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Share Experiences Living on a Stipend


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Hey guys, I am a prospective graduate student trying to figure out the financial side of things. Obviously, a lot depends on each person's situation and lifestyle, but I am always interested in learning other people's experiences.

Would you mind sharing how you live on your stipend? It would be interesting to see how much you make (after fees and taxes), where you live (i.e. big city on the coast, middle of nowhere in the South, etc) and what kind of life you can afford (live with a roommate or alone, own a car, have pets, eat out a lot, etc).

Please specify if you get any additional financial help from family (health and car insurance, living at home for the summer, spouse with a real job, etc) or elsewhere.

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So during my Master's my take home was pretty minimal (~$10,000 a year) but I did make it work okay. My school though is located in a smaller city in the South so cost of living was pretty low and I lucked out in getting rent that was only $545 a month (for a fairly spacious apartment). Also I did have additional financial help from my parents. My car insurance and phone bill was paid by my parents and I was and still am on my parent's health insurance. I had no car payments on my car since I paid in full for it before I started my Master's. But outside of those things I paid for everything else: car maintenance (though mine was minimal since I have a relatively new car with few miles), food, rent, utilities, streaming services, etc. I also did split a lot of these costs with my partner. He was also on a similar stipend as me. We lived in the city our master's institution was in so we had to cover our costs year round.

Overall, money was very tight and we didn't have a ton of expendable income, but we were always able to pay our big expenses. We did eat out quite a bit because we were terrible about making time for cooking, but we rarely ate out anywhere very expensive (those types of restaurants were treats/splurges to us). We have two cats and have been able to cover any costs they need, though we were lucky that we only had to pay a one time deposit on them and no monthly rent. But we paid for that deposit and vet check ups/shots yearly, and of course food. They are even on pricey food now since one of them is allergic to fillers found in pet food. We were also able to buy ourselves new clothes when we desperately needed them and also keep our book/comic reading going too (though these were purchases that didn't occur frequently). Other people in my program who lived alone or didn't manage their money super well had to sign up for food stamps though to get by on the small stipends we got. But my partner and I always tried to manage our money relatively well and we were able to get by, though having help from our parents for the costs I mention above definitely helped tremendously.

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I'm on $42,500 in Australia, which is large (most PhD students here are on $27,500). I find it very comfortable and am able to save more than half of my stipend. I would say I spend about $10,000 a year on accommodation and utilities (one bedroom in a good area that I share with my partner), and I cook most of my meals at home, though do go out with friends for lunch and also buy tea once or twice a week. Public transport is also $1,500 a year. I live in a major city where the cost of living is extremely high compared to the US.  

Even though I save most of my stipend, before that we also manage to be able to go away every now and then (we're staying in a cheap airbnb in the countryside soon), and I think since I accepted my PhD offer we've become more in tune with free and low cost leisure activities. I choose not to go to the gym because the cost is so high though. I also have large medical bills despite socialised healthcare here, which sucks but I still feel I can afford it. 

My partner does earn a solid salary, but we split our bills 50/50 (though sometimes he takes me out to dinner) and I haven't felt it dig into my salary. We are both very careful with money on the whole, though, and never buy more than we can afford. This means that we earn some interest on our savings accounts. 

Based on my experience and the numbers above, I think I would also be able to live comfortably on the standard $27,500 stipend with enough money left over to save or to go on an overseas trip once a year. None of the stipends here force you to TA, but I do that on the side and it pays well on top of my stipend. 

I think things would be much tougher if we had kids or a mortgage. We have neither though, which does help. We don't get help from our parents (I feel like we're too old for that) but they've said they can lend us a lifeline if things get dire. 

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I live in a reasonably priced mid-sized major metropolitan area. I have no kids.  I have lived with my fiancé the last four years.

My experience is that we manage to live almost as nicely as we'd like, we aren't starving, we eat well, we can run our heater at a modest rate in the winter.  We also are unable to put aside any money for savings. If one of our cars broke down we wouldn't be able to fix it probably (losing a shoe for want of a nail, comes to mind). To buy a new dress shirt is a major luxury. I've been able to buy one new suit (a relatively cheap one) in five years of grad school, and while you might think of this as trivial, I'd ask you, what do you intend to wear to your job interviews/conferences? Things like new shoes become major investments. You learn to take care of what you have, and to fix things yourself.

Let us say nothing of what happens when your computer inevitably dies.

So to sum up my experience. Day-to-day we live like fine, reasonable adults, but you have little room for error or extras (or savings), which definitely creates a nagging subliminal stress on our day-to-day fine living.



Edited by jrockford27
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