In this episode, Emily interviews Dr. Samantha Snively, a PhD in literature who recently transitioned to a non-academic job at the University of California at Davis. Samantha tells the story of her financial and logistical transition out of graduate school with an emphasis on the unexpected emotions that arose upon receiving a much higher and steadier income. Samantha and Emily also discuss how to shed the scarcity mindset imparted by academia and the distinction between lifestyle inflation and lifestyle catch-up.
Links Mentioned in the Episode
- Dr. Samantha Snively’s LinkedIn Page
- Blog Post About Emily’s Husband’s Salary Offer
- PF for PhDs: Speaking
- Interview with Dr. Lucie Bland (Part 1)
- Interview with Dr. Lucie Bland (Part 2)
- Interview with Cortnie Baity
- PF for PhDs: Subscribe to the Mailing List
00:00 Samantha: And you get so used to doing a lot of work as a graduate student for very little pay that it does distort your sense of what you’re worth, what your skills are worth, what anyone wants to pay for your skills.
00:16 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 seven, episode one, and today my guest is Dr. Samantha Snively. Samantha transitioned out of graduate school last year and into a nonacademic job at her Alma mater. Samantha’s income tripled and became much more reliable upon taking the job which brought forth some unexpected emotions. We discuss the mental shifts that Samantha is working through, such as healing her scarcity mindset, as well as processing the difference between lifestyle inflation and lifestyle catch-up. I highly recommend listening to this very insightful conversation. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dr. Samantha Snively.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
01:06 Emily: I have joining me on the podcast today, Dr. Samantha Snively. I’m very excited to have her on. She’s going to be talking to us about kind of the emotional and financial rollercoaster of transitioning out of graduate school and into a professional career. So, Samantha, I’m so delighted to have you on. Will you please introduce yourself a little bit further for our listeners?
01:27 Samantha: Absolutely. Thank you for having me, Emily. I am delighted to be talking about this topic with you. My name is Samantha Snively. I am currently working as a proposal writer in higher ed development for the University of California Davis, but just this past June, I received my PhD from UC Davis, a PhD in English literature, and I focused on and wrote a dissertation on experimental culture and scientific knowledge-making in 17th century England, particularly focusing on women’s writing and women’s work in the household. So, I finished that and moved pretty quickly into a nonacademic job in service at the university, but not on the tenure track.
Transition Out of Grad School
02:08 Emily: Gotcha. So this is actually really fresh for you. We’re recording this interview in January, 2020. So, it’s only in the last six, nine months. Can you tell us a little bit more details about the timing of your transition out of graduate school and those sorts of other logistical details?
02:24 Samantha: Absolutely. So I realized in my second to last year in graduate school that I didn’t want to make a tenure track run. More importantly, that I did want to work in a job where I could advocate for the importance of research and the importance of universities and higher ed and the importance of the humanities. So, I started looking for jobs in November, 2018 because I wasn’t in a position financially to not have a job after graduation. So, I wanted to start that search early. I started my search in November with the goal of having a job by June, 2019 graduation time.
02:59 Samantha: And just very briefly, I think I had my first phone interview for a job in late December. My first in-person in early January. And then in the job I’m working in now, that moved pretty quickly. I applied back in November, had no sense of what was happening. I had thought they’d forgotten about me. And then I got a surprise phone screen in late January from the person who’s currently my boss. And from there, it moved really quickly. They asked for writing samples. I sent them in. They sent a writing test. That was a model of what we do on a day-to-day basis. They seemed to like that, so I had an in person interview, another writing test. They called me back for another in-person interview and a conversation with leadership. And I think I had a job offer by mid February, 2019. So, I started the job this past April, and I got my degree in June.
Was this Good Timing for You?
03:55 Emily: I see. It’s actually, it’s so hard to get the timing of this right, right? When do you apply? When do you reasonably think you will get a job offer and then what your start date is going to be? All of that against already the complications we have of timing a defense date and writing the dissertation. And there are a lot of moving parts at once. And so I’m wondering was that a good timing for you the way it worked out for you? Or if you had your ideal world, would it have been a little bit different?
