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How do you live on a grad assistantship?

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I just wanted to see if anyone out there wanted to share experiences and thoughts (funny, random, anything, doesn't have to be related to my direction - see below-) :

What is your stipend? (9mnths/12?)

How are you going to live on only your stipend? (No eating out?)

What will you be doing during the first year summer months (research at your school? outside? how does that affect your rent/leasing agreement?)

--

Me? well let's see...

16K

I can't believe I will have to tone down my chinese take-outs (crap :) ). Probably small apartment or utility (I love this - I can actually have my own place again :) - I had to come back home for about a year now.) No car, so...idk how I would work out the whole transportation thing. But I'm an explorer and I look forward to future experiences in the subway/bus/transportation :)

No idea how I would work out the whole leasing thing, most renters want a year contract; but some do give some leeway to students. Plan to intern at a national lab or a bank during the summer (not close to my school), so I may have to live elsewhere for the summer.

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How do you live on a grad. assistantship, you ask. That's easy: poorly :P

In all seriousness, I will use a combo platter of assistantship, loans, and savings. I know that the loans are something that most want to avoid, but I plan on taking them out and using them iff it becomes necessary. If I don't use the money, I may have some interest to pay off or have some interest earned (depending on whether they are subsidized or unsubsidized.) But, I think better to have the $ available than not.

I also think that the key to leaving on a budget is to project costs over a year. For example, I thought about changing cell providers and phones. The extra cost is "only" $15 per month plus the $99.99 for the phone. Of course, over the two year life of the contract, that works out to $400, or $200/yr, which is > 1% of the yearly stipend.

Eating in is almost always cheaper if you cook. Of course, heating things up is not cooking and is pretty expensive.

The best way to live off of a stipend, by the way, is to not live off of a stipend. Find a significant other and live off of his/her salary/stipend plus yours ;)

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My stipend nets about $1200/month after taxes. Combined with my husband, we're making about $2200/month after taxes. All of his paycheck goes to his outstanding credit card bills we had before we met and his car payment. I have a scooter and ride the bus. The way the budget is laid out, we spend roughly $350/month on groceries and household items. As a splurge, we do both have iPhones and that runs $160/month. Utilities account for $275/month (that's electricity, gas, water, and garbage. As you can see, that doesn't leave much for rent. That's where loans have come into play. Rent is the main budget item that is supported by loans. At the end of the month, we have about $200 for eating out or drinks (I do have $100/month built in so that my husband can feed his coffee addiction and it doesn't interfere with other budget items). When it comes to entertainment, the internet bill is $50/month. I used our tax refund this year to buy a MacMini. It's hooked up to the TV and we stream Hulu, Netflix, and networks, getting me the most for that money.

Some months are easier than others. Sometimes it's hard to say no to going out or ordering pizza/chinese. We try to build in periodic splurges that take advantage of budget surpluses without getting us in a bind (easier said than done) like going to sushi or taking a weekend trip in driving distance.

I'm fortunate that my assistantship runs through the summer, uninterrupted. I have many classmates who are starting the hunt for summer work.

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Strict budgeting. I spend $45 a week on groceries, have a yearly book budget (and separate budget lines for research costs, conferences, etc.), and at the beginning of the month I take out $100 cash from the bank which is all I allow myself to spend on luxuries (this includes going out, buying lunch and coffee, purchasing personal luxury items, etc.). The key is to figure out a yearly budget, cut what you don't need and create mechanisms to force you to stay in that budget like avoiding the use of your debit/credit card on luxuries. If you can see how much you're spending its a bit tougher to over spend.

Three key things:

1. Learn to cook if you don't already know how to. By this I mean learn how to do more than just throw something frozen in the oven. Chinese takeout is cheap and awesome, but what costs you six bucks at a greasey chopsticks place be made at home for $1.50 to $2. I can make two portions of mushroom risotto for $5 if I want to be real fancy.

