Welcome back to our series on surviving summer poverty as a humanities PhD student. You can see the previous installment in this series here.

One of the perks of a humanities PhD is that you have a lot of control over your time. On paper, most humanities grad students don’t work anything near a 40 hour week. During my final year in grad school I was teaching 3 classes. This meant I had 9 teaching hours a week and 6 office hours for a total of 15 hours. I was also taking a class through the university’s entrepreneurial incubator (which was awesome and probably the only thing from that university I would think about promoting) which was seminar style so I had about 3 hours a week of class time. That’s a total of 18 hours a week that I actually had to be at a certain place at a certain time.

Obviously, I worked waaaaaay more than that. The prep and grading for 3 classes, the homework for 1 seminar, and, oh yeah, writing a dissertation was immense. I would estimate that I actually worked about 60-70 hours a week, but a lot of the when and how I worked was up to me. Want to work from my laptop in bed? Sure. Want to put on pants and work from my office? Sure.

Humanities PhD students work hard–and I will fight anyone who says otherwise–but we do have the benefit of very flexible schedules. In fact, the flexible schedule of academia is often touted as one of the reasons why academics are supposedly so happy to make significantly less than they would in other industries.

“Sure, the pay isn’t the best, but at least we aren’t shackled to a 9 to 5, amiright?” That’s not just something I’ve heard academics say it’s something I have said many times when I was in academia.

Essentially, academics bank on trading a little bit of money in what we could make for a flexible schedule that allows us to do something we love (in theory). That trade-off between money and time is even more pronounced for humanities PhDs in the summer. Unlike our colleagues in STEM we are often not funded through year-round grants and many of our professors do not have the funds for RAs over the summer. Some lucky folks get to teach summer classes but many don’t. This can leave PhD students with a lot of summer time and no income.

Luckily, there are some ways that you can trade your time for significant cost savings over the summer and one of the absolute best is by making things you used to buy. Here are some of my favorites!

Goop. Okay, this is my own recipe and I don’t really have a name for it so goop is good enough (no association with any other goop you may have heard of). Take about 3/4 a cup of baking soda and mix it with 1 cup of coconut oil. That’s it.

I like to add a little bit of turmeric because it’s supposed to be good for the skin but it also makes it a beautiful, sunny yellow.

If you fancy then you can add a bit of peppermint essential oil.

The actual ratio isn’t too important–just mix it until you find the texture/color/flavor you like. I find a 1/1 ratio of baking soda to coconut oil to be a bit too gritty for my taste, but you do you.

What is goop good for? A lot of personal hygiene, actually. It’s a great toothpaste (especially with a bit of cinnamon or peppermint mixed in). It’s the best make-up remover I’ve found. It’s a great bodywash replacement that both exfoliates (gently!) and moisturizes. It also works as a nice shaving cream replacement (at least for legs–idk about folks with facial hair).

Between one box of baking soda and one jar of coconut oil you will be set for the whole summer. You can keep it in a fancy glass jar on your bathroom counter top, in a Country Crock container, whatever works for you. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and I’ve never seen it go bad.

Detergent. Yup, you can make your own laundry detergent and while it takes some time, particularly if you don’t have a food processor, it is bananas cheap. Here is a great tutorial which I like because it tells you how to make your own washing soda from regular baking soda which takes about two hours but makes the whole thing even cheaper. If you don’t have a food processor you can use a cheese grater to grate the bar of soap. It takes some time, but you can do it while watching a movie on your couch.

Salad Dressing. There are a lot of salad dressings you can make from home for pretty cheap but my absolute favorite is this one (which actually is associated with that other Goop). I use the cheap version of all of these ingredients–regular mayo, regular salt, dried herbs, and it is delicious. It’s delicious on salads. It’s delicious to dip veggies in. It’s great on chips. It is just so, so good. There is an upfront cost with purchasing the dried herbs but one bottle of each, along with a jar of mayo, will give you delicious dressing all summer long for the price of a fresh avocado every time need to make a new batch.

BONUS: If you have friends who are in town over the summer ask them if they wanna split the cost for the herbs so you can make big batches and split it up.

Bread. This is another one that can have a large outset cost if you need to buy bread pans or other baking tools but will save you soooo much money in the long run. Plus, you get to smell fresh bread baking which improves quality of life immensely. The only time I wouldn’t recommend making your own bread as a money saver is if, like me, you are gluten free. Unless you are already an accomplished baker making GF bread requires a lot of start-up cost (where the fuck does someone even by xantham gum?!), storage space, and doesn’t save you a significant amount of money.

Taco Seasoning. Again, like all the recipes, this is gonna have a initial cost but you can make huge batches that last forever. Pair this taco seasoning with some black beans and you can have some awesome black bean tacos/burritos/taco salads/quesadillas/rice bowls. The cheapest summer meal is rice with black beans and taco seasoning. It’s pretty good for you. If you have the cash you can add some cheddar and sour cream. If you were able to plant some tomatoes you can throw those in as well and by then you have a pretty great meal for almost nothing.

These are the recipes I used to survive grad school summers. If you have your own for DIY solutions to summer living problems share them in the comments!


carlystarr · June 14, 2019 at 10:34 pm

I love having a flexible schedule as well and I wouldn’t trade it for a full-time job for more money.

Surviving Summer: Share Something – Consistent. Creative. Complete. · June 24, 2019 at 1:50 pm

[…] Last week I shared this recipe for homemade taco seasoning. If y’all can pool your spice collections or invest in a spice library then you can split the cost of a few cans of black beans, a bag of rice, some cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, onions–whatever you like. Individually the ingredients are cheap and you can make a huge portion to send some home with everyone. It’s also pretty delicious and filling. […]

Surviving Summer: Eat Something – Consistent. Creative. Complete. · July 12, 2019 at 9:25 am

[…] no income of a humanities graduate student. A lot of our previous posts have focused on food (here, here, and here). This probably isn’t surprising. You need to eat. I need to eat. We all need to […]

Surviving Summer: Try Something – Consistent. Creative. Complete. · July 19, 2019 at 11:19 am

[…] we’ve covered a few ways to save money and reduce your cost of living over the summer (see here, here, and here). In this post, we want to switch gears a bit and focus on ways to maximize your […]

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