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Experiencing Chicago on the Fellow Stipend

budget planning pic

Phillip Masters | Chicago Leadership Fellow | June 6, 2016

Living in a big city on a budget forces you to not only be smart about your money, but creative. And since unlike other education fellowships, you don’t have lessons to plan or papers to grade into the night, the city is yours to explore! Over the last year and a half, I have come to pride myself on my ability to budget and thrive within the confines of the tutor stipend.

I’m sure there are dozens of BuzzFeed articles about living “the struggle” of a millennial in a new city after graduation, but my (and many other tutor’s expertise) comes from practice. One thing that separates the tutor experience from others, is that most of your cohort is in a similar financial boat. The other tutors you work with are invaluable resources as you learn to operate inside the classroom –and the purpose of this post is to put your mind at ease so you don’t struggle outside either.

Fortunately, being smart about your money and being creative are not mutually exclusive. I can reassure you that it is in fact possible to have fun, and put good food on your table while dedicating your year to serving your students. There are many budgeting tools available at little to no cost to assist you in your transition into adult-like money management. I use an excel spreadsheet, but software like Mint (which has a free app), and You Need A Budget are perfect for navigating those waters.

My number one tip for budgeting is learning to make your own food. This doesn’t mean every meal is bean and lentil slop, but it may mean adopting couple of new skills. Ordering out at night or frequently going off campus for lunch at school really adds up. It’s really about looking for ways to save so that you can create space in your finances to really enjoy the things a new city has to offer. My roommate and I would make dinner and pack our lunches most nights of the week so during the first few months we lived in Chicago, we could order deep dish from different pizzerias every weekend to find our favorites.

Having a roommate is a simple way to cut down on the cost of living. I’m going to plug the SAGA Housing Survey, because that’s where I found my roommates and that’s how I paid under $600 a month for an apartment in Bucktown.

I feel a responsibility to shout out www.budgetbytes.com for their vast library of simple and accessible recipes tailored for those who are minding their funds. Not only is the website beautiful, but each recipe details the cost of each ingredient, but there is even a price per serving on each meal. Beth –the curator of budget bytes- has saved myself and many other tutors countless dollars on incredibly delicious meals.

However, if culinary arts aren’t your thing, and you feel like the tutor budget might be a little constrictive, then fear not. Many tutors –both past and present- have held part time jobs to supplement their income. For example, private tutoring, I mean, you’re already a professional tutor so take advantage of those very marketable skills!

Lastly, cities are bursting with opportunities to go out and have fun without making you anxious to swipe your debit card. In Chicago there is a Google calendar that catalogs the many free events.

It might seem a bit touristy, but there are plenty of activities to choose from.

From street festivals, free museum days, to movies in the park, you can get the true Chicagoan experience without having to opt for the off brand condiments every time you shop for groceries. And don’t forget to share your great finds with fellow tutors! You’re in this together both inside and outside the classroom.

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