How poor is poor?

As a graduate student, the salary one makes is not outrageously high, but is decent enough to have our heads under a roof, food on our tables and an occasional splurge on clothes/tech devices/alcohol, you name it. This post came to mind the other day, when I was talking with my brother about grad student income and what not (note: my brother is also a grad student in a related area). I usually complain about how poor I am after I pay my bills, but the conversation we had about poverty levels took the idea to another level. You see, in a given department you will find a variety of graduate students; the ones that come from wealthy backgrounds and have never had to experience not having hot water to shower, and the ones who, on the other hand, have been living the struggle ever since they can remember. My younger brother and I come from middle class backgrounds, but we’ve had some pretty rough times in our lives. However, when talking about poor, I don’t think we’ve ever been that poor.

“Poor is when you don’t have any money to buy bread, and you have to sell drinks made out of dirty water to tourists while making a fool of yourself. Now, that is poor.”

Every now and then I forget that things could be worse, and that there are people who are not having a great time. I am one of the lucky ones.

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2 thoughts on “How poor is poor?

  1. That’s a good point.

    I’ve been at university for 11 years now, including undergrad & grad school. I’ve also been an adult for 11 years. As I’ve seen my friends graduate, get well-paying jobs, and begin purchasing nice cars and houses, I haven’t been bothered as I know that furthering my education was the right choice for me. I don’t really care for things.

    What has been hard, though, has been explaining to them again and again why I can’t go to x restaurant, or why I can’t go out drinking every weekend. As a grad student whose scholarship has expired (in Australia you get three years) and whose teaching load has been drastically cut in order to have the time to finish my thesis, I just can’t afford it.

    I have enough money to pay my rent, but some weeks that’s it. Most weeks, though, I have enough money to buy healthy food and treat myself to a couple of coffees, put a little fuel in my car, and pay bills, too. Beyond that, there’s nothing. No new clothes, no travel, no casually going out for a few wines with the girls.

    I get tired of justifying my grad student finances to friends and family. My mother will invariably call me two days before pay day and interrogate me about whether I have any money left (no. I don’t. You try saving on this income – which, incidentally, is below the poverty line).

    However! I know it could be much, much worse. If things get really bad, I can move back in with my parents, where there is hot water and food and a roof over my head. I could rent a less expensive room in a less expensive suburb. I could eat nothing but beans and rice.

    No matter how “poor” I get as a grad student, it’s nothing like some people suffer.

    • Hi Erin,

      Thank you so much for reading my post and for commenting. Sometimes I complain a lot about the things I can’t have and the lifestyle I can’t live, but the quote above, from a graduate student in my department, just left me speechless. I didn’t know how to react, and that’s what originated this post. Things could be worse, yes, but they could also be better. There are many things that sadden me or enrage me, and I see people in power do nothing about them. I also question myself whether pursuing graduate school was the right thing, but only time will tell. In the meantime, we can’t be still and we just have to keep moving, and forward is the only way ahead. Stay tuned to hear more stories about the graduate school drama, and feel free to share yours as well 🙂

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