Monthly Archives: June 2012

This Grad Student’s Budget

As I’m approaching the six-month mark in this project, I realized that I’ve never actually published my budget, despite the title “The Budget Grad Student.”

As a graduate student working on a research project, officially my salary includes tuition and fees, such as health, dental, and vision insurance, and access to the student gym, which are taken out pre-taxes. After taxes, I take home $1744 a month, which is fairly average for grad students at most universities. Assuming I put in 40 hours a week, this is the equivalent of earning just under $11 an hour, but I rarely work just 40 hours. Anyways, this is how I divide it up:

  • Savings: $150
  • Housing: $717
  • Utilities: $94
  • Internet/Cell Phone/Back-Up: $93
  • Car and Home Insurance: $96
  • Food/Health & Beauty: $60
  • Transportation: $80
  • Dog: $50
  • House: $50
  • Debt Payments: $150
  • Entertainment/NY Times e-access: $48

That leaves $156 for whatever else comes up, and something always comes up: textbooks, trip to the vet, extra driving, weddings, birthdays, uncovered dental work.

This does not include the extra money I make by cleaning houses, babysitting, filling out surveys or mystery shopping. Depending on how my month goes, sometimes that covers the basics, others it goes to something fun, or if I’m really good, towards an extra debt payment.

However, I’m fortunate in that in just a few years I’ll hopefully have much more earning power. Also, a lot of my friends are also students, or are former grad students themselves, so are usually up for cheap or free entertainment.

What do y’all think? Any advice for managing this better?


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Research Trip

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve now lived in California for almost 4 years and I have never been to Los Angeles. Fortunately, yesterday changed that. I had the opportunity to present my latest research to some industry insiders, so my boss and I flew down to talk to them and see how we could collaborate on future projects. It felt so grown-up to take the first flight out in professional clothes, be taken seriously by people who actually work in this field, go to a business lunch, then fly back home the same night. Plus, I got to see bits and pieces of a new city, meet some really fun people, and be inspired by places where my work will have a real impact.

My boss offered to let me stay for another day or so and still pay for my ticket back home, but the hotel, car rental and additional food would have been on me. I decided I’d rather wait to explore the city when I don’t have several projects looming over my head and when I might have somebody to enjoy the experience with.

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Simple Black-Eyed Peas and Rice

I don’t make this recipe very often, but every time I do I remember how much I love it. It only requires what I consider to be pantry staples, is fast and simple to make, lots of nutrition and have I mentioned how delicious it is? Because it is. If you’re a meat eater, I’d suggest this as a side to some spicy sausage, or even throw the sausage in for a one dish dinner. I like to have a salad or sauteed greens on the side for a little extra color.

Simple Black-Eyed Peas and Rice

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup rice, uncooked (brown is delicious)
  • 1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed & dried, or 2 cups cooked beans, no liquid reserved
  • hot sauce, preferably Tobasco (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until until soft, about 2 to 3 additional minutes. Add next 4 ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally, and cook until rice is done, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Add hot sauce to taste. Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish..

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Weekly Money Check-Up: 6/25/12


1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on gas. I was farm sitting 45 minutes away, but had to come back to town one day to clean a house, then the other day had to head 30 minutes in the other direction for a wedding.

2. Today I am thankful for the beautiful weather. Highs around 80 made a weekend spent picking fruit, gathering eggs, and helping at an outdoor reception a really pleasant experience.

3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was go star gazing with a friend. It’s amazing what you can see when you’re away from city lights!

4. I will consider this week a success if I don’t eat just junk food. A weekend away translates to an empty pantry and no leftovers!

5. My favorite part of the day is the early morning. I’m a total morning person and love the time to read a little, savor my breakfast and take a walk with the dog before heading out into the real world.

Weekly Money Check-Up is a weekly series on My Pretty Pennies. If you’re interested, please check out Ginna’s blog!

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No, that is not a made up word in my title. It’s one of my projects for the summer and should make excellent Christmas presents. One of my favorite parts of summer is all the amazing produce. Working on a farm, and being a huge fan of the farmers market, I sometimes end up with more than I can eat before it goes bad. That’s when I turn to food preservation, which can mean making jams and pickles, but can encompass a lot of other methods.

One of my favorite methods, and the simplest, is to use alcohol, which brings me back to the title of my post. Rumptopf is a German dish, which involves layers of fresh fruit, topped with sugar and dark rum. As the summer progresses and different fruits come into season, add another layer of fruit, with more sugar and rum. Or, you can buy all the fruit and make it in one go.

I divide this recipe into 4 1-pint jars to give out as presents, but you could be selfish or generous, and put it all in one giant jar, that would hold a half gallon of water. Just use glass, which won’t transfer any flavor or chemicals to the fruit.


  • 2 cups (1 pint basket) strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 2 cups peaches, sliced 1/2 thick, pit removed
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 2 cups plums, sliced 1/2 thick, pit removed
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 liter dark rum
  • 4 pint glass jars
  1. Divide strawberries evenly between jars. Sprinkle 2 1/2 tbsp sugar over each layer of strawberries, then cover with rum, about ¼ cup.
  2. Repeat with each type of fruit, creating layers. At the end, make sure the fruit is completely covered with rum.
  3. Store in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator!), and periodically swirl to help the sugar dissolve.  If the fruit floats to the top, occasionally flip to make sure everything is equally saturated with rum. Allow to soak for at least 3 weeks, though the longer the better.

Serve over pound cake, use the fruity rum in cocktails or just have a ridiculously tipsy fruit salad.

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She Works Hard for the Money

…Or in this case, produce!

Last night I was contemplating my budget and income (next month is going to be tight!) and realized that I’ve never posted on about a consistent source of income for me. Don’t ask me why, the best I could come up with is that I have so much fun and I’m not paid in cash, therefore I don’t think of it as income. What am I babbling about? The farm.

I’ve been subscribing to Nevermore Farm’s CSA for 4 years. Last summer, when I was finally beginning to accept that I needed to balance my budget, I heard that Deborah needed some extra help on the farm. We came to a very mutually beneficial decision: I go out to the farm once or twice a month, in exchange for maintaining my subscription for free. And it turns out, I really love it out there. It’s so satisfying to spend time with a friend, and at the end of the day look at rows of new transplants, piles of weeds gone, or baskets of produce picked. I also get to channel my inner child and squeal when I get to drive the four-wheeler, forklift, and tractors.

Plus, I still get my deliveries of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, rice and the occasional dozen eggs. And, this year there’s a wheat harvest, so now I’ve got freshly ground, locally grown whole wheat flour. Which translates to a current monthly grocery budget of $40 for milk, yeast, spices and small splurges. If push comes to shove, I could probably go a month without grocery shopping at all.

Monthly savings: $60


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Spicing Up My Pantry

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Freecycle? Because I do.

Earlier this week, there was a posting for a bunch of unused spices. I love to cook, and spices are expensive, so I said yes! But y’all, this wasn’t just some regular old McCormick cumin from Safeway; it turned out to be two boxed sets from a fancy spice store in Chicago. I now have the International Salt-Free collection, as well as the Ethnic Chicago Neighborhoods complete set. Plus, both sets came packaged with lose herbs and spices, so now I have a whole new jar’s worth of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and nutmeg. They all smell so yummy, and I’ve been having lots of fun with them already. It’s been fun playing with my salad dressing and adding flavor to my afternoon snack of air-popped popcorn. (Yes, I’m the person who makes popcorn in the office microwave. I’m sorry, but it’s delicious.)I can’t wait to see what tweaks I can make to some of my old standard recipes.

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