I've decided recently that being a TA is really a lousy decision as far as personal finances are concerned. There is the old caricature of the "poor graduate student", but somehow that caricature is slightly less funny now that I'm living the part. Temple graduate students, I'm told, have it decently well-off compared to students in other colleges, because we're unionized and have negotiated better rates. "better", of course, is relative.
I make a little over $16K per year, divided into two semesters. I'm paid monthly, 9 months a year. That's 9 paychecks with an after-tax net of 1,600$, give or take. Included in that deal, however, I get free* tuition and free health insurance.
I put an asterisk besides "free tuition" above, because Temple covers my tuition, but not included in the tuition price are a number of auxiliary fees that I must pay myself, out of pocket. These fees amount to approximately 550$ per semester, due before I've even received my second paycheck. Failure to pay these fees on time results in a 50$ late fee. Add in an estimated 200$ per semester in textbooks (I really need to convince more professors to use Wikibooks instead, if for no other reason then because of my finances), and we're up to 750$ out of my pocket at the very beginning of the semester. That's about half of my first paycheck that goes directly back to the friendly folks at Temple. I won't even mention how many times a month the Temple Alumni Association calls looking for a donation, or the fact that I need to pay another 35$ fee just to graduate.
What's funny about the financial situation is that if I don't pay the fees in a timely manner, I can be unregistered from my classes. If I'm not in good educational standing, that is, if I am not enrolled for a satisfactory number of credits and am not making "progress" towards my degree, I can be fired from being a TA. In a round-about way, I can be fired from my job because my job doesn't pay enough. This, of course, would leave me with no income.
Since I live so far away, I have to take the train into the city. This costs between 10-12 dollars per day, depending on the time of day, and what mood the ticket seller is in. To my knowledge, there are no student discounts available. If I only go in to campus three times a week, that's about 35$ I pay, plus 5$ per day for lunch is 50$ per week, 200$ per month. Counting these expenses up, plus my fees and books, I have to pay approximately 3,300$ per year, or 20% of my yearly pay just to keep my job. Not factored into this are the cost of car, car insurance, and gas that I need to get to and from the train station every day.
The cost of tuition, if you are taking 3 classes per semester, is about 5000$ per semester. Including this amount into my salary as a type of "bonus", I'm making the equivalent of $25K per year. The primary benefit to this situation, of course, is that I am able to take three classes per semester, which I likely wouldn't be able to do if I had a full-time job. This means fewer semesters at school and a faster graduation. For what it's worth, i've done my time and I'm not going to be a TA anymore after this semester. It's just not worth it, and after I've gotten by MS there simply won't be any way to justify doing it anymore.