Finances & Grad School Parenting

As a parent in graduate school, I’ve found myself in a funny financial position. I’m simultaneously paying tuition, paying off my undergrad student debt, and saving up money for Baby E’s college fund. That’s a sh*t ton of money going to education.

So, this post is all about money, and making it work financially as a grad school parent.

(Please note: I live in Canada, so I can only speak to the assistance and resources we have here)

Know that It’s Do-Able.

It is possible to make it work financially, while being in graduate school and having a family to support. Don’t let money deter you! Here are some options you can consider:

1. Provincial Student Loans – Particularly if you’re a single parent, you may need to seek out provincial student loans (i.e., OSAP in Ontario). These loans are great, because they’re interest free while you’re in school and for the first 6 months after you graduate. Also, if you qualify for a large amount of funding you don’t need to pay it all back. For example, if you qualify for a $15K loan, you only need to pay back $11K (which is $4K free money). However, these loans take into account your partner’s income, if you have one, so not everyone will qualify. My two cents: If you can avoid this route, I would. Sometimes we forget that a loan is something we need to pay back, and we take money out without a clear repayment plan. I’m currently paying back a very large undergrad student debt, cursing my 17 year-old self for not being more frugal.

2. Bank Loans – Similar to above, I would avoid if possible. I would consider this the last possible option for making it work.

3. Scholarships & Funding Awards – Each Fall you apply for the Tri-Council Awards (SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR) which is a Canadian federal award given to you to fund your studies. Although highly competitive, the award amount ranges from $17,500-$35,000. Even more competitive, but options you can consider applying for, is the Vanier Award ($50K) and Trudeau Award ($60K). Finally, you can apply for the Ontario Graduate Scholarship which is a provincial award ($15K+). Talk to a graduate advisor at your school to learn about more opportunities for funding awards that may not be as well-known. Take these opportunities seriously and submit your best possible funding package. I’ve been fortunate to win an award both years of my MA, and it’s been my main source of income.

4. Teaching Assistantships

Most graduate programs offer the opportunity for graduate students to be a teaching assistant to a professor. These jobs pay quite well and usually consist of marking papers/exams, which can be done at whatever time suits you. I turned down a TA opportunity once, and I still regret it.

Also, around exam times, postings will go up for graduate students to invigilate undergraduate exams (aka, stop cheating). Sign up for as many exams as you can. You get paid generously to walk up and down aisles, and get those Fit-bit steps in.

5. Paid Research Positions

A paid research position is an awesome opportunity to make a little extra money, while also having the opportunity to gain research experience and potentially get a publication (depending on your role). Two birds, one stone. You get to build your academic resume, while also earning cash. You can look into these jobs at your university, nearby universities, hospitals, or others places that conduct research.

6. Daycare Subsidy

The bad news? If you’re a grad student, your income will be low. The good news? If your income is low (it is), than you will qualify for subsidized daycare. My son currently attends a daycare that costs $2000 a month, and I pay a fraction of that cost. You need to be pro-active and get on subsidy waiting lists early and do your research to find the best daycares that accommodate subsidy.

7. Budget

I could write a whole post on budgeting, and one day I will. For now, I will just say that it is extremely important that your monthly spending is below your monthly income. Making an excel sheet all your monthly costs is a good start, but you should also calculate the exact amount of money you spend in each category. Its one thing to say you’ll be spending $200/month on clothing, and then another thing to unknowingly exceed that category every month.

8. FREE fun!

Baby E and I do a ton of free activities together. We go to the park, we attend Early Years Centres weekly (government run program for children under 6 in Ontario), we go to the Museum on Tuesdays when students are free (and Baby E is always free), we go to a free nearby petting zoo, we go for walks… I could go on. There are tons of fun, free activities to do if you just do your research! And use that student discount 😉

I hope these tips were helpful for making it work as a parent in graduate school. Leave a comment below if you have any other insightful tips to add!

– Kate


Guest Post: On being productive and reproductive at the same time

This was an excellent read about being a mother in academia. The author painted an incredibly honest piece of what the day to day realities look like.

Tenure, She Wrote

Today’s guest post is by Megan Rivers-Moore, Assistant Professor at the Pauline Jewett Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University

  1. PhD, Post-doc, someone give me a job please

When I’m about to go start fieldwork for my PhD, my academic advisor says “why don’t you have a baby? Everyone trusts a pregnant woman.” Now, I’m not saying I know for sure, but this seems like pretty terrible advice.

