• Living Life on a Grad Student Budget


    One of the things that I spend a lot of time worrying about is money. For the last six plus years I’ve lived on a graduate student stipend, which, while generous as far as stipends go, doesn’t allow for much beyond the basics. As a result, for most of my time as a graduate student I’ve worked in various capacities as an instructor, teaching assistant, research assistant and research fellow. However, due to the terms of my current fellowship, for the last year + I’ve had the opportunity to solely focus on my writing. While this has allowed me to grow as a scholar, it’s also meant that I’ve had to get more creative as far as my money management goes.

    Below, I outline some of the ways I’ve managed to negotiate a modest income and the various needs/desires that have come up a long the way.

    1. Help from family.

    I’m privileged enough that I’ve been able to get a significant amount of support from both of my parents. Thankfully, when I’ve become overwhelmed with medical bills and various unexpected expenses, my family has been willing to help me out. However, I’ve committed to myself and them, that this will end once I get my first job. I don’t want to turn thirty and still be asking for money from my parents every month.

    2. Help from friends and loved ones.

    At various points during graduate school, I’ve had major non-academic goals that required a lot of money. The first was running a full marathon to raise money for HIV/AIDS in Chicago, and the second was a yoga teacher training. I was able to successfully crowd fund both with the financial help and social support of my various networks. While some folks have begun to abuse this recent trend, I continue to believe that crowd funding is a great way for folks to gain access to education and training that they otherwise couldn’t afford.

    3. Being open and honest about my financial situation.

    As I’ve moved through graduate school, I’ve found that a major impediment for students of color is feelings of shame around their finances. Part of this is about continuing our education for so long while friends from undergraduate are living fully compensated adult lives. But another part of it is being surrounded by cohorts that are generally white, wealthy and male. As a result, a lot of folks won’t ask for financial help when they need it. I’ll be the first to admit that my family’s financial stability is a big part of why shame is not part of my money narrative. But I think that if this is something that can be navigated, then a lot of opportunities will open up.

    My experience (especially with holistic healers and practitioners) has been that people are willing to work with me when I let them know my budget. When I was initially diagnosed with lupus, it was important to me to find natural healing modalities to complement the western treatments I was receiving. Holistic healing is VERY expensive. But every person/service who has had a profound impact on my life, has been willing to work with my budget. From chiropractors, acupuncturists, breathing specialists, masseuses and herbalists… to brand marketing experts and literature review writing specialists. When folks have a great skill/product, and a spirit of compassion and generosity, they will always be willing to help you out. The folks who have responded in less than generous ways have always turned out to be people I had no business working with in the first place.

    The bottom line:

    Ultimately, I think it’s worth it to put yourself out there regardless of your financial situation. Be honest, be open and ask for help. Take it from someone who has experienced a lot of rejection: it won’t kill you :).


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