In this episode, Emily interviews Beth Moser, a certified career coach specializing in higher education clients pursuing career change. Beth was All But Dissertation and pregnant with her first child when the Great Recession hit Phoenix and she was laid off from her museum job, so she and her husband lived on his graduate student stipend and the money she earned from odd jobs. Their home also lost enough value so as to go underwater, which tied them to Phoenix long-term while the value recovered. These events brought them to “financial ruin,” and they spent the next several years digging themselves out of that hole. Beth and her husband pursued several strategies to improve their finances over the coming years, including a career change for Beth, slashing household expenses, better financial management, and working with a financial advisor. Beth concludes with excellent money mindset advice for younger PhD trainees. You can find Beth at Academics at Work.
Links Mentioned in the Episode
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Personal Finance Coaching Sign-Up
- Personal Finance for PhDs: The Wealthy PhDs Group Program Sign-Up
- Solve Your Irregular Expenses Problem with Targeted Savings Accounts
- How Finances During Grad School Affected This PhD’s Career Path
- Beth Moser’s Website: Academics at Work
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- Personal Finance for PhDs: Subscribe to Mailing List
00:00 Beth: I don’t have a dime to save. What are you talking about? There’s no point. And now I’m like, now having seen the power of stashing away $5 here, $10 there over time. I’m like, huh, what actually could I have saved? What might have been?
00:23 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 four, episode 12, and today my guest is Beth Moser, a certified career coach and the founder of Academics at Work. Beth was ABD (all but dissertation), married to another grad student, and pregnant with their first child when the great recession hit Phoenix. She was laid off from her museum job at the same time their house went underwater, which brought them to what she calls “financial ruin.” Beth and her husband lived on his graduate student stipend and the money she earned from odd jobs while she reevaluated and eventually changed her career objectives. To climb out of that hole, they slashed their household expenses, implemented basic and advanced budgeting techniques, and worked with a financial advisor. Listen through the end of the episode to hear Beth’s excellent advice for PhD trainees regarding money mindset. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Beth Moser.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
01:26 Emily: I have joining me on the podcast today Beth Moser who has, well, quite a story for us, quite a financial story from her own personal life relating to her family and pursuing a PhD and having children and the great recession. So I’m really excited to dive into this story. Beth, would you please introduce yourself to us a little bit further? Tell us about your family and your career to date.
01:51 Beth: Sure. Thank you so much for having me, Emily. So my name is Beth Moser. I’m a certified career coach and I specialize in coaching higher ed clients who need career change. As part of that, I am a training manager who does professional development workshops for graduate colleges, for graduate students, postdocs and faculty on why they need to be incorporating this into their own lives and into their curricula. So I work in higher ed as well. I am married, I have a spouse who is an academic, and I have two children. But when this financial journey that we’re going to be talking about today started, I didn’t have children. So that was some time ago. And I live here in Tempe, Arizona.
What Led to Your “Financial Ruin”?
02:48 Emily: Yeah. Excellent. So let’s go back because what we’re going to be talking through here is kind of a perfect storm of events that brought you to–what you described to me when we talked for this episode–you described this to me as “financial ruin.” A sequence of events that brought you and your husband and your family to financial ruin in the midst of, you know, pursuing degrees and so forth. So, let’s find out what that was. What was the sequence of events here?
03:20 Beth: Sure. Yes, so some of this is unique to us and our circumstances and the timing. And some of it I think a lot of your listeners and readers can relate to. So, I went to get my PhD to go into what’s called an alternative academic or “alt-ac” career. I went to get my PhD so I could get a job in museums. And so, when I came out of working through my coursework and was in the midst of my dissertation, I landed a full-time job in the museum’s field, which was my ultimate goal. As you might surmise, it’s not a very well-paying field. Museums are of course, nonprofits. And so, when I started my first full-time job in 2006, I was making about $36,000 a year with no benefits. So, when I went to work full-time, my husband and I switched off.
