In this episode, Emily interviews Emily Knitter, a PhD student in counseling psychology at the University at Buffalo and US Army veteran. After being medically discharged from the military, Emily funded her undergraduate degree with the GI Bill and subsequently received five years of PhD funding through the Vocational Rehabilitation program. This external source of funding has given her a greater degree of autonomy in her research and enables her to serve as a spokesperson for advocacy efforts in her department. Emily also gives her insights into the mental load of home ownership and being a landlord based on her experience of owning two homes.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
- PF for PhDs Community
- Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)
- PF for PhDs Tax Workshops
- You Need a Budget App
- PF for PhDs Register for Mailing List
- PF for PhDs Podcast Hub
- Emily Knitter’s LinkedIn
00:00 Emily K: It’s five years. Like it’s such a long piece of our lives, that the thought of kind of putting everything else that you want to accomplish in life, in addition to this degree, on hold, just that feels like an opportunity cost to me.
00:22 Emily R: 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 6, and today my guest is Emily Knitter, a PhD student in counseling psychology at the University at Buffalo and U.S. Army veteran. After being medically discharged from the military, Emily funded her undergraduate degree with the GI Bill and subsequently received five years of PhD funding through the Vocational Rehabilitation program. This external source of funding has given her a greater degree of autonomy in her research and enables her to serve as a spokesperson for advocacy efforts in her department. Emily also gives her insights into the mental load of home ownership and being a landlord based on her experience of owning two homes. If I may say so myself, this would be a great time to join the Personal Finance for PhDs Community at PFforPhDs.community for a monthly price of $29.
01:25 Emily R: With Tax Day coming up on April 18th, several of the included resources are quite timely, such as: 1. How to Complete Your Grad Student Tax Return (and Understand It, Too!) and/or How to Complete Your Postdoc Tax Return (and Understand It, Too!), which help PhD trainees prepare their 2021 tax returns with respect to their higher education income and expenses. 2. Quarterly Estimated Tax for Fellowship Recipients, which helps people who aren’t having income tax withheld from their paychecks figure out their estimated tax payments. 3. Open Your First IRA, which walks you through the seven boxes you have to check to confidently open, fund, and invest your first retirement account and provides in-depth resources to support you. The deadline to open and fund a 2021 IRA is Tax Day, but you won’t want to wait quite that long.
02:19 Emily R: You’ll have access to numerous evergreen resources, such as my Wealthy PhD webinars on financial goals, investing, debt repayment, and cash flow. Your membership also includes invitations to monthly live calls with me and other Community members; you’re welcome to bring your own questions and topics of interest to these calls for discussion. Our next live call is on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. You can learn more about and join the Personal Finance for PhDs Community at PFforPhDs.community. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Emily Knitter.
Would You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
03:04 Emily R: I have joining me on the podcast today Emily Knitter. She is a third-year PhD student in counseling psychology at the University at Buffalo, and she is a veteran. And so her path to the PhD program that she’s in is a little bit different from most of the people that I interview and her funding course has been different. So I’m really excited to talk to her about that. So Emily, welcome to the program. And will you please tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself?
03:27 Emily K: Thank you. Very honored to be here. Especially since we both have great names. So yeah, like you mentioned, I was in the Army. I served as a journalist for five years. I joined straight out of high school. I was medically retired and thought I was going to go kind of down that same path, but I knew that journalism didn’t pay really well in the real world, quote unquote. So I decided to go to school for marketing. So I rolled out of school. I did one year in a marketing program down in Georgia, despised it, dropped out. And then I ended up getting a job opportunity and I moved to New York. And so I worked for a year at a YMCA doing membership management, insurance billing, a lot of office work and also despised every single minute of that. But, you know, learning kind of what pieces I liked, what pieces I didn’t.
04:21 Emily K: And at the same time I started going to therapy myself. And so, because I was in the military, I had access to therapy through the VA at no cost, which was huge at the time. And that was life-changing for me personally and professionally. It really kind of helped me start solidifying who I wanted to be and who I thought I was, which was something that I had lost when I left the military. I really didn’t feel like I identified as being a soldier with every fiber of my being while I was in, you know, I just kind of thought I was Emily who happened to wear a uniform. But then once I lost that uniform, it was like I was completely lost. And working with her, she really helped me kind of start to understand myself better, understand maybe where I would want to go with my life and the influence that she had on me combined with kind of really realizing that I liked helping solve problems at the Y and I liked helping people with that.
