Dealing with financial stress during your PhD

Dealing with financial stress during your PhD

Anyone who knows me or reads my monthly post knows that during my PhD I was placed in a very unique financial situation. Without going into too much detail it resulted in me not being paid on a certain date every month and therefore I could never rely on having money in my account. As you can imagine dealing with financial stress whilst juggling the day-to-day stresses of a PhD was no easy task. However, I have lived to tell the tale and as a result become a much better financial planner, some of the lessons I learned (mainly the hard way) are posted below.

1. A Credit card is never a good idea

Although I was getting paid a humble stipend throughout my PhD I could never predict when It would be in my account. Therefore I thought a credit card would be a great way provide some financial space when I hadn’t been paid. The plan was to use the credit if I was stuck for cash and pay it off as soon as I got paid. As you can imagine this didn’t go exactly to plan. Soon I was in over my head. I knew things had got out of control when I started taking money out of the ATM using my credit card – a big no, no! As you are charged extra for this.

Luckily for me the limit on my card wasn’t too high but it still proved to be great source of stress on top of dealing with experimental woes. I decided to seek help from my parents as they were wondering where my money was going. Ultimately, they paid the debt off and I cut up the credit card. Next, I began the recovery process, setting up a budget I could stick to in order to pay my parents back. Also pay my car loan and have money to live a little. I also started to look for additional sources of income.

2. A budget you can stick to

Budgeting is never something I really did until my PhD. However, it really does help you sleep a lot better at night knowing that the bills are paid. Creating a monthly budget is simple – sticking to it is harder.

I began by working out what was always going out of my account each month; my car loan, petrol money, parking, paying my parents back. Living at home did have its perks as I didn’t have to worry about rent or electricity etc. When I deducted all my outgoings it didn’t leave me with much to play with especially if there was a prolonged period between pay days. I knew that I had to find another source of income to tide me over.

3. Other sources of income: Tutoring, Invigilating & Demonstration

What you sometimes forget is that doing a PhD also provides you with great opportunities to tutor, invigilate or demonstrate for the college which will top up your salary nicely and also look great on your CV. Remember, you still have a PhD to complete so run this by your PI before you take on any extra responsibilities. Also be sure not to fall behind on your lab work, otherwise the loss isn’t worth the gain and you could end up being even more stressed than you where before.

4. Treats and Positivity

It doesn’t matter if your saving for a mortgage or dealing with financial stress during your PhD depriving yourself of simple pleasures will only make you seriously unhappy and begrudging of your current situation. Who after a terrible week of failed experiments doesn’t like to treat themselves to a pizza, a trip to the cinema or catch up with friends? Just remember all things in moderation. Take the money you intend to spend and can afford to spend out of the ATM beforehand and leave your card at home – that way you won’t be tempted to go over budget.

5. Try and save

My final piece of advice would be to try and save a little each month during your PhD. When you do finish your PhD you will have to pay for your thesis to be bound and printed – it’s not cheap. Also remember that you may have to stay in the lab an extra month or 3 after your funding runs out to finish some additional experiments and you’ll need to be able to support yourself during this time. Lastly and hopefully this won’t be for too long but there may be a time when you are looking for a job and have no income, having some money saved away will help you out during the time.

I always say, with anything stressful, the best way forward is a well formulated plan or list, simple steps of to Dos that will keep you on the straight and narrow and prevent your mind from getting carried away.

Ps Download this motivational poster, ideal for the lab or for your desk to keep motivated whilst writing your thesis.

6th Nov 2018 Mikaela Byrne

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