Money Saving Tips

One of the most difficult things about graduate school is learning to survive financially. I feel like I spend hours poring over our budget, trying to squeeze every last dime (or ten pence!) out of the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves. I know those financial boundaries are good for the long term, even though they seem utterly painful right now.

I know we all have different systems and processes for managing our money, but I thought I’d share some financial websites I frequent for tips on saving money, budgeting, and getting out of debt. These have been my go-to websites while navigating the financial perils of graduate school. I hope they help you as much as they have helped us!

Money Saving Mom – she was also a graduate wife!

Dave Ramsey – financial guru

Mint.com – for budgets with fancy graphs

Happy saving and spending!

~Mandy

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The Ups and Downs of my Grad Wife Life

written by Angeline, a former graduate wife

I’m Angeline, and I didn’t start out as a Graduate Wife, in fact I was a graduate myself. My husband and I met at Oxford, where he was studying for his PHD. We met, married and began our life together as students. After 5 years in Oxford together, we’ve just made the move to the big city (London) to begin life as professionals­­…well almost. Between you and me, my husband still has one more chapter to write.

 When I first was asked to contribute to this blog I immediately said ‘yes’, full of enthusiasm and certain that with many years under my belt as a seasoned Graduate Wife, the stories would flow forth freely. The reality was quite different – I had the most difficult time trying to decide what I would write.

Why? Because I began to realize that being a Graduate Wife is more than one role. In fact, you wear many constantly evolving hats all at the same time. After some reflection, I’ve compiled a ‘pro/con’ list from my time as a Graduate Wife.  I hope some of things I learned along way will be helpful and reflective and even being aware of some of my ‘con’ points might prevent them from becoming that for you.

PRO:

1) Community

Moving is always hard, but compounded by the fact that your husband has a built-in friend and support network and you don’t, can feel very lonely at the beginning. I think it’s always difficult when you feel like you are putting your life on hold, to support someone else and it can easily start to mess with your identity and feelings of self worth. So far this point isn’t sounding like a ‘best’, is it? However, the best thing about my Graduate Wife experience has been the community I’ve found. For us, it was being connected into a post-graduates society at our church, where people were all going through the same experiences either as the partner or graduate. Eventually, this place really became our home and the sweetest and truest of friendships were forged. Our community in Oxford became our life – we found people we were able to call friends, mentors, brothers and sisters.

2) Time & Flexibility

This was probably the only time in our lives that you didn’t have to play by the rules, and we took advantage of it! My job provided me with the ability to control my own schedule, so I synchronized my time with Jed’s (who happens to be a night owl). It just so happens, he does his best writing and thinking from the hours of 7pm-6am. This season of time flexibility allowed us to sometimes stay up and watch movies all night long if we wanted to, or have picnics on the living room floor at 3am or take naps.  We felt like kids at time getting to ‘break the rules’ of time.

3) The Budget Game

After we got married, I realized for the first time that I had to face the ‘b’ word. It’s strange being newly married, on your own for the first time, responsible for another human (!) and having to manage your own money – these were all new concepts for me. We decided to turn budgeting into a game of sorts.  Not letting it control us, but trying to make the most of it and enjoy it.   We were constantly reminding each other that this was just a very short chapter in our lives and that we wanted to gain all the wisdom we could about frugality, living within our means and being responsible. In fact, we both feel that this is one of the most valuable things we got out of our experience as married grad students. What could have been a wasted time of ‘making do’, was a really excellent training ground for our marriage.

4) Bonding Experience

I firmly believe that moving away from everyone you know is a very good thing for a couple when they are first married. You have no home to run back to when someone is getting on your nerves, no way to avoid facing issues as you are probably stuck in a smaller space than you are used to – you are in it together and it’s the both of you against the world. We loved that feeling of unity, oneness and support found in each other. It’s not quite the same now that we are living in the ‘real world’. The time of being students was the sweetest time of our marriage so cherish it and squeeze it for all it’s worth!

5) Once in a Lifetime Experience

While there is still a list of ‘worst’ to come below, even taking all that into consideration, this was such a special time for us. Being able to support your partner in achieving tangible goals, taking time out of the real world to do so, being surrounded with likeminded people – it is the best experience and we would do it all over again without a second hesitation! The dark, long, exhausting times will pass…and indeed you will miss this season when it comes to an end.

CON:

1) Not much money…

There’s nothing wrong with being ‘student poor’, it is all part of the experience – however, this girl had a lot to learn. Those lessons were (beyond valuable as mentioned above) but incredibly difficult and relentless, I’m not going to lie.

