview in late October 2022, and since its recording, there has been a lot of student loans news. As of November 27, 2022, the day I’m recording this, the $10k or $20k degree of cancellation that Michele and I discuss has been blocked by court challenges, which are likely to be resolved in the Supreme Court. Additionally, the administrative forbearance has been extended into summer 2023.
02:26 Emily: Speaking of the possibility of home ownership in 2023, Sam Hogan is now offering lunch-and-learn seminars on how graduate students and postdocs can purchase homes. Sam is a mortgage originator specializing in graduate students and PhDs, an advertiser with Personal Finance for PhDs, and my brother. He’s been a guest on this podcast numerous times, most recently Season 13 Episode 1. If you live in a city where graduate students and postdocs sometimes buy homes, please consider arranging for Sam to come to your campus for a lunch and learn on mortgages and the home-buying process. He’s put these on for a couple of groups this fall and has more booked the spring. He gives a short presentation and then answers questions about individual borrowing scenarios. Sam has done a ton to help grad students and postdocs with usual academic incomes like fellowships and summer pay gain access to mortgages so they can realize their dreams of home ownership. You can reach Sam about the possibility of coming to your campus—or with your own mortgage question—at email@example.com or 540-478-5803. You can find the show notes for this episode at PFforPhDs.com/s13e8/. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Michele Remer.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
04:03 Emily: I’m delighted to have joining me on the podcast today Michele Remer. She is a first-year graduate student at Michigan State University, and we are going to be talking today about kind of what her finances look like as a first-year graduate student and what her plans are for the future. So, Michele, it’s a delight to have you on. Will you please introduce yourself a little bit further for the listeners?
04:24 Michele: Of course. Thank you for having me by the way. So, as you said, I’m a first-year PhD student. I’m in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Michigan State. And I got my undergraduate degree from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota back in 2020. So, I’m a pandemic graduate. And then I was supposed to go into the Peace Corps but it ended up not working out due to the pandemic once again. So instead, I did some other seasonal jobs, which included AmeriCorps. I also want to preface this by saying that I have had some assistance from my parents for expenses in college and post-graduation as well.
05:03 Emily: Yeah, let’s talk about that more. So, it sounds like you had about two years between your graduation college and when you started graduate school. I’d love to learn more about those jobs that you did during that time and kind of what your finances looked like through that period.
05:17 Michele: Yeah, so my first, well I graduated 2020 and I still had my job through my university. It was a GIS job so I was able to do it remotely during the pandemic. So, I was just living at home with my parents and didn’t have any big expenses there, which was really nice. And then I got a job with AmeriCorps in a Conservation Corps out in western Utah. So, that’s where I went next. And that one was <laugh>. I was basically just breaking even for that job because it was volunteer and it was also a pretty low like stipend that we received. But I was able to get free housing, and they gave us like a free tent. I just had to provide the gear and a plane ticket. So, I think it worked out pretty well for me, especially because with the pandemic I was getting stir crazy in my house so I welcomed the opportunity to go somewhere new during that. When everyone else was kind of stuck inside. I was able to be out in the woods and <laugh> doing conservation projects.
06:26 Emily: And was it like a full year? Was it a full year that you were with AmeriCorps?
06:30 Michele: So, this was about seven months was my term. And then also for AmeriCorps, you get, they call it education award. That’s what it’s called. So, I got about $3,000 for my education that I was able to put towards my student loans.
06:47 Emily: Oh nice. That’s a good flexible usage.
Money Mindset Coming Into Grad School
06:52 Emily: Okay, so we’ve had I think one previous guest who was in AmeriCorps, if we can find the episode, it’ll be in the show notes. But I’m very interested in like your mindset I guess going into graduate school, having just had that AmeriCorps experience. Because I know that, I mean as much as graduate student stipends need to be higher, AmeriCorps is like whoa, you are really, as you said, it’s kind of a volunteer position that they basically just kind of give you housing and food money, right? So, can you talk about yeah, your mindset coming into graduate school, having had that experience with respect to your finances?