04:25 Beth: He had wanted to get his PhD as well. So, since I had landed a full-time job and my career, he quit his full-time job to go start his PhD program. So, he got a stipend of making about $12,000 a year. So, total, I mean, for the two of us, for a single couple in their thirties, we were making about $48,000 a year in the Phoenix metropolitan area. So, not great, but not horrible either, especially when you’re considering we didn’t have children at that time when we moved here. For his PhD program, we bought a home because we thought, you know, well we can and that will keep our costs lower than rent. And so, we were fortunate in that respect, at least at the start. So, for the first three years of my full time career, I was not making more than about $36,000 a year.
05:26 Beth: But within three years with position increases and promotions, I eventually was making $50,000 a year plus benefits. I finally was making benefits, but that’s the first time. In my mid-thirties was the first time I started getting any employer retirement plan of any sort, including any employer match of any kind. So, I got started on saving for retirement relatively late into my career. Okay. So, in the midst of that I finally got pregnant. We had wanted to have children. I was three months pregnant when the recession had started hitting and I got laid off from the museum that I was working on. At that time, we spent four months surviving only on my husband’s graduate school stipend and me taking odd jobs here and there. You know, babysitting, working an office job for people for, you know, 12 bucks an hour, but nothing steady.
Aftereffects of the Great Recession in Pheonix, AZ
06:31 Beth: And then, when I was seven months pregnant, I finally landed a full-time benefits-eligible permanent job at a higher ed institution. But I only had two months of paychecks there before I gave birth and then had eight weeks of unpaid leave. So, during that summer in 2011, you know, we had already had three months of me not having an income. Of us surviving on my husband’s pretty paltry stipend, and then having the enormous cost of diapers and you know, cribs and strollers and car seats and all of that with no income on my part. So, in the midst of all of that, our lives were changing financially. They were changing personally. They were changing in ways big and small. In ways that were amazing and incredible, but also incredibly challenging as you can imagine. So, what finally led to what I call financial ruin is the aftereffects of the recession hit particularly hard here in the Phoenix area, and the home that we were living in lost over 50% of its value.
07:48 Beth: So we could not consider moving to downsize our living expenses because we were what’s called “underwater.” That meant that our home was worth far more than what we owed on it. And we did not qualify for state or federal programs to offset that or alleviate that to get out from under that because we were, and this is a great irony, too far underwater to qualify for that program to help us. So we found ourselves, you know, in the first year of our first child’s life, really relying on credit cards, unfortunately, relying on piecing together unemployment in odd jobs for several months, falling behind on monthly bills, and then finally starting to catch up once I was back at work full-time after parental leave. But it was really, really difficult to climb out of that over the next several years. So, that’s what I wanted to talk with you about today.
08:56 Emily: Yeah. Beth, thank you so much for that introduction. Oh man, it’s taken me back. I didn’t personally experience hardship during the great recession, but it’s taken me back to all the media coverage and everything because I was very involved in the personal finance, you know, sphere at that time. Just a terrible situation that so many people were in. You were not alone in being so far underwater, especially in your particular area. And wow, I’m really glad to have the opportunity to talk with you to get the second half that story. Right? Because we know that so many families were hit so hard by the recession. And of course with you personally, it ended up coinciding with, as you said, a wonderful time of life but also a particularly challenging time of life, especially financially challenging that is having your first child. So, I’m really glad to hear how you ended up climbing out of that because I think that’s the part of the story that we don’t hear so much. And especially how, you know, you did that as a person who was in higher ed, is working in higher ed and also your husband still pursuing his PhD at the time that we’re, you know, picking this up. Is that right?
09:57 Beth: Yes.
Strategies for Financial Recovery
09:58 Emily: Yeah. So, thank you so much for sharing that with us. So, okay. The strategies that you were using to climb out of the financial ruin and it’s taken, what, we’re going on eight years, it sounds like? Since this point you identify as like the low point?
10:12 Beth: Right.
Recovery Strategy #1/4: Increasing Income
10:13 Emily: So, it’s been quite a while. You’ve probably tried a lot of different things. So, we’re going to break down your strategies into three main categories and then kind of a catch-all. And so, the first one there is regarding increasing income. So, how did you do that? Aside from, as you just said, you landed a job. You actually weren’t out of work for too long, relatively, that’s not so bad. So, aside from that, again, a full-time job with full-time pay, what else were you two doing to increase your income?