05:32 Emily K: You know, I started thinking maybe I should go back. I didn’t have an undergrad at all, besides my one year in marketing at the time, that maybe psychology would be a cool path to go down. And, you know, I figured if I could make a third of the difference in somebody else’s life the way that she helped me, that that would be a worthwhile way to kind of invest my life and my time. And so with not a broken heart at all, I put in my notice at the Y, and I went back. I did my undergraduate at St. Bonaventure University, which is down in Olean, New York. A really, really cool private university down there. And so I spent three years, graduated there, and then I rolled right into the PhD program that I’m in now. So that’s kind of my brief background there.
Funding Undergrad: GI Bill
06:23 Emily R: And can you tell us how you funded the undergraduate degree? Because I understand your status as a veteran played into that.
06:30 Emily K: Yes, absolutely. So I used the GI Bill, which is a program that anyone who served at least 90 days of active duty in the military qualifies for. There are a couple exceptions to beyond that, but that’s kind of the standard is basically anyone who served, made it through basic training, qualifies for this. And so it gives you 36 months of benefits where it pays all your tuition, it pays all of your fees, you get a living stipend, and you also get money for books and supplies. So it’s really an incredible program. And so I used the year of it in the marketing program. And then, so that one, I was in state in Georgia, so I didn’t have any problems there. And when I moved to New York, I had residency because I’d been there for a year. So I applied, but St. Bonaventure is private.
07:26 Emily K: And so, there was an additional program for there because the GI Bill only covers public in-state tuition and fees. And so anything above and beyond that, in theory, you would have to take on. But St. Bonaventure there’s a program that schools can buy into called the yellow ribbon program, which they end up splitting the difference with the VA of whatever is above and beyond their cap for the state. So because they were yellow ribbon program, I was able to attend this program completely at no cost to me, with the living stipend, which, you know, really was quite a luxury. Because it’s not a school I would’ve gone to if I was accruing debt at all, but it was a really, really great experience for me. And the class sizes, I mean we were usually like one to eight, one to 12 for the ratio.
08:18 Emily K: So it was just a really, really great experience. But a big thing that I’ve noticed in my experience is like how much the culture of the school really makes a difference. You know, because that was a big reason why I stopped in my marketing program is because they didn’t have any veteran support and I didn’t really feel like they cared whether I was there or not. And so like when I left, I don’t think they noticed, whereas at this school they were very responsive and it made a big difference in my experience of the program and also kind of set the bar for what I looked for when I was looking for my PhD programs.
Transition to Grad School
09:04 Emily R: So let’s talk about your transition to graduate school. We’ve already heard the motivation from your work with a counselor previously, and we’ve also heard that, you know, you’re a bit selective about the institutions that you want to apply to you because you want to be supported. How did you end up in the particular program that you did? And then we’ll talk about how you’re funding it.
09:22 Emily K: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. So the big thing actually while I was in undergrad is I met my now ex-husband at the time, but he had roots in this area. And so one of the big things that I was looking for on top of making sure it was going to be a right culture fit, because I had experienced what that doesn’t feel like in the past, was I was relatively landlocked. And so, I was entertaining the possibility of doing both master’s degrees and PhD programs. I’m kind of a like shoot for the stars and see where it lands type of person. And so this particular program that I’m in now, the counseling psychology track, was the one that stood out above and beyond everything else as what I was looking for. They seemed receptive. I was able to set up some informational interviews with some of the faculty, even before applying.
10:18 Emily K: They were getting back with me, they seemed interested. For all those reasons, this was actually the only PhD program I applied to. Like I put all my eggs in this basket and I was like, if I don’t get accepted here, the deadlines for the master’s programs were later on. So I knew I could kind of fall back and apply somewhere with that. But the big thing that I wanted to do is I wanted to make sure that I had the capability to do therapy, that I was going to be able to work with veterans afterwards on a one-to-one level, as well as doing research. So, my program is actually in the department of education, it’s not in the department of psychology, but because at the University of Buffalo, the psychology department is exclusively research focused. So if you’re getting the clinical psychology degree, you’re not doing direct intervention work.
