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Married couple, both PhDs, making this work in pricey city?


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Hi all -- 

So my husband and I (no kids) are starting our PhDs this fall and we are trying to make this work.  My stipend is $27,500 before taxes and his is $18K.  I think in some more affordable cities this might be possible, but we're starting our programs in Boston and when we looked for housing it was hard to find anything below $1800 a month that wasn't a studio.  We opted for an apartment a bit farther out of the city but it still is $1850, which is a lot more than we would have liked to pay for our housing expenses.  We're thinking we might keep our eyes out in case something cheaper comes up during the school year.  

We've managed to already put some cost-savings plans in place -- his university actually has a food pantry for students with low income, so we'll definitely be joining that, and we joined a CSA that gave us a deep discount for our lower income, and we'll also be enrolling in our university discount metro passes.  

I'm looking for advice, though, from any other couples living on PhD programs as to how you made it work.  I think we really need to get our housing expenses down, and we'll work on that, but any other advice would be welcome, too.  Thanks! 

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Not quite the same situation... as my partner has a decent paying job, but have you guys thought about having a roommate? We contemplated this when we first moved to a big city, although ultimately we decided to go against it, as it wasn't what we wanted and we had enough money to live alone. However, if you guys can't find the funds to live alone comfortably... perhaps the roomie-situation would be an idea. I know it would probably be a little awkward, especially if you've been living alone for a while. But you might find a floor plan that works. 


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I lived with a partner in the Boston area on a combined income that sounds pretty similar to yours. Housing was by far our biggest expense. We also joined a CSA and that was a nice way to save money and support local farmers. We used our university's health insurance, which was great, and we took advantage of the discounted metro passes. It sounds to me like you've already thought of most of what you'd want to. You can find free food at various events on campus that could save you some money; you can also get discounted or even free tickets to things like museums, concerts, etc. The main thing you can do to save on housing (other than get very lucky) is live farther away from the T in cheaper locations that might still be on a bus route or otherwise not that inconvenient for getting to your school(s). Maybe bike instead of taking the T (but for me personally that was not an option, at least not in the winter), or use the free university shuttle if it exists and goes somewhere nearby. I personally would not take a roommate as a couple, I think it's weird both for the couple and for the third person, but I suppose that's an option. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am currently in a similar situation (couple in Boston, low income). My girlfriend isn't in grad school, but she's just started working, so she doesn't get paid much at all. Combined, we make a bit more than what you make. Housing is definitely also our biggest expense. We've lived here for a year in student housing (apartment style, not dorms thank goodness) but had a non-renewal lease so just had to move again about a month ago. 1850 sounds like the standard price I found looking for a one bedroom around Cambridge/Longwood/Brookline. Does that include heat/hot water? 

Many of these have definitely been said by others, but here are some of the cost-cutting measures we've found:

-Student apartment housing (not dorms). Still far from cheap (ours is around 2000 for a one bedroom with all utilities and internet included), but the location is substantially better than what we could get for that price elsewhere. It's also incredibly convenient to have everything rolled up into one bill and the apartment complex provides a pretty strong sense of community. Maybe one of your universities has something like this available for students? 

-Free shuttles (I use the M2) to get to work so I don't need a T pass

-Grad markets. There are facebook groups like Harvard Grad Market that serve as meetingplaces for people to buy and sell used goods (they also post apartments and room available). I would try to access this page or something like this for your university. We were able to furnish our new apartment for incredibly cheap and even got a ton of stuff for free. 

-Couponing/Ibotta. I do a decent amount of couponing to save money on groceries. I also use the app Ibotta to get rebates on groceries I buy (so far I've made ~$25, so not a lot, but it's free and pretty easy to just scan your receipt. I would make more if I bought more name brand items). Overall, we spend maybe 40-50 on groceries each week. 

-Roommates? - I've only ever been in a sublet situation where we had to share with a roommate. It wasn't bad at all, but I think a lot of that was because we knew it was only short-term. Personally, I think roommates are a bad idea for couples. If you can find a roommate both you know and like, there's also the issue of how much to pay for rent. Some would say by the bedroom, but I've also heard split the rent evenly among the people living there, or some combination of those with splitting of utilities. You stand to save a lot if you could pay by the bedroom, but many roommates probably wouldn't be thrilled about that. 

-Psych studies. I used to do these a lot in undergrad to make money. If your school has business school/psychology studies available, they're an easy way to make a little money. It is necessary to note that you need to have time during the day to do them (usually they happen during business hours). Some of them are online though, which makes  it pretty easy. If you are eligible, fMRI studies can pay hundreds of dollars (though again this is a time commitment, and probably spread out over several sessions). 

-Credit cards. I got a rewards card last year and basically put everything on it. In one year, I've made around $160. Again, not a ton of money, but it was free money. 



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I feel you. I am lucky that my wife will be able to work, but the uncertainty is killing us (and we have a dog). $1700-$1900 seems about right, unfortunately. However, I think some newer areas of Chelsea run lower for what looks like good apartments. The commute is slightly longer, but I think it might be worth it for you guys. Also, do you have a car? That's a hindrance.

I hope things work out for you guys! It looks like you have many great ideas so far.

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An $18k stipend isn't a livable wage in Boston. But knowing where you're going, even vaguely, would help with giving advice.

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  • 4 weeks later...

So for all those struggling with the cost of living here in Boston @Butterfly_effect@ts1493 Boston actually has quite a few housing programs to help with renting and purchasing in this stupidly expensive city.


Boston's redevelopment authority provides subsidized housing for people making about 70%-120% of the area median income. This nicely fits with what grad students / postdocs make. The exact income limits depend on how many people are in your household. It is a long-ish process, and they go through your financial background in fine detail, but the payoff is pretty nice. All new buildings with apartments or condos must set aside 12% of the units as a lottery for this program (or pay the equivalent to the city in a fund).
Anyway... I'd highly recommend it. You can occasionally find them listed on craigslist (I search "BRA" under the housing section). If you have questions about the program, feel free to message me. It definitely helped me offset some of my living expenses.
Other housing resources: http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org/housing/more-housing-resources

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