Full-Time Financial Planning

Jennifer Bishop juggles working, earning an advanced degree, and caring for a parent

Jennifer Anne Bishop is a woman who believes in preparation. The 31-year-old policy analyst has a bachelor’s in sociology from Cornell University, a master’s in public health from Columbia University, and she’s currently studying for her Ph.D. qualifying exams while completing independent study toward her doctorate dissertation in public health. She’s on track to receive her doctorate from Harvard University in 2007.

Pursuing her education has come with a hefty price tag—about $100,000 in student loans. But Bishop is already seeing her efforts pay off in the $75,000 salary she earns working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By the time she walks away with her Ph.D., she will be able to command at least a six-figure salary.

Bishop moved from Boston to the Washington, D.C., area last summer when her father passed away. She needed to be closer to her 65-year-old mother. Bishop’s mother suffered a brain aneurysm years ago that left her unable to work and in need of some caretaking. Bishop’s father was her mother’s primary caregiver, and now that responsibility rests with Bishop, her brothers Neal and Peter, and Peter’s fiancée, Felicia.

In order to accommodate her mother, Bishop bought an unfurnished three-bedroom condominium in Burke, Virginia, in November, taking on a $283,000 mortgage. Bishop’s mother is presently living with Peter in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Bishop visits them at least once a week.

Bishop is her mother’s power-of-attorney and she also contributes about $400 each quarter toward her mother’s needs—whatever isn’t covered by her mother’s Social Security benefits. Bishop used to live in a studio apartment, so she has had to deplete her savings and use credit cards to furnish her new place. There will be additional expenses this summer when she completes one of her father’s final requests: He wanted his ashes spread in the family’s Barbados homeland.

Bishop’s savings are down to $1,000 and she has about $2,000 in a checking account. In addition to her student loan debt, she owes $6,500 on her 2001 Nissan Sentra and $8,000 on a few credit cards. When she left Boston, Bishop used up the $4,000 she had in a retirement plan with her previous employer. She had a scholarship that covered tuition but hadn’t yet begun receiving a $7,000-per-semester stipend, which she will lose in May because she earns such a good salary.

Bishop’s father worked a number of jobs, but he never found fulfillment in his work. Instead, he spent his money. “He left quite a bit of debt,” Bishop says. “I don’t want to [do that.]” To that end, she’s willing to curb her penchant for Cole Haan shoes, and she recently joined her employer’s retirement plan and is putting away 1% of her salary.

Bishop is looking forward to rebuilding her savings and hopes to stash $500 to $600 a month. But six months after she graduates, she’ll have to begin paying back her student loans. “I have a lot of student loan debt hanging over my head,” says Bishop. “But I’m going to be

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