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I am now a fulltime graduate student. That’s weird. What’s more, it’s ridiculously and financially the worst move anyone can make.

Let me tell you how this works.

I am incredibly fortunate in that most of my tuition is paid for (not, however, non-optional student fees for stuff like the health center, campus-wide WIFI, the free gym membership, weekly massages for the Chancellor, etc, all of which amount to about $900 per semester). I also get a very extravagant purchases like dry beans and lard and porridge and a double-thick cardboard box to take shelter in and my very own box of matches to sell on street corners. Well, okay, it’s not much. I get a little extra than most grad students because I’m a PhD fellow, so I already have a post-graduate degree and am not a super green TA with zero teaching experience, but it still nets less than $19K per year.

My MFA peers are pulling about $14K a year before taxes. Just so that you can reconcile this inside your head — the poverty line in Nevada is about $17K for a single person.

Oh, but they can adjunct in the summer months? No, they can’t. The tenured professors take those classes because they get paid extra then. So no.

(And if you weren’t already aware, the new tax plan supported by the House Republicans will plan on taking about $10K a year from that meager stipend… yes, it will take $10,000 from people who are only earning $14,000 a year so that mega rich people can save $100,000 each. This is your elected official at work. You should think about telling them that this is bullshit and an attack on education.)

I’m lucky — I am married to someone who brings home a decent wage and I get to be the bum in his lifestyle. But we also are trying (unsuccessfully it would seem) to sell our Green Bay house, so right now we’re paying for that mortgage, plus storage for half of our belongings, plus rent in Las Vegas, plus double utilities, double water, double insurance (oh and our insurance agency decided to start charging three times as much for our homeowner’s insurance since our house is unoccupied), double basically everything.

But let’s be clear — the ONLY reason that I could do this is because Esteban makes enough to keep us afloat and that I’m still providing a paycheck to offset my expenses like books, that stupid non-optional student fee, parking, gas, my phone bill, etc).

Now ask me again why I can’t afford to visit Wisconsin for the holidays?

Both of our vehicles are paid off, thank goodness, but my little feisty crossover is bridging 175K miles soon and has needed some unexpected maintenance. Then Esteban’s truck needed some unexpected maintenance. Then my crossover filled the garage with fluid, leaking from the unexpected maintenance thing but which necessitated a tow truck. Then, this week, Esteban’s truck wouldn’t start. Greeeeat.

It was either the battery or the alternator, so we jumpstarted the truck with my car and he took it for a short ride on Friday. Then, on Saturday, we went to get in the truck and… it was dead again. I pulled my car out to jumpstart the truck again and it started back up again. Great. Clearly we hadn’t taken it for a long enough ride, so we hopped into the truck and drove the long way to Moapa (about 45 miles outside of Vegas) and then turned around and drove back to town, stopping to eat at a Wisconsin-themed microbrewery that recently won an award for its beer. Esteban had sampled the beer the weekend that the establishment took the honors and he loved it, but it had been so crowded that we hadn’t bothered to try to eat there — this time was a good excuse. Not only were we in the neighborhood, the parking lot was empty enough to look promising. Plus, we could park the truck in such a way that, if it died, we could use Triple A to jumpstart it again.

Lunch was subpar, I’m sorry to say — it probably was my own fault for hoping to have a traditional Wisconsin fish and chips at a Vegas bar purporting to be Wisconsin-ified. Sir, I have seen Wisconsin bar fish and you, sir, are no Wisconsin bar fish. We got the last two bottles of the beer Esteban loves (they need to make more, apparently, having not expected to win the big deal award) and headed back home — and the truck started on its own, although did sound a bit reluctant.

The next morning, we hopped into the truck to go get coffee and a newspaper, and of course, it was dead. Great.

We swore, got out of the truck and hopped into my car. However, we noticed that the garage smelled strongly of gasoline and when I pulled it out, there was a serious puddle of something under my car.

Insert painful financial freakout here.

I’m fiscally a very conservative person. It comes from having grown up so poor that you counted on a nice relative giving you a ham every December because it meant that there would be at least three good weeks where you’d always have food in the house. Part of the emotional baggage from that level of poverty is that I really really get stressed out when my vehicles start getting shitty. If you don’t grow up doing a prayer of “please start” every time your parent tries to start the car, you just don’t understand this stress.

We took the battery out of the truck and took it to the nearest auto place to have it tested. Even though it was only 4 years old and still technically under warranty (shitty Walmart battery! Be warned!), it was toast. Esteban plunked down $200 on the spot for a new battery and then we did a prayer that the shitty battery hadn’t killed the alternator.

Then I dropped off my car at the auto shop today and similarly am doing a prayer that it isn’t something cataclysmic. While we certainly could survive for the three years we’re here with only one car, it’s not a theory I care to test out. And I really don’t want to try to fit another car payment into our budget, which is so tight that you could play the bridge to Inagaddadavida without an off note.

Tomorrow I either take the truck to school and hope the undergrads don’t park shittily next to it or I make Esteban drive me to school. And then we cross our fingers. Have you ever notice that when you rely upon your luck, sometimes the universe likes to throw a spoiler at you? Come on, universe, no whammies, no whammies.

Hopefully the Senate won’t accept the ridiculous tax plan, which would otherwise go into effect on Jan 1, as in four weeks from today. Mamma needs gas money.

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One Comment

  1. Suzy wrote:

    I hope that it is a minor thing with minimum expense.

    I grew up that poor. We never had a decent vehicle, we forever we dealing with the crappiest cars out there.

    Hell, now, we only have one car and it is at like 230,000 miles. I know we need to replace it soon, but I just don’t know how it will happen.

    Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

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