10:41 Beth: So, when I was laid off from museums, I decided that that was the end of that career, unfortunately. I mean, that had been the goal of me going to graduate school. That had been the focus of my dissertation work. It was my passion. But when reality hits you, and especially when your life changes and your marriage becomes more of a priority or your partnership and having a family or children and other things outside of yourself that you have to consider financially, it just became really real that it was time for me to grow up, perhaps. I don’t really like to use that phrase, but to really get real with myself about what my financial needs were and what ours were in providing for, you know, a tiny child who was going to grow over the course of our lifetime. So, strategy number one was to accept and work through that difficult decision to close down one career and change directions.
Recovery Strategy #2/4: Decreasing Household Expenses
11:47 Beth: So, that helped me prioritize. I need something that pays at least a livable wage for myself and has great benefits including retirement plans and matching and of course, great health insurance in order to just, you know, close that chapter and move forward. So I targeted my job search exclusively to sectors and employers where my skills would transfer, but that was my priority. Finding employers that would pay a much better wage and that would provide those benefits. So, that was strategy number one in increasing my income: being really targeted with what sectors I was applying for and networking in and going after. The second strategy was to decrease our household expenses. Now, as I alluded to, we weren’t able to decrease our housing expenses. So, while our neighbors were scooping up the exact quality of homes at literally 50% of what we were paying for our mortgage monthly, we could not address that one. We tried to qualify for a program, a HARP program was what it was called and we didn’t. So, that was a fixed expense.
Did You Consider Taking the Foreclosure Hit?
13:11 Emily: I want to jump in there with a question because I do remember at the time a lot of people were walking away from their homes that were too far underwater, taking the foreclosure hit to their credit and just saying it’s too far gone. So you guys didn’t go that route. Did you think about it?
13:25 Beth: I did think about it and I consulted with others who had done it and people who had not done it. I decided not to do it because I held my credit score tightly at value. So I knew that we were going to come out of this someday (our financial circumstances). And I didn’t want to also have to tackle just a really horrible credit score because that can take years to repair as well.
13:52 Emily: Yeah, it sounded like it didn’t get to the point where you had to walk away. There may have been a point that it could have gone that direction, but because it sounded like you did an amazing job searching for and networking for the new job, it didn’t get to that point where it was a necessity.
14:07 Beth: Correct. Yes. And so, we sat down and we looked at what can we downsize on as far as our monthly expenses. So, we went down to sharing one vehicle. That way we didn’t have to carry insurance on the other car. We wouldn’t have gas expenses on the other car. We live within walking distance to grocery stores and coffee shops and so forth. So, we started walking to the grocery store decreasing mileage and usage of our vehicle and gas expenses. So, we would coordinate going to and from work together so that we had that only one vehicle expense. We used my husband’s vehicle because he did not have to pay for parking at his work, but I did at mine. So, he would drop me off, drive off to his job, park for free. He would come back and get me at the end of the day.
15:09 Beth: And then we really cut down on all like entertainment expenses. We got really lean and mean about it. So we dropped streaming services of all types. We didn’t even have the Netflix DVD service, which existed back in that day still. We didn’t do any movie rentals. We wouldn’t go out to movies. We cut down on eating out. And I mean, like by cut down, I mean, we did not do it. So, we got really disciplined about what expenses are necessary and which ones would be nice to have again in the future, but that we can’t afford right now. We made huge use of our libraries. We would rent DVDs and movies and streaming there all the time. But it just meant that we did not have the luxury of having, you know, just flip on the TV and whatever’s on tonight is what we’re going to be able to watch.
Decreasing Expenses while Starting a Family
16:05 Emily: How did this effort in decreasing expenses play with you having a baby for the first time? Because I think there’s an idea in our culture that babies need a lot of stuff and you have to provide a level of care for children. I don’t know. So, how were you handling applying the decreasing expenses mindset to your first baby?