2. Be smart about groceries. For health/environmental/cost reasons we only eat meat once or twice a week. I never, ever buy meat unless its on sale. Then I break it down into individual servings and freeze it in bags when I get home. Chicken breasts are affordable if you buy them at half off. The only pre-frozen food we have is "good" quality frozen pizzas that we buy eight of at a time when they go on sale for less than $2.50. It's not a replacement for cooking, it's a replacement for ordering a pizza.

3. Investing in some decent but cheap coffee making equipment is crucial for me. At home we use a stove top moka pot and a stove top milk frother. The end result is the ability to make something that approximates a latte on the cheap. At my office I have a driver (Abid sells them as "Clever Coffee makers" I think) which lets me make coffee in my office without having to go buy it for $2 or waste beans making an entire pot that either won't be drunken or will be drunken by someone who won't chip in. Coffee station coffee always ends up being so bad since people go cheap with it that half the people on a floor go buy coffee elsewhere whenever they want it and go broke. If coffee is important to you it's worthwhile to just drop the money on good beans and equipment from the get go in order to save money on getting it from a coffee shop.

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My current stipend nets ~1300 per month.

For the past 2 years I've been living with roommates and that saved a LOT of money (rent + utilities = ~$350 per month). The bulk of my expenses is probably food: I basically buy whatever I want and splurge on good coffee, beer, & meat (when I buy it, which is not often) but cook a lot and almost never eat out. I also rarely go to the movies and bars etc and try to limit my other random shopping expenditures ("luxuries" like new clothes etc). I also walk to/from campus & town so my car expenses are pretty minimal as well. With this budget I supposedly have quite a bit leftover each month for savings, but last year that got pretty much eaten up by unanticipated expenses such as medical bills (even with insurance), being in a wedding, and a splurge vacation overseas.

Next year I'm moving into a much more expensive apartment and live alone which will probably cost $800 per month with utilities etc. Unless I get an outside fellowship or some sort of pay raise (here PhD students get minor raises for passing candidacy & comps) I will be watching my expenses more closely. I should be able cut my food & luxury (non-food/bills) expenditures enough not to have to dip into my savings for routine expenditures, but it will be tight. As a last resort I can rent out the small spare room in my new apartment and live with a roommate again, but I'd rather try and make ends meet other ways first. I won't be taking out any loans and hope not to dip into my savings except for something really major.

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nice....i'm prob going to use some of your ideas to same some $ :)

@ dacey: if you are always in areas with wifi, you could switch to wifi instead, and 'stop' your iphone from using the data plan/Edge thingy (there's a website that automatically does it - completely reversable, you can turn it on/off anytime) = you guys could change your plan from the monthly 160 to about 100 or less (depending on your minutes plan). Oh yeah...you lose your visual voicemail when you change your plan from the iphone plan to another one :( . I have been doing this for the past year or so...going broke apparently gave me lots of ideas :)

love the comments, keep them coming

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Yea, I live comfortably on my grad stipend. I do have roommates, which minimizes the bills (I pay under $500 for rent + utilities + internet + cable and have for the four years I've been in grad school in two different cities). I also avoid eating lunch out. At most, I'll eat out for lunch twice a month. Seriously. Eating out for lunch is like $7/day, $35/week, or $140/month. That's the same as my monthly grocery budget! As someone else said, I also don't eat a ton of meat. I eat either scrambled eggs, omelets, cereal (Raisin Bran bought for $2.50/25 oz box at Target), or oatmeal (from rolled oats, with brown sugar and raisins added) every morning for breakfast. If I eat meat, it happens at dinner.

Another pro of having roommates is that my current roommates hate eating leftovers, so they often just let them sit in the fridge. So, I'll ask if I can have it and they say sure. Last week they had a Passover Seder with beef brisket, and there were leftovers to feed me lunch and dinner through the weekend. Huge cost-savings for me because I didn't have to cook and got to eat something delicious.

Entertainment: I always have a budget when I go out. Fridays, the budget is $20. That covers drinks at happy hour and dinner if we go out to eat afterward. If I go over, it comes from my grocery budget. I have a Netflix subscription, which isn't included in what I consider the minimum monthly bills. Does fostering dogs count as entertainment? I have to keep the foster dog supplied with toys and treats, which I pay for out of pocket. I also buy her food even though I don't have to.