11:13 Emily K: And so that was really important to me. And also, just the personality of the professors that I’d met and kind of the vibe I’d gotten from the program really felt like it was going to be a better fit for me. So that’s why I chose them. And then as you mentioned, so my funding, while I was an undergrad, I got really involved with the SVA, which is the Student Veterans of America club on campus. And so I’m talking to other veterans and I’m kind of, you know, getting to know like what they’re doing. And one of them who was also medically retired asked me if I had heard of this Voc Rehab program, which is the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education I think is the full title for it. And I thought that you could only use one or the other with the Voc Rehab or the GI Bill.
12:07 Emily K: And so I said, no, like I’m using the GI Bill. You know, I don’t qualify for that. And he goes, no, I use the GI Bill, too. And then I switched over. He’s like, you should at least apply and just see what they say. And it was a pretty simple online application. So I was just like, doesn’t hurt anything. And the requirements for it, which it’s a little different than anybody who served, who qualifies for the GI bill. So the Voc Rehab, you do have to have a disability rating of at least 10%, which on the spectrum is a pretty minimal bar to entry there. And so they agreed, let me come in for an interview, and then they do a face-to-face evaluation is really what they call it. And it’s looking at what jobs you’re trained or skills that you have currently, and where you would like to be.
12:59 Emily K: And one thing that I really appreciate about the program is it’s not just getting you a job, it’s making sure that you’re going to be fulfilled in what you’re doing. So even if in theory, you know, because I had the journalism background, I could have gotten a job doing something with that. But I knew that really wasn’t what I wanted to do. And so, because of the disability that I had, I can’t do something really, really physical. And so, we were able to kind of navigate that, and I got qualified to be in the program. And another thing that I really appreciate about the program is they’re very flexible, I would say. Like there are the requirements that are listed on the website as like, okay, it’s, it’s two years of funding, it’s dot dot, dot, dot dot. You have to do this, you have to be this, you can’t be out for longer than this time, but basically there’s an asterisk next to every single thing on the website that’s like, but it depends.
14:00 Emily K: And so again, with the whole shooting for the stars thing, once I got accepted into the program, my counselor who I was assigned to said, well, do some research, figure out, you know, look at salaries, talk to people, you know, really figure out what you feel like is going to not just get you a job that’s going to put you where you want to be, but you’re also going to feel content doing it. So again, I came to her on the day that I was supposed to kind of propose my path and I said, clearly I’ll be most fulfilled with a PhD, you know? And for whatever reason, again, stars aligned. And she said, okay. And so I got a waiver that instead of the two years, they covered an entire five-year program. So that was May of 2018. And that was the single best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten in my life. I walked out of there crying, like unable to believe that that was the reality, like I felt so fortunate.
Timing with PhD Application
15:12 Emily R: So how did the timing of applying for the Voc Rehab program dovetail with your application to the PhD program? Like, were you already admitted to the program or were you then going to apply after getting the Voc Rehab, you know, funding?
15:25 Emily K: I got accepted to Voc Rehab first, and then I applied to the program. And so, and that’s what she said. She’s like, well, you know, this is all well and good that we will fund you. She’s like, but now you have to get accepted. And so, that’s where, because between the program, the Voc Rehab requirements, and then being landlocked because of my personal life, it was very much all my eggs in this basket, you know, and that’s why I had the backup plan of the master’s. Because I was like even getting a master’s funded is incredible. And I can still be a therapist and I can still counsel with the master’s. And if I were going to have to pay it out of pocket, that’s what I would’ve done was go the master’s route just for the opportunity costs, but between the two. But it’s all paid for, and I’m graduating completely debt-free. So, I couldn’t say no.
How Are Your Peers Funded?
16:23 Emily R: Yeah. So, as you said, that’s an incredible gift to be not just admitted to the program, but given, you know, 250% of the funding that you kind of were asking for initially, or thought you would get. So tell me a little bit about how your peers are funded. Because, I’m not really sure. You’ve said, you know, in the school of education, counseling psychology, so like, are your peers doing assistantships? Are they in fellowships? Are they paying out of pocket? How are they funding their program?
16:50 Emily K: Yes. So, I’m 100% the atypical weird one. You know, everybody else in my cohort is for the most part, either in an RA or a TA position. And it’s been a blessing in a number of ways because unfortunately, and I’m not sure if this is kind of the case across all of academia right now or just in my program, but most of my cohort members who came in with funding, it was promised for a year or two years. But then they were told it would be really easy to find other TA positions, other RA positions, you know, and it wouldn’t be a problem. And half of my cohort right now has unfortunately had to switch to actually taking on student loans because they just don’t have positions available. And so, it’s been so stressful for them. And it’s been kind of a different, I want to say like, a different bag than what they were sold originally.