16:30 Beth: So, one of the things that we did was I sat down with women friends of mine who had recently had babies and said, okay, you know, you go to the baby websites and you go to the stores and they give you this like, you know, flip book of all the things you need. Okay. What are the absolute essentials that I must have? And so for instance, people were saying, okay, yes, they’re going to tell you you need a pack and play. But really here’s my bassinet. My baby doesn’t even fit in it anymore. Use it for the first three months. And then when she needs to grow into a crib, we can go, you know, get you a crib at Target or whatever. You don’t need, you know, this, that or the other. You don’t need toys yet. She’s too little.
17:19 Beth: So it really helped me focus in on like: these are the absolute bare bones essentials that you need to have a baby. And just having, you know, that critical mindset about what we consume. Right? And I mean, if you think about it from the “this is a first-world problem” perspective. Like thinking about, okay, well families who live in tiny apartments in giant cities around the world or in smaller, more humble circumstances, they don’t need these things for their babies and their babies grow up healthy and beautiful too. So, just really being critical about the buying, what we could borrow from friends. Using secondhand stores for buying baby onesies and that sort of thing. And then luckily I was able to nurse so I didn’t have the expense of formula. I say, luckily I was able to, because there’s also this cultural presumption that, “just nurse and you’ll be fine.” But that is not always an expense that can be eliminated. I know many women who have been either physically unable to nurse or their baby can’t nurse and formula is no joke. It is really expensive. So, I do recognize that that was something we lucked out on.
18:38 Emily: Yeah. Thanks for those comments. I want to jump in here with some comments of my own as I have two children that are fairly young. So, it’s a recent thing for me. The first is, this is kind of weird, but my husband and I watched the documentary, which was available on Netflix, maybe it still is called “Babies.” It’s like a no-narration documentary just following these four babies in different countries through their first years of life. And so, it’s a really fun, funny kind of documentary. But what we took away from that is babies thrive in all kinds of different situations. Like, they’re good, they’re gonna develop, no matter if you have this, you know, doodad or this gadget or you do this thing this way or that way. You know, babies are very adaptable and, you know, robust and so it’s going to be fine.
Any Other Strategies to Decrease Expenses?
19:23 Emily: You know, no matter what you choose, it’s going to be okay. So, we enjoyed that and I’d recommend that to someone who is looking forward to becoming a parent. I really liked what you did in talking with multiple, other new mothers or recent mothers or recent parents to get their perspectives on what you actually need. I say multiple because babies are also very individual. And so, what was essential to one parent might not have been essential to another parent, might not be essential to you. And so it’s great to get an idea of from several different people. “Okay, that one person said that one thing was essential, but I didn’t hear that from, you know, so and so and so and so. So maybe I’ll hold off on that.” And I just think the idea of, as you said, like babies don’t need all the stuff from their first two years of life upon their birth. Right? You can acquire these things slowly as you determine that they actually make sense for you. So, it doesn’t have to be a buying binge like right at the beginning. So, Please continue on. Were there any other ways that you decreased your expenses during that period?
20:23 Beth: I mean that was the main thing, the main categories. We couldn’t, you know, decrease utilities or we couldn’t drop Wi-Fi. So those were the main things, like any entertainment sort of things. And then the other thing, you touched upon this earlier, are these like cultural messages that we receive as new parents. And one of the big ones especially that I see is like date night and how important it is to remain committed to your partner. Yes, that is of course important. But for the first six months of your baby’s life, you are so tired that even if someone had come and offered us date night, we would have been like, where’s the closest place where we can go take a nap? You know, so that was not something that we had any interest in spending money on anyway. But we really didn’t use a sitter. We didn’t go out for that sort of thing, honestly, for the first year at all. I mean for like birthday dinner out or something like that, we had a friend watch the baby. We would trade off and say like, “Hey, the baby’s very calm during mornings, so let’s go out and have a leisurely brunch together and bring the baby.” Right? Like you don’t have to buy into this messaging about how much children have to cost.
21:46 Emily: Yeah. Great, great point.
