When I decided to finish work to do my Master's thesis full time, I knew it would be interesting making ends meet. Since I got back from Peru, I've been seeing how this works out.
I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Master's by Thesis scholarship This scholarship gives me $277 per week to live on. My rent, for my part of a 2-bedroom flat in Northland, is $200. Electricity and telecommunications bills add another $40 per week. That leaves $37 for everything else. Much as I have come see living well and frugally as an interesting and worthy project, I haven't been able to get my food budget much below $100 per week, even leaving aside such frivolities as sport or the occasional beer or espresso coffee.
To be fair, the $20-odd per week for telecoms includes broadband internet (arguably a necessity these days), and the basic Sky TV package. With our electricity usage (both out of the house a lot), the $20 per week estimate may be a little above the average. But these things only make a couple of dollars difference in any case. The elephant in the room is the rent, which takes up 72 percent of my principal income.
You might think that the rental is high, but although it's in quite a good location, it's not luxury. I also walk everywhere and have no transport costs. From memory, the cheapest monthly bus pass is at least $100, or $25 per week. In summary, I'd make the case that a subsistence income for living in Wellington would be at least $350 per week.
Now, although it would be nice to have an income that matches my outgoings, I don't have any actual problems. I have savings from several years of well-paid work as a backup. I also have a bit of work doing tutoring and marking, which, although not well-paid for something requiring a graduate degree, is relatively stress-free and drags my overall income part of the way towards the break-even level. Studying is a personal choice, and there are a number of othe rbenefits gained through being a postgraduate student.
However, for those on a benefit or pension, working on close to minimum wage, or god forbid, having to support dependents, things must be very difficult. In some future posts, I want to reflect on the situation of people on low incomes, which I think includes some structural disadvantages that aren't always noticed.