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Money Diaries: A PhD student on €16K living and studying in Dublin

This week, our reader is earning very little during a PhD but manages her spending by planning lots of homecooked meals.

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WELCOME TO HOW I Spend My Money, a series on The Journal that looks at how people in Ireland really handle their finances.

We’re asking readers to keep a record of how much they earn, what they save if anything, and what they’re spending their money on over the course of one week.

Are you a spender, a saver or a splurger? We’re looking for readers who will keep a money diary for a week. If you’re interested send a mail to money@thejournal.ie. We would love to hear from you.

Each money diary is submitted by readers just like you. When reading and commenting, bear in mind that their situation will not be relatable for everyone, it is simply an account of a week in their shoes, so let’s be kind.

Last time around, we heard from a 25-year-old finance analyst on €45K in County Clare. This week, a PhD student managing on €16K in Dublin.

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I’m a PhD student living in Dublin, having moved to Ireland only seven months ago. I literally came into a new country when the pandemic was at its peak and managing my finances on my own was crazy.

It has definitely been a rollercoaster ride and now I am finally getting the hang of it. Being paid a stipend from the university is a blessing in disguise. For the last couple of months, I have been working from home but finally, Ireland is opening up and I have to be physically present at the campus and elsewhere for my research work.

On a really good month, I save up to €300, which gives me a tight budget of €1,000 but I have actually managed it. I’m usually not a fussy eater, but I do make sure that I am well-fed for all three meals and am living healthily. Coming from an Asian nationality, I naturally tend to cook my meals at home and only treat myself to a takeaway when it’s absolutely necessary, and when I want to try some new shops and cafés in Dublin.

For a person who had never been out of their home country (long stays), I am doing quite well. Some of my hobbies include writing poetry, cooking new recipes and reading literature reviews (just kidding! that’s part of my research work). I have rented a nice, cosy studio in a very central location and I’m loving every bit of the privacy I get. I have a few friends in the area and they’ve been very nice to me. I must say the Irish are friendly and will always take an extra five minutes to ask how my day has been.

Occupation: PhD student
Age: 24
Location: Dublin
Salary: €16,000 (tax-free)
Monthly pay (net): €1333.33

Monthly expenses

Transport: €40-50 roughly. I walk to university and only take the bus if it’s extremely important that I do, or my legs can’t make it to the destination.
Rent: €750 (my heart sinks every time I transfer it to the landlord)
Household bills: €20 Electricity (that fancy €2 coin box is really something), Wi-Fi on the house, €8 for the washing machine
Phone bill: I top up by about €5 once in a while. WhatsApp calls FTW!
Health insurance: €40
Groceries: €125-150 (max) – I cook so don’t be surprised
Subscriptions: My generous flatmate gave me the Netflix password. €20 for the gym – perks of being students.

***

Monday

6.00 am: I wake up this early every day and it has been a practice for a long time. It gives me plenty of time to catch up with my mum on the phone. Today, I have a quick mix of random things for breakfast; brioche rolls, banana and a yoghurt.

10.00 am: I reply to the emails that accumulated over the weekend, sort out scheduled online meetings and do a bit of reading.

12.00 pm: Sundays are for meal-prep, and therefore I have the rice and curry fix set that I made yesterday. It is simple chicken, chickpeas, beans and rice. Soon after, I top up my Leap card and leave for the city-centre with my flat mate for her new business opening. (€5.00)

3.00 pm: We shop for a few things in Dunnes and the Ilac Centre. We also buy cleaning supplies before arriving at my friend’s shop. Her cousins are there too, and we have a friendly chat, eat takeaway and arrive late in the evening.

7.00 pm: Back home, I do a bit of reading and don’t have dinner because I am already full from before. I spend the rest of the evening doing a bit of reading and preparing for tomorrow’s lectures before choosing my outfits for university and heading to bed.

Today’s total: €5.00

Tuesday

6.00 am: Wake up at the usual time and do some scrolling on social media since I was out last night. Have a yoghurt, banana and some oat biscuits for breakfast.

8.00 am: I quickly get dressed, top up my Leap card (€5.00) and head to university on the bus to pick up my staff card. I’ll be teaching a few subjects (glad I can make some extra bucks) on some days. I have teaching till 1.00 pm.

1.00 pm: I head back home. On the way, I buy some milk and bread from Tesco. (€2.43)

2.00 pm: I have rice and curry for lunch which I prepped before. I put out some clothes to dry since sunshine is rare and needs to be taken advantage of as soon as possible.

4.00 pm: I work a little on my writing until the evening. I also take a catch-up call with my dad to gossip about my home country.

10.00 pm: I watch an episode of “Maid” on Netflix and have a chicken wrap that I got from my flatmate on the previous day. After a short call with my boyfriend, I decide to go to bed.

Today’s total: €7.43

Wednesday

5.00 am: I wake up an hour early to have a bath (Kudos to whoever made me remember that hair is at your best around seven hours from a bath). I have a double-cheese omelette with toast and a banana for breakfast, which usually fills me up for a long time. I pack dried apricots and a slice of cake as a snack to have between my lectures.

9.00 am: Time to start the working day. I teach two batches of classes with Engineering Graphics for two hours each and have two online meetings afterwards.

2.00 pm: I finally sit down for lunch. I brought rice and curry from home because who else loves to cook other than me!