21:51 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. As a listener of this podcast, every week you hear strategies that another PhD has used to improve their financial picture. But listening and learning does not automatically translate into action in your own financial life. If you are ready to change how you think about and handle your money but need some help getting started, I can be of service. There are two main ways you can work with me to create and implement a financial plan tailored for you. First, I offer one-on-one financial coaching, either as a single session or a series as you make changes over the longterm. You can find out more at pfforphds.com/coaching. Second, I offer a group program called The Wealthy PhD that is part-coaching, part-course, and part-community. You can find out more and join the waitlist for the next time I open the program at pfforphds/wealthyphd. I believe it’s possible to succeed with your finances at every stage of PhD training and throughout your career. Let’s figure out together how to make that happen for you. Now, back to the interview.
Recovery Strategy #3/4: Sticking to a Budget
23:06 Emily: Okay, so the third kind of category that we want to talk about is financial strategies or financial management. So what, aside from increasing income and decreasing expenses, could you do with your finances to help you through this period?
23:19 Beth: Okay. So, one of the things that we did was, and this is not going to be eye-opening to you, but it really was to us, was to finally follow the adulting advice of creating and sticking to a budget. I know how insane that sounds for people in their thirties to finally like “adult up” and sit down with an Excel spreadsheet and say okay, how much is Wi-Fi, how much is our utilities, how much is our car insurance, how much is our mortgage? But we started looking at that and sticking to it. So, that was first and foremost was getting real about these are our expenses.
24:07 Beth: Burying your head in the sand and pretending like, “Oh, you mean I have to pay my cell phone bill every month?” That’s not a viable strategy. So, actually facing the reality and the facts was another strategy that really helped us. You know, I think as academics in particular, you get a lot of messaging and a lot of training in your self-worth and therefore perhaps your, you know, financial value being wrapped up in your job title and what you tell people you do. But you cannot ignore the financial realities of what you have to provide for yourself and your family. And I don’t think there’s enough about that in graduate school for any of us. And I think for those of us who aren’t in graduate school in MBA programs or accounting or finance, like it’s just, you know, sort of back of the mind consideration. And so we finally decided to get real about that.
25:12 Emily: Yup. Classic advice, but always perennially good. And I kind of feel like, I guess I feel like some people can get away without budgeting if they make a lot of money or if they have very, very, very, very, very simple lives and simple desires. But 97% of the population I feel like would benefit from keeping a regular budget. So, it sounded like it took you a little bit longer to get there, but when the need was high enough, you did and you found it to be a useful tool.
Maintaining Your Budget for Continued Savings
25:44 Beth: Yes. And so, one of the ways we use that tool was even as we started to catch up on the backlog of expenses that we had been tacking onto credit cards out of necessity. So, we started to tackle debt. But then as my income rose over several years–because I stayed in this full-time role, I found a new career, I was doing good work, so I was getting promotions and increases over time–we maintained our budget. So, we could use that extra income not to like restore all the streaming services, and sign back up for the premium whatever, and start doing date night once a month, but to focus on getting rid of that debt and then start to tack away even tiny amounts for savings.
26:35 Emily: Yeah, you really had a large hole that you had to dig yourselves out of first before you could even consider increasing things on the lifestyle side. And again this is not, I mean, none of this was like your fault, right? Like this is all just what happened like nationally and in your housing market in particular that caused this. And I’m sure that, you know, it took so many years of sacrifice to do this and it must be frustrating that like you were kind of just generally a victim of what was going on, like more generally. So anyway, it must have been frustrating and difficult, but I really admire that you stuck at it and you stuck with it for so many years to ultimately get ahead.
The Benefits of a Financial Manager
27:14 Beth: Yeah. And so, one thing we did was we decided to add on one strategic expense and it was a huge expense to us at the time, but we met with a financial manager two times. So, I can’t quote this for sure, but I believe each session–I know each session was an hour–but I believe it was $150 an hour. And that was a huge add on for us at the time. But the knowledge and the toolkit that we came away with like has paid off in spades for years to come. So one of the things she did was she took our budget and she tried to convince us–and the first session, it was a little hard for us to hear this–that we did have spare room in our budget to start saving. And we were like, no, we really don’t.