04:23 Samantha: That’s a great question. Yes and no, this job search has been an exercise in getting what you need and not necessarily what you want. So, I think in an ideal world, I would have liked to finish the dissertation, graduate, and then start a job. But the way it worked out ended up working well for me, because it avoided the anxiety of being unemployed after finishing the degree. And I intentionally made the choices I did to avoid some of that anxiety. So, I’m very happy with the way it turned out, because it alleviated a lot of my biggest worries, but also the job search taught me that sometimes you have to compromise. I targeted my search in Seattle where my longterm partner lives. And I am not in Seattle. I am working in Sacramento. So, it works out in a way that is good for you, but perhaps not the way you originally envisioned. So, I’m very happy now, but I don’t think that this is where I thought I would be like a year ago.
Negotiated Start Date
05:23 Emily: It is really hard to see, especially with your transitioning to a job outside of academia, if you don’t have prior work experience, it’s really hard to know all these things, but that’s why we tell these stories, right? Because it’ll help people coming along behind. You mentioned that you weren’t in a financial position to have a lapse in income. Did your paycheck from the university, the one part of the university end over here on a Friday and Monday it’s going to pick up in this other part of the university, or did you actually have a little bit of a gap? Did you take any kind of a break, or what was the situation?
05:57 Samantha: The answer to both is no. But again, I was grateful for that. So, I got the job offer in February. I negotiated to be able to start a bit later than they would have liked. So, I had to finish out the quarter. UC Davis is on the quarter system. I had commitments in the quarter. I had a couple of part time jobs I needed to transition out of. And so I finished up the last week of the quarter, which was the second to last week of March. I took a break for the final week of March and then started the first day of April. And so there was no gap financially because I think the March paycheck from grad school got me into April and then the next pay cycle got me into May. I don’t know that I’d recommend that fast of a transition if you are able to do it, but it was anxiety-relieving for me. And it helped me focus on other things rather than stressing about money.
06:50 Emily: Yeah. And you just mentioned negotiation there. You negotiated the start date. Did you attempt, or were you successful in negotiating any other aspect of your package?
07:00 Samantha: I did attempt to negotiate. But because I work for UC Davis, which is part of the state of California, the salary bands are all set and were publicly posted. So, I did know the range that I would be going in. And so there was, I suspected there was not a lot of room to negotiate and I was correct. But I did ask for the practice, and I’m glad I did, but no, I did not have the opportunity to negotiate. But the financial compensation package was, I was very happy with it. So, the negotiating start date with what I needed.
Emotional Response to the Salary Offer
07:34 Emily: You mentioned you have a little bit of financial precarity. You receive this job offer, you receive the salary offer, you’re looking at it, what’s running through your mind? What are you feeling?
07:44 Samantha: Frankly, shock at first. The posted salary band was part of the reason I originally thought I wouldn’t be qualified for the job because it was almost three times what I was making as a graduate student. And you get so used to doing a lot of work as a graduate student for very little pay that it does distort your sense of what you’re worth, what your skills are worth, what anyone wants to pay for your skills. So, at first I couldn’t believe it. It’s like, is there a number of extra here? Is something going on? And I think perhaps the second emotion was relief because I realized I didn’t have to worry about the things I’ve been worrying about for the past several years. Honestly, where is the next paycheck coming from? Will I be able to ever take a vacation? Will I ever be able to live in the same city as my partner? Will I ever be able to save for further than six months down the road?
08:38 Samantha: So, relief was a big part of it. It allowed me to settle in to my new life and to have a bit of space to breathe and to really reflect on what I wanted to be doing and who I was and who I had become after graduate school. So, that was good. And I think the next big emotion that I noticed was guilt. Surprise, surprise. You spend six years in a graduate program, working continuously and in a culture of overwork that can often be toxic. And so when I moved into a job that was an eight to five schedule with a very generous boss, everyone was very flexible about their hours. I started to have feelings of guilt about taking a lunch break because I thought, well, if the, if the pay is so high, surely I must need to work enough to meet that pay. And it took me a while, several months, and it’s even still lingering today, to realize that it is okay to take a lunch break. It is okay to have a doctor’s appointment, period. You know, working through those feelings of guilt because the value of my labor is suddenly so much higher than it was a year ago, even though I’m doing very much the same kinds of things, that was an adjustment as well.
