My Seventy-Second and Last Paycheck as a Grad Student

Last Friday I picked up my seventy-second and last paycheck from my university for my role as a graduate student.  This post is a bunch of random thoughts about my experience of being a paid graduate student.



last paycheck


1. My final paycheck was for $2,088.77.  My first paycheck in September 2008 was for $1,807.46. At first glance, this is quite depressing.


2. The reason I’m getting a check right now is because I could never get payroll to set up my direct deposit again after I was switched from the compensatory to non-compensatory system a year ago. Before this year I think I had direct deposit at every job. Not having it is a pain and it cuts into our time buffer in our checking account. But it makes me very grateful for Ally’s smartphone deposit feature.


3. I love being paid monthly and cannot understand why anyone would prefer to be paid every two weeks.  Wouldn’t that make budgeting so complicated?  Twice-monthly pay would be okay, but I really like that’s an easy decision to use August’s paycheck to fund September’s budget, for instance. I’m glad we don’t have to juggle which bills are paid before or after which paycheck.


4. My paychecks represent my net pay. I have income taxes withheld every month, which I recommend for every grad student.  If you owe income tax on your income but don’t have it withheld, you’ll have to file estimated tax (or at least calculate them).


5. I started grad school in August 2008, just before the recession hit. I graduated from college in 2007 and had a one-year fellowship at the NIH in between. I’m very glad I didn’t wait two years to start grad school, which was my original plan. By the time the next application cycle rolled around, everyone was freaking out about funding cuts. My advisor probably wouldn’t have felt confident to take me in 2009. He almost never takes students who don’t bring in their own fellowships and told me that he was ‘stretching’ his funding to accept me in 2008.


6. I felt that I had very high job security throughout grad school until the last six months. I always thought that leaving grad school would be my choice and my timing and was never fearful about running out of funding or being kicked out. This was based on my field, my university, my department (VERY well-funded), and my advisor (very loyal to his students and a big wig). I realize now that I was overconfident. I have known students in STEM fields who have been forced out of their labs or their programs entirely. My own story now is my graduation timing was determined by my advisor’s move to another university. It was still generally in line with what my advisor and I wanted (six years total), but felt rather rushed at the end and I did not have time to job-search while writing my dissertation and preparing for my defense.


7. I used to be pretty skeptical of emergency funds for people like me who felt that they had high job security, but I’m now going to strongly advocate that grad students build up a good amount of cash savings at least by their upper years in school. It’s such a relief for us to have a lot of cash on hand now that I no longer have a salary. For other people, that cash gives post-graduate options like travel, taking a few months between jobs, or even moving to the next job without going into debt.


8. I’ve experienced tons of financial perks for being a grad student that make the low salary go down easier. Some of the most financially impactful ones are: no payroll taxes, health insurance premiums 100% covered (in my case only through my sixth year, which is why I had to shop for insurance last month), a free membership to two amazing gyms (again only through my sixth year, so I’m now working out at home), and free or highly subsidized entertainment.


9. One important benefit that basically all of my non-grad student friends have that I don’t is access to a workplace-based retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b) and especially an employer match. But that’s been fine because we’ve barely managed to max out our Roth IRAs in the last couple years so we don’t need the additional contribution room. (But grad students beware – you must have earned income to fund an IRA.)


10. Though I’m no longer working at or being paid by my university, I’m still a student until I graduate in December 2014. I’m probably going to be on campus quite a bit in the fall between attending basketball games, volunteering with my university’s personal finance committee, and perhaps working in the library or coworking spaces.


11. This is not the end of our financial relationship with our university. Kyle is graduating in September 2014 but has already transitioned into a postdoc position in his PhD advisor’s lab. So our university will still be giving him once-monthly paychecks for the foreseeable future. 🙂


12. While I look forward to being an employee again (er… for the first time?) and getting a regular paycheck, I am super pumped for my funemployment, which starts TODAY!


What are your random thoughts about your paycheck, salary history, work benefits, taxes, etc.?


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42 Responses to "My Seventy-Second and Last Paycheck as a Grad Student"

  1. NZ Muse says:

    Getting paid monthly – definitely not. Rent is paid weekly in NZ, so at the one job I had that paid monthly, it took a bit of getting used to! Our big expenses like groceries and petrol are also weekly expenses.