28:10 Beth: But she actually did the math and she did some forecasting with us and she showed us that if you make your savings automatic and you start putting that away before you can even see it in your checking account so it’s not there for you to spend or consider spending, then you can honestly start to build up savings. And so she taught us about, we used a tool called Capital One 360. It’s an online bank and within that particular bank it’s free to set up an account and you can set up as many accounts as you need. So we set one up, for instance, for future child activities, like day camps during the summer or sports lessons or whatever. We set up one for travel with, I mean, we weren’t traveling at the time, but we were like, “Hey, maybe we’re going to want to take a big beach vacation, a weekend trip to San Diego one of these days.”
29:10 Beth: So we set up these little goal buckets in Capital One. And I’m telling you, like five bucks out of that paycheck and 10 bucks out of this paycheck, and what seems like a coffee here or a lunch there. Really small amounts. We were so skeptical that this strategy was going to work, but she had seen it work before and she had the expertise to back it up. So we said, we’ll give it a shot. And I have been continuously blown away by this, and I still use it to this day. So, within our first year of trying this, even with our really modest higher ed incomes–and my husband had finished his graduate school programming at that time but was on the job market, which as we know is problematic. So he was adjuncting only so we were not living large.
30:04 Beth: We were not high on the hog. We had climbed out of this debt and so forth, but we were not like, you know, going on extravagant vacations or anything like that–but in the first year we were able to save about $5,000. And then the second year, $10,000 on top of that. So, it completely blew me away that like five bucks here, 10 bucks there. Oh, I have a few extra dollars left over from grocery shopping. Okay. Tuck that away. We’re actually going to go put that in the ATM and transfer it over to the Capital One 360 funds and then we’re not going to touch those funds. They’re there for those goals. Just leave it and forget it. And they’re not making huge interest. Right? Like we are not talking about anything more than the interest rate you’d get at your bank or credit union. So, it’s not like this is some investment strategy. It’s literally just set it and forget it but don’t touch it. So that was a huge eye-opener for us.
Financial Advising Tip #1: Targeted Savings Accounts
31:08 Emily: I really love that you brought up this strategy because it’s one of my favorite ones. Especially for, you know, grad students and postdocs, people with lower cashflows, but I talk about this very, very frequently. I call it targeted savings accounts. Other people call it sinking funds. I’m not sure what term your advisor used, but it’s exactly what you described. Putting away a small savings rate with every single pay period. And then pulling the money back out when you have those, you know, a reason for it. If you want to take a trip or maybe you have car repairs or whatever the buckets are that you’ve set up. I also have seen this work in my own life and other people’s lives. And it is amazing that there’s actually a difference between saving in theory and saving in reality.
31:51 Emily: Like you might tell yourself, “I never have money, you know, I never have $5, $10 leftover at the end of the month. How could I possibly be saving anything?” Or like, “Oh yeah, I’m saving but my savings are just sitting in my checking account and oops, I actually kind of spend them from time to time without thinking about it.” It’s amazing what a difference it makes to actually sequester the money away from your general cashflow. And I really love that you particularly use Capital One 360. My husband and I currently bank with Ally, which has the same kind of structure, but I used to bank with Capital One 360 and it was totally great and you know, no big reason for the change, but I also set up targeted savings funds there. So, if anyone’s looking to implement this strategy, using an online bank like Capital One 360 or Ally is a really good choice because some of the larger brick and mortar banks might charge you fees for having accounts open or maybe they’ll charge you a fee if your balance drops below a certain amount.
32:45 Emily: And when we’re talking about these accounts, the balance might be $5. That’s all that might be in there at one point or another when you’re starting out or if you’ve just depleted it. So, it’s really important to have an account that has no minimums, and Ally and Capital One 360 both offer those kinds of accounts. So, really good tip to check those out. In particular, if you like this strategy, and I’ll link in the show notes some more writing I’ve done about this strategy. But thank you so much for describing it Beth.