17:52 Emily K: But it’s tough to watch, and it makes me even more thankful being in the position that I am in because it’s very secure. You know, if I take longer than five years to finish the program, then it’s on me. But as long as I stay in the timeline, then at least that is really, really consistent. I’m not worried about it. Grad school is stressful enough that I’m very thankful that it’s not also adding that burden on. And it’s been interesting, too, that because my funding is not coming from with in the program, and I don’t really have a, beyond being accepted in the program, I have an advisor who’s helping me with my research, but it’s almost more of a consultation role because I’m not doing any RA work for her or anything like that, that I have, I want to say, a lot more autonomy in a way than everybody else. You know, because there’s nothing in a contract that says I can’t work part-time, you know, and, you know, I’m not committed to doing 20 hours of whatever it is for a professor, you know, or grading, anything like that.
19:04 Emily K: And it’s been a blessing, especially because I’m coming into the program as a non-traditional student, you know, being older. My ex and I, we bought a house, you know, I had full life bills. And although it does provide a housing stipend, you know, it would be enough if I wanted to live the starving grad school life. But I’m thankful to be able, because I don’t have to work for the program, so I do have a part-time job as well. And so the supplement between that income with the stipend I get through my funding, you know, I’m able to kind of live my life a bit more comfortably than a typical grad student. And I think that that’s, I mean I’m busy, we’re all crazy busy, and it’s navigating 150 hours of work and you know, not that much time in a week. But there have definitely been points during the program, not related to funding, where I’ve taken the lead with my cohort advocating for different things, because I think there’s less of a power dynamic in my situation than there is in some of those. So it’s easier for me to kind of say, Hey, we would actually really like this or this isn’t, you know, working deadlines, timelines, different policies that they’re implementing. And so, I’m thankful that because of my funding situation, I am able to kind of stand much more confidently in myself throughout the program.
20:46 Emily R: So, I’m so glad that you’re like articulating this this way because I think this is actually much more widely applicable than just for your particular “I’m funded, you know, because of my veteran status,” like kind of situation. So because what I’m hearing is one, your peers are unfortunately experiencing this, you know, drying up of available assistantships. I’m assuming this is due to COVID, right? We’re recording this in January, 2022. So that sounds about the right timing?
21:10 Emily K: Correct. Yes. That’s the story we’re getting.
Autonomy and Advocacy
21:14 Emily R: Yeah. So because they were not, now, it’s interesting because when I talk with prospective graduate students, I don’t put a lot of emphasis on whether or not funding is guaranteed for five years or whether it’s like pretty much every one has funding for five years. It’s not explicitly guaranteed, but like the pattern is that we get people funded. It sounds like in this, you know, program, there’s been a big difference between those two, right? The expected path was not what turned out to happen. And because there was not a guarantee, you know, in writing whatever, your classmates were kind of left out to dry. Now, the advantage that you have because you know, the way that your funding, because it’s coming from a total third-party source, it sounds very much like having an external fellowship, which gives you, as you were saying, a lot more autonomy.
21:56 Emily R: You’re not beholden to like, you know, the grants or whatever that your advisor’s working on to have to do that particular kind of work. You can choose the work that you want to do. It’s more of probably more of a collegial relationship than like a, you know, boss underling kind of relationship with your advisor. And so I think that this just goes to emphasize the utility of having that kind of funding going into a graduate program. Yours is a little bit of a different source than most other people might have it, but I think the benefits are very similar. And I love that you’re, you know, you said you’re using this position of having a little bit more independence to advocate, to be the spokesperson, right? To kind of advocate on behalf of everyone. Because as you said, the power dynamics are a little bit different for your peers than for you. So, I’m really pleased with everything you’ve said, and it just sounds like yeah, that the benefits you’re articulating are also available to people with external fellowships, usually.
22:45 Emily K: 100%. Yeah. And that would be like, if you have the possibility to have any sort of external funding, that from my experience alone, I can’t speak for anything else, it seems very much the way to go.