09:56 Emily: This is so interesting. I want to comment on both of those emotions. If you don’t mind, I’m going to tell a slightly lengthy story. It’s actually not about myself, but it’s about my reaction when my husband got his first post-PhD job offer. I’ll link in the show notes to a blog post where I wrote about this, but basically what happened is my husband was in Seattle interviewing for the job that he ultimately took. They offered it to him and he took it. And while he was actually flying from Seattle back to Durham, I knew the flight times and knew he was in the air, I was using his computer and I saw an email come into his inbox that was from the company that he had been interviewing with. And it was the job offer, and it included the salary. And, you know, listeners are probably pretty familiar with my story, like my husband and I worked very hard and we’re very fortunate. And actually were in a very good place with our finances for graduate students during the time when we were in graduate school, especially by the time we finished. We had cash in the bank. We had investments. We had very little debt that was very manageable.
11:01 Emily: But still, when I opened up that email and I saw that salary offer–and we knew the ballpark of what it was going to be–I started bawling, and I felt this huge sense of relief. And I thought to myself, we don’t have to struggle anymore. And I thought, I didn’t even know that I thought we were struggling. I thought we were succeeding. And we were succeeding definitely by external measures, but still I had that emotion somewhat, that feeling somewhere inside that sort of erupted out of me when I saw that that salary offer. And so, it was a great deal of relief, shock as well, and shock at my own response to it, I guess, and relief seeing that number. So, I think we’ll come back to the actual transition of well, does that salary turn out to be what you think it’s going to be once you actually move out of your grad school mindset and so forth, but that’s the first story I want to tell.
Money Mindset: Overcoming Feelings of Guilt
11:52 Emily: The second one is I find this guilt emotion so interesting. And I guess I can understand where it’s coming from because it’s almost like, how much harder can you possibly work? Like you’re in graduate school and you’re working yourself to the bone for a very low salary or pay or cobbled together funding or whatever it is. And then I can see you going into this job and making about three times as much and thinking, “I just can’t work three times harder.” And, you know, you can’t work three times harder, but “Oh my gosh, I’m not even expected to work three times harder? It’s actually okay to have all this flexibility and I can leave my work at work and go home.” We haven’t said that you actually do that, but you know, that’s the case for some people. What a rollercoaster ride and what a shift. Right? At that point. So, do you want to elaborate on that any further?
12:45 Samantha: Absolutely. You are describing spot-on things. I think it was certainly an adjustment. And it was the realization moving into something in a work environment that was more normal. And that allowed me to leave my work at work and, you know, to be able to have weekends, to be able to spend time with friends and family and settle into it made me realize how toxic and draining–and I use toxic mindfully–that that culture can be that expects incessant production from people who also have families and have, you know, the right to rest and to care for their bodies who are doing intense intellectual work, which is, you know, it is not physical labor. And so it is a certain kind of privilege to do intellectual work, but also to keep it up all the time is draining.
13:42 Samantha: And it is only increasing in academia, the pressure to do more and do more. And for less, especially for people from marginalized groups or minoritized groups, a lot of that labor is put onto them by a structure that just exists to extract as much value with as little pay as possible. And so, it did help me realize how erroneous my own thinking had gotten, because I’d internalized a lot of academia’s self-valuation. As I started to transition out, I started to withdraw from that feeling a little bit. It got to a point where I heard a colleague gleefully tell us that she had worked from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM last night, as if it was something to be proud of. And that’s when I realized, I don’t want this. Something is terribly wrong if we have gotten here.
14:33 Samantha: And it’s not the only field in which this happens, right? There are other work cultures where this sort of overwork is valorized, but yeah, it was simultaneously realizing that I didn’t want it. I didn’t choose it. And yet it was in my mind still. It still affected the choices I made and the way I thought about my own work. But it was honestly very healing to take a nonacademic job. It allowed me, as I said earlier, to rethink what I’ve been taught by the Academy and from my familial background. And it allowed me to think about what my values actually were.