Financial Advising Tip #2: Use Cash for Day-to-Day Expenses
33:09 Beth: Yeah, I mean it’s been huge for us. So, the other strategy that our financial advisor had us use was to use cash for all of our day-to-day expenses. And I’m not talking about the complicated, here’s the envelope for groceries and here’s the envelope for eating out and like figure all of that. No, just take a lump sum of cash out of each paycheck. And it sounds like a lot, like maybe it’s $400, maybe it’s $800. That, you would have to consult with somebody on, but use it for all your groceries, your cleaning supplies, your coffee shop runs, your lunches out, the beer happy hour after work, whatever it is. And the reason for that is, for whatever psychological reason, whatever behavioral economists call this, you really do think twice about that purchase when you’re using cash, much more than you would with your debit card. So, it has been incredibly powerful and honestly, I get a charge now at the end of every two-week pay cycle where I’m like, “Haha, I still have 40 bucks left over, and I’m actually going to shove that into my Capital One 360, because I actually do want to do like a trip to Denver next year and go have some amazing food and beer. And that’s going to be way more fun for me than using this 40 bucks to go out to lunch a couple of times this week.”
34:39 Emily: What I really love is with your leftover money that you saved it. You weren’t like, “Oh, leftover money. Yeah, great. I’m going to blow it. Like it’s already been accounted for.” You’re like, “No, I’m actually weighing like should I use it for this purpose in the here and now or should I use it for this purpose? Maybe it’s a longer term thing that I’m saving for.” And sounds like much of the time you said, “Nope, I have this other goal, I know exactly where this money is going to go, it’s going to give me more pleasure, more satisfaction to put it over here. Even though it’s, you know, saving in the meantime but it’s saving to spend in the short term.” So, I really love that you actually followed through on that because that’s the part that a lot of people don’t do is the last final step of actually saving the money that they have available to save.
Recovery Strategy #4/4: Research Your Resources
35:18 Beth: Yup. And the final strategy, which I’ll just touch on briefly, is it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of discipline, and that can get tiring over time, but it pays off. So for instance, in 2013 when we had our second child, okay, childcare expenses are about to skyrocket. Like you wouldn’t believe. Well, okay, so let’s take the time and do a lot of research and homework and find a childcare share situation. So for that, we were able to find a place that during the academic year we had part-time childcare and we could take summers off but still hold our place for the next academic year. So that way during summers when my husband was adjuncting only online courses, he would watch the children at no childcare expense to us. So, it’s really hard to find that sort of circumstance, but you might have something equivalent in your life that it’s going be hard to find, but it’s going to be worth the effort to find.
Were There Any Other Strategies You Used?
36:23 Emily: Yeah, it just shows the creativity and the resource in terms of the time you were willing to put into researching certain things is not easy, as you said. But when you can apply those things, you can come up with financially pretty frugal solutions that still work for you. Okay. Were there any other strategies you want to get to that you were using during the period of those years?
Curate Social Media Exposure, Find Your Support System
36:47 Beth: I think a lot of it was trying as much as possible to curate what we looked at and saw. So like staying off of some social media sites where everybody’s flaunting their amazing vacations and you’re like, “Oh, I’m missing out on that.” Or you know, I started reading a blog for instance, about a woman who decided to see how much she could save by bringing her lunch to work every single day for an entire year. So just seeking out where you could that support system, whether it’s virtual or in real life, being really mindful about not going to those after-work happy hours where you know, “Okay, sure. One beer. Well, now I’m hungry, I’m also going to get an appetizer.” So really just being mindful about surrounding yourself with the support system you need to stay on track.
37:45 Emily: Yeah, and I think within an academic setting, I would imagine you can find those other people. Those frugal friends, the classmates who are living on the same kind of income that you are. I’m sure you can find other people who are living above their means in some way or another. So it’s not necessarily everyone in that setting, but you can definitely find that support system. And I did, I know during graduate school because I happened to be very open about talking about money. Other people who were open to talking about money realized that about me and we became friends around that common interest, I would say. So they exist. You might have to sniff them out, but the support systems do exist. Okay. Beth, I think we’ve gotten through the strategies you used to recover from the financial ruin on as you’ve been doing over those several years and since then. So, is there any advice that you would give your past self? You know, anything that you wish you had considered or wish you could have done differently during that time? Given that again, a lot of these forces were completely out of your control.