23:00 Emily R: 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 next live Q&A call for the annual tax return workshop, How to Complete Your Grad Student Tax Return (and Understand It, Too!), is this coming Sunday, March 20th. It would be my pleasure to help you save you time and potentially money this tax season, so don’t hesitate to reach out. Now back to our interview.
Post-PhD Career Path: Working with Veterans
24:27 Emily R: So, yeah, I’m really glad to hear about sort of your experiential difference in your program because of this funding. Do you see this having an effect on your career later? I think you mentioned earlier that, you know, you either currently work with veterans or want to work with veterans, what do you see your future career path with this PhD?
24:45 Emily K: Yeah, that kind of has always been my bigger picture is wanting to give back to the veteran community. Especially because, you know, I could not have known making almost a slight impulse decision at 17 years old to join the military, all that I would’ve gained from it, you know. It’s really been the best dumb decision that teenage me ever made. But there’s also such a small percentage of veterans who have higher education degrees. And so being able to, you know, in the same way that right now I’m able to kind of help out and advocate for my other cohort members is being able to take that and advocate for the community by, you know, having that lived experience, but also having the legitimacy, I guess that comes from having a PhD. And through all of my pivoting to get to this point, you know, the first three years really after I got out of the military were tough, and I didn’t realize that everybody else kind of also struggled with the transition because I wasn’t talking to other veterans at that time.
26:09 Emily K: And I thought that I was the only one who was failing, you know, especially after I’d done quite well in the military. I got promoted really quickly. You know, I’m really good at kind of knowing what the expectations are and meeting them which does translate really well, I think into the PhD program too. So yeah, it’s very much my hope to continue working with veterans, particularly as they’re transitioning out, you know, and it’s figuring out the why of what they want to do, and who they are, and kind of what does that path look like for them, independently. And so I think, like I said, you know, being a veteran is definitely going to help with that path. But you know, even now, and I think if life takes me in a different direction than kind of what I’m expecting right now is, you know, on a very pragmatic level, there are hiring preferences in a lot of organizations for individuals that have a veteran’s status, especially in the VA, which is where I’m hoping to go.
27:08 Emily K: But most places there are kind of incentive programs for that. I’m not sure if the way in which I was funded per se will make a difference afterwards. But I think what we were talking about before with, you know, when you have that external funding and you’re able to kind of be more collegial with people and kind of work on, okay, how do I navigate this situation? How do I advocate here? How do I make change? I think I’m going to be going into the job market maybe with a little bit more confidence than I would have otherwise where like, okay, now I know what I’m bringing to the table. It’s not thank you for offering something to me. It’s like, this is what I’m providing. Okay. How can this be an equal relationship for both of us? So I think that more than I’ve maybe even thought before, until we’ve had this conversation, is definitely going to help, kind of, regardless of what that picture might look for me after I’m done.
28:09 Emily R: Beautiful. It’s very exciting! So, I want circle back to, you know, you mentioned earlier homeownership, and real estate is one of my favorite topics right now, especially for graduate students. So, I think that your path to homeownership is probably different and informed by your experience in the military. I just know sort of, I guess my stereotype impression is like people in the military sort of buy houses much more readily than people not do because of the easier funding mechanism through, you know the VA, just cultural differences, right? So, can you tell us briefly your experience with homeownership, and then how you think like someone, for instance, in your program, what would be the circumstances that would make homeownership a good idea for another PhD student, given your kind of different perspective on it?
29:03 Emily K: Sure, absolutely. Yeah. And you know, again, going back to all of the amazing things that have helped out from little teenage Emily’s decision to join the military is, so I do qualify for VA home loans which are amazing, because it’s a 0% down payment. And the whole process is pretty simple. And like you said, there is, I didn’t own a house while I was in the military, but many of my friends did, and it’s, you know, not a thing at all to kind of buy when you’re stationed here, you move a couple years later, you sell it, you rent it. You know, it’s very, very common to own a home. So there’s not, I didn’t have a big story built up in my head, I guess, of this being like a really major, big deal that I need to put five years of effort into before I do it.
29:54 Emily K: For better or for worse, frankly. You know, I think I now am much more intentional with kind of my financial journey than I was back then because, I think it’s getting better from what I’ve heard, but the military covers everything. And so you have this very strong sense of security. So you don’t have to think about your finances as much because it’s not not going to be there. And so now, you know, I’ve really kind of taken myself on a journey, and I’m much more intentional about the decisions I’m making and how I’m spending my money now. But I am thankful for that, I guess, lack of stigma of buying a house that I did see there. Because when I first moved to New York and I was working the job at the Y, the one reason I love the Buffalo, New York area is the cost of living is super low.
