In this episode, Emily interviews Alyce Viens, a 4th-year PhD student in communications at the University of Connecticut. On the eve of her defense, Alyce looks back over her time in graduate school to share the strategies that have help her pay off her student loans, invest for retirement, and save a down payment on a home. We discuss how Alyce budgeted, practiced frugality (including with conference travel), and supplemented her stipend.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- PF for PhDs: Subscribe to Mailing List
- Ibotta (Cash Savings App)
- PF for PhDs: Tax Workshops
- AP Scoring Opportunities
- Financial Wellness 101: Everything You Wish You Learned in School About Saving Money, Building a Budget, and Growing Wealth as a Young Professional (Book by Alyce Viens)
- Alyce’s Twitter (@Alyce_Viens)
- PF for PhDs: Transcripts and Videos
00:00 Alyce: You know, I was able to just not have to wait until I graduated and got, you know, quote unquote, a real job to start my financial journey. You know, not having to delay those things, you know, having that healthy emergency fund, but also being able to, you know, build up investments and, you know, have the down payment for a house and no debt. It’s just, it’s been very, very freeing and liberating.
00:31 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 11, Episode 2, and today my guest is Alyce Viens, a 4th-year PhD student in communications at the University of Connecticut. On the eve of her defense, Alyce looks back over her time in graduate school to share the strategies that have helped her pay off her student loans, invest for retirement, and save a down payment on a home. We discuss how Alyce budgeted, practiced frugality (including with conference travel), and supplemented her stipend. I have a gift for you if you’re not yet subscribed to the Personal Finance for PhDs mailing list. At the end of every interview, I ask my guest for their best financial advice for another early-career PhD. 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. The document is even organized by topic so you can easily see which type of advice is most popular. I invite you to join the mailing list to receive access to this document through PFforPhDs.com/advice/. I hope this quick, powerful resource will help you up-level your finances in this new year! Without further ado, here’s my interview with Alyce Viens.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
02:02 Emily: I am delighted to have joining me on the podcast today Alyce Viens. She is wrapping up her time in graduate school, finishing up her PhD very soon. And she’s here to give us a retrospective on the finances of her PhD. Where she was when she started, where she is now, what she did in between. So Alyce, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. And welcome, please tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself.
02:24 Alyce: Yeah, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here. So I am, I guess now a fourth-and-a-half year PhD finishing up. I’ll be defending two weeks from today, actually. So I’m very excited about that. My PhD will be in Mass Communication from the University of Connecticut. So I’ve been studying media effects and things like that for the last four plus years. But I now work as a market researcher for a consumer and brand research company that’s based in DC, but I work remotely. I live in upstate New York. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months is going on to the industry side, the dark side, as I know some people in academia call it.
Budgeting Lessons for Grad Students: Tracking Spending
03:12 Emily: I do want to circle back and hear more about that decision to take that job prior to actually finishing up. But we’ll save that for the end of the interview. What lessons would you like to impart on the grad students and PhDs listening about budgeting, particularly during grad school or maybe in general?
03:28 Alyce: Yeah, so I mean, the reality is that as grad students we’re just not making a ton of money, but we still have a lot of the expenses that we would consider to be sort of adult expenses. We still have to pay for our housing, potentially cars, and we have to buy our food and all of those things that we have to pay for now that we’re adults. But we don’t have income necessarily to match all of those things. So the one thing that I would recommend to anybody, whether you’re a grad student or not, is to spend your first month before you ever build a budget and just look at any time money is leaving your pocket, whether it’s cash or debit card or an automatic subscription, a student loan payment, regardless of what it is, write it down, categorize it.
04:14 Alyce: Like don’t just say I spent, you know, $10 on food today. Well, did you spend $10 at the grocery store, or did you spend $10 at Starbucks on food? And then do that for a month. Don’t change your habits, just make it a regular month. And I think that’s the best place to start because you can really start to see, where am I spending all my money? I find that when I had less income, it wasn’t the large expenditures that I was doing. Like I wasn’t going out and buying myself a new iPhone every few months. Like I wasn’t making any large purchases. It was those little ones that time where, you know, I forgot to pack myself lunch and I had to go to a restaurant to get it. Or I had to go to the grocery store to buy something quickly. You know, it’s a lot of those really little things that can catch up with you. And as grad students with that limited income, that has to be the first place I think that you start is looking where you’re spending your money, and then we can start to assess where you can maybe make some cuts.
