A Week In Pittsburgh, PA, On A $36,000 Stipend

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

Today: a Computer Science PhD Student who makes $36,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on kitchen scissors.

Occupation: Computer Science PhD Student
Industry: Academia
Age: 22
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Salary: $36,000 (the stipend given to PhD students in my department) Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,383 after taxes
Gender Identity: Woman




Monthly Expenses
Rent: $700/month (for my room in a four-bedroom house that I share with three other grad students. I like living with a lot of people!)
Loans: $0 (thanks to my parents and generous financial aid from my undergrad)
Utilities: ~$120
Cell Phone: $30
Renter’s Insurance: $7
Health and Dental Insurance: $318 (I only pay this for nine months of the year even though I am covered for all 12 months of the year)
Misfits Market (2x/month): $24.50
Roth IRA Contributions: $500 (I also maintain a $3,000 emergency fund, and if I ever have to use it, I divert payments from the Roth IRA until it’s back up to $3,000.)







Day One

6:50 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I lay in bed for 20 minutes (oops) before getting up. The weather has finally turned chilly after several 80-degree days in October, yay! I pick out a pair of jeans, a light long-sleeved top, my Rothy’s flats, and a grey cardigan. I head downstairs and make breakfast — granola, homemade yogurt, and an apple. I’m trying hard to cut down on my plastic consumption, especially since Pittsburgh doesn’t accept many kinds of “recyclable” plastic, so I make yogurt from milk bought in returnable glass bottles from my local co-op. I also brew coffee to take to-go on the bus.

8:50 a.m. — Catch the bus to campus (usually $2.75, but free with my university ID). I’m heading to the DMV to convert my license since I recently moved from Boston to Pittsburgh. I meant to go straight there, but I realize I forgot to print off one of my proofs of residence so I swing by my office to use the printer there.

10:15 a.m. — Pay for my new license ($60.50 for a Real ID) and head back towards the bus stop. I’m feeling quite hungry, so I grab a small breakfast sandwich — scrambled eggs, feta, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli on a brioche bun — on the way ($5.34). $65.84

11 a.m. — Back to the office — so thankful the bus is free for me! It’s been a very light week work-wise since I just submitted my choices for my PhD advisor and I’m waiting to hear back, so I only have my one class to work on in the meantime. I make a half-hearted attempt to start next week’s homework, but mostly I just browse Reddit and food blogs.

12:15 p.m. — Lunchtime! I head to the large balcony on the 6th floor of my building. I packed a lunch today — a salad with chickpeas, burrata, quick-pickled radishes and cucumbers, and a cilantro dressing.

12:45 p.m. — Back to my desk. I usually take longer for lunch, but none of my friends are around today, so I finished quickly. I open up the homework assignment again and get back to work, then head to class at 1:30.

3 p.m. — Class gets out and I take the bus home. My delivery from Misfits Market, a company that rescues “ugly” organic produce and sells it for a reduced price, has arrived! I take out the produce and use it to write a meal plan and shopping list for the week.

4:30 p.m. — I borrow my roommate’s car to go shop at a local co-op. I’m super grateful that she lets me borrow it once a week for errands! I buy sugar, flour, milk, eggs, butter, brown rice noodles, pasta, sunflower seeds, mustard, miso, smoked salmon, Brussels sprouts, extra virgin olive oil, and cheesecloth ($69.19 with a 2% member discount). I get as much as possible from their enormous bulk section in my own containers. It’s an expensive shop today, but I stocked up on a lot of staples so the next few weeks should be cheaper. $69.19

5:30 p.m. — I get home, unpack groceries, and make myself a salad with romaine, beetroot, hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, and green goddess dressing. Head to my room, water my plants, and watch Netflix (currently binging The Good Place). I head to bed around 10.

Daily Total: $135.03

Day Two

7:45 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I shower and make breakfast—sautéed pears with oatmeal and a spoonful of yogurt mixed in. I prepped all three pears that I got in my Misfits box, so I put extras into a tupperware for breakfasts later in the week. I spend the rest of the morning doing chores like laundry and cleaning the bathroom I share with one roommate.

10:30 a.m. — Catch the bus to campus to attend a yoga class at the university gym (gym membership and group exercise classes are free with student ID). Being a PhD student is great because you get all the student perks while earning a reasonable stipend!

12 p.m. — This is a yoga instructor I haven’t had before and I’m not sure I am a huge fan of the class. Oh well. The bus is nowhere to be found, so I catch a Lyft back to my house. $7.60

12:30 p.m. — Back home, I want to make myself a nice meal, so I whip up some latkes with smoked salmon and a dollop of plain yogurt. Then, I meal prep my lunches for the week — rice noodles with roasted eggplant and a miso-sesame sauce. They’re yummy, but it was a lot of prep, so I remind myself to plan something simpler next weekend.

3 p.m. — More chores and some TV. I work on an Amazon order, but I feel like I’m not finished adding stuff yet, so I don’t check out. I feel kind of bad about ordering so much stuff on Amazon because of all the individual packing, but it does make life a lot more convenient. I might try giving up my Amazon Prime after my subscription expires next year.