30:47 Emily K: And so, the year that I was there, it was substantially cheaper to buy than it was to rent. And because I didn’t need to have the down payment saved up, it was really accessible to just make that happen. And so, I bought a little renovated hunting cabin. It was 800 square feet. It was beautiful. I loved it. When I was working at the Y for that year, and it was only 20 minutes from St. Bonaventure. So it just worked out really perfectly to kind of transfer during my undergrad. And so, I lived there my entire undergrad degree time. And then when I met my ex-husband, I moved in with him and we rented it out for a year. And for me, because the financial component of it was actually not super impactful. Like, the mortgage was very affordable because it was so small. Repairs were affordable, too, when they happened.
Emotional Labor of Landlording
31:50 Emily K: And it was just, it was perfect when I lived there myself. But when I moved into the city and we rented the house out for a year, although the tenants were amazing, nothing happened terribly wrong with the house during that year, but that was also my first year of grad school. And I found I was just constantly worried when the shoe was going to drop. And when I was going to get a phone call that, you know, the roof had blown off, who knows. I don’t know, anxiety, that was my fear. And so, after that year, even though nothing happened, but it just, it added so much emotional labor that I was now needing to invest in grad school and everything else I was doing with my life, it just wasn’t worth it for me. You know, I’ve very much decided, you know, I have no desire to be a landlord in my life.
32:44 Emily K: And so I was able to sell it. I owned it for five years. So, it worked out as far as all of that. I didn’t make a lot of money off of it because I hadn’t put any money down. And the housing market had been kind of steady that whole time. But I didn’t lose any money. And so it really was kind of a wash for me in a positive way. So I loved the ownership, and then we purchased a second house, right as the program was starting. And it was great because we were dual income, you know, he’s been in the trades for 15 years, so he’s very, very successful there. He had roots there. We had planned on remaining in the area forever. So it wasn’t a matter of being concerned about, okay, what if I move for internship?
33:35 Emily K: You know, it doesn’t make sense to buy if it’s only a couple of years like that. And so it really was nice. I actually surprisingly got a lot of pushback from my program when I mentioned that we were house-hunting, just like, well, do you have time for that right now? Like how is that going to fit in with a PhD program? You know, like that’s, you know, people just seeming in awe, I guess, that we were going to buy a house, even though we owned two houses at that time. So I think there’s, at least in my experience, there’s kind of a stigma that when you’re in your program, you should not even consider anything outside of the program. It’s the blood, the sweat, the tears, and that is your life, and everything else just kind of should be on hold until you’re done.
Letting Go of Limiting Beliefs
34:29 Emily K: And I think that maybe it’s coming in from kind of later in life starting this program, maybe it’s just my personality. I don’t know, but it’s five years. Like it’s such a long piece of our lives that the thought of kind of putting everything else that you want to accomplish in life, in addition to this degree, on hold, that feels like an opportunity cost to me. You know, and that feels, there’s always going to be something that’s going to keep you, you know, make you feel like it’s not the right time to do something. And so if you can responsibly, you know, financially do it, I think it’s just all managing your priorities. And so, it worked out really great for us. We have since separated, and I will say now though, I rent an apartment and talking about the, you know, emotional labor of owning.
35:26 Emily K: It’s great. I don’t want to be a landlord. Renting right now, all my utilities are included. I get to come home. I don’t have to worry about house chores. Like, I mean, beyond cleaning, but repairs, anything maintenance, I don’t have to worry about any of that. My landlord lives next door. We have a great relationship, and it’s taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. And you know, I’m spending actually more money renting than I was when I owned on kind of a month-to-month level. But I think it’s just what you value, and what you want your life to look like. And then, you know, making sure that you are intentional about the financial side of it too, but not having that be the only piece of the puzzle, if you will.