Transportation: I have to keep my bike in decent repair since I use it to get to and from campus every day. I ride a late 70s Schwinn, which is a beast of a bike but I love it dearly. If it's not ready to roll, I walk (20 min) to campus. I never pay to park on campus. Campus parking is $9/day here, which adds up quickly if you have to do it frequently.

Travel: I also travel a good bit, not just to conferences but also to see my family. My mom does help out with that sometimes, but I apply for grants when it comes to conferences so that I can maximize my travel dollars. I actually got enough grants for a conference in October that I *made* money while there. When it comes to conference travel, always check your friends/facebook/LinkedIn/MySpace to see if you know anyone that lives in the area. If so, ask if you can crash for free or at a low cost. If you travel a lot, you might even want to look into couchsurfing. Or, in plenty of places, it's actually cheaper to rent a place for a week than to get a hotel for 4 nights so keep that in mind when planning your housing.

For summer, I teach a class which earns me some income. I also am out of the country doing field research. I set aside some money during the semester to pay for things over the summer, like rent, that my research grants won't cover.

FWIW, I have a colleague in my department who lives with his wife in a 2bd/1ba apt in a relatively safe neighborhood that rents for $525. They don't have cable, though they do have internet. They save fully 25% of their biweekly paychecks, and are able to use that to max out their Roth IRAs each year. And no, they aren't suffering by any means.

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Looks like my situation is similar to others. I'm in the biological sciences, my annual teaching stipend is approximately $18,500, closer to $16,500 after school fees and health insurance (the university only pays 40% of the insurance). The living expenses are pretty low here. I used to live with a roommate but I moved to have a small apartment in a great house to myself, which increased my monthly rent+utilities budget from $550 to about $650 (inc. electricity, gas, water, trash, internet, no cable). I split the wireless internet access with someone in the upstairs apartment.

I bike the ~2 miles to campus, both because I enjoy it and it saves a lot of money between gas, wear and tear and parking. The only time I drive is to the grocery store and to the lab at night when there's no parking enforcement. I budget $150-200/month for food including occasionally eating out for lunch. I'm not a strict vegetarian but I don't buy meat at the grocery store, which also saves cash.

So, after taxes, health insurance and student fees it works out to about $1300/month. Subtract rent, utilities, car insurance etc. and I end up netting about $450/month. I pay $50/month on my undergraduate student loans to pay off the interest generated each month. I don't take out any loans for graduate study. This leaves me money for going out occasionally (once a week, generally).

The downside is that my lab is essentially broke, so I've had to buy a few small pieces of laboratory equipment out of pocket and my area of research is expensive (SCUBA equipment is pricey)! I also have a very small side income by aquaculturing algae and selling it to aquarium hobbyists. Luckily I just received word that I received a fellowship which will mean a net raise as I will no longer have to pay school fees and health insurance out of pocket.

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I've been offered a $16k/year fellowship. The average rent where I'd be moving is around $450/month, which isn't bad. I do not have -- and do not want -- a car to worry about. I thought I had been rejected by 6 schools this application year but a last minute offer came. Unfortunately, I have NO savings to speak of. If I stay at my current job I can easily save about $12000 by next Fall, which would mean absolutely no worries about financial matters. However, that would mean turning down my current offer and hoping I can get something similar offered next year. Aaarrrggghhhhh...

Oh, sorry to get off topic.

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i net just under $1300/month after taxes. i pay $600 in rent (including utilities, not including phone, cable, internet). for my cell phone, tv, and 'net, i pay another $100/month. that leaves me with $600/month to live off of.

my cat enjoys chewing through the cords that charge my computer and phone. so far he's done $140 in damage. he's a sneaky little jerk and every time i think i've foiled him by placing cords in hard to reach places, he eventually finds a way to happily chew through them. it may not sound like much, but when he does $100 of that $140 damage in one month, it sucks.

books kill me too. i thought i was being smart about ordering them for $7 each off of amazon, but that still adds up to over $400 in books per semester. if i spread my book purchases out over the 3 months of class, only buying them on the week i need to read them, that's still $130/month (or more) on books. i've learned my lesson and will now make good use of ILLs for course books. it's better that way. if i can't keep the book, i force myself to make really detailed notes instead, which will come in handy for my comps.