2) Becoming the Breadwinner

One thing I really struggled with was being the primary breadwinner when I was done with my masters and my husband was still in school. My husband was on a scholarship, which provided a stipend, but I was still keenly aware that I was the only one working to make ends meet. It was not an issue that he wasn’t the one working, more that I felt troubled by feeling the weight of the responsibility of being the breadwinner. It really challenged a lot of my fundamental beliefs about gender roles in a marriage.

3) Uncertain future

I don’t know about you, but I am a planner. This was probably the one thread of ‘con’ that ran through my whole experience – I want to know what this all means for us! What next, what city, what position? Because being a student is a transient state, to a degree you have to be able to let go of knowing – and this I found very difficult. (Writers note: it all worked out more perfectly than I could have even planned it myself – and I believe it always does).

4) Living in a transient community

This was the second most difficult thing about living a Graduate Wife lifestyle – everyone else in your community is going through the same thing. Which is good on one hand, but it also means that people are constantly moving and there is a revolving door of friends, hellos and goodbyes, which after awhile can really take a toll on your spirit.

5) Identity

I don’t think that this issue is exclusive to being a Graduate Wife, I think it is one of the circumstances in life that highlight it. It is a subject we will always struggle with I believe, but being a Graduate Wife challenges you on it in a very aggressive way. For me it brought to the surface questions like ‘what makes me feel important?’, ‘what do I value?’, ‘what actually makes me, me?’. It is easy to feel like you are playing second fiddle, especially when married to a national treasure like my husband. :) After lots of soul searching, I realized there is nothing wrong with being Robin to the Batman, especially since realizing that is exactly the way my husband views himself in my show. There is zero competition between the two of us, and we both play supporting roles to each other. The reason this is in the ‘con’ category is that going through this journey of identity questions can often be painful before it becomes helpful and flourishing.

What are some of the things you cherish most about this season in your life? W­hat are some of the things you find most challenging?

The graduate life…through the eyes of a child

Written by Kat – a former graduate wife’s daughter

I write, not as a graduate wife, but as the daughter of a graduate wife mom and a philosophy professor dad.   When MC asked me to write for the Graduate Wife Blog, I wasn’t quite sure what I could share.  But as I thought back over my life as a kid growing in academia (this is truly all I really knew until I got out of college and got a job in the business world), I realized how many wonderful memories of fun and sweet times I have! It wasn’t necessarily a glamorous existence for us by the world’s standards, but there was an abundance of joy that carried us through the tough times.  I’d love to share some of my memories with you.

Just a few of the ‘historical’ facts to start: My dad started studying philosophy at Oxford in 1979, he met my mom in Vienna over Christmas, and they married in June of 1980.  Two years later, I was born, and we moved back to the States when I was 3 months old. My dad taught for a year, and then he entered a PhD program, which he graduated from in 1987.  He couldn’t find a job, so we stayed an extra year while he did a post-doc, my brother was born, and then we moved to the east coast where my dad got a job (he was 35, my mom was 38) at a private, liberal-arts college…and my parents are still there today.

Some of my first memories are from the PhD years when we lived in the married student housing apartments.  At the time, we were basically broke, but my parents decided that it was more important for my mom to stay home with me, than to have more money, so she ended up running a small daycare of sorts out of our matchbox-sized apartment.  As legend has it (it’s probably reality too!), we ate mackerel casserole 3 times a week because it was cheap.  While I can’t claim to have developed a love for mackerel casserole, something that I surely felt as a child and can express now as an adult because it did make a lasting impression on me, was how my parents were willing to sacrifice luxuries and things they wanted in order to spend time together and save for the future.  As a child, I never noticed that we had nothing; I had my parents present with me, and I was happy as a lark!

Even years later, when I was a teenager (and therefore much more aware of our circumstances), I would regularly ask my mom and dad, “Are we poor or rich this month?”  We laugh at it now, but something I admire them for greatly is how disciplined they were to make sure they spent time with us—even if that meant sacrificing financially—and to not live above their means.

Speaking of spending time and discipline, my dad made some amazing choices when my brother and I were kids about when and where he worked.  As we know, grad students and new professors have just tons of freetime…yeah right, don’t we all wish.  I am sure that when I was an infant, my dad often brought work home to do in the evenings.  However, as I got older and was able to play more with daddy, and then especially when my brother was born and there were two kiddos at home, my dad made a point of trying to do his work in the office/library so that when he was home, he was HOME and fully present to us and to my mom.  That meant that when daddy showed up on the scene, he was ours!!! Sometimes he’d come home early and then go back late to do more work (so that he could see us); but we knew that when he was home, we didn’t have to worry that we’d be interrupting or distracting him, we could just play and hang all over him. Oh how we loved those times!