07:25 Michele: Yeah, I think it was actually really helpful for me personally because, so my undergrad, it was a residential school so like all of my food and stuff was like at a cafeteria and everything and included. And with this job, I like had to like cook dinner and everything. And so, that really taught me how to like meal prep and just like living on such a low wage, I was able to be really smart about like how I was handling my groceries and everything. And then like while we were on project, like, so we would work eight days and then we would get six days off. So for those eight days they provided all the food. So basically you were just like, didn’t have any expenses for eight days of the week and then, or eight days at a time and then six days you would have expenses, but we were able to like also have leftover food from that. So, it was this kind of like, and I also don’t really buy a lot of other things. Like I still to this day I basically just buy food and that’s my only other expense besides like housing with like occasional other like luxuries now that I have some more money. But yeah, so I think it was a challenge but it actually kind of set me up well for grad school.
Stipend at Michigan State
08:42 Emily: Yeah, very interesting. So, give us a picture of your finances when you started at Michigan State. So like, you know, did you have any assets? Did you, you already mentioned student loans, maybe you had other liabilities as well. And also what is your stipend at Michigan State?
08:57 Michele: Yeah, so my stipend first of all is $30,000. And I also got pretty lucky too because I got a $5,000 fellowship for getting accepted into the environmental science and policy program here. So, I can kind of lump that on top. And then I also was able to start my program during the summer and I did an internship in D.C. which, technically, I wouldn’t be allowed to do because you are only supposed to, you can’t work more than 10 hours a week with your fellowship at Michigan State. But because it was part of a class, I was able to overcome that requirement. So, I had money from my internship to like live on in D.C. and then I also had that like fellowship money that I could use for like saving and investing.
09:51 Emily: So, am I understanding that you were being double-paid during that time? You were receiving your fellowship and your internship pay?
09:58 Michele: Yeah, I was. The reason why like we decided to do the fellowship. Like I was talking to the administrators about this and everything and the class, because technically, the internship was part of a course. And so there was like a $2,600 tuition fee that I would’ve had to pay if I was just doing the internship. So this way the fellowship, because the fellowship also covers my tuition. So, in this way it covered my tuition and then I also was able to receive the money, the stipend money with that.
10:29 Emily: Nice. It sounds amazing. And that $5,000 that you mentioned, so your sort of baseline, standard stipend on the fellowship is $30,000 per year. Did you get that $5,000 as like a lump, it’s kind of like a bonus, like a lump sum at the start, is that right?
10:42 Michele: Yeah, it’s supposed to be a lump sum. I actually haven’t received it yet, but yeah, I think that’s just going to be like a lump sum to my account once they process it.
Finances: Assets and Liabilities
10:52 Emily: Okay. This is great. I so wish that more or all graduate students could get started with like, hey here’s some money just like for you to have for savings because you’re probably going to need this down the line. Because the stipend is really not, you know, necessarily enough to generate a decent savings rate, although, you know, we’ll get to yours and what your plans are with that. So let’s, if you don’t mind, could we share some numbers, like what assets did you have at the start of graduate school? What liabilities did you have?
11:16 Michele: Yeah, so I think I came in, so the AmeriCorps job that I had, I finished that. I did that right after college. So, I took another seasonal job where I was able to minimize my expenses a lot more and then I had another part-time job before starting. And I think the best thing that allowed me to build up savings was that I like basically reduced my housing expense. Like every time I got a new job it was either like free or it was like max $300 a month. So, I was doing really well in that area. So then I was able to, I had about $6,000 in my Roth coming in to grad school. And then I also have, let’s see, I guess for my other assets I just have like, oh I also just put in $2,000 into I-bonds too for my student loans after I graduate.
12:11 Michele: And then I also have some other savings just from, because I was saving up more money to pay off my loans as well. But now with the pandemic or the student loan forgiveness, I should be sitting in a much better place because after my education award using that and then the 10 grand that I’ll get from student loan forgiveness, I’ll be in a really good spot. And so, now that’s freed up a lot more money that I was going to put towards my loans because I’m super debt-averse, so I had saved up all this money to pay off my debt right away.
