Grad School: On surviving the lean years

Courtesy of Flickr user Images_of_Money

As we begin a new academic year, I am thinking of the many people who are about to make the transition (either from undergrad, employment, or full-time family life) to graduate school.  I have been reflecting on my own transition – in Summer 2009 – right before began my PhD program.  In that time leading into the Fall semester, I was obsessed not only my academic chops and proving my worth, but also with the logistics of A) living apart from my husband B) carrying two rent payments and C) entering a world of uncertain funding.

I was having night terrors thinking about the change, and started to concentrate on the things I felt I could anticipate and plan.  While I had little control over what the Fall would bring, I could start being proactive about finances and conscious about spending to prepare for this large economic shift I was making.

From my experience, we’ve been successful because a lot of little things that added up.  I purchased the More-With-Less Cookbook, a Mennonite World Community staple that helps missionaries serving abroad make the most of a small budget and an ample pantry.  I became Queen of the Lentils and meal maximization.  I learned the library system in and out to see how I could utilize interlibrary loan and our own university’s collection to save on textbooks.  Only the most important and frequently used would be purchased.  I also looked at all the stuff I’d collected over time and made serious effort to minimize clutter and maximize funds by selling items on eBay and Etsy.  I also took a hard look at the little luxuries that you might take for granted and the latte factor to assess what I could cut out or find a less expensive version.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces that have helped me survive (financially) the grad school experience:

  • Our amazing wedding photographer and her husband were featured in The Oregonian for their impressive effort to quickly pay off a mass of student loans.  Their blog, “Rice & Beans, Beans & Rice“, chronicled their journey to debt-free and had some great tips along the way.
  • A piece called “A Step-by-Step Guide for When Friends Ask for Help Being Frugal” was written by personal finance Mikey Rox who, after many requests for advice from his friends, put together an overview of his best budgeting advice.
  • Suze Orman, the financial advisor and motivational speaker, has a comprehensive website that has tools, advice, and insight on a wide variety of topics.  Her monthly expense calculator hosted on the Oprah website can help you start from scratch to get a sense of what you should be spending per month on your stipend.
  • Finally, a word of advice from my own experience: GET INVOLVED!  While I think that your heart should be in the right place when you volunteer for anything, there is a side benefit for all of that involvement.  That benefit is food!  During my years here, I attended club meetings, served on advisory boards, and attended lectures that accomplished the twofold task of expanding my horizons and maintaining good nutrition.  Of course, I am enriched for all of those experiences.  But as any graduate student knows, food is a powerful, powerful motivator.  Just ask the Tumblr site #WHATSHOULDWECALLGRADSCHOOL.

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