21 October 2013

The Graduate's Wife: Living on a grad student budget

Do you ever make a purchase for something and feel SO good about it, but then a few days later, realize that maybe you could have waited just a little bit longer?

We kind of did that this weekend. Even though it was just a marked down rug from Target, it kind of did us in.

I was getting frustrated and tired of always waiting to do things. Our living room trim and ceiling still need to be painted. We have ugly paint swatches in the hallway, the dining room, and the kitchen. We have a hodgepodge of furniture that never seems to look quite right together and we're in serious need of better lighting throughout the house. And lets not forget the basement that needs a makeover in order to function as anything but a junk holding place.

So needless to say, I talked myself into buying a new rug for the living room. And it's a glorious rug that pulls the whole room together.  See for yourself (just ignore the hideous ceiling light and the yellow, upside down trim, and yes, the yellow ceiling).

According to our budget, we should have been able to afford that rug. But with unexpected vet bills, a burglary, and not realizing just HOW MUCH student fees are taken out of the first few months of a grad student's measly salary, we found that we were already dipping into next month's savings and let me tell you, the feeling of living pay check to pay check terrifies us.

I could return the rug, but in my selfishness, I'm desperately clinging to it because it's so pretty, and so soft, and one step closer to feeling like a grown up.

I guess what is really happening is that I'm eager to get out of this college student lifestyle, and when my husband's desire is to become a professor, I'm terrified to think that we will be living like this for the next seven years.  I'm terrified of the idea of moving for a post-doc that only lasts two years, only to move again for a job. I'm terrified for my husband to become a Physics professor, it means watching my husband forgo his health and well-being so he can meet the demands of his job and spend quality time with his family. I'm terrified that a job in academia will eat my husband alive.

We had a long talk this weekend about grocery bills and the new rug we bought. We had a long talk about his career path and how much of it he wants (or rather, doesn't want) bleeding into his family life.  We had a long talk about how I desire to hear about what he wants in life that doesn't just include his career.

And those were some really good talks.

As a result of those talks, we'll be forgoing a lot of fun things over the next few months, like traveling to Florida for the holidays or eating out or spending more than $60/week on groceries, but some of it includes making Christmas gifts for each other out of materials we already have, getting creative with dates that don't cost money, and being intentional about the friendships we're forming with others.

There are people that say the romance kind of dies when money becomes an issue, but in this moment of our lives, we're finding that tighter finances is pulling us together in a wonderfully sweet way that can only be provided by the Lord. The selfishness we've gotten so good at hiding is starting to unravel a little everyday and the exposure of it has been painful but refreshing.

Some tough decisions were made, but we're kind of excited about it. We're pulling back a lot and it's going to force us to put each other first in a way that we really haven't been able to for a long time.


  1. Budgets make my head hurt. I've actually been thinking a lot about budgets and stuff now that I have a "grown-up job." Let's just say it's not that fun. :)

    But I digress. I loved reading this post not because I'm happy that you have to live off a tough budget but because I was encouraged by the way God is working in and through you during this time. Hang in there, girl! God's plans are definitely greater than our own and I know that He'll provide for you--even if it doesn't seem like it now.

    And I'm glad you're keeping the rug! I am seriously in love with your home and definitely agree that the rug pulls everything in your living room(?) together!

    1. Budgets are pretty awful when you sit down to make one. Matt created a really convenient spread sheet that allows you to just plug in any changing numbers (like salary increase or decrease) and everything recalculates to tell you what your monthly expenses are or your monthly savings can be, so really, with that little beast in existence, we don't have an excuse. :/

      As petty as my "tough budget" sounds to me, I can't deny that God is using it to teach us dependence on him. We want to tithe more, be more involved with the community and church and we find that fretting over money or getting used to just using up all our weekly allowance on ordering in really prevents us from a lot of meaningful things.

      I'm glad I kept the rug too. It really helps me feel more settled about the house. That's the most finished room we have and it shows that it is possible, little by little, for this house to feel more like a home. Rug are kind of necessary with this house in particular. The floors are all original and a lot of them haven't been refinished in a long time. I think I've given myself two splinters in the upstairs room alone. In the living room and dining room, there are a lot of blemishes and so adding a rug hides those until we can afford to get them refinished. It also helps poor little Chester when he plays. Now he has something a little bigger than the hall rug to keep him from sliding on :)

      Kiki, thank you so much for your encouragement. I was kind of nervous posting this as I didn't want to come off as whiney or ungrateful for what we have, but I really felt a good clean confession was in order to help motivate me. :)

  2. I was fortunate enough that since I work for a university my tuition is paid for and I owe the fees, after a certain amount they tax you on the tuition and my paychecks would be cut in half or by 3/4.. those were rough months trying to plan around.