4.00 pm: I finish up at work and head home on the bus.

6.00 pm: I make a fancy coffee with whipped cream and munch on some caramel biscuits.

8.00 pm: My friend from university calls me to say she’s around and drops in. We have a long chat and I order pizza for both of us. (€15.50)

10.00 pm: My friend goes home and I go to bed.

Today’s total: €15.50

Thursday

6.00 am: I rise and shine (don’t we all?). Name one student who does not rely on cereal as an easy breakfast and I will assume you have won the lottery here. After breakfast, I wash some clothes in the morning and get ready for university.

10.00 am: I walk to campus because let’s get those steps in! I have packed cheese and dried apricots for a snack, and I also packed lunch (rice and curry FTW!).

11.00 am: I do my teaching hours and afterwards, spend some time chatting with colleagues. I also prepare for my evening lecture, and I get a Mocha from the canteen to keep me awake. (€3.05)

5.30 pm: Totally done for the day and I walk back home.

8.00 pm: I have some leftover roast chicken and Emmental cheese, so I quickly prepare bread pizza with some tomatoes and give a portion to my flat mate too.

10.00 pm: YouTube content creators come to my rescue, and I spend some time binge watching videos only to fall asleep. 

Today’s total: €3.05

Friday

6.00 am: It is still dark and my duvet is too comfortable for me to get up, but I eventually do. There are no lectures for me to teach today, so I decide to work from home instead.

8.00 am: I have granola with milk and banana for my breakfast (power up for the day!). Since I am working from home, I decide to complete some of the spreadsheets that I am working on. I devote about three hours at a stretch to complete my work, occasionally listening to some music. 

12.30 pm: It’s the end of my previously prepped meals and I enjoy the last bits and pieces of rice and curry. I also treat myself to peanut butter ice cream that I got from my neighbour one of the days during the week.

2.00 pm: I take a small nap to re-energise from all that reading and get back to work. Working/researching from home at my own pace is a blessing, but it can also get hectic if you procrastinate unintentionally. So, I make sure my day is interesting somehow.

6.00 pm: I Facetime my parents and catch up on some family gossip while sipping on a coffee.

8.00 pm: I remember my grandmother’s birthday is coming up next week and I order a cake and some lunch to be delivered to her home, which is back in my home country. It costs €20.67.

10.00 pm: I say my prayers, watch a few videos on Facebook and fall asleep.

Today’s total: €20.67

Saturday

5.30 am: It’s the weekend! But I wake up early to do some meal prep for the following week. I marinade chicken thighs and cut up some veggies and onions for a homemade fried rice. In between prepping, I have baked beans and toast for breakfast.

8.00 am: Time for grocery shopping. First I head into Tesco Metro and pick up staples like rice, milk, noodles, stir fry, etc. (€8.75). Across the road is a Lidl where I use Lidl Plus coupons to save on some cash. There I pick up some fruits, meat and some chocolate. (€6.75)

11.00 am: I get home and put away all the groceries in the pantry and refrigerator. I have some cheese and olives for a snack. 

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1.30 pm: I have the egg and vegetable fried rice with chicken that I prepared this morning for lunch.

5.30 pm: The food waste reduction app ‘Too Good To Go’ recently launched in Dublin and I think this evening I will give it a try. The app lists food for sale by businesses at the end of the day that would otherwise be thrown out. The meals are called ‘Magic Bags’ because you do not know what is in them until you receive them. There’s a café nearby that has partnered with the app, and I order one bag hoping that it’s something fancy that I can have for dinner (€3.99). Voila! It’s a BLT baguette and croissants with some sweet pastries. What a treat.

6.00 pm: I also help my flatmate to carry a secondhand shelf/cupboard, which might come in handy for her new business venture.

8.00 pm: I have the ‘Magic Bag’ takeaway for dinner, chat with some friends, watch a bit of Netflix and go asleep early.

Today’s total: €19.49

Sunday

7.30 am: Yikes! I didn’t hear the alarm and slept past my normal time. I have a leftover croissant with tea for breakfast and clean the dishes that have been sitting in my sink since last night.

9.00 am: I scrub the toilets, sink, floor and do some dusting.

11.30 am: The church is close by and I attend Sunday Mass. The crowd is mostly old and they enjoy that someone young tags along.

1.00 pm: I have egg fried rice with chicken curry for lunch, scroll through my phone and watch some music videos.

2.00 pm: I do a bit of reading.

4.00 pm: After reading, I prepare for meetings that will be taking place next week.

8.00 pm: I make sausages and roast potatoes for dinner. It’s a quick fix, but I enjoy it.

10.00 pm: The week comes to an end. I sleep after scrolling on my phone.

Today’s total: €0.00

Weekly subtotal: €71.14

***

What I learned –

  • After reflecting on my weekly spending habits, I am quite happy with them. I am glad that I have invested in renting a studio because I value my privacy.
  • I am glad that I meal prep on the weekends, since it gives me plenty of time to focus on my research and lecturing work.
  • Some weeks, I do go over my budget because of occasional takeaways and birthday gifts. That I totally do not mind because what is life after all if we don’t enjoy every minute we can?
  • Some of the tips that I can share are, meal prep as students, use supermarket coupons and rewards to cut down on groceries and student card discounts whenever it is applicable. Dublin is definitely expensive but it is not unmanageable.

About the author:

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