6:30 p.m. — Head to dinner with my boyfriend, C., and another of our friends. We go to a nice Thai place and I get tofu and noodles in curry sauce ($17.25 with tip for my meal). So yummy! Afterward, C. and I head back to his place and make daiquiris with limes from my Misfits box before heading to bed. We took a cocktail class together last year, so we have fancy shakers and strainers to play with. $17.25

Daily Total: $24.85

Day Three

9:15 a.m. — Alarm goes off. We cuddle in bed for so long that we need to take an Uber to make our brunch reservations at 11:30 ($29.90 — oof, but boyfriend pays). We’re meeting another couple for a double date. We’re doing brunch and then visiting the National Aviary to see all the adorable birds.

11:30 a.m. — Yay, we made it on time! The restaurant is really cute — it’s in an open space that’s part-bookstore, part-venue, and part-restaurant. I get their fried avocado sandwich with home fries and a cup of coffee ($17.23 with tip). The food is nice and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to introduce C. to more of my grad student friends. He followed me to Pittsburgh after undergrad (and I am so, so, so lucky to have a boyfriend who would do that for me), but since he’s currently still on the search for a software job, making friends has been slower for him. $17.23

1 p.m. — Turns out, today is a free admission day to the aviary, so it’s pretty crowded. We three grad students would have been free with our IDs anyway, but C. wouldn’t have been (regular admission is $17). The aviary is so pretty!

3:30 p.m. — We head home. I have to take two buses, and after the first one, there’s a 30 minute wait, so I duck into a nearby coffee shop and have a pumpkin spice latte to celebrate the beginning of fall ($4.03). The buses around here are great for commuting, but pretty sparse on the weekends. $4.03

5 p.m. — I get home and do my weekly house chore: cleaning the kitchen. Then I throw together another salad with various toppings from the fridge: romaine, cooked beets, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, cotija cheese, and a simple vinaigrette.

7 p.m. — My hair has felt dry and hard to manage lately, so I decide to do a coconut oil deep-condition. I warm up some coconut oil in the microwave and massage it into my hair while watching The Good Place. After I wash it out of my hair, I notice I have some leftover melted coconut oil, so I massage it into my hands and feet so it doesn’t go to waste.

Daily Total: $21.26

Day Four

7:10 a.m. — I had meant to wake up at 6:30, but I had a pretty restless night so I pushed my alarm back a bit. I make oatmeal with sautéed pears and yogurt again and brew some coffee to take in my thermos.

8:45 a.m. — I catch the bus to campus. Since our office fridge isn’t ever very full, I bring in four packed lunches on Monday so that I never forget my lunch (the fifth lunch I’ll either eat out one day or go to a free seminar lunch). I settle in at my desk and read the weekly Smitten Kitchen newsletter, earmarking a cream of mushroom soup as something to try making for lunch next week. I also try to write my goals for the day at the beginning of every day. Today’s are simple: read one paper in the morning, work on homework after class in the afternoon.

9:30 a.m. — I remember I’ve been meaning to place an Amazon order for some household supplies, so I get sink baskets, hair catchers for the shower, soap holders, and kitchen scissors. $29.65

12 p.m. — Reasonably productive morning. I head to the balcony for lunch (the miso eggplant noodles I prepped earlier) with several friends who are also first-year PhD students. We have a funny conversation about fashion where I explain to them that you aren’t supposed to wear two different shades of the same color (with the exception of blue, I think!). I head back to my desk at 12:45.

1:30 p.m. — Time for lecture for my one class. We get last week’s homework back and I’m disappointed to see that I didn’t do as well on it as I thought. This sends me off on a spiral of self-doubt where I worry that my technical skills aren’t strong enough to do good research in a computer science program and that maybe I want to do a different kind of work, anyway —maybe something that’s broader and involves lots of different skills, while research can feel like a fairly narrow deep-dive into one subject. I try to silence that voice by reminding myself that I have lots of time to figure this out, and I’m not closing any doors by starting the PhD even if I end up leaving with just a masters.

3 p.m. — Back at my desk, I make myself a coffee with half-and-half (both bought myself and kept at the office — there’s free coffee at the office, but I don’t like it). I also got some Taza dark chocolate as a prize for answering questions in class, so I munch on a few squares of that as well. I would usually have something more substantial, but I’m holding out for our department-wide teatime at 4:30.

4:30 p.m. — Teatime! I make myself a cup of raspberry leaf tea and grab half a cinnamon roll. Some of my friends are heading to a restaurant that has $6 burgers on Monday, so I join them and get a veggie burger and waffle fries. $8.99

7 p.m. — I take the bus home. That was a really fun evening and it feels good that I’m making a lot of friends among the other students. I head home and find that my Rothy’s sneakers have arrived! I ordered them about a week ago after being so impressed with the Rothy’s flats that I got two years ago. I have a whole list of durable products, many with lifetime guarantees, that I eventually want to buy, and I’m slowly working my way through it. Next month I’ll be buying a backpack with a lifetime warranty from Duluth to replace my current one, which is starting to get some tears.

