By Zach Weishar
Worried about being able to survive in Boston on $920 per-month* (post-tax) stipend? I was too before I started my corps year.
I was so nervous about making ends meet, that I spent the summer before my corps year sweating buckets in a kitchen in order to build up a nest egg. I figured that I would use a little bit of the money that I saved each month to supplement my stipend.
I am several months into service now, and I have yet to touch that emergency fund. In fact, I have a meager surplus of money that I saved from my stipend. It isn’t much, but it is there waiting for a rainy day.
So how is it possible to live on an AmeriCorps stipend?
As a corps member, your biggest monthly expenditure will most likely be rent. It can be tough to find a place this affordable, but it is possible. I suggest finding a place that is $600 or less per month. Ideally, utilities would be included, but this is sometimes hard to find.
Be sure to research your street and neighborhood, if you’re new to the area, before you sign a lease to make sure it’s a good fit for you. I also recommend looking in neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury, or Hyde Park. Many of the schools we serve are in or around these areas. You will be able to immerse yourself within the communities we serve, which means that you will experience daily life in much the same way as your students.
I also suggest finding some roommates (because life is always better with friends, right?) and because living with people usually brings down the cost of living. You can split the cost of rent, utilities or even groceries.
Apply to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as early as possible, because it can take quite awhile to actually receive it. If you’re smart about budgeting, you can buy 100% of your food using your SNAP benefits (typically $200 per-month).
A great way to stay within this budget is by learning to cook. I suggest investing in a decent kitchen knife, cutting board and a slow cooker. I can’t tell you how nice it is to throw some food in the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked, warm meal waiting for you at the end of service. If you plan well, you should have leftovers to pack for lunch the next day.
Additionally, frequent farmers markets as much as possible. You can use double SNAP benefits at the markets! If you spend $10 of your SNAP budget at the market, you can buy $20 worth of delicious locally grown food.
Bringing a car with you can be expensive. If you are moving from out of state, you’ll have to pay to transfer your driver’s license and license plates to Massachusetts. You’ll also face the additional financial burden of insurance, gas, tolls, and parking. If you must have a car, use it sparingly.
When traveling to and from service, use the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) services. The T (as we Bostonians call it) has an extensive network that goes virtually anywhere and is super convenient.
Always ask or look for discounts or special offers. Many gyms offer free trial periods or special sales or discounts to those with lower incomes. I received a discounted gym membership to the YMCA. My membership also allows me access to any YMCA in the Boston area.
Moral of the story, you can live on the stipend as long as you are smart and careful about how you spend your money. I hope this was of some help, and that you are now more confident about your ability to survive on a stipend.
*Please note this amount is based on an approximated 2013-2014 stipend and may change in later service years.
About the author:
Zach Weishar is a 2013-2014 corps member serving at Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park.