12:45 Emily: I see. I want to talk more about the student loans in just a second, but you don’t have any other debt, I would take it then, aside from the student loans?
12:52 Michele: No, no. Like I have a car, but it’s paid off. And yeah that was my only other sort of I guess liability since I don’t have a home or anything.
13:05 Emily: Yeah. Okay. So I want to point out for the listeners that we were recording this in October, 2022. So by the time this comes out, I’m hoping that people will have received the cancellation but as of the time that we’re talking, I don’t think anyone has started to receive it yet, although the application is open. So yeah, hopefully in the coming months. Did you already apply Michele?
13:24 Michele: Yeah, I did. I signed up for the email alerts. I was one of the first people, I think.
13:28 Emily: Okay, perfect. So, your cancellation amount hopefully will come through before the end of 2022 is the idea I think. Yeah. And so, and the rest of your student loans, the ones that weren’t being taken care of by these other sources, are they just going to be in deferment during graduate school? Or are you going to work on paying it down?
13:43 Michele: Yeah, I only took out subsidized loans, so they’ll be in deferment.
13:48 Emily: Okay, perfect. Yeah, for anyone listening, subsidized loans, well, if they’re in deferment you’re not going to make payments, and then if they’re subsidized the government pays the interest on your behalf so they won’t start accruing interest until when you come out of deferment, presumably after you graduate. And it’ll be pretty easy to hopefully take care of them at that point. So, that sounds awesome.
Making Investing a Priority
14:04 Emily: Okay, so you have some savings, you have started your Roth IRA, you bought some I-bonds, that’s great. So, let’s talk more about this investing situation. I understand you want to continue investing during graduate school. Why are you making that a priority?
14:18 Michele: Yeah, I think it’s a priority for me because I want to have the flexibility to take whatever jobs I want. And so, like with the AmeriCorps thing, I was able to take that job because, well for one, the student loan payments were on pause and it was kind of just like a good opportunity for that point in my life. But I also want to be able to take other opportunities that may not pay me as much because I’m really passionate about doing like environmental jobs that sometimes you don’t really get that high of a salary for. And so, I just want to make sure that I’m in a good financial spot in order to take those positions that I want.
14:58 Emily: So, is the idea that you’re going to start saving and investing for retirement now because perhaps at some later points in your life your salary won’t be really necessarily much higher than it is now? Or is it to be building up assets so that later you don’t have the pressure as much of having to save, you know, so much for retirement later on? It could be both, but I’m curious about your decision-making here.
15:21 Michele: I would say it’s both. I think, too, just everything I’ve read about personal finances, it’s time in the market over timing the market, and so I wanted to start as soon as possible so that I don’t have to worry about like starting after grad school. And like maybe if I don’t get a very high-paying job and I still like can’t contribute as much as I want to, this starting early allows me to have much more time to like accrue interest and just a bigger retirement savings account and that also would let me be more flexible in case I need to take like a career break of some kind or anything like that.
16:04 Emily: Yeah, I have to say, like so I’m 37 now, I’ve been out of graduate school for eight years about, and this is really like I can already see this playing out in my own life because I did start saving into a Roth IRA or investing when I was like 22, right out of college. And it’s really like because of some other stuff going on in like my and my husband’s financial life, like we, you know, saved diligently during graduate school. It was never, I’d never even maxed out my IRA so it wasn’t even like a large dollar amount, but for a graduate student it was a lot. And that portion of our portfolio in the time since then, like it’s a really big portion of our portfolio even though we have started since buying our house like last year we’ve really ramped up our retirement contributions because we no longer had like the down payment savings to be considering. But it’s like still amazing how much of our portfolio has just been those long time ago contributions that have had plenty of time to compound. And even though we’re saving a lot right now, and in the decades to come, like it’s still going to be a huge part of our portfolio despite being you know, dollar amount-wise not that much in contribution. So, I really commend you for getting started with this early. Is it your goal to max out every year? Like what number have you put around how much you’re going to contribute?