conference fees have hurt me a bit in the last month or so. i'm going to three conferences this summer and registration/membership alone has cost me around $250. if that was spread out over the year, it would be fine, but all those payments were made at the end of march/beginning of april. i'm supposed to get funding from the school to attend the conferences themselves, but there are rumours that this multimillion dollar institution has "ran out" of money for graduate conference travel.

most of my budget goes to food. i figure i should be able to spend $100/week on food and still have $200 left over for incidentals, but between paying off credit card bills ($150/month), putting gas in my car ($40/month), paying for campus parking if i'm late or lazy ($40/month on average), and eating out (i'm afraid to add this one up), once i get to the end of the month i've got $26 in my bank account. i guess, by that metric, i'm still spending less than $100/week in food. i should try to actually save something, though. my bank balance at the end of the month is scary. shit, it's scary right now!

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I have a side job teaching french classes, where i make 60$ per week (cash). this is my "fun" money....i spend it on dinner out, coffee, bus fare, etc etc, and once it is gone for the week, no more spending. (which means walking where i need to go)

For the 5 hours i spend in the week teaching, it gives me piece of mind knowing i have that to be able to go out, buy a coffee, etc without worrying. the money from my grant goes to rent/groceries (modest groceries)/utilities. It makes me track my purchases and think ahead. Plus, if i am really busy and dont go out for a week or 2, I have a nice bit of money saved and can splurge on nicer beer or something. I really recommend doing this....it keeps my bank card in my wallet and makes me save.

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I just wanted to see if anyone out there wanted to share experiences and thoughts (funny, random, anything, doesn't have to be related to my direction - see below-) :

What is your stipend? (9mnths/12?)

How are you going to live on only your stipend? (No eating out?)

What will you be doing during the first year summer months (research at your school? outside? how does that affect your rent/leasing agreement?)

--

Me? well let's see...

16K

I can't believe I will have to tone down my chinese take-outs (crap :) ). Probably small apartment or utility (I love this - I can actually have my own place again :) - I had to come back home for about a year now.) No car, so...idk how I would work out the whole transportation thing. But I'm an explorer and I look forward to future experiences in the subway/bus/transportation :)

No idea how I would work out the whole leasing thing, most renters want a year contract; but some do give some leeway to students. Plan to intern at a national lab or a bank during the summer (not close to my school), so I may have to live elsewhere for the summer.

I got 28k my first year in Columbus. I think I'll be able to manage. After that it'll depend on my professor supporting me with an RA so we'll see if I have any luck with that.

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Am I the only one who thinks a grad stipend of ~16k/ year(assuming a tuition waiver) is plenty of money?

I've kept track of how much I've spent per semester in undergrad and it comes out to about 4k a semester (12k/yr). That doesn't include tuition or plane tickets home for the holidays but does include eating out as much as I want (probably averaging once a day) and buying everything I want (nothing expensive but I've never thought about money when buying a book or a new pair of jeans).

Edit: I'll be making about 21k a year including doing summer research, so I can get a year-long lease.

Edited by Slarti

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So glad my GA is going to be as high as it is, 35k =)

Lol did you see how everyone responded so negatively to that? People get very jealous and bitter when you say that you have enough money for things. I didn't think you were flaunting it in a mean way or anything, I've just noticed that especially in the whole grad school culture people tend to get very mean and attack you personally if you're not living in poverty. For instance, when people learn that my parents pay for 100% of all my expenses and I don't have to worry about money when I'm in grad school they immediately attack me and say that I am the worst person on earth, must be lazy/stupid/dependent/not worth the dirt I'm standing on because I'm not paying my own way. Everyone grows up with different circumstances and some people end up getting higher stipends. I'm sure you earned yours, I just find this response to be very amusing, and sad in a way.

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Lol did you see how everyone responded so negatively to that?

Huh? I didn't see anyone respond negatively. Edit: Ooh you meant by voting the post down!

