The Cost of Moving to Providence for Grad School

Photo credit: Will Hart, CC BY 2.0.

On August 4, 2017, I said “deuces” to my six-figure salary, clambered into the driver’s seat of a rented U-Haul and drove my stuff to Providence, Rhode Island to start a PhD program.

(I would not remember the exact date, except that Mint shows a truck rental on the 3rd followed by twenty-four hours of Home Depot, gas, and one crucial burrito.)

A few factors informed the decision to go back to school and, later, how I planned the move.

The return to school was a now-or-never-as-easy-as-it-is-now leap. I had just wrapped up a three-year development program at an insurance company in Massachusetts that paid for my master’s degree in statistics. Although the company extended an offer to stay on as a mid-level data scientist, the end of the program was a natural time to pivot. I had a yen to learn more statistics, and money socked away from working for The Man. I do not plan on living off those savings, but it is a safety net that made the decision easier.

I am lucky that a graduate degree in statistics is a low-risk investment. Advancing in mathematics or statistics does not result in the mysterious phenomenon called “over-qualification,” where you are somehow too good to hire, and PhD programs are funded. In return for a teaching or research assistantship (semester-dependent), I am given $2,325.45 post-tax each month and various perks, such as a gym membership and a pleasant thing called health insurance.

Not all my offers were quite this good. Some came with heavier teaching loads and less pay (the lowest offer was around $19,000 per year post-tax). I have a massive leg-up in that I could have accepted a less generous stipend if I so desired, having neither dependents nor debt. I am grateful to my parents for supporting me through college.

I tallied up what it cost to get this ramen-lover to the Ocean State.

April 3, 2017

I drove the two hours to Providence to make sure I liked the department before committing.

  • Gas ($10.74)
  • Tealuxe for my boyfriend and me ($14.00) — Were there gold flakes in this tea?
  • Parking ($15.00)

July 1, 2017

I went apartment-hunting. This was the second time I drove to Providence to check out an apartment. I could not find transactions from the first attempt, but it was such an abject disaster (the foyer boasted a dental chair with a tray of rusted poking sticks from the apartment’s previous life as a business… in the 1970s) that I probably ran away too quickly to spend money.

  • Speedway for coffee ($2.95)
  • PVDonuts ($4.97) — I had been trolling this place on Instagram.
  • Parking ($4.65)
  • Noodles 102 ($31.00) — Again, this fed two.

July/August 2017

In the days before I moved, I picked up boxes at Home Depot ($6.52) and reserved load/unload help through Moving Help ($345.94). I begged my ever-loving boyfriend to deconstruct a decrepit wooden table that would not be moving to Providence using a handsaw I bought on Amazon ($9.24). I also bought a mattress protector ($7.44) from the storage facility where I picked up the U-Haul ($154.06).

Once I arrived in Providence, I wolfed Chipotle ($7.34), topped off the tank in the truck ($24.58) and tipped the tireless Moving Help crew (around $140 for four people, including the men in Massachusetts). I fell asleep waiting for a new driver’s license at the DMV in Cranston, but the employee who showed me her sternum tattoo and offered me a “randomly” generated 666 plate made the experience worthwhile ($43.50).

All together, the above expenses total $821.93.

What I did not mention:

  • Paying off the remainder of my auto loan because I did not want the monthly payment on a graduate stipend ($6,116.10)
  • Last month’s rent and security deposit, equal to $50 less than two month’s rent for reasons I no longer remember ($2,010.00)
  • Bubble wrap and packing tape (likely buried in a regular shopping trip’s receipt)
  • Odds and ends from Target and Amazon (for example, mat for dishwasher rack and toilet paper)
  • Slight increase in rent and auto insurance

I considered trashing my possessions and starting fresh in Providence, but felt that without extreme thriftiness or a roommate situation in a pre-furnished house, I would not beat the price of driving a truck myself. I also nixed asking friends to haul boxes because I could swing the cost of Moving Help and wanted to preserve my friendships (just kidding).

I am glad I took the plunge to return to school. Thanks to the short distance to move, healthy graduate stipend and strong financial footing following my prior gig, it was more like wading into the shallow end (with pencils and a calculator).

Dana is a graduate student in Rhode Island. Tweet her at @danascientist.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Moving Series.

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