15:09 Emily: Yeah. I can definitely see how that increase in pay and also the more work that has better boundaries around it and more reasonable expectations can, you finally have a chance to breathe, take some space for yourself. Take some time for reflection. Yeah. When you’re in graduate school and in some kinds of jobs, this training period, it’s just push, push, push, push, push, and you can end up going quite off course and in a weird direction, if you don’t take that time periodically to reassess.
Appreciating and Using Privilege to Help Others
15:37 Emily: Okay. So, you’ve talked about the initial shock of the salary offer and this feeling of guilt that cropped up, but then realizing that your mindset was also changing as you were moving out further away from the graduate school experience. Were there any other emotions that you wanted to bring up along that path?
15:54 Samantha: I think another thing that surprised me was how quickly people started to say things like, “Oh, well, you can afford it now.” And how often that was my fellow graduate students. So, I think it was, you know, this is not a critique, but more of an illustration that this mindset affects us all. So, that was surprising. I didn’t expect that to come or to come so quickly. That would be a big one. And I think, now that I am almost a year through the new job and I’m navigating this transition, I’m thinking a lot more about the ways in which even, as I came out of graduate school, that all the different ways in which I’m privileged and the fact that I have landed on my feet and landed in a space of calm and restoration only motivates me more to want to change things and to use the fact that I am being paid decently well to help others and advocate for others who still are not. So, that’s something that’s been coming up more often is realizing like I am in an interesting position in the university and I have a lot of privilege. How can I use that to improve things moving forward?
How Would You Describe the Scarcity Mindset?
17:06 Emily: Mhm. That’s awesome. So, you’ve brought up some aspects of your mindset that you have started to shed as you’re putting more time between yourself and the end of your degree. And you use the term with me scarcity mindset. I think some of those ideas around scarcity have come up so far. We haven’t used that term yet. How would you describe the scarcity mindset that is developed in academia by many people?
17:30 Samantha: That’s a great question. I understand it, knowing that there are others who actually study it and have a much better understanding, but I understand it as the scarcity mindset is a combination of not making enough. So, not making a living wage. I live in a part of California that is lower cost of living for California, but high cost of living compared to anywhere else. It’s not in the major cities of the U.S. So, realizing that the money you earn through hard work does not go as far as you need it to. And there’s nothing you can do about that except work more. So, there’s that, you’re not being paid enough, but also realizing as grad students do, that you might not be paid continuously. And so, if you make enough money one month where you can pay all your expenses, the scarcity mindset is knowing that you might not be paid for four months out of the summer, which we were not. We don’t get paid from July to November. Hurray. So, it’s that too. It’s knowing that no matter what you do, you may have to weather the summer, a health crisis. You could be one blown tire away from having to take loans. So, that’s how I understand it. And it creeps into everything. It affects health, it affects community function, all sorts of things.
18:51 Emily: Hmm. So, what I have been interested in lately is I’ve been learning about scarcity mindset as well, almost from like an entrepreneurial, like side of things. And then it has caused me to think a little bit more about it in the academic setting. But there’s scarcity mindset, and there’s like actual scarcity that sort of objectively is going on in your life. And graduate students often have both of those things overlapping, but they can also exist independent of each other. You can have a scarcity mindset and not actually be experiencing scarcity. Maybe it’s something that happened in your childhood. Maybe it’s something that was going on during graduate school, but you’ve moved past it. You have a higher salary now, but the mindset can still follow you. Likewise, you can have a very tight financial situation and not have a scarcity mindset around it, even if it is pervasive in the community around you. I think that academia itself tries to impart upon us a scarcity mindset, even if not every member in that environment is actually experiencing scarcity. So, I’m wondering for you, as your income has gone up even though, okay, you’re still living in a high cost of living area. I’m sure there are still financial challenges associated with it, but have you been able to move past or sort of work to heal the scarcity mindset that you developed during your time in academia?
