A Week In Delaware On A $20,000 Stipend

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.
Today: a graduate student working in earth sciences who earns a $20,000 stipend per year and spends some of her money this week on a chai.
Occupation: Graduate Student
Industry: Earth Sciences
Age: 30
Location: Delaware
Salary: $20,000 stipend = $17,386.78 after taxes
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $965.94 after taxes
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,099 (includes all utilities except electricity)
Student Loans: $0 (I worked for seven years between undergrad and grad school and paid everything off.)
Electricity: Up to $120 in the winter, around $40 in the summer
Cell Phone & Car Insurance: $0 (These are both paid by my parents.)
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Annual Expenses
University Student Fees: $1,112 (This covers health insurance and graduate student association fees.)
Annual IRA Contribution: $6,000 (This comes from my savings. I have $47,000 saved.)

Day One

7:30 a.m. — I wake up to snow, but it's only an inch, so I take a shower, fold yesterday's laundry, skip breakfast, and pack my schoolbag for my 9 a.m. class. I then check my email right before leaving the house and find that classes are canceled until noon! This is utterly ridiculous. I've spent the past 15 years living in Massachusetts and then Wisconsin, and I find it laughable that an academic institution would shut down in a panic for an inch of snow. There's another email canceling my second class because the professor is having transportation issues. Guess I get to stay home today! That's fine, I have a LOT of work to catch up on.
10:30 a.m. — It's lunch time! I heat up frozen patra (it's a West Indian dish that you can find in the freezer section of Indian grocery stores) and have it with chocolate milk. This pairing makes no sense but is pretty typical of how I eat — it's what's available. I've begun work on a project I promised to help a colleague with. It has nothing to do with my field of research, but he promised me co-authorship if I helped him meet a deadline on a proposal, and I am in no position to turn my nose up at a possible publication.
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2 p.m. — I'm hungry again, so I heat up the rest of the patra. This bag was supposed to contain four servings, but it's empty now. I am beginning to seriously worry that I eat too much. Yes, I know, you're only supposed to eat until you're full, but stomach sizes differ, don't they? I don't eat past fullness, but maybe somewhere along the way I trained my stomach to be bigger than it needs to be? I don't know if this is something I need to worry about, and I frankly don't have the time to worry about it. But as with all inconvenient thoughts, I'm sure it's going to take up space in my head.
6 p.m. — It's time for rooibos tea and a sandwich (cheese, tomato, salt, and pepper). I've been working steadily on my colleague's research project on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. The newest IPCC report is already pretty devastating, but climate change could be even worse for the earth than they predicted.
9:30 p.m. — My friend calls to chat about his day, and I take a break to make some chamomile tea. He's in grad school, too, and we're each other's lifelines in our horribly busy lives. At this point, I am so sick of staring at this IPCC report, but I haven't even done one-tenth of the work I've promised to deliver. My friend and I video chat while we work — we're barely talking to each other, but it's nice to have some company. I head to bed at 11 when he ends the call to go to the gym.
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Daily Total: $0