17:19 Michele: Yeah, I’m already maxing out every year so I put in $500 a month automatically so that I don’t have to like worry about forgetting doing it. And then I also am planning on increasing next year since they just announced that it’s going to be $6,500 instead of $6,000.
Getting Started with Investing
17:39 Emily: And many of the listeners who are, you know, considering getting started with investing or trying to get started now might be curious like how did you exactly get started? Like where did you choose to house your money and you know, what do you invest in? Obviously you’re not giving anyone advice but just like the path that you took.
17:54 Michele: Yeah, so for me I really wanted to make sure that I was going to be investing in funds that I believed in, like ethical investing for me. So, to do that I chose Fidelity as my I guess like taxable or tax advantaged account that I wanted to use. I’ve since learned that Vanguard has lower cost like target date funds if you’re interested in those. But I think Fidelity is a good one for graduate students because they have more fractional investing so you can invest with as little as like $10 a month, but for Vanguard you need to have I think a minimum of a thousand. So that’s why I chose Fidelity. And then as for the funds, I just chose ones that were offered by Fidelity because that those have lower expense ratios. And then also I chose environmental funds so there’s like, they have a US Sustainability Index Fund, International Sustainability Fund and then an Alternative Energy Fund. Plus some other ones. I got a little trigger happy when I was first starting out but yeah.
19:06 Emily: Okay. It sounds like though, are you like a hundred percent in equities with this with your IRA investments?
19:13 Michele: Yeah, so I have mostly stock funds right now since I’m still pretty young and I can afford to be more aggressive. I do have one bond fund which I’ve learned as I’ve been researching more that you want to have more bond funds in your Roth IRA cause it’s a tax managed account and so if I start a taxable brokerage account then I’ll switch to more stocks in that one.
19:38 Emily: Yes, this is asset location optimization, this is a really advanced strategy. But just in case anyone, any listener doesn’t want to put as much thought <laugh> as Michele has into this process, I mean it’s great to put thought into it but if you just want to get started and don’t have the time right now, whatever you choose, as long as it’s like broadly pretty appropriate, like you were just saying. Largely stocks, you know because you’re just starting out and you have a long timeline to retirement. What’s most important at this point is just to get started. And your exact asset allocation and everything, you can figure that out down the line. Because right now, the way that your portfolio is growing is mostly by your contributions <laugh> later on, you know, a couple decades from now, it’s mostly going to be growing because of the compounding interest. But for now, it’s really your contribution. So even if you’re not like a hundred percent the most optimized in what you’ve chosen, it’s okay. It’s really the thing is just to get started and to get that nice savings rate going like Michele has with her, you know, $500 per month current target. So, that sounds awesome. And are you also doing any other kinds of investing outside of your Roth IRA?
Investing Outside of Roth IRA
20:46 Michele: Yeah, so right now, like I said before, I have the I-bonds. So, my goal is to have about I think maybe like $4,000 in I-bonds so that hopefully the interest will accrue enough that when I graduate I can take those out and pay for the rest of my student loans. And then I’m also looking into doing a taxable brokerage account but I’m still exploring that because I’m still figuring out how the taxes would work on that.
21:17 Emily: Sure. Would that also be for long-term investing like for retirement? Or would it be maybe for like a shorter-term goal? Nearer-term goal?
21:24 Michele: I think that would be a longer-term goal just because I don’t want to have to worry about like taking it out and losing money because I didn’t like pick the right investment. So, I would rather leave it in there for retirement.
21:39 Emily: You’re actually taking a fairly similar approach to what my husband and I did when we started graduate school. We, as I said, we had our Roth IRA investments going at a certain rate. And then we also, I had student loans as well that were subsidized during graduate school. And so, initially I was just like, okay, forget about those. Like I don’t even need to think about those. Not like you’re doing, you’re planning from the beginning but at some point along the way in graduate school I realized, oh it would be nice to have money set aside to pay this off once they come out of deferment. And so, that became a goal as well for us. And then we also opened a taxable brokerage account. So, lots of different kind of layers to this.