36:17 Emily R: What I really liked about that, your perspective on this is, that it takes into account your personal preference on whether or not owning and like doing the maintenance and upkeep and blah, blah, all that other stuff, whether that is going to be exciting and fun for you or whether it’s going to be like a burden and you don’t want to have it on your mind. And I think, of course the financial component is part of it, but when you’re in a, you know, lower cost of living area and your stipend is sufficient, or you have a dual income or whatever, that owning is a financial option at all, then you get to get to that question of, do I think this will enhance my life, especially emotionally during this program? Or do I think it’s going to detract from what I have going on? It sounds like, you know, your peers or the faculty, whoever you’re hearing messaging from, they had the perspective that this is going to detract from your life and it’s going to detract from your effort in the program, whatever. But I think it very much comes down to your personality. And you’ve enjoyed it both ways, and you’ve experienced it both ways. So yeah. I just think it comes down to yeah. What your preferences are and not so much, of course the financial question is there, but the preferences matter as well.
37:20 Emily K: Yeah. And I think it’s really kind of leaning into that what do you really want versus what do you feel like you should do? You know, and I think that it’s easy to get in that trap of like, okay, right now I should be bleeding for this program, or I should be doing X or Y or Z. But then really taking a step back and being like, oh wait, is that, where am I getting that belief from?
37:48 Emily R: Perfect. Absolutely. In terms of like money mindset, and you would know a lot more about this than I do, but that’s one of those limiting beliefs, right? Like I can only do one thing well during this five-year period of my life. It has to be my program. I can’t, you know, have relationships. I can’t be working on my own physical and mental health. I can’t be a homeowner. I can’t work on my finances, all limiting beliefs. Don’t have to be true for you. You get to decide, as long as you’re, you know, cognizant of what’s going on in your own mind. So, love that.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
38:18 Emily R: Let’s wrap up with the final question that I ask all of my guests, which is what is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD? And it could be something that we’ve touched on during the interview, or it could be something completely different.
38:30 Emily K: Yeah, so when I was thinking about this question, and I was thinking about it, obviously, because I’m still a student, so, you know, advice for other students per se. And the two things that came up, one is really kind of what we just wrapped up in right now is, you know, don’t be afraid to own your journey. And that it doesn’t have to be the stereotype you think it should be for being a grad student. You know, it’s making sure you’re asking questions. It’s recognizing that you are also like competent and capable, and you’re here for a reason. And so, realizing that we’re also bringing something to the table and like it’s okay to advocate for yourself. And that can be for, you know, financial things. It can be for anything that you might need. But I know, you know, even it’s shifted for me, even though we’ve talked about how much autonomy I have in my program, compared to some of my peers, it has been a slow shift over the last three years to kind of like feel comfortable being my own advocate in that way.
39:38 Emily K: Financial advice, like just flat out, I would say have a budget. Like I use the You Need a Budget software online. I’ve been using that for the last couple of years, and that has entirely changed my life is just being able to kind of give your every single dollar that you have a job. And make sure that it’s not just, yeah, just budgeting alone, knowing what you’re actually spending. And then, because you can use that once you have that knowledge, to then start deciding, okay, what do I value and how do I want to make this money work for me in whatever capability that I have at that time? And I think the other thing financial that, I don’t know, maybe, I think it’s because I’ve had to kind of go through teaching myself finances the last couple years and that I think about it a lot.
40:30 Emily K: I talk about it a decent amount, and it’s still taboo in most kind of societal circles. Just like, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Like, almost every single person that I meet, all of my advisors, all my supervisors and my practicum students, like I know how much they’re making, I know what their benefits are. Like, just because if you ask, people usually will tell you. And I’ve been using it to get more of a gauge of like, okay, what does this really look like if I were to pursue this position, you know, in this type of career, because there’s so much we can do with our degree? So having that knowledge of, okay, I kind of know how lifestyle-wise I want to live. And so, figuring out, you know, time, all the different components, but also is this going to fund how I want to be moving forward?
41:27 Emily K: And so, having that knowledge has made me feel much more confident in being able to eliminate some paths, and also kind of lean more into thinking about some paths. And all of my friends in my cohort look at me like I have two heads when I say I ask people about their finances. So that would be definitely my advice is, you know, like ask questions, do your own research. Don’t just always take at face value you know what maybe you feel like is the right answer with that.
42:04 Emily R: Yeah. Well, thank you so much! Thank you so much for giving this interview. I really love to have this like different perspective for anyone else who is considering a career in the military, has come outt of the military. Maybe, like you, it’s just through chatting with people that you find out about this fantastic, you know, funding source for graduate school. Thank you so much for giving this interview!
42:21 Emily K: Thank you so much!
42:29 Emily R: 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 an 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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