05:17 Emily: Did you use like software or an app? Or do you like to do things manually, and what do you recommend to other people?
05:23 Alyce: Yeah, so I would just have like a notes file going in my phone just to kind of, so for those moments where, you know, you kind of spontaneously spend money, I would throw all my receipts in my wallet for those times that I forgot to write it down. And then I would honestly just put them into an Excel sheet because you know, it makes it nice and easy, you know, when all is said and done for you to just kind of group them and see what those totals are.
Frugality is Worth it to Avoid Debt
05:53 Emily: Is there anything else that you want to add about budgeting?
05:58 Alyce: I would say, you know, I fully recognize that that 30% housing threshold may be very hard to reach. And so, you know, reach it as much as you can, get those housing costs down as much as you can, but also recognize if you spend a little bit more on housing. Okay. Well that just means we maybe need to make a little bit extra side income, or we need to just adjust our budget accordingly and maybe we spend less on something else. So I think, you know, there are opportunities, you know, depending on where you end up. Sometimes your graduate school is going to be in Southern California and you’re gonna be paying a fortune in housing. But where can you cut? Or where can you add as much as possible? And the same thing goes with really any aspect of your budget.
06:50 Alyce: You’re going to have to cut somewhere. You know, frugality and, you know, really making it as being financially well and not putting yourself further into debt as a grad student, it is going to involve some small sacrifices. I’m not going to lie and say, it’s all sunshine and rainbows all the time. There are going to be times where you have to say no to yourself, or you have to maybe get something that’s a little bit less than what you maybe wanted to. But it’s all about finding the balance. And it doesn’t have to be this miserable existence where you, you know, live in a tiny, tiny room and live on ramen noodles, but there are ways to make it work. You have to be willing to put in the work to find out where those places are. Because it’s easier to just fall into debt.
Strategies for Minimizing Expenses
07:40 Emily: Okay. So you mentioned earlier, like, okay, cutting expenses and also increasing income. And I want to ask you about both of those things. So, what are some strategies that you used in terms of decreasing expenses or minimizing expenses?
07:52 Alyce: Yeah. So the first thing that you have to do is just, like I said, cut those small unnecessary expenses. You’re going to have to buy gas for your car. You’re going to have to pay for insurance. You’re going to have to pay rent. But what you don’t have to do is buy lunch on campus every day, because you didn’t have lunch. What you don’t have to do is order pizza because you got home late. Those are things that you don’t have to spend money on. So look for opportunities to not do that. So I always kept snacks in my my drawer just, or like a loaf of bread and some peanut butter or like Graham crackers and peanut butter or something that I could kind of default to when I was on campus longer than I intended, or I didn’t have anything at home that I could make as a lunch or a dinner. You know, we’re there sometimes for a long time, I get it.
08:44 Alyce: You run out of meals. So have those emergency meals in your desk at work or in your backpack or in your car, wherever you need to keep them. Also, I like to make emergency meals for my house. So I always, like I’ll, you know, make a lot of something, you know, if I cook chicken, I’ll cook two or three extra pieces of it. So it’s done, freeze them in the individual packages, and then it’s just a microwave away. Or have emergency kind of food ready. So when you do get home late and you don’t feel like cooking, you always have that can of soup in the pantry. You always have something that you don’t have to spend money on. You can, you know, evaluate things that you are spending your money on that you do need to, or, you know, you would like to, but are there ways that you can reduce it?
09:33 Alyce: You know, do you need the, the fanciest Wi-Fi plan for your home internet? Probably not. I can tell you, I have a very cheap one now and it works just as well as any other one. Just don’t have seven devices going at a time. You know, do you have a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, Spotify? Do you have all of these and are you actually using them? Can you share expenses with somebody else? You know, I know it’s only, you know, $12 a month, but you know, those things they add up when you’re talking about how they compound on each other. So I think it’s just realistically looking at what are you spending your money on and are there ways that you could reduce that spending if not eliminate it completely?
