How This Ph.D. Student Took Charge of Her Finances After Her Dad’s Death

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Like a lot of students in their mid-20s, Miriam Kamil didn’t pay much attention to money in school. But then her father died, and she inherited his life’s savings and a mountain of responsibility. At the time, she was studying for her doctorate at Harvard University.

“I was in a situation where I had to figure out what to do with the inheritance,” said Kamil. “Do I just put it all in a savings account and forget about it?”

She was overseas studying in Rome when the decisions began to mount. To serve his legacy, she knew she’d have to challenge herself to master money.

Kamil’s story reflects how students need to develop their financial knowledge so that they can comfortably manage money when their parents are no longer able to help. For Kamil, that meant learning how to invest. Here’s how she managed.

Reaching out to a financial adviser

Though Kamil had an extensive academic career, she needed to learn more about money.

She turned to Magdalena Johndrow, a financial adviser at female-led Johndrow Wealth Management. The adviser works with her mother-in-law, Lori Johndrow, to help clients manage their money.

Magdalena Johndrow attests that the firm has unique perks in a male-dominated industry.

“First and foremost, while it’s a cliche, our clients constantly tell us that we are fantastic listeners,” she said. “Every meeting we ask, ‘What are your wants, hopes, [and] fears?’ Then, afterward, our approach is one of education.”

Kamil admits that when she first met with Johndrow, she had a lot to learn.

“I was such a beginner, it was embarrassing,” Kamil said. “I really came in with the basic questions, and Maggie made sure I didn’t feel stupid and was really encouraging.”

The two started with some investing basics, such as what it meant to buy into a company and hold stocks.

Learning how to educate yourself

If Kamil’s story sounds familiar to you, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Your financial education has to start somewhere. Often, it’s impossible to know the answers to your money questions until you ask. Beginning your own financial education journey can follow the same steps as Kamil’s.

1. Find a financial adviser with which you’re comfortable

“I’m in communication with [Johndrow] a lot,” said Kamil. The two first met over Skype while Kamil was in Rome.

Because of the strong rapport, the two can talk openly about Kamil’s investment portfolio. Likewise, Kamil can ask questions she might be embarrassed to bring up elsewhere. This openness is key to developing a financial plan that works for you.

“That financial plan will give you markers,” said Johndrow. “There’ll be certain milestones you’ll have to hit. If you want to buy a home, that’ll be a milestone. We can break that down even further for what that client needs.”

Shop around for a financial adviser you feel comfortable speaking to about money. It isn’t rare for Johndrow to spend her first 90-minute meeting with a client asking questions about their life plans, financial goals, and level of financial knowledge.

2. Consider your investment values

For Kamil, an important step in her financial journey was learning how aggressive she wanted to be with her investments and what kind of legacy she wanted to leave with the money. Those two points represent her investment values.

“We talked about what causes are important,” said Kamil. “We invested my money in an account that seeks out women-led companies, and I’ve invested in many women-led companies through that. Because I told her that was important to me.”

On this, Johndrow said: “A lot of our millennial women want to invest in companies that have a lot of women on the board, or in ways that contribute to the betterment of society like the water supply.”

As you consider your investment values, Johndrow recommends asking these questions:

  • How much risk are you prepared to take on?

  • How much risk do you need in your portfolio to build the savings you want?

  • What do you want your lifestyle to look like when you retire?

  • What’s your current lifestyle, and will you be able to maintain that in retirement?

  • What other financial milestones do you want to hit throughout your life?

“You’re going to get your returns for the appropriate amount of risk,” said Johndrow. “Some people might think they’re riskier than they really are and we work through that.”

3. Put financial advice into action

Something Kamil liked about using a financial adviser is that the nuts and bolts of getting transactions done are up to them.

“It was really the perfect fit for someone who doesn’t know a lot about money to handle their own finances,” Kamil said.

Even if you don’t have an adviser to do the work for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t take action steps on your own.

For example, you can use online tools and services to manage your money. The Betterment app can make investing easy. Mint, meanwhile, offers a bird’s-eye view of your finances, allowing you to budget more efficiently.

From beginner to master: A journey complete

A year after connecting with a financial adviser, Kamil said she’s an active participant in her finances.

“Before all of this happened, I was a really passive person when it came to money,” she said. “I let my parents deal with it. I’m a Ph.D. student, so I didn’t have a retirement account. I was putting all of that off for as long as I could. Now I’ve become a much more active player in my own life in terms of finances.”

Now, Kamil’s proud of how she’s stewarded some of the most difficult money decisions in her life. She thinks her father would also be proud of her for that.

“He was really money savvy,” Kamil said. “I think he’d be pleased with the way I’ve handled it and the way I’ve educated myself.”

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.