By Taryn Williams, FBX Children's Museum, Summer 2020
Living in a city as expensive as Fairbanks on ~$1,200 a month has proven to have its challenges (especially when there are so many delicious Thai restaurants and coffee huts to tempt you!) and can be one of the most intimidating parts of becoming a VISTA - even more so for Summer Associates who don’t have as much time to adjust. Throughout the last six weeks, however, I have found it to be an entertaining challenge, as it has allowed me to experience the city differently than I otherwise would have. I have found different ways to live within my budget while also trying new things and visiting unique places and have realized that $1,200 can get you far if you know what is important to you.
$800: Rent - already the largest line in anyone’s budget, rent in Fairbanks has proven to be no different. Though an apartment usually costs well more than the monthly stipend itself, renting a room has its perks. For $800, I found a room that is within walking distance from downtown (and my site), a kitchen that is well-enough stocked with utensils and dishware, and a private bath attached to my room. Coming to Fairbanks in a time of COVID-19 and quarantine means that I am spending more time at home than I otherwise would, so I know I am getting my money’s worth here.
$200: Grocery Shopping - the downside of living in a small city without a car is that my options are somewhat limited. Though I was excited to see that the store within walking distance is a Co-Op that boasts many vegetarian and environmentally-friendly items, it also means that my spending is higher than it would otherwise need to be. When I was moving in, I made a trip to the large chain grocery store to buy things like pasta and rice, and have been using the Co-Op to get perishables based on what I’m cooking each week. Each trip to the Co-Op costs me about $30 (I can only take what I can carry!) and - when I’m primarily shopping sales - I average about four days of meals from each trip. In the end, I have spent around $200 there each month.
$100: Restaurants and Coffee Huts - my favorite category to budget for and the one that motivates me to limit spending elsewhere, eating out is always a top priority for me. Seeing the multitude of Thai restaurants upon my arrival, I knew that my “Fairbanks Bucket List” would include trying several of those and - despite not being a coffee drinker - I have ended up at Sunrise several times in the early mornings (and, more often, in the hot evenings for a $2 cone). Between a biweekly Thai dinner, a few stops at the coffee hut, and an occasional crepe, I have come in just around $100 each month.
$60: Cell Phone Bill - an unfortunate necessity in life these days, kept a bit lower with the 10% discount GCI gave me for being a VISTA (small wins add up!) The money is automatically charged as soon as I get paid and I don’t spend much of my time thinking about it.
$40: Miscellaneous - As hard as I tried to plan ahead, there is inevitably always something you end up needing (a Lyft home during a Fairbanks-famous sudden torrential downpour, a pack of band-aids after accidentally scratching yourself on the walk home, or a tube of toothpaste because, well, personal hygiene) and it’s always safe to leave room for this. Between personal hygiene needs and the occasional transportation, I have spent almost exactly $40 on these necessities each month.
My budget in Fairbanks isn’t perfect - ideally I could have found lower rent or tried to find a room closer to another grocery store - but I’m only here for ten weeks and I’m doing what I can to make the best of it. I have a comfortable roof over my head and enough money for my favorite things (Thai food), and I have been able to live a relatively comfortable life on the (admittedly tight) living allowance.