10:21 Emily: Yeah. I like the process that you’re outlining here, like first tracking all expenses, and then interrogating each one of those expenses. I would say even, you know, the necessary expenses are also worth interrogating. There are a little bit of, well, for example, you mentioned gas in your car. Okay. So like figure out what’s the station that you’re always going to go to that consistently has like the cheapest price that’s not too far out of your way or whatever. Like just figure that out, make the decision one time, and then you’re always gonna be getting gas from that station. It’s always at the best price that you know about. So anyway, the necessary expenses are worth interrogating. You just like go down your entire list. Like you were saying, ask yourself for every one, how can I reduce this? How can I share this? Can I go without this? I really like that strategy. And it does matter, like you said, even those small few dollar expenses per month, they do matter in a grad student budget, whereas they might not in a normal salary kind of budget.
Know What’s a Good Sale Price
11:14 Alyce: Yeah, certainly. And I think I worked at a grocery store when I was in college and it was by far probably, you know, it’s retail, so it’s miserable. But in terms of life lessons, probably the best experience that I had in terms of life lessons of learning how much things should cost. Because the reality is, if you walk into a grocery store willy nilly just to buy whatever you want that day, whatever you decide that you need that week, you’re going to end up spending more than you should. You know, know what chicken breast should cost. I’ll give you an example. You should never spend more than $1.99 a pound on chicken breast. That might vary if you live in a really more expensive state. And I know we’re in inflation right now, but knowing, you know, what’s a good sale price and being willing to, you know, freeze something because you can have it later.
12:09 Alyce: Buying in bulk. You know, if that’s applicable to you. If you have roommates, there’s no reason why you can’t buy, you know, the Costco size toilet paper, you’re probably going to use it. And you’re probably going to save a lot of money in doing so. So learn how much things should cost. You know, look at the sales fires, use coupons. I’m a big proponent of coupons and people think they’re, you know, it’s challenging and you have to be like the TLC coupon moms. You really don’t. Every grocery store now has an app that you can load the coupons right onto your app, or right onto your store card. Coupons.com is a really great place. You know, if you’re going to spend the money anyway, why not save the money on it?
12:56 Emily: I love that you brought up couponing because it’s actually not something I don’t think we’ve discussed in detail on the podcast before. But as you said, I found it also like, I coupon at a very minor level. Like what my grocery store sends me, my grocery store learns my spending patterns because of whatever I’ve signed up for with them. And then they send me coupons on the stuff I actually buy, which is awesome. And then double awesome is when you can pair a coupon with like something already being on sale and that being, you know, you’re able to like stack that or whatever. Give me another like more advanced strategy. Like for instance, how are you using coupons.com?
Advanced Couponing Strategies
13:29 Alyce: Yeah. So I will check coupons.com anytime before I go shopping just to see what is available. And the trick with coupons is don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it, because chances are, you’re probably not getting a deal. Just because you, you know, save 55 cents on that, doesn’t mean it was necessarily a good deal, especially if it’s something that you weren’t going to buy anyway. So it’s important you only use it on things that you were intending to buy, but also, you know, compare to, you know, maybe the store brand, if that’s applicable. Sometimes, you know, if it’s not on sale, you know, using a coupon on a brand name, it’s still not going to save you anymore than if you had just bought the generic brand of it. So I’ll check coupons.com just to kind of see what’s available and take the ones that I want.
14:21 Alyce: And again, only using on things that you’re going to. I’ll check the app of the store that I’m going to be shopping at to see, do they have coupons that I might want to use? I also will Google. So sometimes like, you know, P&G might have their own separate coupons that they don’t publish on like a public platform like coupons.com, and it might just be linked to their website. And you just have to put in an email. I have a burner email just for specifically that purpose. Like I don’t ever check it. It’s just for putting in to get any kind of special codes and deals. And that’s really for everything. It’s not just for for groceries. Like Kohl’s, for example, if you need to go buy new conference clothes or whatever you might need to get at Kohl’s, almost always, if you go on their website, they have at least a 15% off coupon that you can print out or show on your phone.
