The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees.
Now gimme money (that’s what I want)
That’s what I want (that’s what I want)
That’s what I want (that’s what I want), oh-yeh,
That’s what I want.
How do you handle the stress related to the lowered financial resources of a student?
Diminished financial resources do pose a separate aspect of stress for most graduate students. I will have to answer this question from my own experience. I am a Master’s student in an Applied Experimental Psychology program. Not law school. Not med school. Not business school. Not all graduate programs are the same. I came into grad school with no debt and substantial savings account. Every graduate student has a different experience with debt and personal finances. Just throwing that disclaimer out there.
Tuition, loans, and grants, oh my!
PhD candidates tend to have tuition waivers and stipends for teaching and research assistantships. I am currently in a Master’s program, so I am responsible for tuition. I use subsidized loans to pay for my tuition, which does not come close to the cost of medical or law school tuition. My first year of grad school, I had a teaching assistantship that paid fairly well for the hours I had to put in each week. Now I have a part time job (my Internship with the Navy). So, my assistantship and Internship have helped me pay for my living expenses.
Most of the people in my program get out a maximum amount of student loans each year to ease the financial burden of making less money than they would make outside of academia. That being said, the students in my program are generally funded with research grants and government contracts through their labs. Human Factors psychology offers funding opportunities that may not be available to other disciplines. The secret to making money as a graduate student is to apply to the RIGHT program and work with the RIGHT faculty. You may not always have choice about the projects for which you will responsible, but you do have a choice about who you get to know before applying to programs. It is important to find out what kinds of grants and funding faculty members bring into a program. Those grants will be your source of income at the PhD level beyond the funding provided by the department. You also have the responsibility as a graduate student in a research-focused program to learn HOW to write grant and research proposals. Graduate school prepares students to be better writers and offers the necessary skills to find funding. Grants will save your life. Grants make academia go round. Outside of academia, you may have to write proposals to fund your work. For example, my boss funds most of her human performance research with outside sources like the Office of Naval Research. When/If I get into a PhD program, I will most likely hold a research assistant position and will be funded through my lab. (Unless all the stars align beautifully and I get to stay at my current job while I get my PhD.)
Everyone is different.
Everyone wants and needs different things from a career or job. You all work hard and do very different things to pay the bills. I know that when I am finished with school, if I work hard and am good at what I do, I will make enough money to pay back my loans quickly and have enough money to live comfortably. I will be able to take care of myself in the future because I can take care of myself now with less money in the bank. Unless the dollar really does become worthless in three years. In that case, I will move to New Zealand and become a sheep herder. Or I will move to Vancouver and soak up all the awesome that is currently propagating there.
I am fortunate. My undergraduate degree was fairly inexpensive because family helped me pay for tuition, I worked while I was in school and I earned some scholarships. My grandparents worked hard and saved money their entire lives to make my family’s life better. I am thankful for their sacrifice and love and do not take that for granted. I also worked for three years between college and graduate school, so I was able to pay off my debt and to build up a savings account over that time. I also took the time to learn about personal finance, budgets, investments, 401 Ks, money markets, etc. because I am responsible for where my money goes.
It is not easy.
I had to prioritize and make sacrifices. I stopped waxing (various body parts). I know, right?! Nicole would have a fit if she found out that I gave up waxing for shaving! I worked in a spa for two years and got waxed for hella cheap. Shaving is a tragedy after you know first hand about the gloriousness that is waxing, but shaving is cheaper than waxing. Much much cheaper. I rarely go to concerts or small shows or make it to Trance DJ sets. Live music is my favorite thing in all the Universe. I spent more money in my lifetime to see live music than anything else. It is hard to live in an area where music is an everyday part of life. It devastates me to think of all the shows I have missed the last two years. I don’t have the time. I can’t afford to see every musician who comes to Norfolk, Richmond or DC. I don’t just pick up and leave whenever I want to get out of town. Mostly, I just don’t have time for this. But I no longer have a hotel discount and that definitely cuts into my travel fund. (My spa was in a hotel, so I got to stay at any Hilton property for pennies.)
Some things I refuse to give up. I did not give up getting my hair done professionally because that is the one thing I do to pamper myself. I refuse to make sacrifices for my health with regard to exercise (e.g., hot yoga classes), chiropractic care for my hip injury, healthy food (e.g., Trader Joe’s and local farmers markets), or vitamins/supplements.
I cut back on some things so I can afford those things I refuse to give up. I rarely eat out or buy coffee in coffee shops. I cook most of my meals, pack lunches and snacks and make my own coffee most mornings. I have a budget. And I stick to it most months. If I want to do something that is not in my budget (cough, Bloggers in Sin City), I cook more, make coffee at home more, go a few extra weeks to get my hair done, sell things on ebay, go to the chiropractor less often, etc.
I am not planning to buy a house or a car or to take a three month trip around the world or to make any major investments. There are times I still buy a new pair shoes or get my hair done or go visit my friends in another city instead of saving that money for my future. But it’s just me now. If I meet someone and we decide to connect our lives, my priorities will change with regard to how I spend my money. If there is some kind of emergency and I need to save my money, I will save my money.
Life is too short not to enjoy some things now just because I think I can do them after school is over. My life is happening now, not in three years from now. If I want to buy a bottle of Rex Hill Pinot Noir, I will do it if I know I can cut back on something else that month. I don’t want to wake up in a year thinking, “I really wish I’d gone to Bloggers in Sin City instead of saving that $500 for a rainy day.” I want to wake up in a year thinking, “God, I am so thankful I spent that money when I did so I could share such a wonderful weekend with fabulous friends.”
I appreciate all the things in my life that are free. Just like the Beatles song. But seriously… life is easier with some cash money. I mean, I’d never get to meet all my blogger friends without money to travel. I love you so much that I am willing to cut back on concerts, Starbucks, and hot yoga sessions so I can come visit you this summer, right?
Ok, now give me money so I can start waxing before the summer.
What did you sacrifice or cut back when you had less money in the bank? What did you refuse to sacrifice? How do you deal with making less money than you would make out in “the real world” if you worked 60 to 80 hour work weeks like you do in grad school? What advice do you have for someone who is living on loans?