Day Two

9 a.m. — The weekend has arrived! I got ten hours of sleep, which is two too many because it makes me wake up with lower back pain. I stay in bed where it's lovely and warm and work on the IPCC analysis for two hours. No breakfast — I'd have to get out of bed, and I'm not interested in facing the world yet.
11 a.m. — I shower, chat with my mom before she goes to bed (she's in India right now), and make three sandwiches (cream cheese, pickle) for lunch. I watch yesterday's episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW website while eating, wash up, and return to the IPCC report. Whoever claimed that variety is the spice of life wasn't a graduate student.
2 p.m. — I'm hungry again, but I strongly dislike cooking, so I guess I'll have two more sandwiches. This time it's cheese, pepper, and Tabasco sauce. The brief respite is far too brief. Back to work!
6 p.m. — I've been checking my email periodically all day, and the email I've been waiting for has finally arrived. I'm a teaching assistant this semester (which is why I'm paid $20,000). The professor I'm assisting wants me to cover all student requests through the online portal, but I can't do that until I have access to the online portal. As the instructor of record, he has to approve my access, and he's finally done it. The floodgates have opened — there are 21 student questions that need to be addressed. I pour myself some chocolate milk and spend an hour and a half working on their queries and sending each of them emails when I resolve their issues, after which I return to the IPCC report. I'm so thoroughly fed up with it, but today is the last day I will spend this much time on it. I've managed to do enough work that from now on, I can spend an hour or two on it per day and be done by our proposal deadline.
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10 p.m. — I'm done for the day! One more fortifying mug (I don't own glasses) of chocolate milk and it's time for la petite mort. I even managed to complete tomorrow's portion of IPCC analysis, so I can spend the entire day on homework, which is, of course, how Sundays should be spent.
Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7 a.m. — Just over eight hours of sleep = no backache, woohoo! My bodily aches and pains aren't exactly new — they started when I was 28 — but I still resent the hell out of them. I can't believe I'm old enough for this to have become a regular feature of my life. How did this happen? Is it going to get worse? How do people who are over 40 ever summon up the energy to get out of bed? Backaches aren't my only issue — I also carry all my stress in my neck and shoulders, which means they're always tight and aching. Last semester, they started aching about halfway through the semester. At the moment, we're only two weeks into this semester, and my neck and shoulders already ache like nobody's business. I can't imagine how much pain my grandparents are always in, if their pain only increased as they aged and they started at the level of pain I have now. I stand ramrod straight against a wall as I munch on a slice of bread for breakfast.
9:30 a.m. — A friend and I are going to work on our homework together in his department office. Parking on campus is free until 1 p.m. on Sundays and it's raining outside, so I decide to drive over. I'm quite happy about this, because the past two days at home have been cold and I've had the heater going, which I will have to pay for when my electricity bill comes in. I spend as much time on campus as I possibly can in order to avoid paying for electricity (thank goodness for societal support!), because as it stands, I'm barely scraping by on my stipend. I have savings, but I really don't want to touch them.
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1 p.m. — Homework session is over, so I drive to the grocery store. I buy bell peppers, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, ginger, serrano peppers, tea bags (chamomile, rooibos), bread, potato chips, pita chips, soy milk, chocolate milk, shredded cheese, yogurt, and eight Amy's Broccoli & Cheddar Bowls. All of this would have cost me about $70 in Wisconsin. I'm still upset at how expensive Delaware is. I'm told it's because it's the East Coast. I can assure you that when I lived in Massachusetts, no one I knew ever thought of Delaware as being part of the East Coast. It's the Mid-Atlantic at best, or maybe even the South. There are houses here that were part of the Underground Railroad! $98.91
2:30 p.m. — I drop off my groceries at home and put the frozen stuff away. Then I set off for the Indian grocery store, which is in the opposite direction. I buy bags of frozen patra, samosas, arbi, undhiyu mix, rotis, some cumin seeds and powdered cardamom, paneer, a bottle of sesame oil, a can of coconut milk, and some fresh okra. I forgot frozen peas at the grocery store, so I buy some here. In general, it's a bad idea to buy things at the Indian store that you can get at a regular grocery store, because it's undoubtedly more expensive than it is at the grocery store, but peas are delicious and I can afford an extra dollar. I also pick up a carton of one-day-from-expiring mango pulp. Yum! $41.50
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4 p.m. — I'm very hungry and I have all this mango pulp that's expiring, so it's going to be mango milkshakes for dinner. In India, milkshakes are made with milk, not ice cream. I'm a typical Indian vegetarian (yes to milk and honey, no to eggs), so it was a shock to me when I moved to the U.S. and found out that certain milkshakes might be off limits to me. Solution: Make your own milkshakes!
11 p.m. — I've spent the past few hours (drinking milkshakes and) continuing to stare at my homework. I am increasingly worried that I don't understand it well enough to pass muster. It's economics, something with which I have absolutely no experience. The math is not hard, but the logic escapes me. For example, we're supposed to find it realistic that someone gets a marginal benefit of $2,000 from a fire hydrant, so we use this dollar amount to justify how many fire hydrants a city needs. At the same time, we are supposed to be skeptical that someone would actually pay $2,000 for a fire hydrant, so we posit that the city won't have as many fire hydrants are we previously calculated it needed. Why is realism required in the second instance, but not in the first? How am I supposed to know when to suspend my disbelief? Ugh, it's time for bed.
Daily Total: $140.41

Day Four

7:30 a.m. — I'm up, showered, fed (a serving of milkshake), and ready to attack my homework by 8:30. Monday is normally a free day, but I have a 2:30 meeting with my economics professor to discuss the homework, so I'd better have it done by then.
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11:30 a.m. — Brief break for samosas and the last of yesterday's mango milkshake. I'm almost done with the homework.
3:30 p.m. — My meeting with the professor went well — I only made two mistakes in my logic. Next, I walk over to meet a friend at a café on Main Street. We trade complaints about our lives over coffee (her) and chai (me). I don't need coffee or tea as stimulants, and it's not something that people hang out over in India, but my friend needs coffee and enjoys it at this café, and they have excellent chai, so I indulge myself. $4.50
5 p.m. — I finish the bag of frozen samosas and work on today's IPCC analysis. I watch yesterday's episodes of Charmed and Supergirl before heading to bed at 10.
Daily Total: $4.50