15:18 Alyce: You know, stores are desperate to get people actually in stores now because you know, we’re moving so much to online. So, I find that coupons are more often available than not. So if you need something, just do a little bit of searching. The other thing I would recommend is an app it’s called Ibotta. I B O T T A. And you go onto this app, and you just select what store you’re shopping at. And it will show you just a plethora of coupons available that you’ll get cash back on. And you just add it to your list. You upload your receipt afterwards, and they put this money into your kind of Ibotta account and you can withdraw that money once you reach, I think it’s $20. So I’ve saved over two, probably over $300, by using this app. And it’s often for things that, again, I’m already buying. So if I’m going to buy that box of pasta, I’m gonna buy it and save a dollar on it because I can.
16:20 Emily: All right, I have homework now. Great ideas for me to implement.
16:25 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 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 2021 tax return, which are available at PFforPhDs.com/tax/. I hope you will check them out to ease much of the stress of tax season. If you want to go deeper with the material or have a question for me, please join one of my tax workshops, which are linked from PFforPhDs.com/tax/. I offer one workshop on preparing your annual tax return for graduate students and one workshop on calculating your quarterly estimated tax for fellowship and training grant recipients. The first live Q&A call for the annual tax return workshop is coming up on Sunday, January 23rd. For fellowship and training grant recipients, please be aware that the deadline to make your quarter 4 payment, if applicable, is January 18th if you are not planning to file your tax return by the end of January. 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.
Conference Travel Frugality
18:01 Emily: Now, you mentioned earlier, you had a lot of thoughts on conference travel. So how have you employed frugality in that area?
18:07 Alyce: Yeah, so conferences, you know, are the bane of grad students’ financial existence, because they are so expensive. So the first thing I would recommend is looking to funding sources. And these aren’t always going to be available, but you really never know. So ask your department, you know, hopefully you’re aware by that point if they have options, but just ask them. Sometimes they’ll pay your registration fee at the very minimum. Sometimes you’ll get a travel stipend, whatever it might be. So, you know, certainly look to your department, look to the university. Sometimes, I know my university one time during your PhD, you could apply for a travel grant and it was $750. You can only use it once. But it was nice because it paid for, you know, a bulk of one of the trips that I had to make. So starting there, and then look to the conference itself.
19:03 Alyce: Sometimes they give away money to graduate students. I know one that I was attending every year, all you had to do was just check off when you registered that you were interested in graduate student funding. And when you got to the conference, you got a check for $150. Sometimes certain like caucuses, I don’t know how every you know, conference in every field runs, but at least at the communication conferences, there were different caucuses. And sometimes they would offer travel funding of, you know, $75, $150, whatever they had available. So start with those funding sources. The next thing that I would recommend, and I will preach this until the ends of the earth, do not use the conference recommended hotel or the conference recommended airline, if you do have to travel by air, as we so often do. They almost always are more expensive.
20:02 Alyce: You know, you’ve got think, when a conference is picking a hotel, they’re picking something very nice that can accommodate a lot of people, has all the conference rooms, things like that. So the room and prices are going to be more expensive. So I always, when I went to conferences, stayed no more than a quarter mile, something I could easily walk to, down the street. There’s always going to be a cheaper hotel available for you to stay at. I even did the math once. It was cheaper, even if it was a little bit further to even like take an Uber back and forth every day than it was to stay at the conference hotel. So that’s a great option that you can save money. Same thing with airlines. You know, they give you the group code, certainly check it, but also, you know, use Orbitz, use Southwest, because they’re not linked to Orbitz, and they often have really cheap prices. You know, and find the best deal. There’s no reason that you have to go with Delta airlines because that’s what the conference said you should use. If there’s a better deal on a flight, then take it. There’s no reason you have to spend more money.
Have a Conference Buddy
21:13 Emily: That’s all great stuff. And another thing you mentioned to me in our prep for this interview was to have a conference buddy. So what does that mean?
21:21 Alyce: Yeah. And I also recommend having a conference buddy. So this was somebody in my department that I traveled with. I knew we were going to be attending the same conferences most of the time. So what we would do is we would book our flights together. We would always plan to share a hotel room. It was somebody I trusted and I knew, you know, wasn’t a random stranger that’s going to steal my stuff in the middle of the night. And then we would, you know, split the cost of transportation to and from the airport, you know, we’d share the Uber. We would split the cost of parking, whatever it was, pretty much everything was, you know, minus the flight because obviously we had to pay for our own tickets, but it was all cut in half. And that, you know, saved us so much money. There was one conference we went to, we were actually able to drive to, me and my conference buddy, we actually made money on the conference based on the amount of funding that we were able to get from the conference itself and us splitting our costs.
