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Breadwinner?

January 15, 2010

I’ve had more than one person recently joke about T living off my salary while he finishes his PhD.  Despite the fact that it is okay for one partner to financially support the other for whatever reasons they want (and really, why do I care?), I always feel the need to correct them.

He’s on a fellowship that is enough to live on, plus he does freelancing on the side that pays at ~$100/hr (he’d never do it full time — too boring).  You don’t get your PhD for the money — it’s not financially the best choice in most cases.  You get it because you want to do the type of work that requires a PhD.

However, that doesn’t mean it has to be a money suck.  Not that he tracks it, but I’m sure his net worth has gone up, despite being a grad student in a very expensive state and buying me a ring.  He has no student loans, cash savings, and some retirement savings.  He’s responsible, and no, he’s not living off my earnings.  (Or his parents either, as some of his relatives imply with questions.)

So it isn’t true!

Which isn’t exactly the point.  The point is, why do people even comment on it in the first place?  And why do I feel the need to correct them?

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    January 15, 2010 7:20 am

    My husband is also doing his PhD, and people don’t seem to get it that a lot of times this can pay a half-way decent amount. He gets $25,000 a year, health insurance and a full tuition & fees. But, we live in KY, so $25,000 goes a long way. (A decent apartment rents for about $500/mo, and nice houses start at around $100,000.)

  2. January 15, 2010 7:47 am

    People need to mind their own business. Who cares which of you is contributing more to the finances? As long as your bills are getting paid, it doesn’t matter.

  3. Andrew Stevens permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:39 am

    Oh, come on. People are interested in that sort of thing. We’re curious about other people and their financial arrangements. Why else do we read personal finance blogs? It’s silly to judge them that harshly, me in millions.

    They mention it, probably, because they assume it’s true and likely think it’s sweet of you to put your fiance through grad school (not that you’re actually doing that) and you correct them because it isn’t true and you think this is a calumny on your fiance (that he can’t support himself). It’s all perfectly natural and reasonable. None of this is anything to be annoyed with yourself or with these other people about.

  4. Andrew Stevens permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:42 am

    By the by, people make this mistake because most people aren’t educated to the difference between grad school and undergrad or professional school. Anybody paying their way through grad school is doing something wrong (unless it’s for a professional degree like a J.D., M.D., or M.B.A.), but most people aren’t aware of this because they don’t know many grad students (or never discuss things like fellowships, teaching assistantships, or tuition waivers with them).

  5. January 15, 2010 9:53 am

    I disagree with Andrew–it’s still not appropriate to comment on other people’s financial arrangements. That’s WHY we start and read blogs, so we can talk about it with others who are open to discussing the same things.

    And unfortunately, SP, I feel like if the situations were reversed and you were going to grad school while T worked, no one would comment on it because the man is “supposed” to be the breadwinner. I don’t blame you at all for being irritated.

    If someone said something to me, I’d pull Dear Abby’s signature move: a long, silent look with a raised eyebrow and then a sweet, “Why do you ask?”

    • SP permalink*
      January 15, 2010 10:36 am

      “why do you ask?” That’s a good one!

      But people don’t even ASK, they make little jokes or comments. For example, they’ll ask when he is done, then laugh and say “and he’s living off you until then!” They don’t really mean anything by it (I don’t think), just (perhaps slightly inappropriate) small talk.

      I suppose we also aren’t married just yet — I think that does make a difference to many. Or maybe not.

      Maybe it is to my benefit if they think that, then they won’t think it odd that I’m on the frugal side. After all, I have to support two of us! 😉

  6. January 15, 2010 10:44 am

    I think I agree with Andrew in the sense that people often joke about or mention things in the hopes that you’ll go into more detail. People are curious. I DON’T think it’s appropriate though, particularly if they aren’t that well known to you.

    I also agree with LMM….sadly, if it was you in school and him working, they wouldn’t mention it at all.

  7. January 15, 2010 11:52 am

    Yes, there’s definitely gender biases at work. No one would comment if the situation was reversed. It’s ‘normal’ for the man to support the woman, not the other way around.

  8. January 15, 2010 7:35 pm

    I think what’s inappropriate here is the sort of judgment-flavored comments they’re making. If they really just wanted to know, why not just ask, “If you don’t mind my asking, how does that work for you financially?”

    I wouldn’t find that nearly as rude as the “knowing” sort of comments people make instead. It’s true that they may not mean anything by it, but I’d guess that you feel the need to correct them because it’s not just inaccurate, it sounds rather offhandedly judgmental. That’s how I would feel anyway.

    Then again, I suppose it’s rarer to prefer open honesty.

    • January 15, 2010 7:50 pm

      Exactly right! I think it is the judged feeling I get.

      Though I’m possibly overly sensitive to those comments — when I moved from the midwest I got a lot of questions/comments about whether or not we were married or getting married since I was moving mostly to be with T.

      I’m like… “uh, well, it isn’t exactly that much of a sacrifice for me to move to paradise. You have fun shoveling this winter.” Maybe a little less bratty. 🙂

      Anyway I don’t want people to assume I’m being taken advantage of. But if they actually just asked, I’d LOVE to educate them on the financial ins and outs of a graduate student. At least what i know of it, it seems kind of complicated. 🙂

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