Final Financial Advice to Oneself
38:49 Beth: Yes. Yeah. So yes, I have two really key takeaways that I wish my younger self would have known. The first one is I wish I had had the ability to more critically consider my future financial needs when it came to choosing a career. So my initial career I was dead set on working in museums and even knowing the realities of the job market and the pay and, you know, how long it takes to get a livable wage in that industry with benefits. I still chose to do it. And it’s not that I regret that at all. It was an amazing experience. But if I could have somehow talked myself into considering like, “Hey, you probably do want to get married someday, you probably do want children. It may be that you’re going to have changes in your life that shift around your personal priorities and some of those are going to cost a lot of money.” I wish that I could have taken that into consideration when making my career choice more deliberately and not tossed finances to the wind as if like, “Well, you know, we’ll figure out how to make it work with whatever this industry pays.”
40:07 Emily: Yeah. It sounds like you were forced to do that, right? When you were laid off from your museum job and you totally did this reevaluation and had gotten to your new career path. That was when it had happened, but maybe you could’ve done that a little bit earlier. And if you go to the show notes, I’ll link from this episode a whole other discussion I had in season three, I believe it was episode six with Scott Kennedy. And we talked again about that same subject of how the reality of “he wanted to have a family, have children” and how did that affect his career decisions in terms of which career paths will pay enough to support a family versus others. Because there are plenty of things you can do because you have a great passion for it that might support a single person but probably not a family. So in that episode, he also grappled with the tough thing of closing a door to a career path that was very attractive to him and turning to something that was also attractive but going to pay quite a bit better. So thank you for that point. What was the other one you wanted to make?
Learn to Critically Examine Your Self-Talk
41:10 Beth: So the second is I would tell my younger self to really hear what you tell yourself and that are truths and beliefs that you have about your money. Because they may not turn out to be true at all. That is the case in my instance. So now, you know, knowing how much I’ve been able to save by this sort of, I forget the term that you use, but this automatic savings out of my paycheck into these Capital One 360 accounts. I wish I had tried that a long time ago. Because I’m sure–in fact I know–I was telling myself in my twenties and before all of this happened, like “I don’t have a dime to save. What are you talking about? There’s no point.” And now I’m like, now having seen the power of stashing away $5 here, $10 there over time, I’m like, “huh, what actually could I have saved? What might have been?” So I really wish I had been able to critically examine that self-talk.
42:17 Emily: Yeah. Thank you so much for making that point. And I think it’s a really common one among graduate students or PhD trainees in general. You know, “I’m meant to be living close to the bone during these years. I’m not meant to be paying off debt. I’m not meant to be saving. I’m not meant to be investing.” That’s a story that academia tells us. Is it actually true? For some people it is. They definitely don’t make enough money to do anything else. Other people, it is possible. So it’s more of a matter of what are your priorities. So thank you so much for bringing that up. And as we wrap up here Beth, could you tell us a little bit more about your business and how people can find you?
Beth’s Website: Academics at Work
42:52 Beth: Yeah, thanks, Emily. So I’m a career coach. You can find me at academicsatwork.com. I have a blog there where I share all kinds of tips about changing careers or making the one that you’re working at now thriving in that to advance and what you need to think through in terms of networking, your resume, your cover letter and career-changing. And aligning your career with your needs, which change over time. So that’s where you can find me. You can also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I really, really appreciate your blog, Emily. I have started nerding out about paying more attention to my finances as a result of this, you know, climbing out of this hole that I had. And so that’s how I found your blog. And I just think it’s such an incredible tool that everyone should know about and be using. So I’m so glad you’re doing this podcast. You’ve got the blog. And I really appreciate you having me today.
43:52 Emily: Aw, thank you so much for saying that Beth. And I’m really glad that we got to hear your origin story, kind of view yourself as your first client in terms of a career coach and how that worked out for you. It’s clear that you made that transition very well and rather quickly, finding another job within only three months. So I’m excited to see more about what you do for other people now that that’s your business. So again, thank you so much for joining me and it was really a pleasure to talk with you.
44:17 Beth: Thank you so much!
44:19 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode. Pfforphds.com/podcast is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast. There, you can find links to all the episode show notes and a form to volunteer to be interviewed. 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 podcast, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. Two, share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media or with your PhD peers. 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. The music is stages of awakening by Podington Bear from the free music archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing and show notes creation by Meryem Ok.
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