Life of course wasn’t always sunshine and happiness.  I do not have a clear recollection of this one particular evening, but there is a drawing of mine to commemorate what happened.  This was back when my dad was in his PhD program, and I was likely about 4 or 5 years old.  He came home in the evening, sat down at the table and started crying.  As my mom tells it, he was so worn out, we were (as usual) broke, and he had taken a number of hard hits that day from his advisor regarding his thesis. The Lord has gifted my mom with wells of great strength and resolution, my mom is my dad’s biggest fan, so I am sure she listened to him, put her arms around him and encouraged him to press on. In the meantime, I drew a picture: daddy was crying, and mommy and I were standing next to him holding his hands.  I gave it to him to make him feel better, but all it did was make sweet daddy cry again J  My mom says there were many tough and disheartening days when they wondered if they could go on. 

My parents always put their relationship above my brother and me.  It’s so funny what you notice, but don’t quite understand when you’re a child…and then how when you’re older, the pieces start to fall into place.  A case study: the “Don’t bother us after 9:00” nights.  At least once or twice a week, my mom or my dad would say, “Tonight is a 9:00 night.”  Yup, we knew right away what this meant. Mommy and Daddy were NOT to be bothered: no knocking on the door, no hollering for them, no fighting so that they needed to be called—unless you were seriously injured, you had better keep away. What were they up to?  We didn’t know!  We thought: probably mommy and daddy talk, or maybe they were sleeping, or maybe they were playing UNO, but it was like a club and kids weren’t allowed.  Well, being now older and wiser, I’m doubtful that they were asleep…maybe they were playing, but it certainly wasn’t UNO.  What I now realize is that these evenings were some of the biggest blessings for my brother and me.  My parents made sure that, even though date nights financially weren’t possible, and despite all the busyness, the worry, the stress, the crazy kids, they took time to be alone with each other.  This allowed them time to pray, and to communicate and connect, which kept them on the same page made them hopeful and strong together.

Both my dad and my mom deeply love the Lord, and by His mercy and grace they made it through those years of grad school and the crazy years right out of grad school when he started teaching.  My mom was such a rock through everything and as a team they journeyed together.  Despite all the challenges, I have so so many wonderful memories of my childhood.  Looking back, I never noticed that we struggled financially, or how hard it was for my dad to continue and for my mom to keep encouraging him.  What I remember and still sticks with me is the love and the physical presence of my parents in my life and in one another’s lives.

 

On your graduate wife journey, do you have any fears about raising your children during this season?  Any advice?  Any encouragement?

Beauty and the Budget

Greetings!  I am really excited to start this “Beauty and the Budget” series for the graduate wife. This project has become a great interest of mine as I have seen far too many friends give up on making their homes feel comfortable and beautiful because they were on tight budgets.  So, these blogs are being started for one reason: To inspire and encourage you as you seek to spruce up your space on a budget.

I don’t want to overwhelm you or leave you thinking, “Eek, I could never do that.”  It is definitely not my point to show you lovely things and make you think, ….I wish.   I PROMISE that all of the projects I am going to highlight are totally possible to do.  Yes, by you and you alone.

I can’t go on enough about the importance of beauty, balance and comfort in your personal space.  I believe it can be truly life changing for you and your family and can be achieved if you are willing to get a little messy (with some makeovers), dedicate a bit of time and allow yourself to tap into your creative side.

So, if you are reading this then you are probably a graduate’s wife and you are no doubt on a budget….a pretty tight one at that, budgeting with an income that you are bringing in or possibly even living off the luxuries of a student stipend (as I find myself).  Don’t fret!  I know that you feel there is probably nothing you can do with a meager budget to liven up your flat, apartment, dorm suite, or wherever else you now find yourself, but these blog postings are for you!!  I am going to show you some easy steps to transform everyday items and thrift store/market finds into beautiful pieces that will bring life to your home and not put a hole in your pocketbook.

If you are interested in using some of these tips, be warned.  :) Once you liven up something like a small bookcase, it is very tempting to feel depressed that the rest of your space is not ‘up to par.’ This is going to be a work in progress and you have to be patient with yourself as you slowly but surely bring a new sense of harmony and beauty to your home.  Most projects will range from around £5-15, so start budgeting in a few extra pounds or dollars a month for a new project.  I will try to do a series on one room at a time so that you can allow yourself to focus on getting one room in good shape before jumping to the next.  Or you might be like me and want to jump around…feel free!

I pray these tips are helpful and fun.  I’d love your thoughts, feedback and other ideas that can be highlighted on here. I hope to include more thrifty ideas for cooking, etc. and would love thoughts on those as well.  Tune in next week as we start on the below project!

Until then,

M.C.