22:20 Alyce: I think we both ended up netting like $30 each. So definitely find a conference buddy as soon as you can, somebody who you are connected with in your department or even outside of your department, if you make a friend in another school. It’s really a great way to save some money. I will also add some kind of silly ways to save money at conferences. So one, book a hotel that offers free breakfast, because that covers one of your meals. One of the biggest expenses of conferences is you’ve got to buy all of your meals while you’re there. So get your free breakfast every day. That’s one less meal that you have to pay for. And it’s a meal you’re probably never going to sit down and eat with anybody anyway. And if, you know, that free breakfast, sometimes I would, you know, take a couple extra apples or something and put them in my bag and I would bring like single serve peanut butters or something.
23:20 Alyce: And then that covered me for a lunch as well that I didn’t have to pay for. Because again, you know, you’re going from you know, panel to panel. You don’t always have time to go sit and eat a lunch anyway. So, you know, instead of spending, you know, the $10 on a small sandwich, you know, eat the stuff from the free breakfast or pack protein bars. Pack things that you can have just as kind of a go-to, because you may have to, you know, go out to eat for dinners, for networking purposes. You’re going to have to spend money for meals at conferences, but cut it where you can. Also, attend the free receptions. There’s almost always food. It’s a great opportunity for networking, but there’s always going to be food at these things or, you know, our conferences, a lot of the bigger schools would host party receptions. You obviously shouldn’t go there and just like stuff your face and leave. Like, integrate it into a networking opportunity, but there’s food. And honestly that’s, you know, a big expense at conferences that I initially found when I first started going to them was how much money I was wasting on just eating out every meal. And so I just started packing my own food as much as I could and just found opportunities to cut those costs.
24:40 Emily: Those are great suggestions. And I love the way you kind of, the outline you just gave of, you know, finding funding at your university level, finding funding at the conference level. How can you frugalize these larger expenses within the conference? How do you frugalize the smaller expenses within the conference? So clearly again, you’re sort of interrogating every step of that process and finding how to optimize it. So I just love that. Is there anything else you want to add about frugal strategies used during grad at school?
Ask for Practical Gifts
25:08 Alyce: The other thing I think I would add is just to, when you know there are going to be things that you need to have, you know, you need to buy textbooks, you need, you know, those flights, use holidays and birthdays and things like that strategically. You know, you probably really don’t need, you know, a new bag or a new pair of shoes or whatever it is that you might normally ask for for Christmas, but you may need, you know, an American airlines gift card to help you get you to that conference. You know, your life’s not going to be less fulfilled without that pair of shoes, but your life might be a heck of a lot easier if you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a flight. You know, if you’re going to have to buy textbooks, ask for an Amazon gift card because you’re going to be able to buy those books and share them. I can’t tell you how many times, you know, again, my conference buddy, you know, I had sort of class buddies too. We would just buy as a class one copy of the required textbook, and we would just pass it around and have designated days that we used it. You know, there are just, if you really interrogate, like I like that word, you keep using, interrogate your expenses, there are ways to find those cuts.
26:26 Emily: Yeah. And another thing that you’ve brought up a couple times, you know, the conference buddy, now the class and textbook buddies and so forth, like use your fellow graduate students as a resource. You know, they’re in the same spot as you, more or less, right?
26:37 Alyce: They’re just as broke.
26:39 Emily: Yeah. So whatever you can share, whatever tips you can, you know, share with them, maybe you’ve taught one of them how to coupon and they’re going to teach you how to do this other thing. You know, you all are kind of a wealth of resources, a wealth of knowledge, in terms of how to manage your finances during graduate school. And again, you’re coming on the podcast, you’re sharing with everybody. That’s awesome.
Increasing Your Income
26:57 Emily: Okay. Let’s move on to increasing income then. So what strategies did you use to bring in extra income, increase your stipend, during grad school?