When I’m in the field, the women I’m interviewing find it baffling that I am in a long-term, happy relationship but don’t have a baby yet. As we get to know each other, as the mutual trust develops, I am regularly asked if there is something “wrong” with me, if I can’t get pregnant. They cannot conceive of any other reason that I wouldn’t have a baby. I say something vague about trying to finish school first, get a job…

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Minimalism: Board Games, Part 2.


I recently posted about how difficult decluttering my board games were (toughest item yet!). To follow up from that post, I decided to reveal what board games made the cut:

1. Absolute Favourite Games that get lots of use:

– Settlers of Catan
– Settlers of Catan, Cities & Knights Expansion Pack
– Ticket to Ride
– Apples to Apples
– The Game of Things
– Taboo
– Risk
– Scattergories (I’m actually not a huge fan of this one, but it’s a favourite of my partner!)
– Seinfeld Scene-It (My favourite show!)
– Skip Bo (Card Game)

If you’re in the market for a good board game to play with friends, I definitely recommend any ones from this list!

2. Classic Games I Couldn’t Part with:

– Monopoly
– Clue
– Pictionary (Original, from before I was born!)

3. Games for Future Family Game Nights:
I admit- it may actually be a while before we play these games. My son isn’t currently old enough to play with us, and we rarely play these games with friends. However, I felt they were worth keeping for future family board game nights. These are all games I could see myself repurchasing in the future, and so I decided to keep them.

– The Game of Life
– Battleship
– Sequence
– Family Feud (DVD)
– Mad Gab
– Disney Scene It
– Apples to Apples Junior
– Comedy Movie Scene It
– Mastermind
– Yahtzee

4. Games for my Son that he’ll be able to play soon(ish):

– Snakes and Ladders
– Let’s Go Fishin’
– Disney Bingo
– Spot It (Card Game)
– Quiddler (Card Game)
– Twister

5. Never Used [yet] Category:

– ‘An Evening of Murder’ to host a Murder Mystery party (I seriously need to cross this off the bucket list)
– Smallworld. Recently received this one as a gift- but I’m very excited to give it a go! It got wonderful reviews
– ‘Boxers or Briefs’ – we’ve had this game for a looong time and have never played it. I think it was lost in the board game chaos, so I’m going to make an effect to try it out soon. It may be donated if we don’t enjoy it.

Total Games Kept: 32

So, what was donated? (40+ games)
– Duplicates. We had different Monopoly ‘themes’ that were all promptly donated. I kept one, and that was it!
– Children’s games that I predict my son wouldn’t like. For example, Barney’s Matching Game. My son doesn’t watch TV, so I can’t imagine him being excited by matching pictures of Barney.
– Games that we never play, and likely would never play in the future. ‘Scene It’ falls into this category. We never played because we never saw the movies that they tested us on, and likely never will.
– Games I just plain don’t like. I hate Sorry!, and we somehow had original Sorry and Disney Sorry. They both went along to donate.
– Damaged Games. There were a few DVD games that were scratched (i.e., Price is Right DVD game). Sadly, they had to go.
– Really ancient trivia games. We had 90’s Trivia Pursuit, but I was ages 0-10 during that decade and failed terribly at the trivia questions. My parents happily took that board game. We also donated “Simpson’s trivia”, because this trivia game wouldn’t include any of the new episodes if we ever did decided to play (and truthfully, we rarely watch Simpsons now).
– 10+ Decks of cards and poker chips. They were cheap plastic chips, and we never, ever, play poker. Maybe one day I’ll invest in a poker set, but not today.

And so that sums up my board game decluttering! We still kept a lot, but we really do play a lot, and I’m excited to have a succinct board game collection.

– Kate.




Minimalism: Board Games.

I’ve made amazing progress on my decluttering, but I’ve recently hit my hardest category to reduce yet: board games.

We had two 7 ft tall bookcases filled with board games, and I’ve paired it down to about 40% of one bookcase. We still have too many, in my opinion, but this was my hardest challenge yet.

Growing up, my family and I always played board games together. My heart ached as I donated a game that brought back so many positive memories: Barney matching game, Arthur’s perfect library, Sorry, Scene It. I admit, it was really tough. And I miss those days of playing together with my family.

I hadn’t anticipated the board games to be such a sensitive topic. It was harder than my sons baby clothes! I found myself wanting to keep a lot of games for future family game nights. But, my son is 16 months. It’ll be ages before he reaches the appropriate ages for some of these games. I think I just want to relive the good times ~10 years from now. But does it make sense to store these games for that long!? Certainly not.

I still love playing board games today (Catan especially!), so I knew I would be keeping a few, but we’ve kept about 25 which is still too much. maxresdefault
I’m going to let it sit before I try and dive in to reduce again. Any tips are appreciated!

