About Elbow Patch Money

Personal Finance for Academics from Grad School to Emeritus

Lots of academics are clueless about money. Too often we’re focused on too many other things: research, teaching, mentoring, conferences, service, community service — it’s too many hats for one head! The last thing many of us want to do at the end of the day is go read another complex literature with conflicting conclusions, math and data, and loads of jargon. Just keep your head down, you say, and finish the next paper, grant, or book chapter, prep the next class, complete the next service assignment, and eventually you’ll have time to come up for air and think about things like your finances. But it never happens.

I get it — that was me until two years ago. If that’s you too, this blog is for you. Or if you’ve started to wade through a few books and online fora but don’t feel like you have enough information or time to make optimal decisions on every little thing, and just want some advice that fits your life that you can follow and move on, this blog is for you too.

I’m not an expert. I’m not a certified financial advisor, and my Ph.D. is unrelated to personal finance. If you want personalized, professional advice, hire a fee-only fiduciary financial advisor. I’m just a guy who has begun to wrap my head around this stuff and how it applies to my life and those of my colleagues and students. I don’t have all the answers, but I think I have enough to be worth sharing to help others along their journey, especially those just getting started. I also want an outlet to motivate me to keep going, refining my ideas and exploring new subjects. So I hope this blog will help all of us.

How Should You Use this Blog?

Probably the best way to use this blog is to find your level and then read through. To help with this, each post comes with three types of tags:

  • ‘Course’ level tags: Introductory courses covering general principles are EPM (Elbow Patch Money) 100, more advanced general principles are EPM 200, and advice applying these general principles to particular thorny issues are EPM 300-400.
  • Career stage tags: These include: general, grad student, new PhD, mid-career, late-career, and retired. Often the most salient advice or recommendations on a specific issue will differ across stages of the academic lifestyle, so these tags are very important!
  • Subject tags: If you’re trying to make a particular decision or get oriented in a specific area related to personal finance, check these out or use the search bar. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, contact me and I’ll put it on the to do list!

Other advice on how to use this blog:

  • If you’re totally new to this stuff, start with EPM 100 posts, proceed to EPM 200, then you can hunt for elective EPM 300-400 posts that match your career stage and work your way through those, too.
  • I still have a lot of subjects to get to! If you want to keep up with the latest posts, follow @ProfElbowPatch on Twitter or sign-up on the home page to receive new posts by email when they go live.

Who Am I?

Call me Prof. Elbow Patch. I’m a tenured social science professor at an R1 university in a medium cost of living area in the U.S. Throughout undergrad, grad school, postdoc, and my early assistant professorship, I think it’s fair to say I was bad with money. I had a terrible habit of not checking my bank or credit card balances when I thought they might be getting in the red, and kept spending. I sort of knew what to do financially, but I would put off confronting that stress. And until the last semester of my postdoc, I hadn’t saved a dime for retirement, and regularly carried credit card balances until my 3rd year on the tenure track.

Thankfully, I have a good job with solid pay and benefits, and have done the bulk of my investing during a decade-long bull run. I’m doing fine now. But when it came to managing my monthly/yearly finances, saving for intermediate and long-term goals, and knowing what all those investment options in my 403(b) meant, I’m only 4-5 years into feeling like I have a minimal grasp on things, and maybe 2 years into feeling confident about it.

My goal is to help you get get confidence in your finances way sooner than I did. I want you to have a plan and be confident that it’s a good one, come what may. I want you to get out of debt, use credit cards responsibly, proactively save for irregular expenses and intermediate goals, reduce your monthly expenses, save a good percentage of your salary for retirement, and invest it wisely. I can’t make being an academic less stressful or isolating sometimes, but I think I can help with the financial side of things. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out the blog’s Syllabus to get started.


I’m a cis White guy with a partner but no kids. I’ve tried to think past my own experiences to supply advice that covers a wider range of circumstances than mine, especially those with lower levels of social and economic privilege. I’ll start off the blog with the lessons I’ve learned from my own relatively privileged experiences but hope to listen and learn more from others over time and have this be reflected in the blog. But the sociological imagination only takes you so far! If you think I’m missing key aspects of your life and circumstances, tell me, and I’ll try to do better. I want this blog to help academics in all circumstances and backgrounds. However, probably inevitably much of the retirement investment and health care advice will end up being U.S.-specific, and it’s probably unrealistic for me to hope to grasp dozens of different systems. So, I hope international readers still find the rest of it helpful.