Union Efforts to Obtain 403(b)
22:13 Emily: Okay. Is there anything else you want to share about your investments?
22:17 Michele: I guess I also want to, I’m part of the union here on campus now. I’m like our department representative, and one thing that I want to work with them on is getting a 403(b) account for grad students at Michigan State. Because I know that there are some other schools, a lot of schools don’t have them for grad students, but there are schools that do and I think that that would be something that would be really beneficial, not only for the grad students but also for the university to attract more people to come there. So, I think that that’s something that we could work on together to hopefully achieve <laugh>.
22:56 Emily: Yeah, that would be really exciting. I definitely want to hear an update from you about that. I mean I hope you’re successful certainly, but even if you’re not, I would love to know why like what their reasons are for, you know, not including graduate students. Because as you said, in very few places graduate students are included, and I don’t really know why they would bother like excluding them really.
23:16 Michele: Yeah, I could see maybe like, I know that the ones I’ve been looking at, they don’t provide a match. But I think they already have like a 403(b) set up for like employees. So, I think just like allowing grad students to open an account even if you don’t do a match, I think it would still, I think that would be pretty easy to do, but I don’t know. I haven’t looked into it super far yet.
23:38 Emily: A match would be, I would be shocked if I ever <laugh> Yeah. If I ever saw a match for a graduate student. Even postdocs oftentimes don’t get matches. Some of them do, especially if they’re like state employees. But yeah just the first step of like, because when I read these like plans and so forth, because I often do this with schools that I give seminars at. I’ll go into and just do a little check and see if students might have the opportunity to contribute to a 403(b). And most of them say explicitly students cannot contribute or you have to have at least a 50% appointment and they, you know, put all the students at 0.49% appointments. They have these kinds of like workarounds to specifically exclude graduate students. But why? I don’t know, is it just an administrative burden for them? I really don’t know why because I’m sure there wouldn’t be that many graduate students who would, you know, elect to use it even if they had the option. Although even just, I mean psychologically, just knowing that you had the option would actually help, I think. Students start thinking about, oh is retirement something I should be preparing for in this stage of my life? So, I love this idea, and I really want to hear an update about it.
24:41 Michele: Yeah, I think that would also maybe help like with negotiations for like increasing stipends as well.
24:50 Emily: Alright. Okay, great. To be followed up on.
24:55 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude! I’m hard at work behind the scenes updating my suite of tax return preparation workshops for tax year 2022. These pre-recorded educational workshops explain how to identify, calculate, and report your higher education-related income and expenses on your federal tax return. For the 2022 tax season starting in January 2023, I’m offering three versions of this workshop, one each for U.S. citizen/resident graduate students, U.S. citizen/resident postdocs, and non-resident graduate students and postdocs. That third workshop is brand-new this year, and I’m very excited about it. While I do sell these workshops to individuals, I prefer to license them to universities so that the end users, graduate students and postdocs, can access them for free. Please reach out to your graduate school, graduate student government, postdoc office, international house, etc. to request that they sponsor one of my tax preparation workshops for you and your peers. I’d love to receive a warm introduction to a potential sponsor this month so we can hit the ground running in January serving those early bird filers. You can find more information about licensing these workshops at P F f o r P h D s dot com slash tax dash workshops. Now back to our interview.
26:36 Emily: Okay, so we’ve talked about your investing goals. How are you formulating your budget to support those goals and to support all the other things you want to be doing in your life right now?
26:47 Michele: Yeah, so actually, the reason why I want to do a budget breakdown is because I’m really bad at actually doing a budget, so this helped me to track my spending. So, right now, I guess like my fixed costs, so my rent, I’m living with two roommates. So I have, my portion of the rent is $375 a month. And then with like utilities they’re kind of high here so I’d say that brings me to like between like $450 to $500 for my portion total, sorry, when I add rent and utilities <laugh>.