    I feel like I haven’t really been able to enjoy my new bigger paycheck at my new job as T has been unemployed for most of the time I’ve worked here – can’t wait till that changes.
    NZ Muse recently posted..Why I’ll never buy men’s clothing in NZ again

    1. Emily says:

      Oh yeah, if you main bills are on a weekly schedule instead of a monthly being paid on some kind of weekly pattern makes way more sense. Obviously you know that in the US monthly rent or mortgage payments are the norm. I just want whatever pay schedule best conforms to my budgeting period, which itself is based on those large recurrent expenses (rent, utilities). 🙂

  2. I wish there was a program like that because I am planning to pursue PhD after my master’s. By the way, here in our country it is mandatory to have twice-monthly pay. I think this makes budgeting handled more easily.

    1. Emily says:

      What kinds of PhD fields are funded where you live, either for the tuition being paid on your behalf or getting tuition plus a stipend? How will you manage your finances if you have to pay to do your PhD?

      Interesting, do you think twice vs. once per month really makes a difference? A month seems reasonably short to me, but then again I’ve been budgeting for quite some time.

      1. Planning to pursue applied linguistics in my PhD. I can get the tuition fee for free if I can meet the required GPA. Right now, I only have two subjects per sem and an 8-hour work so it’s manageable. Yea i think so because getting the salary once a month is really hard and I couldn’t even wait for the next one. After a week, it feels like waiting badly for the next payday.
        Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Blogging is Still One of the Best Ways to Make Money Today

  3. ervinshiznit says:

    I get paid biweekly. I don’t really budget per se. I tried it once, and then when I saw that I had room leftover in a budget category, I felt like oh I have $x to spend on Y this month, and then almost always ended up spending it on something even though I didn’t really need it. So now I only budget out fixed costs (I pay school fees three times a year, and because I live on campus, rent, which includes all utilities, is also charged at the same three times a year) and then just try to minimize spending everywhere else, within reason. It makes my net worth graphs look kinda funny, because it grows until August, January, and May, and then takes a big hit. But I can check my calendar and check how many pay periods there are between now and my next rent + school fees payment, so I just tell me school to deposit a fixed amount of money to a savings account for this purpose, put another fixed amount into my checking for spending (if I go over, I draw into a buffer and adjust the deposit amount for next paycheck), and then put the rest into my investments at Vanguard.

    I too am pretty confident about my funding, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. I don’t know. But at the same time, my emergency fund should be able to cover me for several months.

    I’m definitely grateful for no FICA tax! It seems that the IRS”s definition of earned income is synonymous with did you pay FICA tax on the income…unless you’re one of the exceptions, such as students, then it’s still okay.

    I’ve actually heard of one grad student whose university allowed him to deposit money into their 403(b)! I was kinda jealous because I’m pretty sure I could pull that off if I get an internship and save a lot of the money, and just deposit my entire university paychecks into them. Not that I have an internship at the moment, but I’ll be looking for one for the summer…

    Your university has a personal finance committee? Could you explain more?
    Also, I’m considering writing a blog of my own. I end up trying to talk with my friends about investing and stuff, but most of them aren’t interested.

    1. Emily says:

      Kyle had a similar budgeting method before we got married, though he was paid monthly and had mostly monthly bills – he just spent less than he earned and saved what he wanted. I am a bit like you in that if I see unallocated money around I want to spend it and the budget keeps me from doing that – the opposite of what you said! I think my expenses were higher than Kyle’s before we were married – I had a car payment, plus maybe I spent more on food and grooming? – so I really needed to make sure I would end up in the black each month.

      Hm, I never thought about earned income being synonymous with FICA-eligible because of the big exceptions for students and high earners and such, but maybe that is the base reasoning? I’ll have to look more into it.

      Finally, I have heard of ONE grad student who had access to a 403(b)! It’s taken a while. Do you know if that was because (s)he had a very weird relationship with the university, like an unusual kind of position? Or a normal RA/TA/stipend/fellowship kind of thing?

      If you get an internship, will you have access to a 401(k) there? I wouldn’t expect you to. But at least you’ll have earned income (if you don’t already) to be IRA-eligible. Good luck with the search! I didn’t do an internship during grad school, though I wish I had.

