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