27:27 Emily: Just to interrupt, because that is such a low amount of rent, I have not heard a rent amount that low in a long time. Do you have your own bedroom or are you sharing a bedroom?
27:35 Michele: No, I have my own room and then it’s actually like a really nice setup because it’s a house, and so we still have like our laundry and like a dishwasher and like a yard. So yeah, when I found this place I was like, this is great. <Laugh>.
27:50 Emily: Is that through a private landlord?
27:52 Michele: Yeah.
27:53 Emily: Okay. Yeah, I’m always curious in different cities about like, where can you get the best deal? Is it going to be a corporate place, is it going to be, you know, a mom-and-pop landlord? So yeah, that’s great. Did you find this house? Or did these roommates exist and you found the room?
28:06 Michele: So, my roommates are both also in, not my department but a similar department to me. So, they had sent out like an e-mail on the listserv, and so I reached out to them through that.
Food and Furniture
28:18 Emily: Amazing. Love it. Okay. What’s your next expense?
28:22 Michele: Yeah, so I guess my next biggest expense would be my food which I kind of just lumped together, like going out to eat and groceries. So, I guess my first month it was $450 and then my second month was $385, so I guess roughly $410 right now. And then also with my moving, I didn’t bring any furniture with me so I actually got pretty good deals on all of them. So my total for that was $170.
29:01 Emily: You spent $170 in total on furniture? Was it just like a mattress or like what?
29:07 Michele: No, I got like someone was selling their bed at a rummage sale, so I got that pretty cheap. And then I got a desk, a chair, and two dressers. Yeah, Facebook Marketplace.
29:21 Emily: I’m just delighted by this great job. <Laugh> Yeah, Facebook Marketplace. Okay, great. Yeah, have you incurred any other expenses? I think you said earlier you basically only buy like housing and food, so what else is on your list?
29:35 Michele: <Laugh> and then I guess like transportation. So, my gas money and then I’m flying home for the holidays and I’m also going to be taking the train home so I have to like buy those tickets. So, for this month it was like $282 and then last month it was like $110 for gas. And then I guess too, one other thing I should mention is I like bike to the university so that I don’t have to buy the parking pass and I can just park for free at my house when I go to the store and all that stuff, so.
30:19 Emily: So, I think we’ve covered the big three, right? Housing, food and transportation. You mentioned that you own your car outright, so you know, you’ll pay insurance on that but not a whole lot in terms of fixed costs. But even just with those three, I think you’re still under a thousand dollars a month probably. Which is quite reasonable given your gross salary, let’s just say it’s $30,000 per year. $2,500 per month. So, keeping your like larger necessary expenses under 40% of that is great. You’re doing very well. What are you doing with the rest of it? Like are you choosing to spend discretion early? Or is this just going to go into investments and savings?
31:00 Michele: I’m still trying to figure that out. I guess I also have had like different like fees come up just from like, so I’m trying to figure how to incorporate that into my budget from like the TSO and different organizations on campus. And then I’ve just like since moving, I’ve been like finding little things that I like want to get. Like I just got some new headphones and needed to replace like my watch band and everything. So, I still don’t know how to budget the rest of my money just because I don’t like have a good grasp on it yet, but I’m hoping that I could spend like $200 a month, like discretionary and then just like either invest or save the rest of it.
31:51 Emily: Yeah. Given how low you’re keeping your fixed expenses, especially your housing and this like very decent fellowship, yeah it seems like you have a lot of choice over what you can do with that excess cash flow, so that’s great. I don’t, you know, many graduate students are not in such a fortunate position. That sounds awesome. Does this fellowship last the entire time you’re in graduate school? Or is your stipend expected to like drop at some point?
32:14 Michele: So, for this fellowship, it covers the first and the fifth year. But then like you’re supposed to work with your department to find funding for the middle three years. So, I’m supposed to always have like, at least in my offer letter it said I’m always supposed to have like the base rate somehow.