27:07 Alyce: Yeah, so you know, I fully recognize, you know, while we’re in the thick of it, you know, sort of that nine-month span where you’re TAing or maybe you’re an RA, it’s hard to find those opportunities to increase income. So, I would try and always make the best of those three months that I did have off. So I really did a variety of things. So the one that was probably the most lucrative was I would grade AP exams. So they’re looking for subject matter experts in, you know, these AP subjects. And, you know, I did communication, so there’s not an AP communication course, but there is a course called seminar, which is basically they learn how to evaluate and write arguments and, you know, conduct research, you know, write a research paper. And so they needed people to grade those.
28:00 Alyce: So that was something I did for the last know, six years or so. And it was one week online. So I could work from my home and, you know, you just read paper after paper and you score them. It’s certainly not fun, but I can tell you, it pays like $26 an hour. And so, one week of work was able to cover me for almost all of my entire expenses for the summer where I had no income coming in. So that’s a really great opportunity. I think you go to readap.com I think is the website for it. Or if you just Google AP scoring opportunities, it should come up.
28:44 Emily: Yeah. That’s an amazing suggestion. I think it would be applicable, most graduate students are probably going to find some kind of AP exam that they’re qualified to grade.
28:52 Alyce: I mean, they love graduate students because we’re available. You know, they’re often recruiting college professors or high school teachers, but that’s, you know, it’s a little bit harder for them. But grad students, we’re readily available and we’re desperate for money. So they know they can squeeze a lot of hours out of us. So like I said, it’s not a fun week, but you know, you can knock it out and again, you can pay for most of your expenses. And, you know, as I did it more and more, I started to get promoted to leadership positions on it. So I was able to get more hours and make more money. So it is something you can stick with long-term. Unfortunately, now that I work full-time, I won’t be able to do it anymore. But it was a great opportunity.
Balancing Summer Research and Side Hustles
29:36 Emily: Okay. So you mentioned the one week of AP grading can cover your expenses, more or less, for the whole summer. How were you spending your summers, since you didn’t have a stipend during that time? Were you trying to focus on research, or did you get other jobs aside from this AP one?
29:51 Alyce: I would do a little bit of both. So I didn’t want to spend, you know, the entire summer working all of the time. You know, I think that’s, you know, such an important time for graduate students to recharge, but I also recognize this is an opportunity for me to make a little bit of extra money when I’m not as busy. You know, you’re not going to do research for, you know, 24 hours a day, every day during the summer. You’re just not. So you know, where I could, I tried to find, you know, those additional opportunities.
30:23 Emily: Yeah. So what were some things that you did during your summers that you would recommend to someone else, like the AP grading? And then also, did you do anything during the academic year?
30:32 Alyce: Yeah, so one summer, so it was about six weeks because obviously, you know, our summer is a little bit longer than the regular school year summer. I went and substitute taught at a middle school in my town, you know, especially in COVID right now. They’re really desperate for substitute teachers. And I actually really liked it because it was such an easy job because most of the time, you know, as a substitute teacher, you’re putting on a movie or you’re giving them a worksheet to do. And so I brought my laptop and I would do work, I would do my research. And so I think, you know, I probably would’ve even considered doing that during the year if I was able to, just because it didn’t require a ton of like cognitive effort on my part. And I still was able to kind of dedicate some time. Just make sure you check with your university first.
31:26 Alyce: They usually have a policy about working any kind of supplemental income as a graduate student. You do usually have to get it approved. So make sure you check with those policies. I know some people got burned by that. So I did that. I think those were the two main ones that I did. I also would just do like little things here and there, especially during the academic year, like I would take online surveys. You know, we know how much we pay people for research. And so I would, you know, find opportunities to take those. My fiancé and I ate many a free dinner based on these online surveys and just, you know, getting the free gift cards from those things of that nature. So those were kind of the main ones that I did. I knew some people who, you know, when grocery stores have to change over all of their price tags, there was somebody I knew who would go on Saturday night, they work from like 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM, just one night a week, changing over all of the price tags. And that was the only extra job that they had, but it was enough to kind of, you know, pay for, you know, maybe one week pays for your cell phone bill, the next week pays for your electric bill. You know, when you’re accumulating 50, 60, $70 for that one night, you know, you can then apply it to a specific thing.
