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A Week In Connecticut On A $38,100 Yearly Stipend

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Welcome to Money Diaries where we are tackling the ever-present taboo that is money. We're asking real people how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we're tracking every last dollar.

Today: a graduate student researcher makes $38,100 per year and spends some of her money this week on toothpaste.
Occupation: Graduate Student Researcher
Industry: Science
Age: 23
Location: Connecticut
PhD Living Stipend: $38,100
Net Worth: $23,200 (savings account: $18,000, checking account: $5,200)
Debt: $0
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,587
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $1,350
Electricity: $30
Internet: $45
Spotify Student: $5
Phone: $40
Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
Yes. I come from a low-income family and it was implied that upward mobility could only be achieved through higher education. I was incredibly lucky to receive a full-ride to a prestigious college and both my tuition and room/board were covered completely. Loans were never an option for me; my parents insisted that I either get into a good school with a full-ride or go to community college. I am now in a STEM PhD program, so the program is 100% funded and we get full tuition waivers, health insurance, and our living stipend (~ $38,000).
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
I remember being very young when I realized that money was a problem for my family. If it was the end of the month, even if we were out of food, we wouldn't buy more. My mom would skip meals to make sure my brother and I could eat. My family always lived paycheck to paycheck and the idea that other people saved money was absolutely crazy to me when I found out. My mom started giving me access to their banking information when I was in high school that way I knew when I could and couldn't ask for things. But they did not formally educate me about money at all.
What was your first job and why did you get it?
I started working as a tutor for younger kids when I was 14 and then started washing dishes at summer camps for rich kids when I was 16. I gave my mom the money I made to help pay bills and such.
Did you worry about money growing up?
All the time.
Do you worry about money now?
Sadly, all the time. I feel very grateful to be getting a doctorate for free and not having to go into debt, but having been financially unstable for so long, I would like to be making more. I realize I am paying a ~lot~ for rent, but I am an extreme introvert, and living with roommates has made me incredibly unhappy, even when I considered them good friends.
At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became responsible for paying for things at 18 when I moved out, but I did give every cent I earned to my parents before then. I have no financial safety net and am actually my family's financial safety net.
Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
I wish!

Day One

9 a.m. — I roll out of bed and get in the shower in hope that it wakes me up. Plot twist, it doesn't and I almost put toothpaste in my hair instead of my hair oil post-shower. I am not a morning person. I make a pot of coffee, pour myself a glass of water, and sit down at my table to listen to a guest speaker.
1 p.m. — Post department talks and lab meeting, I need sustenance. I pull some old bread out of the freezer and top it with cream cheese, balsamic glaze, and red chili flakes. I sit down at my computer for a long day of writing up my findings to publish.
7 p.m. — I've been working for six hours straight and feel like I'm going crazy. The post-doc I've been working with has decided to pick an argument with me over the semantics of my work and I'm just not here for it. Academic discourse, y'all. It's great.
9 p.m. — I put away the work for today and call my mom while I start dinner. I decide to make lemon and mint meatballs and pair them with cucumber, feta, greek yogurt, olive oil, and roasted veggies. YUM. I eat dinner, finish up some administrative tasks for the day, and watch some Bridgerton before going to bed around 2 a.m.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

10 a.m. — Wake up just in time for my one-on-one meeting (over Zoom) with my research advisor. We discuss my career plan and what journal I'm planning to publish my work in. While I really enjoy my advisor and my work, the academic culture is just not for me. Industry all the way!
4 p.m. — Get caught up in work again, but need to run to CVS to get toilet paper and more toothpaste. I desperately want to grab some candy as well (massive sweet tooth) but I'm also super thrifty and can't stand the idea of paying for food multiple times a week. $12
6 p.m. — I make some fried eggs with a load of spinach and top it with approximately half a bottle of hot sauce. I'm still hungry after this so I grab some peanut butter and banana to munch on while I answer a few quick emails.
12 a.m. — Well...that few quick emails turned into rewriting an entire section of my paper. It's really hard to have boundaries when you work at your kitchen table in a studio apartment. Work hours in academia can be pretty unpredictable, so some days I only work for four hours and others for 12. I wash my face with Cetaphil cleanser, throw on some Trader Joe's moisturizer, and turn out the lights around 1.
Daily Total: $12

Day Three

8 a.m. — It's Friday! I have a morning department talk to go to at 8:30, which is pure evil, but still, Friday!!! I pour my coffee and try not to fall asleep while listening to this lecture.
12 p.m. — I make some lunch (english muffin with a slice of cheese) and basically a whole cucumber that's been sitting in my fridge. If you can tell, I hate cooking. I hate it. If I could afford it, I would get takeout every night. Post-lunch, it's back to my research for the next few hours.
6 p.m. — Finally done for the day! My partner and I always get take out on Fridays together. I live alone, she lives alone, and neither of us sees another living soul during this pandemic. As a scientist, I feel like I need to set a good example for other young folks and encourage them to continue being safe. I am fully vaccinated, yet am not changing my behavior since vaccination rates are not high enough to really impact infection rates. We pick up some Thai food from this cute restaurant down the street and eat it at my place. We share green curry with shrimp and pad kee mao — so good! We split the bill in half (total $21). $10.50
8 p.m. — We decide to watch Clueless after dinner and accompany it with some chocolate chip cookies I baked a while ago and froze — absolute perfection! After the movie, we stay up talking philosophy (a joint interest) and go to bed around 2.
Daily Total: $10.50