9:30 p.m. — I head to bed after spending the rest of the evening getting further through The Good Place.

Daily Total: $38.64

Day Five

6:35 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I lay in bed for a while and then get up for breakfast (oatmeal with pears and yogurt again and coffee for my thermos). I wear my new shoes around the house in the morning. I haven’t completely committed to keeping them yet, so I swap them for my flats before heading out the door.

8:10 a.m. — Yay, I made it on the early bus! When I get to my office, I settle in to read a few articles about carbon offsets before really getting to work, since I’m considering purchasing carbon offsets for some of my upcoming flights. I have to fly a lot both due to the norms of academia and the fact that most of my family, including my parents and siblings, live in Europe. Reducing the amount that I fly doesn’t seem like a viable option since most of my flying is not for vacations, but I do feel concerned about the impact on the environment. I don’t end up really making up my mind about it, so I resolve to ask one of my housemates who I know does research related to carbon offsetting.

11:30 a.m. — Early lunch so that I can catch the 12:30 yoga class at the university gym. I have another of my packed lunches of miso and eggplant noodles. Friends arrive around 12, so we talk a little bit before I run off.

12:30 p.m. — Yoga class time! It’s with my favorite instructor and she makes us work HARD. I always feel so good afterward and it’s so gratifying to watch myself able to do more and more every week.

5 p.m. — I leave work. C. and I have plans to go to a Green Tech happy hour at a nearby bar. We have a pretty fun conversation with the other attendees, and we spend a lot of time discussing which individual efforts are most likely to benefit the environment. I’m solidly on the side of donating to lobbying groups and reducing my individual waste, but some people are stronger advocates of protesting. I order a plum spritz cocktail and an appetizer — roasted brussels sprouts with cheese and fried onions ($16.99 with tip and happy hour discount). The appetizer turns out to be huge, so I decide not to make dinner when I get home. $16.99

7:30 p.m. — C. and I leave the bar and walk back to my place. We spend some time catching up about his job search — he had a final-round interview today that went well and another one scheduled tomorrow, so it should be just a matter of time until he gets an offer now. I just got an email that my first choice for a PhD supervisor has worked out, so we also celebrate that! He leaves and I head to bed around 10.

Daily Total: $16.99

Day Six

6:55 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I hit the shower and then prepare an apple with granola and yogurt and brew coffee for my thermos.

8:45 a.m. — Oof, a later bus than I wanted to end up on, but it’s all good. I hit my desk and work on homework again. This week’s assignment is a monster.

12 p.m. — I head to seminar lunch. It’s pizza every week, so I usually bring my own lunch. I accidentally packed too little food in one of my lunches for the week, so I heat that up and then grab a piece of pizza to supplement it.

12:30 p.m. — The talk is really hard to follow and I can’t see the board the speaker is writing on, so I leave early.

3 p.m. — I head out of lecture and to my weekly meeting with my PhD student mentor, M., at a coffee shop in our building. Catching up with her and letting her know what’s going on in my life is always a nice time! I get a chai latte ($3.10 with a ten-cent discount for bringing my own cup). $3.10

5:30 p.m. — I started to feel a bit sick around 4, but I push through so I can attend an office hour and catch the bus home at 5:30. Once home, I make some more latkes with potatoes and onions from my Misfits box — this time a large batch so that I can have leftovers for a while. I also roast the Brussels sprouts I got at the store. I eat the latkes with smoked salmon, a dab of yogurt, and Brussels sprouts on the side.

7:30 p.m. — I head upstairs and watch a few episodes of The Good Place. I realize I really am feeling sick, so I go to bed early.

Daily Total: $3.10

Day Seven

7:10 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I feel like I’m definitely a bit sick, so I sleep for another two hours before finally getting up. I have some plums from my Misfits box that I feel a little skeptical about, so I give them my usual treatment of sautéing them with a pat of butter, warm spices, and a pinch of sugar before having them with oatmeal. I also make coffee and drink it with my breakfast since I’m planning on staying home at least for the morning.

11:30 a.m. — I finally settle in to try to finish this homework assignment. I had wanted to go to another office hour at 4 today, but in my current sick state I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

1 p.m. — Lunchtime — another round of latkes with smoked salmon, yogurt, and Brussels sprouts on the side. I also make myself a cup of herbal tea to help stay hydrated with this cold.

2 p.m. — Just one problem left on this assignment! Sadly, I left the hardest one for last. I get through it and head to my bedroom to watch TV. I’ve been looking for volunteer opportunities in Pittsburgh and I find a tutoring center not far from my place that’s looking for volunteers to help with tutoring and college preparation for low-income high schoolers. I shoot the program coordinator an email expressing interest and we set up a meeting for next week.

5:30 p.m. — C. comes over with a chocolate croissant for me from our favorite bakery! We had planned to go swing dancing tonight, but I’m not really well enough for it, so we get Indian takeout instead ($29.91, I pay). We hang out for a while until I go to bed at 10. I feel a little bad paying for food AGAIN this week, but I know that next week C. will be out of town so I’ll eat in most nights. $29.91

Daily Total: $29.91

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