Budgeting for Post-Doc and Early Career

Post-doc can be one of the most financially challenging times in your life. You’ll be making more money than in grad school, but not as much as a staff position. Student loan payments start six months after graduation and you will have a number of other expenses as you start your career.

Steps to Creating a Budget

Step 1. Track all expenses for at least 3 months

Step 2. Cut unnecessary expenses and create a budget

  • Cut, cut, cut all unnecessary expenses!
  • When your cell phone contract expires, try a discount carrier
  • When you move to your new place, try going without
    • internet (use mobile hotspots, library, and the office)
    • cable (use free streaming, YouTube, HD antenna)

Step 3. Look ahead and plan for upcoming expenses over the next year. For post-doc year this might include:

  • Moving expenses to post-doc site
  • Student Loan payments
    • Due six months after graduation
    • You need to be proactive and consolidate, choose a repayment plan, and contact your loan servicer (make sure they have your correct contact info) BEFORE the first payment is due.
  • License application costs*
    • Begin the application process in the state you plan to be licensed BEFORE you are able to register for the EPPP
  • EPPP prep courses*
    • Plan to spend the 3 months before the exam in study-mode
    • Better than taking it twice!
  • EPPP exam fees* (as of 5/21/18 = $687.50)
    • Yes, you will have to pay again if you have to take it again,
  • State licensing exam fees*
    • Some states require cash (i.e., no credit card)
  • Travel for job interviews
    • While some University or Research positions may pay for your travel and accommodations, some facilities ask that you pay up front and they will reimburse you. At other places, you will be responsible for the entire cost. Expect to have to pay and be grateful if you are reimbursed.
  • Moving for new job after post-doc
  • Time with no pay and loans due between completing post-doc and starting new job

*(for clinical/counseling psychology residents)

Step 4. Save as much as you can – this is an emergency!

  • Sell everything you don’t need (or don’t want to move, then move again)
  • Brainstorm ways to make money (housesitting, petsitting, tutoring)
  • Aim for $1,000 for a starter emergency fund so you don’t get into more debt
    • Note that this is just a starter emergency fund and should be boosted up to be enough for 3-6 months of expenses (more or less based on average time to find a job based on the labor market and your personal circumstances, such as whether you have dependents or a working spouse) once your debt is paid off. 
  • Also save enough for the upcoming expenses in Step 3.

Step 5. Make a budget

  • When creating a budget, do it as if your income will be staying the same and put everything you earn above that toward your debt.
    • During post-doc, budget to keep your expenses the same as they were during grad school .
    • When you get a job: budget to keep you expenses the same as they were during post-doc.
    • For early career staff: when you get a raise, continue to keep your expenses the same and by avoiding lifestyle inflation you will soon be out of debt!
      • If you were living above your income during grad school, take some time to seriously consider why that was and what you can do to change that. Do you live in a high cost of living area and should consider getting a roommate? Do you own too much car? What change can you make to your food costs? Check out my Tips for Cutting your Monthly Expenses
  • Plan the year out considering all the expenses in Step 3.
    • Set the money you will need for upcoming expenses aside so that you do not accrue more debt for them.
  • There are a number of ways to budget. See which one works for you.
  • I like a Zero Sum Budget: Give every dollar a job to do.
    • Start with your monthly income.
    • Subtract your monthly expenses.
    • Put the remaining money toward Debt Repayment.
      • I like to have a goal for how much I will put toward debt each month.
        • In this example, it’s $1,000 per month
    • All dollars are accounted for such that the remaining balance = 0.

Example Budget for Getting Out of Debt

This example is based on one person with no dependents. My family of five’s expenses will be shared in an upcoming post

  • Income 2,800
    Rent -1000
    Food/Toiletries/Household Products -180**
    Electric -80
    Water -30
    Internet -0 ( cut)
    Cell phone -40 (discount carrier)
    Gasoline -35
    Car insurance -100
    Car payment -300
    Gifts/entertainment -15 (tips on this later)
    Streaming service -0 (cut)
    Medical -20
    DEBT REPAYMENT -1000 (the more you can put toward this, the FASTER you will be FREE)
    Remaining balance =0

    **Many people have been asking how to lower their grocery bill. We averaged $400 per month on food for a family of 5!

    I’m sure you’re having a reaction to this budget. What parts seem unreasonable? I know that depending on the cost of living in your area (and if you have dependents), some categories may be higher or lower for you.

    In upcoming posts, I will share how much to budget for certain categories (e.g., housing and transportation as a percent of income) and the best tips I’ve found for dramatically reducing costs in these areas. I will also share my actual expenses and how I am able to make it work for my large family!

    After you cut your expenses and create a budget, you will be ready to start attacking your debt. It can be done! I did it by using the tips that I will be writing about and following the steps laid out sequentially in The Total Money Makeover.

For more from this series on saving money on higher education costs, see

Applying for College: What my parents didn’t teach me about money

How to Get a Doctorate in Psychology for Free

How to Save Money in Grad School

Student Loan Repayment

Fewer Than 1% Received Loan Forgiveness!


How does your current budget compare to this example?

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