Grad school in science* is a stressful time. You've got lots of pressure to produce, to do well in classes, to work more hours, to get more done, to learn faster, to teach, to volunteer.
And you're doing it all on, sometimes, less than $25,000 a year**. So on to all of that stress, you have to add more, the fact that you've got to live on that. For many people, this seems like a lot, but if you've got a family? Or other dependents? Not so much. Not only that, even people who DON'T have dependents can have a rough time. Many new grad students have never worked in the "real world". They have no idea how to manage money because they've never really made much, and have usually depended on parents or other caregivers. It's a very, very fortunate position. But it also means that a lot of grad students start grad school with NO idea of how to manage their finances.
And this can mean DEBT. In my time, I've seen grad students buy houses, new cars, more new cars, take super nice trips, wear really nice clothes, get really nice phones, eat out every day, sometimes all of these in combination. Some people can get away with it. A lot of people can't. I've seen people rack up a LOT of debt.
I myself was lucky. I got out with no debt at all, and even managed to save a little. This involved a LOT of frugal living (Costco and Aldi are your friends, and roommates are not a bad thing at all! Thrift stores can have some very nice dress clothes. Also, you'd be stunned by how long you can just keep pouring oil into your car to make it keep running before it just up and dies), but it also involved a lot of luck. Not everyone is lucky. And not everyone has the freedom to make the choices I made. I lived in a cheap area where rentals weren't horrid, so I saved a lot of money there. Food was cheap where I lived. I didn't need major surgery or anything, and neither did my cat. I only had one car die. I got out of grad school before my funding ran out. I had parents that could help me. I was able to use other talents to pull in a little extra income. I was REALLY lucky.
Grad schools know it's not easy. They know that many grad students needs to get used to living on a budget. And quickly. And so there are programs where they tell you things like "pack your lunch! Brew your own coffee! Buy only used cars!" ...like we aren't already doing these things. It can help a little, but most of the time we are left to follow our own instincts.
And so this is why I am VERY glad that Southern Fried Science is doing a series on finances for grad students! There are already a couple of really great posts up on getting a stipend, what to expect from your stipend, and how to build credit. If you're a grad student just starting out, I can't recommend them enough. Read them, take them to heart. And pack your lunch and brew your own coffee most days. Cause, you know, practicality. 🙂
So head over and check it out! I eagerly await more installments!
*I'm applying this post only to people in science, or in other fields which get a stipend and have tuition paid. In the humanities, you usually get no stipends at ALL and have to pay full tuition. They have it WAY WORSE.
**That's roughly what I made in grad school, lo these, um, three years ago.