Also my post above seemed a bit mean. Obviously there's different circumstances, but what I meant is that I still can't believe I'm actually going to be making that much money. laugh.gif

Edited by Slarti

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Huh? I didn't see anyone respond negatively. Edit: Ooh you meant by voting the post down!

Also my post above seemed a bit mean. Obviously there's different circumstances, but what I meant is that I still can't believe I'm actually going to be making that much money. laugh.gif

He/She meant the comment thingy: positive/negative on the bottom right of yang's post (i think).

I just got some info about a fellowship within the school, that I could apply to. Hopefully, that works out. idk if it would be possible for me to get both that fellowship & this grad assistantship...that would be AWESOME.

The only reason I worry is that living on such a meagre amount (lemme explain) is that in the event of ANY unforseen circumstance, we - the grad students - are done for. If I get sick, get into a car accident (i dont have a car, but thats not the point lol) or something, then there's no money to pay for that. All of a sudden, I'm stuck in debt :( -- not something I want lol

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The only reason I worry is that living on such a meagre amount (lemme explain) is that in the event of ANY unforseen circumstance, we - the grad students - are done for. If I get sick, get into a car accident (i dont have a car, but thats not the point lol) or something, then there's no money to pay for that. All of a sudden, I'm stuck in debt :( -- not something I want lol

Growing up relatively poor, this has been the case my entire life. $18k for my first post-college, half time (...so I could lurk around campus and keep taking classes biggrin.gif) job seemed like a miracle. Two jobs and almost double that salary right now seems too good to be true. I've paid down college debts, visited my family, bought a new (not all from Salvation Army, oh the hipster/undergrad life) wardrobe, furnished my apartment, sorted out some health issues (which required expensive and frequent doctor's appointments) AND saved up to buy a car this summer.

I think I really lucked out in the last few years, so I'm feeling pretty well set up for going into grad school. Even though my income will go down a bit, I'll have a lot of weird financial stuff behind me, and I can hopefully coast through school. When I get paranoid, I comfort myself with the thought that nothing will be as bad as it was growing up, when my whole FAMILY's income was less than my stipend is going to be. Plus, just knowing that I'll have something that I can count on for FIVE YEARS is hugely comforting.

Plus, I'll be really marketable on the other end, so if academia doesn't work out, and/or I DO get into debt in grad school, I'll have options for paying it back...

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Lol did you see how everyone responded so negatively to that? People get very jealous and bitter when you say that you have enough money for things. I didn't think you were flaunting it in a mean way or anything, I've just noticed that especially in the whole grad school culture people tend to get very mean and attack you personally if you're not living in poverty. For instance, when people learn that my parents pay for 100% of all my expenses and I don't have to worry about money when I'm in grad school they immediately attack me and say that I am the worst person on earth, must be lazy/stupid/dependent/not worth the dirt I'm standing on because I'm not paying my own way. Everyone grows up with different circumstances and some people end up getting higher stipends. I'm sure you earned yours, I just find this response to be very amusing, and sad in a way.

Seriously, what's with the backlash? I think business schools tend to have higher stipends for PhD students since the opportunity costs are relatively high for us. Many have MBA's or advanced degrees in marketable fields, not to mention several years of work experience.

That said, 35k is definitely still in the higher stipend range. Rice has a new PhD program, so the stipend is part of their method of attracting good students to join.

The only other program that I've heard of offering 35k is HBS, and that's in a much more expensive city. I believe Chicago's Booth GSB pays 30-32k, and I received a 28k offer from Rochester.

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Okay, you're all gonna gang up on me, but I hope not. I'm in business also, and the stipend I receive is in the mid 20s. I'm also holding various TAships (beyond my requirement), so I get money from those jobs as well. In total, I think I make around 40k a year. Don't get me wrong -- I work hard for it. I manage my time very well (I like to believe), and so despite my numerous TA jobs, I'm also above average on my academic/school/research side of things.

