Let's Talk About Being Poor
posted January 28, 2014 2:02 PM by Carolyn Lucas
Let's face it: deciding to pursue my graduate degree in Library and Information Science from a private college isn't the most fiscally responsible decision I've ever made. When I informed my husband - who was at that time starting his own PhD program and netting around 30k/year for around 90 hours of work a week - that I wanted to get my LIS degree, and that we would ultimately be in the hole more or less 50k, it was...not received with great enthusiasm.
Coming from Wisconsin, finances are viewed fairly differently there. 30k is more than enough money for a couple to live fairly comfortably; we rented a GORGEOUS lofted one-bedroom, two bathroom, apartment for $900/month. Then, stupid Carolyn...we moved into a tiny, 500 square-foot 1-bedroom for $2100/month, plus utilities and parking. That ranks among the all-time stupidest decisions I have ever made.
Ultimately, though, we decided to move into a much more reasonably priced apartment - a 1 bedroom + den for $1650. Affordable! That's a word I haven't heard in recent memory. Let's throw a party and dance in the wind!
Ultimately, though, my husband's and my individual, and joint, decisions to each pursue graduate school has definitely laid a slant to how we view finances. I am the optimist and the dreamer: as one of my previous supervisors - and one of the wisest people I know - told me, "I wouldn't have even considered you without knowing you were pursuing your MLIS." Ultimately, that position - both directly and indirectly - landed me my current job, which I absolutely adore, and unlike many "internships," it actually paid really well. Up until that point I was doubtful about whether getting my degree - with such a high price tag physically, mentally, emotionally - was worth it, but that was a turning point for me.
My husband is not an optimist. He is a realist. He mentions to me frequently, and to my un-amusement, that getting a degree is no guarantee of a job. That his 7, 8, 9-year PhD is an investment as risky as penny stocks, and there is a good chance we could lose our shirts.
GREAT! That's what I like to hear... oh wait, no it's not.
I think that we need to meet somewhere in the middle. An MLIS degree and a PhD in Biology, even one from MIT, are no guarantees of employment. The world will not owe us jobs post-graduation. But at the same time, with prudent money management, and a good display of the skills that you have gained and are capable of, I think it is both optimistic and realistic to say that they are investments that will pay out - maybe not in the short term, but certainly in the long term.
But PART TWO of this blog post concerns being frugal. Being hopeful that my degree will "pay for itself," as it were, doesn't mean that I can get away with spending all sorts of money on myself. Our groceries don't consist of cheese and prosciutto. Oh wait, that's not right, they totally do ... but that's one calculated extravagance that I afford myself (I'm from Wisconsin, cheese is basically my blood; sue me).
We are living in a small, very old apartment, driving a car that's so old it no longer needs to comply with emissions standards, and we cut corners where we can. We have borrowed money from the bank, from my parents, from my husband's parents. Friends who come to visit take US out to dinner, and I have never turned down free food (and my husband eats free pizza like, four times a week). It's all part of the syllabus of being "grad school poor," and it's not fun... but at the end of the day, I can say that it will be so, so worth it.