Moving Past the Scarcity Mindset Developed in Academia
20:14 Samantha: I’m starting to, and that’s a wonderful way of expressing it. That it can be both from the way you were raised and an environment that cultivates it, sometimes artificially. We think about how grants work. Grants and the publish or perish culture is the artificial scarcity mindset. From my own experience, I definitely felt it coming up when I transitioned to a nonacademic job, and in surprising ways. The first place I noticed it was with my own health. I suddenly had the means and the health insurance to be able to get new glasses, for example, and deal with a couple of health things that my parents could not afford to deal to treat as a child. And I couldn’t afford to treat in graduate school. And even though I knew on paper, I had the funds, I still felt like it was indulgent, which is ridiculous.
21:09 Samantha: Not that I thought it, but the fact that taking care of your health could be ridiculous ever, but it popped up there. It pops up even still, and as I’m working through this, but it pops up now in the difference between cost and value. So, what something costs versus how much you will get out of it. And for me, the big test was my car. I could not afford a car in graduate school. And so, I needed to buy a car for this new job and for the next phase of my life. And I found myself, you know, I had saved in grad school and, like you and your partner, had done okay, asterisk for graduate students. So, I had some savings that I had earmarked for a car, but I found myself as I researched thinking like, “Well, why don’t I just save as much money on this car as possible, buy the cheapest thing I can find?” And only through the advice of some friends realize that, yes, it might be upfront cheaper, but what about increased maintenance costs? I could buy a jumper, and for many people that’s what you can do. And so you do what you can. But I was on the verge of making a decision where I spent as little as possible, but would incur greater costs down the road. And so thankfully, through some wiser people in my life, I ended up spending all of my budget, but got a 10-year-old car with 44,000 miles on it. And so, it has saved me in gas and insurance and maintenance costs. And that’s not something that was intuitive to me coming out of grad school. I was looking for the lowest bottom line and not thinking about the future.
Pro Tip: Get Comprehensive Car Insurance
22:48 Samantha: And that is, I think, also part of the scarcity mindset is not having the means to be able to plan for the future. If you cannot afford to save, you cannot make longterm financial decisions. It’s as simple as buying what you need in the moment versus buying bulk. And many people are not able to do that. So, it shows up there. It shows up with health, and it showed up when I took my first vacation, again, something I’d saved up for, I split costs with my best friends, had a wonderful time. It was the first vacation I’ve ever been able to take, and it was wonderful. But when I got back, found out someone had stolen my catalytic converter out of my car, and that is a $2,600 repair. So, one of my tips to your listeners will be, if at all possible, get comprehensive car insurance.
23:37 Samantha: Again, something I didn’t do because I thought it was a way to cut costs. And it was at the time. And then not. But when that happened, I didn’t think, “What a terrible thing that someone has committed a crime.” I thought, “How stupid of me. I shouldn’t have gone on vacation. This was a terrible decision. I never should have taken time to take pleasure and enjoy time with friends.” And that’s messed up, too. So, I’m trying to remind myself that that’s what savings are for. That’s what insurance is for. That’s what the fact that the next paycheck is coming is for. You save money precisely to weather things, not that something you weather is a moral stain against you. And if you have to spend money, you’ve saved, you have somehow messed up. It does me no good if I hoard it.
24:31 Samantha: So, that’s been a little bit healing. Is remembering that I am saving, I am managing my money. I have people who will help me, either through advice or through the loan of a car at first, or a tip about a cheaper flight, or something like that. And people who are gentle about money. And also to remember that at least for now there will be another paycheck. And that’s something that is still not intuitive to know that I won’t have to be saving for when June hits. So, it’s a slow process, and it’s been kind of an expensive lesson to learn. So, if that answers your question.
