our $1600 grad school + baby budget

As we transition to a new stage of life, I find myself wanting to document the past year before it becomes a distant, nostalgic memory. I also like turning our story into something that might be useful for others, so I thought I would start by sharing our budget from last year. My hope is that it encourages some of you who also find yourselves living on a small budget.

We based our budget on Taylor’s graduate stipend in addition to income from his summer job. I took an average and found that, with me staying home, we would be about $200 short each month. Thankfully, we had both lived below our means during our first 3 years of marriage and were able to pull this from savings, while still retaining our emergency fund.

We also received gifts from family and friends, as well as help from government programs (WIC, food stamps, and Medicaid). This is important to acknowledge because I would never want this to be a “we did it, so can you!” story. Not everyone has the opportunities, support, or education that we had. That said, I think we all can do something to live more simply, which is why I share this in the first place.

Some people might wonder why we chose to live on such a tight budget rather than have me go back to work. I have nothing against working outside the home, though a few things kept me in the stay-at-home mom camp. In order to make any significant income after childcare costs, I would have needed a childcare subsidy. In other words, I’m either accepting government assistance to stay home, or I’m doing just the same by going back to work. (Technically, we could have taken out student loans to remain financially independent, but loans likely would have made us more dependent on assistance in the long term.) All of which to say, I decided I’d rather spend time with my son. To each their own. 😉

Without further ado…

The Smith Family Budget – Grad School Edition

Rent – $635 (1 bedroom unit in duplex)

We were living in Eastern Washington, where housing is much more affordable than the rest of the state. We didn’t consider housing affordability when Taylor applied for M.A. programs, though it will definitely be a factor if he pursues a PhD. Grad school stipends in bigger cities sadly do not reflect the high cost of housing, which is why rural universities can be so attractive.

Internet – $45

We thought about just going to campus to use free internet, though Taylor would have spent even more time on campus and it would have significantly limited our entertainment options (which are much appreciated when you spend half your day breastfeeding).

Electric – $65 (average)

Our home was about 62 degrees in the winter and only 500 sq ft, which helped.

Groceries – $20

We received an average of $200/month in food assistance and so the $20 was just for the occasional non-covered item, like beer or a spontaneous bakery purchase. After keeping a spending diary in the pre-baby days, I was amazed by how much we spent on groceries and committed to making $200/month work. I used the Safeway app for coupons, generally only bought items on sale, and we only ate meat about once per week (usually when I could find it 50% off for quick sale). I also tried to limit snack aisle purchases to items under $2.

Eating Out and Coffee – $70

Usually spent ordering take out on the couple days each month we were overwhelmed and tired and would have otherwise eaten granola bars for dinner. Or on a date night when our super great friends would babysit for free.

Haircuts – $25

Gifts – $35

Home Supplies – $15

For the occasional candle, mostly. We opted for reusable rags, napkins, and baggies rather than buying paper towels or zip-locks.

Baby – $45

We bought used whenever possible, used cloth diapers, and breastfed. Again, I totally acknowledge that these are not options for every single family. We also received so many great gifts and hand-me-downs. Of these items, about 50% were items like cute toys or extra clothes, 40% were practical and made life significantly easier, and 10% were essential items we would have needed to buy ourselves.

The $45 was usually spent on cloth diapering supplies, the occasional pack of disposable diapers, or a specific baby item we couldn’t find used. We needed a really specific high chair for our small space, for instance.

Hiccup – $40

For basic grooming and dog food. His annual check up came out of savings.

Entertainment – $35

Cell phone bill – $45 (for 2 people)

Have I mentioned lately how much I love our carrier, Ting? Here’s a referral link if you decide to sign up (we both save $): https://zteej835dk8.ting.com/

Clothing – $30

We bought about half and half new vs. used.

Hygiene – $10

For toilet paper and shampoo. I also seem to receive a steady supply of hygiene products every holiday. Before my pregnancy and breastfeeding days (yay, no periods!), I used a Moon Cup instead of buying tampons.

Grad school books – $45

Basic Car Maintenance – $20

Our shared car was 14 years old and still ran great, thankfully!

Car and Rental Insurance – $67

Gas – $30

Perks of living within walking distance to work.

Life Insurance – $45

Tithe – $160

We practice giving 10% of our income to the church we attend regularly.

Short-Term Savings – $75

Spent mostly on gas money for visiting family and miscellaneous grad school fees/expenses.

Miscellaneous – $43

Because stuff comes up.

Please let me know if you have questions! I only elaborated on these numbers when I felt it necessary, though I’m happy to clarify with more details. Thanks for reading and best wishes on your own budget adventures!

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