When We Were Just Starting Out

One of our objectives with this blog is to show graduate students – particularly PhD students who receive livable stipends – how to live well while being financially responsible.  But I’m afraid that we’ve come so far, both in time and in net worth, from where we were when we first started grad school that pictures of our current state are not actually helpful or inspirational but perhaps even intimidating to someone just starting out.  Honestly, I think we have done very well.  We managed our money fine before we were married, better after we were married, and better still after we added the accountability of the blogging community.  I’ve become more satisfied with how we spend and save as our expenditures have aligned more closely with our values.


young graduateIn this respect I wish I had started blogging about PF right after graduating from college.  I like being able to see how a journey unfolds right from the inception like you can in some blogs, for instance the ones focused on paying off debt.  I would love to have a better record for the non-PF-enthusiast that could show how I started with nothing but debt, living paycheck-to-paycheck with no savings, and how slowly over time I (and Kyle, after we married) built up a very respectable financial profile while earning only about $25,000 per year (each).  I can look back at our records to some extent to see how we got from there to here but I don’t recall as well how we felt and what we were struggling with throughout that time.


Our budget didn’t start out as refined as it is now.  Our savings rate was not nearly as high.  We didn’t have our targeted savings accounts to help pay for huge one-time expenses.  We paid too much in rent and spent too much on gas.  Not to say that those were bad decisions at the time!  We learned along the way what was important for us to spend money on and what was not.  All young adults can go through this process if they are conscientious of their spending, but I’d like for this blog to help speed the process of maximizing value.


Since I don’t have that kind of extensive recording on this blog, I’ll just try to summarize what worked well for us in a few points that will be helpful for those just starting out in managing their money well.

  • track your spending (we use Mint)
  • aim for saving at least 10% for retirement, but know every little bit counts
  • work to create a savings buffer for emergencies or irregular expenses
  • use your credit cards as debit cards
  • give it time!  small steps add together to quite a distance


What did you do well or wish you had done well when you were just starting out?  At what point did you start blogging and do you wish you had earlier?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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22 Responses to "When We Were Just Starting Out"

  1. We didn’t start blogging until we had been married for almost 3 years and were already a few steps into our financial lives together. But I don’t regret not starting sooner. I think we started this at a pretty good time for us to help us keep our focus as our incomes grew and not get swept up in lifestyle inflation.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..He Said She Said: On Anniversaries

    1. Emily says:

      I think my wish to have started earlier is directly tied to my goal of reaching out to grad students! I’m glad your blog is keeping you from lifestyle inflation. I love your income and balance sheet reports!

  2. We recently talked about money and our early years here: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/money-cant-buy-me-love/

    We’ve also got popular tips on cooking when you’re really broke.

    And there’s a post in there somewhere on how we started the blog. No regrets on not starting earlier though. It’s just a hobby.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Google me this

    1. Emily says:

      I really enjoyed that post! Blogging is definitely a hobby for me too, but I like having complete records. 🙂

  3. CashRebel says:

    I wish I’d started blogging straight out of college as well. I’ve got my Mint records and what I remember, but it’d be interesting to hear myself justify my situation and spending rate. It’s great to see the changes in attitude in just one year of a blog.
    CashRebel recently posted..What’s My Life Worth?

    1. Emily says:

      Those self-justifications might be quite funny in retrospect!

  4. The problem with blogs that focus on a transitory lifestyle is that you eventually outgrow the situation. Think of all the bloggers who chronicle their journey out of debt. What happens when they become debt free? They have to try to reinvent themselves. So maybe you will wind up going from a PF blog primarily focused on graduate school money issues to one focused on Ph.D. money issues.
    I’ve been writing mostly about frugality, which is something you don’t have to worry about outgrowing (just ask Warren Buffet). But I’ve been considering trying to narrow that focus down to more about blue collar money issues.
    I started blogging three and a half years ago, but I didn’t start writing about personal finance until last year. Actually, funny story: I started writing and personal finance because I wanted to join the Yakezie Network!
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..The Blue Collar Money Manifesto

    1. Emily says:

      I agree that if a blog is all about paying off debt or whatever, it is difficult to transition once that goal is accomplished. I’ve stopped reading some blogs that seemed directionless after their chief goal was accomplished. I hope that wouldn’t happen to our blog, though – evolving personal finance, after all. Grad student-specific stuff doesn’t take up a huge chunk of our content.

      That is funny that you started writing about PF for Yakezie! Why were you so motivated to join the network?

      1. Community is a big deal to me. While food blogger communities are starting to crop up on social media, there still isn’t anything as well put together as Yakezie.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..2013 $3K Challenge: Mid Year Update

  5. I went to grad school for my MBA after being in industry for a while, so it wasn’t anything like a PHD program. I didn’t have a stipend or anything like that, in fact I was paying in substantially. But like everyone else, I wish I had saved more earlier, and I wish I had taken more risks in the stock market. Granted the last decade has had it’s fair share of declines, but if I had started with better risk management (the other topic I wish I had started studying much earlier) that could have been hedged.
    Pension Retirement recently posted..Estimating Pension Benefits: Planning for You and Your Family’s Future

    1. Emily says:

      Very good points! I made some mistakes early on and still am not taking on enough risk, I think.

  6. I started blogging less than a year ago and I totally wish I’d started when I first started paying off debt. While it’s nice to have all the debt gone, I wished I’d documented my journey out of debt better.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Our $5 Fun-filled Saturday

    1. Emily says:

      There’s something about complete stories, I think!

  7. I wished I listened more in my early years and did less figuring out. So many people gave me great advice and I am just realizing 10 years later it was great advice. This is actually one of the issues I am having with my blog. I mentioned that I feel that at some point people will be disconnected since I will eventually get to another level and the may get scared off. I think its great to come back with these types of posts as a reminder to readers where you have been as well.
    Thomas | Your Daily Finance recently posted..Damn Kids Are Expensive and Eating All My Food

    1. Emily says:

      What advice do you wish you had listened to?

  8. Lucas says:

    It would be nice to have a record of all your thoughts through time (I guess that is what the lost art of journeling is about). But maybe you weren’t ready at the time? Most of the people who “start right at the begining” do so because of some major wake up call or disaster in their life. However if you have been evolving it has been a more gradual learning/changing process 😉

    1. Emily says:

      Actually I think it was that I was involved in various other passions. When I graduated from college I went into a period of intense study of religion that culminated in my conversion to Christianity, so for a while after I was really on fire for evangelism. That gave way into a passion for marriage when we went through our premarital counseling and following. Then I switched my attention to learning about nutrition when I was going through weight-loss project, which was very time-consuming. Personal finance and blogging so intensively took over from that. I imagine at some point I’ll move on again!

      I do like having these records. I used to keep a journal, but blogging is somewhat of a substitute.

  9. Leigh says:

    I wish I’d started blogging earlier some days. When I was in college, my expenses were a lot lower and so was my income. I feel like I would have had more people to relate to if I’d started blogging when I graduated from college and my net worth was “only” $32k and not when I was at $132k and adding $5k on a normal month. My net worth moved a lot more slowly three years ago! But…I also never struggled with money that much, even in college or when I was first starting out (things just grew less slowly). I have monthly journals about my finances going back to when I first graduated from college though on my own computer.
    Leigh recently posted..May 2013 net worth update (+6.4%)

    1. Emily says:

      You might have been more relatable at that time but probably not as popular! I think people love seeing your great income and savings rate now and they like to see success.

      Do you journal just numbers or qualitative stuff as well?

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