25:12 Emily: Yeah, it definitely does. Your comments are reminding me of a distinction that we tend to draw in the personal finance community between frugal and cheap. And cheap is, it sounds a bit, you know, pejorative, but when you’re in that scarcity mindset and the actual scarcity in your life, you don’t have any other choice, right? There’s no choice to be frugal. There’s only the choice to be cheap, unfortunately. This is a big complaint kind of around frugality actually, is that it does take a little bit of upfront capital to be frugal sometimes with certain like verbal tips or strategies that you might use. Like you just mentioned buying in bulk. That’s one where it takes some upfront capital to be able to spend more over the longer term. But when you’re stuck in this very short-term cycle, you can’t even make those little mini investments in your future of a frugal tip or something like that. So, it’s a position that people are forced into. If you cannot do it in some way, you will eventually sort of snowball. You can eventually start to snowball frugal tips together and overall be spending less money, but like you have to get it started somehow. And that’s really a difficult thing to overcome. Thank you so much for sharing those anecdotes.
26:25 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. I bet you and your peers are hungry for financial information right now, especially if it’s tailored for your unique PhD experience. I offer seminars, webinars, and workshops on personal finance for early career PhDs that can be billed as professional development or personal wellness programming. My events cover a wide range of personal finance topics, or take a deep dive into the financial topics that matter most to PhDs like taxes, investing, career transitions, and frugality. If you’re interested in having me speak to your group or recommending me to a potential host, you can find more information and ways to contact me at pfforphds.com/speaking. We can absolutely find a way to get this great content to you and your peers, even while social distancing. Now, back to our interview.
Change Financial Attitudes with Positive Self-Talk
27:24 Emily: Something I’ve been learning about, and actually, I’ve had a couple other interviews have been published, one with Lucie Bland, one with Cortnie Baity, kind of around how to change your financial attitudes. And something that I have, again, been learning more from the entrepreneurial community is the use of affirmations, is what they’re called. Which the first time I heard about–the first dozen times I heard about affirmations–I was like, “Whoa, that is a weird, like, I don’t want to get into this,” but really what it is, is it’s just, self-talk. Like, it’s just kind of, if you notice yourself saying, like, you just mentioned a few things, you’ve said yourself, “Oh, I don’t deserve to have a rest or pleasure,” when you notice yourself saying something like that, just having something there to yourself to counter it. “But no, I do deserve periodic rest. I work very hard and I earn enough money that I can invest in my future.” Like whatever it is for you that needs to be there in that self-talk can be really useful in starting to combat this mindset. I’m wondering, do you use that strategy or has it been something else that you’ve been using to work through this mindset?
28:27 Samantha: I mean I will always plug the value of therapy, not necessarily as a specific answer to your question, but more as you know, the chance to have someone else to talk to and to reflect on the ways in which you’ve been trained to think, and to have someone else say, “You don’t have to do this all the time.” So, if at all possible, find affordable affordable therapy. I don’t know that I use affirmations specifically, but I do receive affirmation from my community, from my partner who will say as I’m in tears after having the car parts stolen, like, “This is not your fault.” Or people who say, “It’s okay to have these questions about how do I manage my finances? What is the best form of insurance?” I don’t know that I repeat them to myself, but I’m trying to have more gentleness towards myself and to everyone else around me. And to understand that you don’t know where everyone is coming from. You don’t know what the background might be. And so, you don’t know the ways in which someone’s actions are a production of years of training and experiences.
29:37 Samantha: I’m very much still learning. So, I think that’s probably the answer. I haven’t figured out everything that works. Still seeking advice. A lot of it is experiential and realizing, “Okay, if I do this, what happens? If I try this, what will happen? Will I be okay if I have to weather a large expense?” And then experience does teach you, you will be okay. No one will shun you. Your worth does not diminish as a human being because you take a weekend off. These sorts of things. A lot of it is just learning by doing.
How to Combat Lifestyle Creep
30:10 Emily: Yeah, I’m really glad that you mentioned the supportive people you have around you to try to help you counter the residual scarcity mindset. But you mentioned earlier that you’ve also heard from people, “Oh, you can afford it.” And so something that I try to talk about when I have the opportunity is combating lifestyle inflation or lifestyle creep. When, you know, we come out of the PhD or out of a postdoc and you finally have that three times higher salary or whatever it is, you, maybe yourself, or maybe people around you, start to say, “I can afford this now.” And that’s potentially true, but you know, maybe there are some other reasons, other financial goals you might want to work on. So, what’s been your experience with lifestyle creep with this job transition?