– Kate

Beginning Minimalism.

I began my minimalist journey reading “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up.” The premise of the book was simple enough- does this item bring me joy, or does it really truly serve a purpose? I began decluttering my clothes. I had so many cheap Forever 21 clothing that had fallen apart, and clothing that was too small but I wanted to hold on to “just in case,” and so much useless crap- I wear necklaces on occasion, so I really didn’t need (or want for that matter) the piles and piles of jewelry. And getting rid of stuff felt amazing. It was addictive! I felt lighter, my mind was clearer when I got dressed in the morning, and my mood was improved. I kept going, decluttering toys, shoes, bags, home décor, school supplies, books I would never read again, hair and body products, nail polish- I could go on! I went through everything. My home felt great. It was easier to clean, there was less clutter, and my son had easier access to all of his toys and ended up playing with more toys, despite now owning less.

I then started to question every purchase I made. Do I really want another cheap T-shirt I know I will throw out or donate next year? Of course not- that is such a waste. I’ve been investing in quality pieces that I love since starting this process. But mostly, I’ve significantly reduced shopping altogether. I’m still learning and adapting on my minimalist journey, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made this far. I’ve been reading minimalist blogs, which have been really useful for finding tips on how to live a simple lifestyle. I’m hoping to post more posts on here about my journey, as I learn and grow as a minimalist.

This is the book in case you are interested!


– K.

Confessions at Midnight

You can’t possibly understand how difficult it is to be a student mother until you’ve lived it. You need to be there, with a screaming baby at 4am and class at 9am to really get it.

I try to be a positive person, and most of my other posts will focus on how this challenging stage is “so worth it!” And I know it is worth it.

But right now, I’m tired. I’m frustrated, my head hurts, and I just want to sleep. And I’m not focusing on the bright side. But sometimes, that’s okay too.

– K.

How My Labour Class Taught Me How to Survive Grad School with a Baby

When I was six months pregnant, I eagerly signed up for a labour class with my partner. I was determined to have a drug free labour (despite the “Don’t be a hero” comments from my friends). The class was an intensive weekend course with an enthusiastic (and amazing!) doula.

Life had different plans – and I ended up with an emergency c-section, and many, many, many, drugs – but atlas! The class was not a waste and I learned a lot of valuable life lessons that I use in my current crazy life.

1. Labour at home as long as possible.

Nothing is cozier than your own home. Both my doula and midwife advised me to labour at home as long as possible- take a bath and *controversially* have a glass of wine. I was induced so my initial stages of labour had a lot more crying and screaming- but the bath and wine idea sounds nice!

I have a 2 hour commute each way to my school’s campus, so I “labour” from home as much as I can. No wasted time commuting, cheaper coffee, and sweat pants- think of the sweat pants!

2. “You ARE doing it.”

I’ve heard Transition is a tough labour phase. I never actually got to that point because I was in the operating room well before I had the chance. (Kudos to those moms who experienced transition and lived to tell the tale). The advice our doula gave us, was when we say/feel like we can’t do it anymore- remember, you ARE doing it. Of course you can do it, you already ARE doing it.

I’m 6 days into my program and I’m absolutely drowning already. “I can’t do this, I can’t do this” echoes in my brain more than once a day. But the reality is: I AM doing. I’m going to class, I’m doing work (maybe not all of it, but I’m doing everything I can), and I’m surviving. I AM doing this.

3. Breathe.

Simple, but so helpful. Breathing grounds you and helps reduce stress. Just breathe.

4. Pain is temporary.

Labour is such a small amount of pain, for such an amazing, incredible, life-long gift. Most, if not all, mothers will tell you that the pain of giving birth is minuscule compared to the joy that a child brings. 

Kate 5-6 years from now owes me big time for this one. I’ve never had so many demands pulling me ten different directions before. But oh man, it’ll be so worth it. A lovely colleague of mine said to me today, “you’ll be the person, who people say ‘you can do it, Kate did it!'” And yes, I will be that mythological creature who was able to survive the course-heavy section of a MA program with a baby/toddler at home. No pain, no gain!

5. Get moving!

If you opt for the drug-free route, you have the advantage of being able to freely move around. Bring a yoga ball to bounce on or roam the hospital halls- do whatever makes you comfortable! I’m pretty sure I was physically pinned down during my labour, so I definitely didn’t get to use this tip- maybe baby #2?

Exercise! It’s still important to take care of yourself and your health. Exercise does wonderful things for our stress levels, short and long term health, and helps us stay focused during the rest of our day. I highly recommend maintaining an active hobby.

What are your survival tips?