While completing the dissertation and making that last tuition payment can feel like the final financial component  of the long journey to PhD, there are actually a number of costs associated with being on the academic job market. This post outlines what they are and how you can prepare for them in advance so you can focus on the important part—getting the job. 

It’s campus interview time, which means PhD candidates, postdocs, and other aspiring academics are visiting campuses in hopes of landing one of those illusive and oh-so-coveted tenure-track jobs. If you’re going through this process–or have been through it already–you won’t need me to tell you that it’s time-consuming and exhausting, but also pretty exciting too. But if you’ve already been through this process, this post isn’t so much for you. This article is for any grad student or postdoc who expects to go on the academic job market in the future and wants some insights on how to handle the financial aspects of the job search.

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This post is Frugal PhD’s first-ever guest post, brought to us by fellow blogger and conquerer of consumption—Mystery Money Man. Here, the Mystery Money Man outlines three valuable lessons he has learned about money—to avoid lifestyle inflation, choose like-minded friends, and just say “no”. By sharing some of the financial wisdom he has accumulated, Mystery Money Man equips younger readers with the knowledge they need to avoid pitfalls and to stay strong on the path to financial success. 


Recently, I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of hindsight. Hindsight is something we all possess, but it’s one of those things where the older we get, the more we have. Think of it like a savings account that accumulates over time. I’m not sure if it’s interest bearing, but I know mine’s got an impressive balance!

You see, I recently turned 40…er, make that 41. I’ve never been one to give much thought to getting older, but since I hit the big FOUR-OH, I seem to be slightly less accepting of the fact. I do realize that it’s all relative, that to my parent’s I’m still their kid, and to my sixteen year old son, well…I’m slightly older :). Regardless, my age has become a source of increasing, wary reflection.

Now, where were we? Let’s look at a definition for hindsight:

“The ability to understand, after something has happened, what should have been done or what caused an event.” 


I love this definition, of hindsight because it frames it as an ability. It’s a kind of wisdom that only comes from life experience.

With that in mind, allow me to share 3 money-related lessons that I’ve learned over the years. This is the stuff I would share with my younger self, if given the opportunity…

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In this post, I outline why even graduate students should open, and contribute regularly to, an individual retirement account, or IRA. Specifically, a Roth IRA. I also describe what an IRA is and what tax advantages if has to offer.

Making ends meet isn’t easy for many graduate students. Whether you’re balancing school and a full-time job, or are living on a stipend from a research or teaching position, chances are that money is tight. Most graduate students live on a lean budget out of necessity. But many also view that time as a temporary phase, and therefore neglect financial good practices like saving for emergencies and retirement. That’s for later, when you have a real  job. Right?

That attitude was exactly how I thought about things for the first few years I was in grad school. Money management would be for later. When I would have that so-called real job, and, you know, actual sums of money to work with. I saw grad school as a phase that I just had to make it through before getting serious about my finances. And honestly, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I was lucky enough to have a research assistantship that had notable perks like tuition remission and health insurance. I was so excited to have those health benefits, it didn’t occur to me that there was one type of benefit that I didn’t have access to: an employee sponsored retirement plan. And I was not alone here. Retirement savings, it turns out, are not a huge priority for most students. One of the most compelling reasons to go to grad school is for that better job, and (hopefully) better paycheck on the horizon. Retirement is something to worry about when you hit that horizon.

The problem with horizons is you don’t reach them. Those who are constantly saying they’ll save/invest/get smart about money at a later phase in their life, usually find a seemingly perfectly reasonable excuse to keep pushing that later date further and further back. Even if you are living on a lean grad student budget, when you graduate isn’t actually a better time to start investing for your retirement.

So when is the best time?

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In this post, I explain how making a daily list of things I’m thankful for has given me a welcome infusion of patience about my financial goals. I encourage everyone to try it.

The winter holidays are coming! You guys, I get so excited about the cooking, the baking, and most of all, the time I’ll get to spend with my family. I can’t wait! Except this is a post about patience, so I guess I’ll have to. Ugh! Come now, holidays!

Tis the Season for Gratitude

In November, many personal finance bloggers will offer great advice about how to cut out some of the costs of hosting parties and entertaining families. There will also be many blog posts about how to stop sabotaging your finances with your hyper-consumerist holiday spending.

Today I want to talk about a different holiday theme: being thankful. This post is about how purposefully practicing daily gratitude has given me the ability to be more patient about my financial goals. And if you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know that patience isn’t really a personal virtue for me.

Gratitude as a Practice

So let’s stop dallying and get to the story of how I started practicing gratitude. Because yes, it’s something I’ve started practicing. I spend time on it. On purpose. The majority of us are not natural wellsprings of gratitude. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful. We just need to be deliberate and purposeful about it. Here’s how I got started.

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In this post, I play with the idea that high consumers are like zombies, and explain why you should escape the insanity and take on the role of the purposeful hero.

People who let debt accumulate without thought are like zombies.

George Romero made the connection between mindless consumerism and undead hoards in Dawn of the Dead, where zombies swarm the mall with no real purpose other than to consume. The video game Dead Rising went there too, where players fight off the dead in a mall in the town of Willamette, Colorado. Let’s explore zombies as consumers a bit further…

Zombies stumble through their (after)lives without direction and without purpose.

Zombies exist as one of the massive throngs of beings just like them, unable to think critically—or to think at all—about their surroundings or their existence.

Without questioning it, zombies consume anything and everything within their grasp.