30:55 Samantha: Great question. Absolutely, I have felt it. I mean, no one is buying diamonds and furs here, but certainly the realization that I could buy the nice olive oil and also get work pants when I needed them, was new to me. And so, I certainly experienced a certain amount of pushing the boundaries of my budget. Not necessarily intentionally, but suddenly just realizing, “I can afford this. I can afford these modest things.” For me, I think the danger is that the modest things add up. And so, I have to, you know, be mindful and ask myself if I need it and also pace out my consumption.
31:39 Samantha: I think the other thing that happened was there were a lot of high ticket purchases all at once. So, I moved, I had to purchase a car. I did a lot of health things. And that very much, I suppose you could think of that as lifestyle creep. You could also think of it as catch-up. So, a lot of, you know, health catch-up. Moving to a space where you feel safe and comfortable, moving out of a town that is rapidly outpricing all of its student inhabitants was one of the things that I decided to do. So, definitely there was some lifestyle expansion. Also, to be gentle to myself, I have to think about what is the startup cost of a new light versus, you know, going to the grocery store and buying the fancy stuff that you don’t need or luxury goods. So, thinking about what was important, what I needed. I needed to fix certain things about my health.
Think About Needs vs. Wants
32:42 Samantha: I probably could have gotten away without a car, but it would have made life incredibly difficult and sometimes unsafe. So, thinking about needs versus wants and realizing that it is okay to have expensive needs if you can meet them. That’s also an obligation to make sure that other people can meet their needs, but that it’s still important to temper your wants. So, just because I can afford it, doesn’t necessarily mean I need it in my life. And so, I’m trying to acknowledge the fact that I’m building a new life and catching up from years of not being able to take care of certain things, but also keeping an eye on the expansiveness of my wants and trying to make sure that I’m not spending to create a feeling. So, do I want this because I will use it a lot and it fills a need and might give me joy? Fine.
33:40 Samantha: Am I using this to create a feeling of joy? That’s a different question for me. So, those are sort of the things I’ve discovered so far for combating it. Prioritizing financial goals is, as you say, a lot of the grad school skills that I learned have helped so far, you know, shopping second-hand, being a coupon pro, repurposing or reusing, reflecting on how you spend your money, that has all been useful. But I think in this new phase, I’m also allowing myself to experience joy. And the more I do that, the more I realize actually you don’t need necessarily to spend money to experience joy. If I have the freedom from financial anxiety, I am finding that I am finding joy in things that don’t require me to outlay money. So, that was was unexpected.
34:38 Emily: So, so insightful. Thank you so much for that. Listeners, I want you to go back a couple of minutes and listen to that whole section again, because I think it was just amazing. And there were actually multiple things I wanted to pull out, but I think the couple most important ones were one, I love this distinction between lifestyle creep or lifestyle inflation, but then also lifestyle catch-up, because sort of the whole idea behind lifestyle creep and it being a negative thing is that it’s mindless. Like, “Oh, I got a raise. That means money’s going to disappear. I’m just going to spend it on whatever, and it’s not very intentional.” And this can happen when you are living an okay lifestyle to begin with that you’re comfortable with. But what you’re talking about is when you have been living for an extended period of time, well below what is to you a reasonable lifestyle, like many graduate students are during training. And once you have the means to step out of that, it’s not unintentional at all.
Mindfulness with Long-term Financial Commitments
35:40 Emily: You need to increase your spending in certain areas because you’ve been artificially deflating it prior to that point. So, that’s perfectly fine and no one will fault you for that. Another kind of point I’d like to make, and you talked around this a little bit, I think, is that one of the real dangers with lifestyle inflation, especially something where like you have three extra incomes, some large jump like that, is getting yourself into big long-term commitments, like housing and transportation. Maybe there are some others in there, that you didn’t really realize that you were biting off so much because you were so giddy from seeing that high salary. And those are the really dangerous ones, right? So, that’s the part to be really careful is these fixed expenses. When you inflate those really rapidly, or without a whole lot of planning, but you know, to do what you were saying and just have like some startup costs, okay. They’re sort of one-off things. Even if you have a few of them at once, as long as your budget can absorb them, like that’s not going to hurt you in the longterm. It’s really those fixed expenses, especially the contracts that you’re in, that you need to be careful about.