Day Five

8 a.m. — Oh, my goodness, so much lower back pain. I eat an Amy's bowl so that I have some food in my stomach to support an Aleve. I have class at 11, but the pain hasn't lessened by 10:45, so I have another Aleve. I chat with my mom on the walk to class. I will never tell her about my body pain. She doesn't need a reason to worry about me — she already worries enough without having anything concrete to worry about.
1:45 p.m. — I forgot to buy granola bars! I stop by the student center to buy some avocado toast. It's really good, with huge flakes of salt and pepper. They were closed over winter break, so this is my first one of the new year, and I've missed it so. I eat it in my office while starting on the reading for my most important class on Thursday. $4.50
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6 p.m. — Tuesday is the day that all the grad students in the department try to meet up for $2 mystery beers, but no one seems to be interested today. This is unfortunate, because it's quite a nice day and the semester is only going to get harder and busier. If we can't make it happen today, we're definitely not making it happen once midterms approach. I head home and have some poor grad student's nachos. I work on the portion of the IPCC report that I've earmarked for today and read for Thursday until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $4.50

Day Six

7 a.m. — I wake up in a panic from a dream that I failed my thesis defense because I didn't have enough research done. At the moment this is, in fact, true. I'm spending so much time doing schoolwork, TA work, my colleague's research work, and housework that I am not really working on my own research. I can feel the weight of everything I have to do on my shoulders, and time is slipping by while I do none of it. It's well past time to get moving, but I'm paralyzed by how big the task is.
10 a.m. — I get the IPCC work out of the way before continuing to read for Thursday's class. I'm hungry, and the okra is looking sadder with every passing day, so I chop it up while my laptop reads my article out to me. I have roti and okra for lunch with pickle and yogurt, and then I clean up. This is why I hate cooking. Not the act of cooking itself — that's fine. But cooking also includes shopping, washing/rinsing the vegetables, chopping them, cleaning up, washing dishes, wiping them, and putting them away. It's such a time commitment, and I have absolutely no time. And then the food is gone and I have to do it all again. When am I supposed to get my research done? (Sure, let's blame cooking for my lack of research progress. Absolutely no part of me buys this, but I'm going to try it anyway.)
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3 p.m. — Rooibos tea as I fold laundry and listen to my reading. My dream has been bothering me. The truth is that I genuinely have no time for research. But I'm going to have to fit it in — it's actually even more urgent than I dreamt. I'm presenting at a conference next month, and then my thesis defense is in May of next year. Worse yet, doing research will require money, which means I need to actively work on finding funding. Applying for grants requires having a proposal, and I only figured out what I wanted to study for my thesis at the end of January.
7 p.m. — I've been munching on carrots, but I'm sick of them now. I need something salty. Dinner is potato chips, leftover okra, and yogurt. I mix pepper and chili powder into the yogurt, and it's the finest dip known to man. I can't keep my eyes open past midnight, even though I'm not done with the reading for tomorrow.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

9 a.m. — Breakfast is potato chips and yogurt. So good. I have back-to-back classes from 11 to 1:45 p.m., and then again from 3:30 to 6:30. It's going to be a long day. I heat up a bag of patra and pack it up.
7 p.m. — My electricity bill arrived in the mail ($119.20). I knew it — the university was closed, so I spent most of my time at home and it was freezing all month, even before the polar vortex struck. I'm so worried about money. I spend about $250 a month on food (because most of it is ready-to-eat). Right now, I use my savings to make IRA contributions and front me the money for things like student fees and gasoline, but in the winter months, I spend more than I make. I pay the money back into my savings account in the summer when my electricity bill is around $40. If/when my parents stop paying for my cell phone and car insurance, I'll have no choice but to pay from my savings. I know that my issue is the rent — it's too high. But I value my proximity to campus and my lack of roommates. I'm not giving that up. Bread and cheese for dinner.
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10 p.m. — I'm done with today's IPCC chunk. I watch Black Lightning on the CW website until I fall asleep. All things considered, it's been a light week. Next week will be worse — I have an exam and two homework assignments due. And I need to start my literature review. No point in impressing my adviser in class if I fail to deliver the research goods. Besides, what's the point of me being here in grad school if I don't come away with the ability to be useful to the world? I genuinely like my field. I'm excited for my research. I can't wait to get started.
Daily Total: $0
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