Financial Accomplishments During Grad School
35:13 Emily: So we’ve talked about a ton of different strategies. But I want to know for your financial picture, what did this all amount to? You know, how much did, if you wanna express that as net worth, you want to express that as not going into debt or, you know, what did you sort of accomplish financially using these strategies over the course of graduate school?
35:32 Alyce: Yeah, so you know, I’m happy to say that because of that frugality and because I was so strategic with, you know, the money that I saved, you know, if we want to quantify this, I was able to pay off all of my student loans before I ever graduated. So I’m going to graduate completely debt-free. And I didn’t have an assistantship for my master’s. I didn’t know that a thing, if anybody’s listening to this as a potential master’s student, look into those funding options, I didn’t know that was even a thing. So I was able to graduate or will graduate completely debt-free. My fiancé and I were able to buy a house. So we actually just moved into our first house a few months ago, you know, again, before graduating, which was really exciting. And in terms of, you know, if I’m quantifying this on a net worth perspective, you know, I’m sitting pretty well.
36:27 Alyce: You know, probably over $60,000, you know, in investments or in sort of cash assets, not including, you know, obviously any equity we’re building in our house, but you know, I was able to just not have to wait until I graduated and got, you know, quote unquote, a real job to start my financial journey to start building, you know, that down payment towards a house or, you know, start building my retirement income. You know, it’s so, so important. You know, the more we delay our retirement savings, the less opportunity we have to make those grow. And so, you know, not having to delay those things, you know, having that healthy emergency fund, but also being able to, you know, build up investments and, you know, have the down payment for our house, no debt, it’s just, it’s been very, very freeing and liberating. And so, I certainly encourage everybody to, you know, strive to get to that place.
37:31 Emily: I love that. I’m really glad that it amounted to all of that for you. I mean sometimes graduate students need to do everything we’ve talked about out just to break even, right? The stipends are just that, you know, dismal. But I’m really glad that for you, all that effort added up to an actual net worth increase and, you know, paying off the student loans and all the great things you’ve been able to accomplish. It’s amazing. So congratulations! Congratulations also on the job, and the upcoming defense and the house and all these wonderful things that are going on. So where can listeners find you? And I understand that you have written a book.
38:05 Alyce: Yeah. So this was kind of just a little mini passion project that I wrote because I didn’t have enough to do with working full-time and writing a dissertation that I also decided to write a little bit of a book, it’s called Financial Wellness 101: Everything You Wish You Learned in School About Saving Money, Building a Budget, and Growing Wealth as a Young Professional. And I wrote it with the intention of it really just being for those people who are kind of fresh out of college or even out of graduate school who just, you know, don’t have any idea. It’s the first time we’re really managing our money on a large scale. We don’t understand what is a 401(k), what’s a Roth IRA? What do all these letters mean? Do I really need to be saving for retirement? How do I set up a budget?
38:51 Alyce: You know, where am I spending more money than I should be? So it’s a very, you know, no frills, it’s self-published so it’s not fancy, it’s not edited by any extent. But it is available. So users can find, or your listeners can find me on Twitter @Alyce_Viens, and on that, you’ll see the link for, it’ll take you to the ebook version. If that’s something you’re interested in. And I actually set up for your listeners, if they use code GRAD, G R A D, they’ll get $5 off the cost of the book. And I will also email you an additional section that I wrote of the book that’s specifically for graduate students and some of those ways that you can save money with conferences and funding and all kinds of things like that. So it’s sort of an added perk that you would get for free, and it is also available on Amazon if you prefer Amazon.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
39:52 Emily: Okay. Yeah, we will put all of those links in the show notes, that is a great offer to get that additional chapter or whatever it is. Lovely. Well, Alyce, it was so good to have you on the podcast. I ask all of my guests one final question, which is what is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD? And it could be something that we have touched on already in the interview, or it could be something completely different.
40:15 Alyce: I would say, my piece of advice is to avoid accumulating any additional debt.
40:23 Emily: Yes, very simple and very powerful advice. So that is so great. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast!
40:28 Alyce: Thank you for having me! This was fun.
40:35 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? I have 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/. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, here are 3 ways you can help it grow: 1. Subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. 2. Share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media, with a email list-serv, or as a link from your website. 3. 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 increasing cash flow. I also license pre-recorded workshops on taxes. 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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