      My university started a PF committee about 3 years ago to kind of oversee the various PF-related efforts that were going on around the university from different schools/departments. It has mostly staff members from the student loans office on it, but they also have brought in student representatives and other like-minded staff. They have a website, which I helped a tiny bit with, and put on seminars throughout the year. I got involved by hanging around after a tax seminar about two years ago and just happened to talk with the then-current grad student rep who was looking to replace herself.

      I think you should start a blog! I love finding other PhD PF bloggers and clearly you have a lot you want to talk about. I started similarly to where you are now; I was commenting on a bunch of PF blogs and decided I wanted my own home on the web. I also have a personal blog, and it was filling up with money-related posts and I didn’t think that audience would appreciate that content, so I moved it over to EPF. My friends have turned out to be much more financially savvy than I thought and having EPF has opened up tons of great IRL conversations for me and led to my service in the area of PF with my university and my church. It’s such an important topic and it seems that me being really open in writing helps other people to open up. So it’s been really fun for me and I hope you decide to do it!

      1. ervinshiznit says:

        Haha funny how the same budgeting method leads to opposite behaviors =P

        No, I’m pretty sure he was a standard GRA.

        I wouldn’t have a 401k at my internship. I was saying that if I had access to a 403(b) at my university, I could put most of an internship’s earnings to a savings account over a summer, and then in the fall dump all my GRA’s wages into a 403(b) and live off summer savings. A moot point for me since I don’t have access to a 403(b) or a 457(b). I checked. One HR lady told me I did, I got all excited…and then she later told me that I wasn’t eligible. Oh well, I wasn’t counting on it.

        Hmm… I might look into starting a PF committee at my university, if there isn’t one already! Though after I start a blog.

  4. Kelly says:

    I really enjoyed being done in July and technically graduating in December. Milk those student discounts for all they are worth for as long as possible! 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      I was hoping to be milking more than discounts, but the health insurance thing didn’t work out just because I was on non-comp instead of comp! But also even before discounts I’m happy to be able to attend a few more basketball games! One last thing that factored into my decision (as much as it was my decision) was that I wanted to possibly get an on-campus internship this fall, which would be easier if I still had an affiliation.

  5. Leigh says:

    I love being paid monthly too! I think if I was paid twice monthly, I would have my paychecks deposited into savings and then transfer the amount for the budget at the beginning of the new month. And biweekly pay would just drive me nuts. Cash flow is so clean with monthly pay, like you said.

    What did you end up choosing for health insurance in your transition period?
    Leigh recently posted..August 2014 net worth update (+21.1%)

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, that’s what we’d do if we were paid bimonthly as well. I wouldn’t want to start using that money straight away for the current budgeting period.

      Oops, did I fail to follow up on that post? 🙂 I went on Kyle’s insurance, mostly for the flexibility and that it would last through the month following the end of his employment, which seemed sufficient time for him to start the next job.

  6. I get paid bi-weekly and it works out just fine because we have our mortgage payment come out bi-weekly as well. My husband gets two checks per month on the 15th and the last day of the month. I prefer money sooner so I can put it on our debt. 😉
    debs @ debtdebs recently posted..Financial Mistakes of the Worst Kind

    1. Emily says:

      That’s interesting that you have sort of the best of both worlds in terms of pay cycles between yourself and your husband. The mortgage payment being biweekly is a good argument for biweekly pay – but did you arrange it that way because of the biweekly pay? If you are intense about paying down your debt and the two-week difference makes an impact on the interest then I’m glad you get a chance to pay it down sooner!

  7. Mrs. PoP says:

    Most of our jobs have had “bi-monthly” pay schedules, combined with our rental income that comes in on the 1st of the month. The way we have it, it’s usually the case that whatever comes through on our last paychecks is going directly to savings, if not more, and that’s nice because the last paychecks are the ones that tend to vary in size the most and sometimes they can be large if Mr PoP got a nice commission or a bonus. But really, I don’t really care when/how we get paid as it doesn’t really impact what we spend or save.
    Mrs. PoP recently posted..PoP Income Statement – August 2014

    1. Emily says:

      That timing sounds like it’s working out well for you! But whatever. 🙂

  8. Pauline says:

    I only had one job which withdrew income taxes at the source, it was so much easier and more convenient as you could spend or invest the rest without thinking about keeping some for taxes.

