Living on $13,000 or Less: Storm’s a Brewin’ (Part 1)

How a family of 3 (with 1 on the way) made it through the first year of grad school living on less than $13,000 without any federal aid for housing, medical care, or food.

This series is based on how our family of 3 ½ made it through the first year of grad school living on less than $13,000 without any federal aid for housing, medical care, or food. I tried a lot of things and failed at a lot of things, but also found success and confidence through that time. I learned that sheer guts can see you through.

I like to call this ‘The Somethin Outta Nothin story’ as it is the main reason this blog exists. Our families’ experiences derived from the hubster’s grad school years drove me to blogging, so I could help others in situations similar to ours. This stage of our lives was a very difficult and rewarding one as I learned how rare and important creativity is in this world.

Part of what led  to our success was my insatiable desire to learn new skills and my love of teaching others as well. The whole point of this blog is be an extension of that experience; to catch the vision of seeing ourselves as a work in progress, completely beautiful and deserving of grace as we are still learning and transforming into the butterflies we strive to be.


The Calm Before the Storm

I still remember this as a time of great excitement in our lives. The hubster and I had been married for a few years, he was using his Music Dance Theater degree in the evenings and making good progress on his tech career during the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed being a stay at home mother to our first born and a rock awesome wife to the hubster (if I don’t say it who will?). Everything was going well, I could feel something was around the bend but I was thoroughly satisfied with where we were.

How a family of 3 (with 1 on the way) made it through the first year of grad school living on less than $13,000 without any federal aid for housing, medical care, or food.

The First Few Drops

Then the hubster came to me and shared his desire to pursue a graduate degree. While I was excited for him, I was a little worried as to how I could support him.

The program he was looking at insisted he sign a ‘no work’ contract the first year. The University wanted to make sure that its students didn’t allow work (paid or not) to interfere with the time intensive studies the program required.

At the time we had a toddler version of Sunny and quite a bit of debt left over from our undergraduate years. If we were accepted our financial situation would suddenly turn from treading water to drowning. It would mean a trade of $37,000 a year with benefits for $13,000 a year with student insurance (the University required we purchase insurance). Yeah count the difference, that’s almost a third!

How a family of 3 (with 1 on the way) made it through the first year of grad school living on less than $13,000 without any federal aid for housing, medical care, or food.

A Steady Stream

Well of course the University decided they did want my husband (I mean who wouldn’t!?),  so we had to figure out how to make this work. My first thought was to find a swing shift job-thus I’d be able to bring in an income and more importantly I’d still be home with our daughter during the day.

Within a week of job hunting however we discovered I was pregnant with child number two!  A late night job was out of the cards and boy did my stress level sky rocket!

We were back to square one-less than square one really- as the student maternity insurance doubles the premiums. We saw our living amount diminish to less than $1,000 a month, we’d lose our current job in 7 weeks, and had no way to pay for both food and shelter at the end of either semester.

How a family of 3 (with 1 on the way) made it through the first year of grad school living on less than $13,000 without any federal aid for housing, medical care, or food.

The Deluge

One spot of relief was summer internships, as our program had a history of 100% job placement for those wanting an internship. So at least summer was taken care of financially. On the other hand the end of fall semester [and Christmas] just loomed in the not too distant future.

So I started to comb our budget for places to cut. Fortunately our rent was incredibly low for our area, and our lifestyle was already pretty frugal. But that left very little to cut out of the budget–especially as Sunny was starting to out grow her current size of clothes. So I suggested that we look into getting medicare and food stamps.

As we discussed it I just felt sick (not pregnancy sick either). I knew it wasn’t what the Lord intended for us, but I persisted in going over it any way. The hubster also received a strong impression that federal aid wasn’t the way we should go.


Finding Our Umbrella

So he pointed out we should first rely on the Lord and see how it goes: we have a healthy network with 2 sets of parents that could help when needed, if that failed we could go to our local church which has an excellent program to help the needy.

I agreed it felt better (as in the sick feeling left) to go that route than to take funds from the government. Especially when I knew there were others who probably needed the help a lot more than we did.

*This is not meant to be a judgement on anyone who may have had to use government assistance. I’m glad that we have a safety net in place for those in need in this country–we just felt it wasn’t right for us in this particular situation.

Digging Our Heels in-Mud and All

So we had our minds set with a goal and started to dig in. In the next few weeks the hubster met with his mentor, thus learning he was expected to make two out of state trips. There were two conferences he needed to attend as they are considered crucial for gaining employment at the end of the program. Yep you guessed it, there went another $500 a semester.

After applying this new information to our budget where we took out: rent, average utilities cost, gas, our minimum debt payment, and the cost of doctor visits we were looking at $75 a month to spend on food, clothing, and anything ‘extra’.

Yeah I was pretty much on my way to heart attack city by then. Luckily before I really started to go into chronic hysterics the Lord had already provided a way for us, I just didn’t realize it yet…

Next week the story continues with part 2, The First Hurdle.


Update: You can now click through here to read the rest of this series published posts.



Hey! Did you know you don’t need a Disquss account to comment? There’s a “post as guest” option! It’ll show up after you type in a comment and screen name. Easy peasy! I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.

  • You’ve got guts girl! Most of us have lived through a dark or tough time (I certainly have) but when you’re in the thick of it, knowing others are struggling too doesn’t necessarily help does it? Thankfully, with faith and endurance, come tender mercies from the Lord.
    It was a pleasure getting to know you a bit at BYBC2014. Let’s keep in touch and support each other OK?

    • I can’t believe I didn’t respond to you on this! Thanks for the encouragement, I’m really glad to have met you too. Hopefully BYBC2015 will be awesome!

      • I’ll see you there. I finally got back to my blog last week. Picked up a wedding today… The bride actually found me by googling lds cultural hall. That felt good. How’s your little guy doing?

        • That’s awesome! Congrats!

          I probably won’t attend this year, but I can meet you up there for lunch on Saturday if you want. Little man is doing well. We’re doing a whole new diet in hopes of getting his gut in balance and lower stress levels. We’ve started to see some hopeful signs *cross fingers*.

          • The conference schedule looks a bit incomplete at this point but I know there are classes on Saturday so lunch may be included. I’m not sure I would be available to meet you. I’ll let you know when I know more about the schedule. I would really enjoy seeing you!
            I’m curious about Disqus. What are the benefits?

            I imagine you are amassing quite a bit of material to blog about as you deal with your son’s issues- a niche for you perhaps?

            I’m glad to hear that he’s responding to diet…that’s great!

          • You’re probably right! I forgot, they provided lunch last year. Well, we can email on the scheduling thing.

            Disqus? It’s fabulous at filtering the spam (woot!), encourages real discussion, and allows you to follow other commenters. If you find someone you really like, you can see where else they’ve commented, and find other awesome websites to visit. Comments are seen on google too (some other commenting platforms aren’t).

          • I sent you an email through your website but I’m not sure that you saw it. I’m checking into the hotel for the conference at 3 PM on Thurs Feb 19th. Perhaps we could meet for lunch that day before I check in?

          • Sorry Cherice,

            Yes, I did get it. We have a schedule conflict and I was trying to figure out if I could change it before replying. You’ll hear from me soon. 🙂