Invest In Your Financial Life, Even In Graduate School


This post describes my belief that all young people—even graduate students and early career academics—can put smart financial strategies into place to improve their well-being now and in the future.

As a graduate student, you commit to making a sustained, but smart investment in your future well-being. At the very least, it probably started out that way, right? Whether you have set off in pursuit of one of those treasured tenure lines in the ivory tower, are seeking a lucrative job in industry, or simply want to pursue a deep passion for a particular topic, you likely committed to graduate school with an investment mindset. The time you are taking to get your degree(s) is a worthwhile investment and the future payoffs will be great enough to justify putting off your financial planning.

But as the months drag on and your pockets remain habitually empty, you may start to experience doubts. Your friends might be purchasing houses for themselves or as investment properties. Your younger siblings and relatives are investing in their 401(k)s. And you feel increasingly frustrated by your paltry stipend and lean budget. Some days graduate school can leave you feeling caught in a never ending cycle of financial deferment and delay. For me, I had expected more immediate change when starting a postdoc, and have often felt frustrated by my inability to shift my finances more quickly and more drastically. Lecturers and part-time faculty might be able to relate.

By the very nature of the work we do in academics, we have become experts at sifting though large amounts of information, working through complex ideas, and generating sophisticated analyses. But many of us don’t apply those same skills and practices to our finances. In fact, many of us have a fairly non-existent financial strategy. You might be thinking right now, “Money? I’m a grad student/postdoc/adjunct. I don’t have any. So I don’t need to think about it. Finances are something I can worry about when I’m making actual money.” It’s a mindset that is easy to fall into. I did. And my friends and colleagues did too.

The idea motivating this blog is that no matter your circumstances as a grad student or recent graduate, there are things you can do to improve your financial situation right now. Yes, some of your options might be limited by your current situation, but that doesn’t mean you should let yourself off the hook for all financial planning and strategizing. If you make excuses for yourself now, it’s not a big leap to imagine you might do the same when life doesn’t hand you a brimming paycheck immediately after you have your diploma in hand. I hope it will.

What I have come to believe is that you have to plan and you have to put smart practices into place to look out for your financial well being not when you have a great job, but much also while you navigate your way there. Here, I will write about strategies you can adopt and practices you can put into place to improve your financial life now. You will not want to, or even be able to, implement all of the strategies you’ll find here on this blog. And nor should you. But I hope you’ll find some new ideas that you deem worth trying. So click around and take some steps to increase your control over your financial life. You might even find that it’s as rewarding as getting a paper or proposal accepted.