    1. Emily says:

      I think it makes a big difference for a financial/budgeting/tax calculating novice. I wouldn’t be too bothered by having to pay estimated tax at this point, but that’s after years of practice in budget-related self-control and being able to predict our taxes.

  9. Alicia says:

    I’ve thought MANY of these things before.

    I went from being paid monthly to semi-monthly to bi-weekly. I definitely love rigid pay days (like the first two cases) so that it is easier to live in a monthly world. Switching to bi-weekly is still taking some work, and I don’t think the “bonus” cheque twice per year is worth the shifting dates.

    I think grad students are pretty vulnerable without emergency funds. Sure, if it was close to the beginning of a term I could have taken on some TA hours, or instructing, but otherwise… Money can dry up. My best friend had the biggest scholarship in Canada ($50k per year for 3 years, tax free) and also tuition covered by another scholarship. When the tuition scholarship was over, her supervisor (who paid $10k for her in her first year, nothing major) forced her out rather than taking over her continuing fees. My friend was not impressed, to say the least. Her supervisor got an amazingly good deal for a grad student, yet funding was still an issue at the 4.5 year mark. If I hadn’t had even a small emergency fund when I finished grad school, I would have ended in adjunct for longer. I was only there for one term, but it paid only $300 more per month than my grad school stipend. So it’s a necessity in my mind.
    Alicia recently posted..Financial Update: August 2014

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah the extra paycheck a few times a year would not make me happy enough to 1) have paychecks timed poorly against our monthly budget and 2) have to budget off the lower typical monthly income. But I guess 1 wouldn’t super matter if you did save all 2 or 3 to fund the next month’s budget.

      What happened to your friend is unbelievable!!! I hope she got the PhD and not just a master’s. Advisors should really have to show they have the funding for a student to finish – on her timing – if she provides so many years on her own.

      I wonder if I can come up with a good guideline for how much grad students should have in an I’m-graduating fund by the time they’re within like a year of graduating… I’ll think on it more and maybe write a post.

      1. Alicia says:

        Thankfully she did make it through with her PhD, but she felt the quality suffered a bit because of the huge kick in the butt out the door. But it definitely left a sour taste in her mouth regarding her relationship with her supervisor.

        I think that would be a great post (and also great for search traffic!)
        Alicia recently posted..Financial Update: August 2014

  10. Good luck with graduating soon. As you know, it’s a different world outside of schools!
    Jay @ recently posted..Buffettology Made Simple

    1. Emily says:

      Thank you! I can’t wait to have a real job! (Kyle’s job is only like half-real.)

  11. My hubby gets paid once a month and I love it. I think it is so much easier for budgeting. The only problem is that his paycheck is in the middle of the month instead of the beginning, but it’s a minor problem. It’s crazy to think about people in STEM careers having a difficult time with job security. Although, my hubby graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering right when there was a downturn in the economy and he ended up working as a bartender and server. Now he is a teacher and I can tell you that science teachers (at least good ones) have HIGH job security. Just low pay. 🙂
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted..Music Mondays – Ready Set Roll

    1. Emily says:

      Hm, that is interesting. Do you budget middle of month to middle of month or save it for the following month or what?

      Well, I’m using “job security” as more synonymous with “funding security” since it’s a bit different (and more stable) in academia than in the private sector. But yeah, I don’t think of STEM fields as particularly secure in industry, like with your husband’s example. Tenured academic jobs are very secure, though a job without funding doesn’t mean quite as much. Good for your husband for getting into teaching! I don’t think I could do it.

  12. Kim says:

    Congrats on your funemployment! It must be exciting and odd to be finished. I get paid from two of my jobs once a month, it’s never on the same day. The other job is bi-monthly. Jim gets paid around the 25th. We get one rent check on the 1st and one on the 15th. At this point, it really doesn’t matter, but it would be nice to get it all on the same day.

    1. Emily says:

      Well, at least you have a LOT of different sources of income to make up for the inconvenience! Do you keep all of your income from one month segregated to fund your budget in the subsequent month (the way we do by getting paid at the end of the mont) or do you have a more complicated system?

