Frugal Beginnings: Graduate School Poverty
My dear son says: Write an autobiography for your blog. Talk about how you were so poor in graduate school.
But that would be a long preamble to a tale (does anyone know the source of that quotation?).
So, a short preamble: 1970s graduate school poverty facts. My stipend was $300 per month and over half of that was tied up by necessities: rent was about $120, food was about $40, and our phone was about $20. No car. Luckily, utilities were included in the rent. Gee, that left $120 a month for everything else, including costly books, professional expenses, clothes, etc. Parents paid for plane trips home.
Then my stipend ran out. (Lest this seems too cushy, let us note that the stipend was pay for teaching 3 freshmen composition courses a year. We were limited to 4 years).
Luckily I hadn’t heard of loans. Really! So I started to improvise. I began to find vintage clothes at local thrifts and consign at the wonderful “Eye of Osiris.” While at the thrifts, I began to buy books (2 for a nickel at the Salvation Army) and swap for credit at the wonderful “Caveat Emptor.” (Perhaps these stores are still there…in Bloomington, Indiana). Thrift stores were great then and I discovered that then (as now) most of the customers were buying to resell—clothes, books, antiques. Hence, I learned to live without money. Then I learned to cook with beans to please my Cal-Mex-loving beloved who craved the burritos of his Pasadena childhood.
The down side was that all this was so much fun…and I had such poor time management skills…that I procrastinated on the dissertation. And it was so hard to find a job (then as now). But in the end it’s even MORE embarrassing NOT to finish your dissertation (because so many people don’t finish).
Fast forward, finished my dissertation, got a job. My new job was paying six times as much as I had been making in graduate school but I continued to live in much the same way that I had during graduate school. I was worried because jobs weren’t secure…out of habit I kept saving. It was easy because I had picked up no bad habits and I was spending only a little more money than I did as a graduate student! I wanted to have a full year’s salary saved in case I had to look for a job and my beloved did the same.
Now beloved and I have tenure, a house, two kids and enough saved up that, while I worry about retirement, I no longer worry about yearly expenses, including the massive emergency expenses that can hit a family.
Though we both come from frugal families, we are far more frugal than any of our siblings. I attribute that frugality to graduate school. And that’s how I started.