I have several student debts to pay as an undergraduate, and I pay all expenses myself. I don't know about you guys, but in my program, some people had previous full-time jobs, or they have parents who help pay for airfares and "gifts" like laptops and bicycles. I pay all of these things myself. But then again, I started teaching piano to kids when I was in high school, and I've been relatively financial independent since then, and I've been taught (through family values) that I have to work for what I receive, and I like to believe that my 40k is justified based on the (quality of) work that I do.

I think this depends on the school/department, but if you can seek other TA/RA jobs beyond your requirements (or even beyond your school), go for it. I truly don't believe in the "I don't have time" crap. I really don't. You just need to learn to better manage your time, not hang out often (not insinuating that all of you are drunk everyday though!). I take more courses than my peers and also work more than my peers, but I still can hang out with them when they suggest things.

Edited by shahman101

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At the program I'm going to next September, there seem to be numerous opportunities to make extra money if you want it: extra TA-ing, advising undergrads, office paperwork, etc. It sounds like most students end up making more than the (generous) stipend at least one of their five years. Not sure if this is the case at other programs, but it's certainly worth checking out (these opportunities weren't advertised in any way, I just happened to ask about them).

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Okay, you're all gonna gang up on me, but I hope not. I'm in business also, and the stipend I receive is in the mid 20s. I'm also holding various TAships (beyond my requirement), so I get money from those jobs as well. In total, I think I make around 40k a year. Don't get me wrong -- I work hard for it. I manage my time very well (I like to believe), and so despite my numerous TA jobs, I'm also above average on my academic/school/research side of things.

I have several student debts to pay as an undergraduate, and I pay all expenses myself. I don't know about you guys, but in my program, some people had previous full-time jobs, or they have parents who help pay for airfares and "gifts" like laptops and bicycles. I pay all of these things myself. But then again, I started teaching piano to kids when I was in high school, and I've been relatively financial independent since then, and I've been taught (through family values) that I have to work for what I receive, and I like to believe that my 40k is justified based on the (quality of) work that I do.

I think this depends on the school/department, but if you can seek other TA/RA jobs beyond your requirements (or even beyond your school), go for it. I truly don't believe in the "I don't have time" crap. I really don't. You just need to learn to better manage your time, not hang out often (not insinuating that all of you are drunk everyday though!). I take more courses than my peers and also work more than my peers, but I still can hang out with them when they suggest things.

At my university additional TA/RA lines are not an option, as there are absolutely no extra TA positions available for doubling up. Even if they had them they wouldn't let you, if you're not teaching you should be in the lab. It's the limiting factor of how many students we can accept (typically 6-12 per year). There's no way in hell they're going to give one student a second position that would allow another student into the department. Periodically we come dangerously close to not having enough TA positions to be able to provide everyone a stipend and the administrators have to scramble. If your PI has a grant to provide an RA then you're very lucky. As for extra non-teaching jobs, it is possible to likely that we're going to have to begin laying off staff due to state budget cuts. I think grad students taking on any of that work would get their tires slashed.

Edited by LockeOak

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My doctoral stipend is $20K. After tax I get about $1700 a month. My rent is $900 plus electric and digital cable, which is my luxury item.

So the rest of the money goes for other living expenses, travel, and conferences. I supplement my stipend with a summer teaching job that pays well. I earn about $15K each summer teaching a full course load at a university.

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To reinforce what some others have said:

Learn to cook. Not just "prepare" or heat up pre-packaged foods; that's just as expensive as dining out. Take something like Mac and Cheese for example. One box costs between $1-$4 depending on brand. You can go to Target or Costco and buy 2 pounds of noodles and cheese for that much and feed yourself for a long time. Keep a bunch of spices on hand to season things. Buy beans in bulk. Buy frozen veggies in bulk, esp. when on sale. And actually prepare the food. It takes more time, but it's MUCH cheaper and healthier. Make your own coffee. Cook in bulk and freeze meals so you're not tempted to eat out for convenience.

I also canceled DVR/Cable in favor of the basic network plans, though I might cancel that as well since most of my shows are available online anyhow. I reduced my Netflix to the 1 a month plan.

Examine your cell phone plan. See if there's a better one for your uses.

If I think of more I'll post. But the biggest thing is cooking.

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