  13. It certainly is great to be paid for your studies! I spent a little over a semester (of this last year) in a grad program that paid. It’s much better than paying for school!

    For me, I decided that grad school was not something I enjoyed, and I confidently withdrew (something I have written a post about). However, I have realized that my current job doesn’t pay a whole lot higher than my grad school compensation once the extra taxes and insurance are pulled out. So, as you mention, it is certainly possible to survive on a grad student’s stipend.

    What did you get your degree in? I suppose I should explore your blog more and find out!

    Great article, and great blog. 🙂
    Rob @ MoneyNomad recently posted..How to Live Like a King on a Pauper’s Budget

    1. Emily says:

      Good for you for leaving grad school quickly and not accumulating too many sunk costs! Sorry that your next job isn’t more lucrative, though. The payroll deductions in a real job that you don’t have in grad school really bring that net income down! I’m going to write about that in the near future, actually.

      My PhD is in biomedical engineering. I just updated our About Us page yesterday so you can find more info about our financial history there!

  14. Sara says:

    I have only every been paid twice per month, so that’s my normal and I really like it. Housing comes out of the first check each month and then savings and debt repayment from the second, with what’s left over from each going to weekly expenses like gas and groceries. Switching to monthly would make me really nervous about cash flow during the month, particularly at our income level.

    My husband is currently being paid every two weeks and that makes planning a whole lot harder. There have been times when he hasn’t gotten a paycheck during the period where we can pay rent and those months with three checks are really tricky. Luckily we both work so we have a system where I pay our bills and he pays our savings (our money is more shared than that makes it sound 🙂 ) but I do think we would have a hard time planning and organizing a budget if we either relied solely on his income or were both paid in that fashion.

    1. Emily says:

      I think your point about cash flow is the real key to why I prefer monthly. I know it’s difficult to implement but it would be so much better to be able to reserve one of those paychecks until the next budgeting period instead of using it right away. What would happen if one of you did switch to being paid monthly?

      That system does sound complicated but it’s what you have to do with biweekly pay I guess! I’ll have to think about this issue more as it relates to budgeting.

  15. Myles Money says:

    “Funemployment…” I might steal that 🙂

    Enjoy it while it lasts!
    Myles Money recently posted..Yakezie!

    1. Emily says:

      It’s not original to me but people seem to not be familiar with the term so I definitely want it to be in more common use! To me it just means that I don’t have a FT job (though I am doing some self-employment activities part-time only) and I’m not looking for one or stressed out about it right now. My funemployment is definitely about restoring some balance in my personal life after a tough last few months. In a few months when I’m job-searching I don’t think I’ll consider that funemployment any longer, just unemployment!

  16. It sounds like you learned a few good lessons along the way which is always good. I only lasted one semester as a grad student before I couldn’t take it anymore and I quit. I still like to think it was the right decision for me. Maybe I will go back to school but for now, things are good as they are.
    Debt and the Girl recently posted..On Running Out of Steam…

    1. Emily says:

      It’s definitely best to quit early or stick it through. Everyone I know who left grad school did it after their 2nd or (mostly) 3rd years, which is unfortunately pretty late. I seriously considered quitting after my second year, but thankfully things got much better by about my 4th/5th year.

  17. […] any personal money this month as this was my last month of full-time employment (and I received my last paycheck at the end of the month) and I wasn’t really trying to earn anything […]

  18. […] call bull on all of you who said that. It is not fine, and I do not like it one bit! Oh, and Emily at Evolving PF agrees with me, by the way. So I have some […]

  19. Congrats on finishing your PhD! An impressive accomplishment that few achieve!

    Best of luck in the career world too. Lots of funny stuff goes on that you can write in and on about. Part of the reason why I consult part time at a startup is to witness all the crazy stuff that goes on!
    Financial Samurai recently posted..Do You Have The Right Money Mindset To Get Rich?

    1. Emily says:


      I’m definitely looking forward to our career transitions providing blog fodder. Just the grad student to postdoc and grad student to funemployment transitions have given a lot!

  20. […] though our budget for this month was funded with Kyle’s higher postdoc paycheck and my last grad student paycheck, it seemed like things were still a bit tight – like before Kyle’s raise. That can be at least […]

  21. […] have now set up the first regular paycheck I’ve received since my last grad school paycheck three years […]

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