Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Making Budgets and Avoiding Debt

I have a personal relationship with my laptop, as we spend quite a bit of time together. So I’m going through withdraws (but will stay out of debt since I have Apple Care) with it away at the repair center. I now realize how reliant I am on my laptop to get work done. I can’t (or don't want to) do research or writing without the laptop. I also can’t go do the archival research I planned on doing this week, without my laptop.

So I’m left to do things that don’t require my little friend, laptop – alas, also keeper of music - like a budget for a grant application. Doing a personal budget is probably good for the cleansing and planning that some attempt at the New Year. But if you are a graduate student, what’s the point? Certainly, it’s good to be careful about incurring incomprehensible amounts of debt. But, for a savings plan...that’s funny.

Even if graduate students don’t do a personal budget it’s likely, if we want grants, we’ll have to do a research budget. It’s a useful exercise to think about the cost of hotel rooms, plane tickets, copier costs (how do you estimate this?), etc. But what is interesting for me, at these beginning stages of applying for grants, is the arbitrariness, at worst, and educated guess, at best, of making a budget. When dealing with money, I prefer precision, but an educated guess will have to suffice.

Like I said, I do think it’s important to have some educated idea about the costs of research, of living, or say, running a government – once again, especially when it comes to incurring incomprehensible amounts of debt. In my “Introduction to Sociology” course as a first semester freshman, one of the assignments was a cost of living budget for a single mother, with two kids, making $17000/yr. We had to figure out how to make ends meet, without an extended network of support, because our friends and families were struggling as well (so the assignment went). I know Heather does a similar assignment in her class on social stratification. It’s a great assignment for debunking the meritocracy myth, as well as illustrating a host of other issues (i.e. feminization of poverty). Whether it’s personal, for research, or for a class assignment, making budgets is useful, even if painful.

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