Saturday, 14 May 2016

Post 81: Whole Health Grad Student: Finances Part 2

I've been thinking about a couple of posts that I've wanted to write about thinking of your whole health when you're a grad student. Some of these thoughts have to do with health issues or stressors I've encountered along the way—a consistent reminder that my body isn't just two legs and a torso that walk my brain around on campus—and realizing that my norms of behaviours can dramatically influence my well being.

The first of these types of posts follows up on the financial post I wrote in the fall of 2014: "Post 32: Making Finances Easier: The Graduate Student Tuition Income Offset Plan," where I discussed that graduate students have the ability to arrange for their tuition to be paid in monthly instalments over a semester, instead of one giant lump sum at the beginning of the month. Depending on students' financial situations, it can be difficult to pay several thousand dollars all at once at the beginning of the semester. As well, funding is typically disbursed in monthly instalments, so it can be very useful to align your tuition payments with your monthly income patterns.

Super fun wall paper from a store down on Johnson Street.
Improving your financial literacy, understanding what your options for tuition payment are, and managing your finances well as a graduate student are all important things. Grad school is stressful enough without having to worry about additional stressors like having enough money to buy casual professional clothes, going out for a drink or two with new colleagues/friends/fellow grad students, or, something more fundamental such as food.

With that in mind, I'm going to suggest having a gander at my friend Mike Renaud's blog called Frugal in Victoria: it champions financial literacy, managing your finances well, offers suggestions for finding affordable by healthy options when eating out, and otherwise covers a variety of topics from tenants' insurance to credit cards, to investing, psychology, philosophy, transportation, hobbies, and more. It's a great blog, and I've learned a lot by keeping up with it. Take a look through the Posts by Topic to get a good sense of what the blog is about, and pick a couple posts that look interesting to you. The posts offer a good balance of general financial 'cents,' as well as tips specific to Victoria. Great to check out if you're going to school in town here, or at Royal Roads. :)

Some of the blog's recommendations, such as managing your monthly expenses, knowing where you spend, being aware of the cognitive biases that influence where you shop and what you buy when you do, have been very important for me.

Dew-decorated neighbourhood clover leaves! :)
As a graduate student with a limited income, it's also been very important to me to feel in charge of where my money's going, and have a good overview of what my expenses and savings are, so that I can set myself up for a bit of a break when I'm done this degree. Feeling like my finances are in order is one helpful way to avoid another stressor in this whole thesis experience, and I keep a monthly Finances document where I keep data on my purchases, my income, projects/donations, and hobbies that I spent money on. It's a good system, and I know that I pay my credit card off in full every month (and build my credit rating at the same time!), put a small payment towards my still remaining student loan (from undergrad), and save what I can when I'm able to.

I know that I keep an emergency fund, and a minimum of $1000 balance in my main checking and expense account. Buffers are really, really good for your financial health.

Cheers to being in good financial shape. Writing this post also brings to mind advice from a friend in undergrad: "Don't go to grad school if you have to go into debt to do it." Thanks to generous funding for my program, and work that I've maintained during and on the side of my degree, I haven't had to take on additional loans to complete this degree. I am so so grateful for this, even if working and TAing after my fellowship and grant ran out has extended the time it's taken to finish up. If your grant application doesn't go through, or your savings aren't enough to cover the possible expenses of the degree, or you don't see where you have other income coming in to help fund your way through, it might be a good idea to have another sit down stew with yourself about whether the program you've been offered a spot in is really worth it for you. At least, have a good conversation with yourself about what your financial as well as your educational goals in this experience are.
First salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) of the year! Thank you David Turpin courtyard!
As I've written about previously, it's also not guaranteed that your program will take you as long as advertised. Many things can come up, from program structure, interpersonal conflicts with supervisors, mismatches in project understandings, funding, health issues, or the impostor syndrome. In other words, sometimes life doesn't pan out the way you envision, and it's good to have as much on your side for fielding the unexpected as possible. That includes your finances.

If you are struggling to keep your finances in order, aren't sure where your money's going, and have panic attacks when you sign in to your online account because of how much (or little) money is remaining, send me a line and I'll email you the spreadsheet I use to keep track of my expenses. It works really well. Alternately, I know that Mike at Frugal In Victoria is also always open to an email, and he thinks about this a lot more than I do.

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