Day Four

11 a.m. — My partner wakes me up with coffee, what a lovely human. Sadly, thanks to my non-traditional job, I have to sit down and reply to feedback on my research. Publish or perish is real and I hate it. I love science, but not this schedule.
7 p.m. — Ugh. I'm exhausted and don't want to work anymore. I slam my laptop shut and head over to my partner's place for dinner. She's cooking pesto chicken pasta with garlic bread and it is divine!
10 p.m. — After dinner, we attempt to do some painting. Mine looks like a blob. I lose interest after a little bit, so we play a few rounds of chess instead. I am not a hobbies gal; I feel like I've tried everything under the sun and I just can't get into any of it. I've always been this way and honestly feel like there's something wrong with me. I just don't like athletics, art, gardening, any of it. I do enjoy walking and zoning out. Do with that what you will!
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

10 a.m. — It's grocery day! I go to the grocery store exactly once a week, both to limit my COVID exposure and my food budget. I exclusively shop at Trader Joe's. The store is pretty full which makes me nervous, so I try to get out of there as fast as possible. I get frozen chicken, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, pasta, tomato sauce, peanut butter, bananas, oranges, feta cheese, cream cheese, greek yogurt, frozen veggies, and some salty snacks ($45). I try to keep all grocery purchases under $50 a week and my one takeout less than $15. $45
2 p.m. — Back from the store and I eat some pretzels, peanut butter, and a banana. I call my two best friends from college and we talk for three hours! I love these people and can't wait until I can see them in person again.
4 p.m. — I decide it's time for an apartment deep-clean. I enjoy cleaning and it's such a stress-relieving activity for me! One of the many reasons why I couldn't have roommates is that I'm incredibly picky about cleanliness. Dishes cannot sit in the sink, under any circumstances. My therapist says this is probably coming from growing up poor since no matter how little money you have, your place can be clean!
9 p.m. — Cleaning is done and I feel so much better. I light a candle and review journal articles on my couch. After a few hours, I make some pasta and sauce with a side salad. I realize that's it's getting late (shoutout to those midnight dinners) and do my nighttime routine.
Daily Total: $45

Day Six

9 a.m. — Alarm goes off and I am not happy. My eyes are soooo puffy and my nose is dripping — it's allergy season! Because I am ~anxious~ I schedule a COVID test for later that day even though I'm vaccinated. I really want to pop an allergy pill but they make me so foggy (even daytime ones), so I decide to wait.
12 p.m. — I have a thesis committee meeting over Zoom and my nose is running like a fountain. Thankfully, the meeting doesn't last long and everyone seems happy with my progress! I'm not graduating anytime soon, but we're supposed to have committee meetings regularly.
2 p.m. — My allergies make me not want to eat, but I manage to get down some oatmeal and a banana before running out the door to my COVID test.
3 p.m. — COVID test is done! It's completely free to students and super quick and easy. I choose to go to a farther away testing site to get in a little walk. I'm tempted to get a coffee drink from Starbucks but decide to save the money and make some more coffee at home.
6 p.m. — Did a bit more work and need to make some dinner before a TAing a review session for the undergrads. I open my fridge and have no inspiration, so it's going to be a grilled cheese sandwich and salad kind of night. I burn my grilled cheese but it's still pretty tasty. I log into my review session to answer questions about the upcoming exam.
9 p.m. — Review session is done and I am done. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of brillant, kind, hard-working students who have worked like crazy to get in here. But there's also the smattering of privileged children of the 1% who can be snotty, rude, and downright pretentious. I honestly admire the professors who can teach them all — there's a reason I'm not going to be a professor. I simply don't have the patience. I continue working on some code for a new part of my thesis.
1 a.m. — Done with coding and it's time for my cheap skincare routine and bed!
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

11 a.m. — Accidentally slept in. Today's a day with back-to-back meetings all day, so I pour myself a large cup of coffee before logging in to my first seminar.
1 p.m. — Pour more coffee and make scrambled eggs with tomatoes. I'm currently in a meeting, and I just don't care at this point.
5 p.m. — Finally done with meetings for the day. My partner comes over and we make a delicious salad with roasted chicken, pecans, cranberries, feta, and balsamic dressing. We eat it while watching The Crown (so good!!!).
10 p.m. — I've spent the last hour trying to make sure my teeth are okay. I hit my teeth with a cup, and while they seem fine, I'm an anxious soul who doesn't have dental insurance. We sadly do not have a dental school anywhere nearby and I'm just so afraid of getting overbilled if I go so I haven't been in three years.
11 p.m. — Tooth crisis averted for now. My partner and I eat some berries she brought over and I rant about academic culture and how I'm not sure who will hire me as I'm in a niche area of science.
1 a.m. — We brush our teeth and head to bed but don't fall asleep for a while ;). Quality stress relief!
Daily Total: $0
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