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Why Quitting my Job has Helped My Finances

March 18th, 2007 at 11:21 pm

My previous post elicited more of a response than I expected. Thanks to all who provided their thoughts.

My intention of the previous post was to shed some light on why living on a graduate student stipend (~15 - 18k / year, depending on a number of factors) is easier than living off a the same amount of money earned through a lower-paying job. I get annoyed when students compare their circumstances to those of low-wage earners. The situations are completely different, with the latter being a much more challenging financial feat.

With that said, aside from increased earning potential after I graduate (assuming all goes as planned), the biggest financial benefit of being a full time graduate student has been learning how to survive and prosper on this income.

By no means am I trying to infer that our student stipends are a pittance. I know there are many readers and participants on the message boards who do quite well with less, but for me this has been a quite a journey. I’m embarrassed to admit that pre-grad school I didn’t even balance my check book or have a rough idea of how much money was in my account. If I was out shopping and saw a dress I liked- I bought it. Dinner and drinks out were the norm.

It was fun, but it wasn’t thrifty.

The only reason I avoided consumer debt was that I have inherited my mother’s gene for bargain shopping but lived in a small enough space that I couldn’t accumulate a lot of stuff. In retrospect, I wonder how much I could have saved if I had been more responsible? I wonder if we had continued on working and earning more would I ever have stopped to think about long-term goals, like buying a house?

Now, it’s a moot point because I had the good fortune of learning financial responsibility when I quit my job and returned to school full time. I now keep exacting records of expenses. I’m also investing. I’m saving—and all on a fraction of what I used to make. The biggest difference is that I’m no longer passive about money. I feel really empowered.

I feel empowered because I feel like we have a good life on this salary. Sure, as an undergraduate, I made even less money, but my student apartment wasn’t my home, nor was I truly independent from my parents.

However, I think that if you ever came to our home, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, this is a student apartment”— or “This is just some one’s temporary home”. But this is a home. A real life Mr. Bean and I began together as graduate students. I’m proud of it.

The challenge will be continuing to keep our current frugal and mindful practices once we are earning more and released back into a consumer society.

3 Responses to “Why Quitting my Job has Helped My Finances”

  1. baselle Says:

    Yes, it is a paradox, but I found it easier to live on next to nothing in grad school for two reasons:

    You are too busy to spend money. Being in the lab or the library as your job and seriously pursuing your own goals means that all day you are nowhere near a shop or any trigger. I literally figured that I spent 4% of my income on coffee. Smile
    Most of your friends, lab mates, and fellow grad students tend to also be too busy to buy stuff. You're keeping up with the Joneses about the time spent in the lab and library. And really that peer pressure's powerful.

  2. threebeansalad Says:

    Aside from the benefit of sharing expenses, I think it also helps being married/partnered. Many of the single folks in my department go out to the bars for entertainment which can be a real drain on the wallet.

  3. daylily Says:

    When I was in grad school as a full time student I had just come from being an undergrad so there wasn't much of an adjustment for me. In fact, I actually had more money in grad school because of the teaching assistantship. However, if I were to go back to school now after having worked full time, I think I'd be able to do it. As long as it is a temporary situation, a person can get through about anything.

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