The Social Isolation of the Privileged

This article offering advice for living frugally while in grad school was making the academic rounds last week.

And the comments on the article, on the Chronicle’s Facebook page, and across Twitter were consistent:

This couple’s story is about what can be done when absolutely everything has gone right in your life and your parents have a a backyard “that is by no means big”  where they can frugally host your wedding reception for 150 people (this tidbit is from the author’s financial advice blog she links to, not the article) and have pretty much financed everything for you except what your generous grad school stipend covers.

Or as Tressie McMillan Cottom tweeted:

What strikes me about all of this is how seemingly unaware the author  — and the Chronicle — were of her audience.

I’m sure that they did live relatively frugally while in grad school in a city where apartments can still be had for $875 a month.


She writes in her blog that she and her husband both attended an “elite” private college as undergraduates that was a “perfect” match for her (she repeats this part about it being a “perfect match” several times, to justify the expense).  She left with $17,000 in debt and his parents paid for all of his schooling.  She writes of her guilt that her parents were borrowing money to pay for her undergrad degree, but just a few years later in an unrelated post, writes that her parents are “debt free” as they head into retirement.

She writes of living with her parents as she started working after college.

She writes of parents gifting children with cars.

And yet a second wedding reception for another 150 people in another city.

But still, I’m not convinced that she’s actually living all that frugally.

There seem to have been no crises.

She could have rented for even less, but those apartments come with roaches.  She doesn’t address what happens when your bike is stolen and you lose your only form of transportation in a low-rent neighborhood with no buses.  She didn’t address how one saves on bulk food at Costco when there’s no car to get to those mega stores in the burbs.  There was nothing here about missing nearly every family celebration because there was simply no money to travel back and forth for weddings or birthdays or how working extra jobs makes it challenging to cook from scratch every night.  She mentions moving several times to save money on rent but says nothing about how much it actually costs to move and rent equipment and put down deposits and then fight with your old landlord to return deposits and the exhaustion of doing all of that while holding down at least a few jobs and keeping up with classes.

It really is quite wonderful that they saved $100,000 while in graduate school.  Wow.

And it’s a bit chilling that she seems to have absolutely no idea that for many, many grad students, creating special accounts to track all sorts of different expenses will create little more than multiple empty accounts.

For me, the main lesson of this piece was how incredibly isolated those from privileged backgrounds can be from everyone else around them, and yet they understand themselves to have valuable life lessons to offer those others.

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