Before I started budgeting, I was horrible with money. I had a minimum wage, part-time job, and was living paycheck to paycheck. I also got help from my parents with tuition and some living expenses. But, I still wasn’t making any progress in my financial situation, as my checking accounts always dwindled back down to zero at the end of the month. I couldn’t build up any savings or emergency fund, which was horrible since I couldn’t come up with the funds for an emergency root canal.

In 2014, I started to learn about personal finance and budgeting, and tried YNAB. I credit the YNAB method on getting out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle. Here, I want to go over how I got out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle and was able to save for emergencies and future large purchases.

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I occasionally churn credit cards. Mostly for the sign-up bonuses, but also for the ongoing cash back deals. These sign-up bonuses are not taxable as they’re seen as rebates by the IRS. Last year, we got $750 in sign-up bonuses. It supplemented our meager income during gradschool, and even earned us some free trips.

Here I’ll go over what it is, who should and should NOT be churning credit cards, how to find good deals, and how to analyze if it’s worth it to keep the credit card open, especially if it has an annual fee.

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When I first arrived to the US as an international student, I didn’t have any credit history. This made renting an apartment really expensive. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I had to pay two months rent in advance, and also put down a two months security deposit. This also made getting loans impossible without a cosigner. We spent a few years in the USA without any credit cards or loans. But, I knew the importance of building a strong credit history for our future in this country. I also knew I didn’t want to get into any credit card debt. So, I started researching ways we could build our credit history from scratch the smart way. First card I learned about secured and unsecured credit cards. Secured credit cards are cards that are backed by a cash deposit you make to the bank or credit card company. Credit cards

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Happy new year! it’s a new beginning. This year, we decided to automate our finances. After figuring out our monthly expenses, setting our budget in Buckets, and consolidating our bank accounts, we’re finally at a point where we feel comfortable automating everything. Here’s what we did. Budgeting Each time I get my paycheck, I budget our monthly expenses for the next month in the Buckets software. I budget for all our fixed monthly bills, variable expenses, sinking funds for regular or irregular expenses, and our savings and wants. I also budget for our Roth IRA contributions. The Buckets software has goal settings, such as a targeted amount. This can be used to set up monthly contribution amounts to things like car insurance bills, so that by the time our car insurance is due, we have the entire premium available. Checking Account We’ve had our joint checking account with Ally for

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We used YNAB for years, but the current subscription price increased to $99 a year. So we canceled that after I found a new budgeting software called Buckets. It costs $45 total, with no subscription, and has similar features to YNAB except for syncing with bank accounts and credit cards. Philosophy There’s a pretty good guide on their website. You add all your accounts that are part of your budget. I have all our checking and savings accounts, plus our credit cards. I also added our investments as “off-budget” accounts for tracking purposes. Once you’ve added the accounts, then you budget the available amount. Buckets calls the available cash “Rain”. Each line item is called a “Bucket”. So, you catch your rain in each bucket until the available rain is 0. Buckets uses the budget to zero philosophy. I have buckets for rent, utilities, groceries, food, etc. If I overspend

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I’ve been thinking more and more about financial independence and retirement, even in my early career as a postdoc. It’s important to think about retirement while you still have time at your advantage. Time in the market beats timing the market, because of the magic of compounding. It’s even more important to take investing in your retirement in your own hands as a grad student as there are several things working against us when it comes to retirement savings and investing. You’re not earning a lot in your “prime” working years Most grad students enter grad school at the young age of 21. PhD programs typically take 5-6 years to finish. That means you will be graduating at 26-27. Compared to students who graduated with a bachelors or masters and started working, you will have lost 5 or more years of earning potential. Not only that, the working people will

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