Even Astronauts Worry About Money

By: Keith Wagstaff · July 03, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

Kellie Gerardi seemed destined for space. Growing up in Jupiter, Florida, she watched from her bedroom window as space shuttles launched into the atmosphere. In 2023, she entered orbit as part of a Virgin Galactic crew, and now serves as director of human spaceflight operations at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences.

But despite being an astronaut, science communicator, bioastronautics researcher, and social media influencer , Gerardi worries about her finances like everyone else.

“What should I be proactively saving for?” she asked on SoFi’s YouTube series Richer Lives.

Luckily, she was talking to the right people: Brian Walsh, SoFi’s Head of Advice and Planning, and financial literacy advocate Vivian Tu, aka Your Rich BFF. Gerardi spoke about balancing work and family, why it’s hard for astronauts to get life insurance, and the savings plan that blew her mind.

This Mom is Out of This World

When her mother was growing up, “women were not eligible to become astronauts in the U.S.,” Gerardi said. “A single generation later, she watched her daughter fly to space, and she’s watching her granddaughter take it for granted. And to me, it’s like, ‘Okay, we are moving in the right direction.’”

Being a working parent remains tremendously challenging. “You’re trying to parent like you don’t have a job, and you’re trying to work like you don’t have a family,” she said. Still, she doesn’t regret any of it. “My dreams got bolder when I became a mom.”

As for those who criticize mothers who prioritize their careers, she said, “You wouldn’t take advice from them. Don’t take criticism from them.”

Risky Business

Being an astronaut is a little riskier than most professions… for obvious reasons. Commercial space companies “want to make sure you’re able to give knowledgeable, informed consent to the explicit risks that you’re taking,” she said. “And I felt very confident with my risk calculus, but as a parent, I’m not cavalier, either.”

So Gerardi decided to get life insurance. The problem? After talking to several companies, she realized nobody would insure her because of the whole getting launched into space business. She eventually ended up on her husband’s policy.

A Financial Education

And this wasn’t the last financial planning surprise for her. It wasn’t until she got pregnant that Gerardi learned about 529 plans, which are savings plans with tax advantages meant to be used on college expenses.

“Financial literacy, for me, was not something that was ever prioritized,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot to learn.”

“They need to give you a handbook when you get pregnant that’s less about all of your body changes” and more about the financial and lifestyle changes you’ll have to make, said Gerardi.

Now, she finds checking her 529 plan a “soothing, meditative exercise.” It might not be as awe-inspiring as viewing Earth from orbit, but hey, it’s nice to watch your money grow.

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