32:31 Emily: Which is 30,000 per year.
32:33 Michele: Yeah.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
38:34 Emily: Okay, so let’s finish up, Michele, with the question that I ask all of my guests, which is, what is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD? And that could be something that we have touched on already in the episode or could be something completely new.
38:49 Michele: Yeah, I think my best financial advice would be to automate everything as much as possible so that you don’t miss payments or if you are investing you don’t miss your investment goals. I know most credit cards you can set up an automatic payment so that you don’t miss that at all and then you can also link your accounts together so that you can like send money from your checking account to your savings account automatically so that you don’t miss anything or spend the money that you wanted to save. And I think this also can help with fixing like if you have any problems with like overspending or just like if you get super busy in your PhD like you probably are, then you don’t have to worry about like saving your money.
39:34 Emily: I love that advice. I totally concur. It took me some time, I think, to trust myself with automation, but I’m really glad that I got there. Was there anything that you wanted to add about your bank that you wanted to say?
39:47 Michele: Yeah, I did. So, I highly recommend reading I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. I think that’s how you say his last name. Because he gives a lot of recommendations for personal finance in general but for banking. So, like I just opened up the checking account that he recommended, which is called the I think it’s the Schwab High Yield Checking account and you get a brokerage account with that, but you don’t have to invest in it if you don’t have the money or if you don’t want to invest with them. But that checking account gives you 0.4% interest, which is like awesome. And then you also get ATM reimbursement everywhere and you also, I don’t think there’s like overdraft fees. So yeah, it’s just a great account. And then also for savings accounts, he recommends like I open a Capital One 360, and there’s also like an Ally Bank account that you can get like over 2% interest right now. Yeah, because I was looking into the Aspiration account because of their, they don’t lend to fossil fuel companies, but the downside of that is I heard a lot of people talking about how they like couldn’t get their money out and so that kind of scared me a little bit, but I might look into them again once they’re more established because they’re a pretty new bank.
41:06 Emily: Yeah. That’s good to hear. And thank you so much for the recommendation of the book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. There’s actually a 10th anniversary edition that came out, I want to say within the last year or two. So, recommendations like banks, like I’m sure those have all been updated in the new edition, so if you’re looking for that kind of recommendation, you should definitely get the new edition and not the original edition from like 10 plus years ago. Or I would imagine you can just go to his website, which is probably, I Will Teach You to Be Rich or Ramit Sethi or something like that. And he’ll have those kinds of recommendations, but that’s awesome. And yeah, I think, I read that book again recently after the new edition came out and it’s great. It’s very, very direct and actionable and he’s so confident in what he tries to teach you. So like, it’s really compelling, it’s a compelling book. And a previous podcast guest mentioned that reading that book was like her sort of catalyst for like starting to get her personal finances under control. We’ll link that episode as well in the show notes. But I think it had to do with banking. I think the first thing she did was change her bank and felt really like great about that decision and like just sort of snowballed that energy like going forward. So, that’s awesome. Thanks for the recommendation.
42:10 Michele: Yeah, no problem. Yeah, the banking was really helpful, too. Just using like an online bank that doesn’t have as many like brick and mortar locations, they save a lot of money and give it back to you. So, that was a really helpful tip from him.
42:21 Emily: Totally. I started using an online or an internet-only bank I think about a year after I graduated from college when I knew like I’m going to move for grad school and then I’m probably going to move again. And then maybe, you know, I just saw a lot of moves like in my future and didn’t want to be sort of tethered to like regional, you know, availability of brick and mortar banks. So, all great suggestions. Michele, it’s been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for volunteering to be on the podcast!
42:45 Michele: Of course. Thank you for having me!
42:51 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode! I have a gift for you! You know that final question I ask of all my guests regarding their best financial advice? 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! The music is “Stages of Awakening” by Podington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing by Lourdes Bobbio and show notes creation by Meryem Ok.
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