Wandering aimlessly and consuming mindlessly are pretty much all zombies do.

When zombies are in the presence of a threat or danger, they are unable to recognize it as such, and walk right toward it. They unknowingly stumble into traps laid for them and are easily captured.

People who fall prey to the temptations of a high consumption, high debt lifestyle often end up a lot like the zombies in our scenario.


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The Frugal Foodie

Fun fact about me: I am a foodie. I love food. If I could I’d try, all the restaurants in the city. I would also learn to make all of the delicious things. One of my favorite things to do on the Internet is to browse food blogs. These days, you can find food blogs around pretty much any food theme you can think of. And many of us also live in places where we have access to ingredients to make recipes from almost anywhere around the world. It’s wonderful…..It’s also a little bit terrible. For me anyway. Let me explain.

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This post is about conquering your financial FOSO, or Fear of Starting Out. Many of us struggle to start out or make progress on our financial goals because we feel like we’re already behind, or do not trust that we will be able to make the progress we need to accomplish our goals. Here, I discuss ideas for setting a realistic financial goal. Then I offer six ideas for freeing up the money you need to succeed. Stop letting fear drive your financial behavior and let’s get started!

If you’re like most Americans, you know you should have more money in savings to cover emergencies. You should also increase the amount of money you’re putting away for retirement. And you will. Next month. Probably. Or next year. But yeah, you totally will. Either after you get that raise or when your partner starts their new job. Sometime anyway, you’ll definitely get to it.

Does this sound like you? I promise, I’m not judging. Saving is hard! I’ve been there. In some ways I’m still there. But I’m working on it and I’m starting to see results from my efforts. And you can too. Let’s start by admitting though that even starting to work on your finances is actually really hard for many of us. Building smart habits around saving and investing is not easy. If it were, most of us would already be doing it.

One of the issues is that a lot of us experience what I call Financial FOSO, or Fear of Starting Out. When you read online about people with a whole year of expenses saved up, it’s hard to feel good about the itty bitty amount you have in your own emergency fund. Additionally, when you hear a co-worker (who might be even younger than you) talk about how they have a million dollars in their retirement account and will soon be able to retire early, it’s natural to react by feeling bad about what’s in your own 401(k) or IRA. When other people are just so far ahead, it’s easy to conclude, what’s the point? It’s impossible for me to get to where that person is anyway. So why even try?

Here’s why.

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In this post, I outline some of the potential hidden costs of taking a postdoc position after grad school. My goal is help readers make a calculated and informed decision about whether to pursue—and accept—a postdoc gig.

When you’ve been living on a teensy graduate stipend for years, the allure of a real salary from a postdoc position can be strong. After all, you’ve managed to live on a fraction of what some of your friends have been making. Some might even have bought homes while you were pouring over manuscripts for the 43rd night in a row in the library or running just one more experiment (for the 6th time) to get that last bit of data you needed for your dissertation. How dare they have the financial means to buy a house?!

When you finally complete your PhD and go on the job market, you might find a university offering to pay you an actual reasonable salary as a postdoc. It sounds too good to be true. The good news is that it probably is true. The salary for postdoc positions vary widely by university and by field. But overall, shifting from grad student life to a full-time postdoc gig comes with a pretty reasonable raise. For most, it’s probably actually a living wage. Progress!

Shifting from life as a graduate student to life has a postdoc has mostly been pretty good for me. However, there were several factors that have had an impact on my financial life that I failed to consider before making my choice. In sharing about what took me by surprise, I hope you will be able to carefully weigh your own situation and make a well-calculated and informed decision. And with that, here are four things you should consider before accepting a position as a postdoc:

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This post is an impatient person’s guide to setting and achieving big financial goals without losing heart. Settle in, friends. We’re in this for the long haul.

We’ve all heard it—patience is a virtue. And if it were your only measure of virtue, you might conclude that I’m not a very virtuous person. When I was little, my nickname was “Demanda”. While I think I can safely say that I’m not nearly as much of a brat as my little kid self was, it’s also a fair assessment to say I am not the world’s most patient person.

When I set goals, I want to go for them. Like now. Why not now?! I like now.

This is not to say I’m rash. I’m actually a pretty adept planner. I always weigh my options carefully. But once I’ve decided on a course of action, I usually choose to act deliberately. There’s no reason to wait. Let’s get things going!

Despite my eager attitude, here’s a truth about money—money is slow. Financial goals—especially big financial goals—don’t happen overnight.

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In this post, I talk about why investing in experiences is better than buying stuff. I also share some of the rules I practice to avoid overloading my home with clothes and gadgets I don’t use.

Experiences Make Us Happy.  Stuff Doesn’t.

Research has consistently shown that we’re happier when we put our dollars toward having amazing life experiences as opposed to using them to accumulate more stuff. For some people, this can seem counter-intuitive. Why spend your money on an experience that doesn’t leave you with a tangible thing you can keep? It turns out that we’re fueled by happy memories. Rarely does someone get to the end of their life with regrets about the time they spent with their family and friends, or the incredible adventures had as they traveled and explored the world. You will, however, find people with regrets about the big boat they bought for their cabin, which they only made time to drive to twice last summer.

It has often been the tendency of American families to buy a bigger home once they start to have children. Those larger houses have more rooms, which many people then fill with toys, gadgets, and other things that bring temporary joy, but soon get demoted to the basement storage room. Many people even pay for extra space in storage units over a period of years, just to store things that they are likely never to use again.

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