    I definitely think as long as you budget you will be fine, you don't need money to be romantic. I hope that he gets to be a professor and that he's a good one too! I had some terrible ones and some that I adored.

    1. Yes, Matt has a stipend, so we definitely understand those rough months!

      We know money hasn't to do with romance, but it can definitely be the source of arguments and we really try to focus on not letting it get between us.

      Thanks so much for your encouragement. I will be happy as long as he enjoys what he does, regardless of what that may look like. The good thing is that he has some time to really think it out to make sure the professor route is the one he truly wants to take. :)

  3. christina, so much of this resonated with me. my husband and i are both graduate students (his undergrad was physics!). everything you wrote about in this post —been there. the mental/emotional unraveling after buying something (a good deal! that you really need! or just really want!) and realizing that you really can't afford it, but you're doing everything possible to find a way to keep it. the long talks about futures and careers and uncertainty and money. making sacrifices. (we have a $50 limit on our christmas gifts for each other! all other gifts, such as for birthdays, are usually letters or small creative handmade gifts, and some budget-friendly type of date. and you are right: it can either split the two of you, or bring you even closer.
    a note on food: we have a $50 eating out budget each month, $30 date budget, and $200 grocery budget (monthly). obviously, this means we don't eat out much! one thing that i've really found that works for us to keep us in the grocery budget is to plan ahead and make meals in bulk. we usually have one main entree for lunch (something that can be turned into sandwiches or carried easily, since we're both on campus) and one main entree for dinner...all week. so basically eating leftovers all week! but we mix it up with fruits, veggies, snacks, and sides. it also means that i only go grocery shopping (with a list!) every other week—which seriously helps to cut back on spending. also, in a weird way, we've found that the more we give or tithe, the less stressful our finances become. it is definitely a journey!
    and on one final note: your living room is beautiful, and the rug definitely does pull everything together!

    m | http://twohandfulsof.wordpress.com/

    1. Oh Michaela, your comment really made my entire day. It's so refreshing and a wonderful relief to come across someone who is going through the same thing.

      We have "fun" budgeted too (like eating out, or buying things we want vs need, ect), but due to some unexpected expenses, we decided to forgo that part of the budget for the next couple of months so we can start saving up again. I used to do the whole meal planning in advance, but let me tell you, I HATE grocery shopping and meal planning, haha, so I get lazy and that's when the budget suffers. But you're right, once you stick to planning out in advance, the savings are tremendous.

      And goodness, don't I know it when you mention tithing. Honestly, we really suffer in this area, but we're starting to get back on track.

      Gosh, i just loved every word of your comment. Seriously, it was such an encouragement to hear from you. Thank you so, so much!

    2. i'm so glad that you were so encouraged! i'm pretty sure i felt the exact same way when i read the comment you left on my self-discipline post. also, i hate grocery shopping and meal planning, too. one thing that helps is to constantly remind myself how blessed i am to be able to grocery shop whenever and for whatever i want (...within walmart, not whole foods). i just try not to think about how i will be doing this for my family forever. but the planning and shopping really do get easier when you shop bi-weekly and make huge meals and have lots of leftovers. that means planning only about 4 meals, and then eating fresh fruit or microwaved frozen veggies and salad and cheese toast for sides. i'm always so amazed when i visit someone and they have a little whiteboard with all the meals for that week. makes me feel claustrophobic inside.

    3. oh, and making and freezing chilis and chowders and stews (and some boxes of cornbread mix) is a great back-up plan for the weeks when planning/cooking/shopping are literally the last thing you would ever want to do.

  4. I hate budgets.
    let me rephrase that because it wasn't strong enough - I loathe budgets.
    I definitely think God can be and IS glorified through our sacrifices - especially when it comes to money.
    money can so easily become a strong place holder in our lives - I mean, it's how we survive and all.
    I love y'alls attitude during this season - it will be new, different, challenging, but it will also grow you together and help to hopefully shed light on remembering the things you love about one another - without money involved.

    1. I LOATHE them too. I seriously get a little queasy every time I see Matt tinkering away at the spreadsheet he created. He adores budgets, and he will be the first to admit that he can be a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to money, but I can't imagine a better season than the holiday season to stop thinking so much about money and to stop spending so much money.

      It's already served as a little bit of a challenge (I was shooting an event last night for young professional women in a clothing boutique where everything was 50% off --- my wallet was twitching!!!), but it's kind of fun as we're in it, "suffering" together, and the wonderfully beautiful thing is that it isn't really suffering at all.

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words!


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