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Living Like a Happy Graduate Student With Kids

alec vanderboom

I'm messing around with some research for my poverty book and found this cool post for new doctors making six figure incomes "Live Like A Resident." This author makes a compelling case for the virtue of poverty, especially when starting out with a full doctor salary for the first time.

Here was a comment:

"This is a nice idea, but it doesn’t really acknowledge the extent to which its feasibility is almost 100% dependent on when one has kids. Saying on survived in a small (in our case 800 SF) apartment in a crummy neighborhood so you can do it for a few years afterwards, too, doesn’t make as much sense when your kids are hitting school aged and you need a reasonable school district, and they are starting to need their own bedrooms, etc…. I would love to see more attention paid to how to handle this aspect of things!"

I think this theme of "sounds great to me, but how do I do this path with kids?" is a question I'm trying to answer in my book. Poverty as a virtue is pretty popular. There are the monks and Christian Mystics. There's Thoreau. There are the Bohemian Artists living in an unheated Parisian garret. There are entrepreneurs. Students. Now I'm adding "white coat investors trying to get rid of outrageous medical debt quickly."

The question is "How do I do this sanely with kids" because our culture has decided that each kid requires X amount of stuff every single moment of their life.

I was really blessed to have a rough start in my financial life. I spent $85,000 in Law School loans to make less than $32,000 as a Legal Aid Attorney after graduating in the top of my class. (That was back in 2000, when there were still open jobs for new graduates.) That trade off made absolutely no sense unless you could see how deadly boring I found writing Legal Research Memos about obscure contract phrases.

My husband who is a commercial artist actually had a slightly better deal. $65,000 in student loan debt for $62,000 in annual salary. That's a decent trade off that would make Susan Ormond happy. Add in a stay-at-home wife and five, possibly six, kids. Suddenly we're knocked firmly out of the middle class.

My financial peace comes from living well in the present moment with God's help. Our financial numbers are close enough from income to expenses that we've got peace of mind and not fear. Rather than scramble to earn more income, or invest, my goal is to live well on little money.

I try to get the biggest "enjoyment of life" from each dollar I spend in our home.

1. Paint. I love color! Paint is from $20 to $30 a gallon. I find that a small investment really transforms my mood. When we lived in an apartment with white walls, I picked one accent wall and made it a color. I was happy to repaint it white when we moved out.

2. Candles and Plants. When I lived in an apartment, I was so afraid to garden. There seemed to be so much stuff to cart home on the bus. Now that we live in the country, but I don't have much time to garden, I love living with indoor plants. I've got ivy growing in my bedroom. I've got a crazy plant I don't know the name of that I got for $6 on clearance from Home Depot. I used to have a palm tree. Living with plants is really healing for me.

3. Cook Good Food. Cooking is so cheap! Aldi's Grocery store is my friend. I love roasting vegetables in olive oil. I made bread in a bread maker and serve it with dipping sauces. I can now roast a chicken with olive oil, lemons and rosemary easier than I can make most pasta meals.

4. Don't forget to give your kids the simple stuff. We're a normal family. My kids are into Legos and video games and overpriced Disney Princess Items. I'm also a heavy pusher of the simple stuff--sidewalk chalk, bubbles, bike rides & skateboard time. We go hiking, fishing, and camping. They make up plays in the living room. We play charades and Monopoly. This is the "good stuff" that I want them to experience in childhood anyway.

I think that a small home, that is beautifully arranged, a roast chicken that is almost finished cooking in the oven, lots of kids giggling under a blanket tent and a husband who froths a good cup cappuccino with our "el cheapo" coffee and our Mr. Coffee cappuccino maker are Good Things.

Everybody can afford the good things in life. A good book. A good conversation with a dear friend. Feeling useful to a kid with a scraped knee. Handing out a smile to a stranger in need.

I wish that more people I knew with kids lived how we lived in Graduate School. We had more time than money.