36:49 Samantha: Something you said about, you know, suddenly the mindless spending, got me thinking it is scary how quickly it happens, too. And I think this has been instructive for me, realizing how it is possible to be, you know, the stories you hear about. Someone making $300,000 a year and saying that they don’t have any disposable income. It’s the lack of mindfulness. It’s the lack of, you know, checking yourself, checking your privilege. But I’ve learned enough in these past nine months to realize those patterns can transfer. If you don’t have contentment or if you don’t have the reflective mindset at 60, $70,000, I understand how you can get to be a rich person who thinks the same way. And not in an empathetic, like “Let’s all pity the rich,” but in a, “Oh, we really need to be checking at every level.”
37:49 Emily: And it’s part of human nature rather than necessarily a character flaw. It’s just kind of present in all of us. It’s something we all have to combat a little bit.
37:59 Samantha: And time as a graduate student doesn’t exempt you from that. Like you have to do the work no matter where you are.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
38:04 Emily: Yeah. I agree. Last question here. What is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD?
38:11 Samantha: I think the advice works the same for many people and will scale. Save what you can, always, and that does not have to be a certain amount, right? What you can, can be $20, $10, $5, a quarter. It’s more about prioritizing your future in whatever way you can. And also high yield savings accounts are pretty great. I did not discover them until a few years ago, and it’s wonderful. The rates right now are pretty great. So, save what you can and put it in a place where it will work for you, but you will also be able to access it. Another tip would definitely be, if you can afford it, get comprehensive car insurance. I think it was like $5 extra a month for me. And if I’d had it, I would not have to spend multiple thousands of dollars to fix someone else’s crime.
39:05 Samantha: So, I did not know that going in. I want to share that with your listeners because sharing financial knowledge is how I got to where I was. And there’s a lot I still don’t know. So, I want to pass that on. So, I think the biggest one though, and we’ve been talking around and about this, is to think about income and personal value in the ways in which they are divorced in graduate school, the ways in which if you step into a non-academic career job, they can suddenly become linked. And so, I think my biggest piece of advice would be to make time to ground yourself and to think about what you value and what your values are. So that even, you know, no matter what income bracket you’re in, especially if you jumped tax brackets, that you are always in touch with what matters to you, the non-monetary things that are of value, your worth as a human being, your rights as a human being, all of these things are not tied to the income you make.
40:02 Samantha: And that it’s okay to return to that. You can remind yourself of this. It can be difficult if you’re in a workplace or in an environment or a culture where suddenly you see a lot of conspicuous consumption. If you jump out of graduate school to an industry where that’s the norm, the industry I work in, we will use phrases like, “Oh, that’s only a million dollars,” all the time. And that was a shock. So, I think, keep returning to the fact that your personal value is not connected to your income. It wasn’t in grad school, and that was the problem. And that is a problem that should be fixed, but that also means that it’s not in the world beyond academia as well. Money is something you use to pay your bills, to care for your family, to build a better world, to save for your future. It’s a tool and not a marker of value. And so, just finding ways to return to that and to reflect on what you value, how you express your values through consumption, if that’s something you decide you want to do. How you can use your income and your consumption to build a better world for others. If you have the financial freedom to do that, that’s some advice that I’m starting to learn, and I would like to encourage our listeners to do. I’m sure they’re already doing it.
41:26 Emily: Thank you so much for that Samantha. Thank you so much for this delightful interview. I am so glad to have your voice and your perspective and be able to share it with the listeners.
41:36 Samantha: Well, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure to talk. I wish we could talk more.
41:40 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, please consider joining my mailing list for my behind-the-scenes commentary about each episode. Register at pfforphds.com/subscribe. 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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