Life as a graduate student is notoriously tough. Generally, you’re operating on a slim-to-nonexistent source of income, yet with the workload of a full time job and the expenses to go along with it.
I consider myself very fortunate to be a married grad student. It’s great to know that I am not forced to work out housing and other living expenses all on my own; however, even with this “safety net” of sorts, I still strive to maintain my own expenses as much as possible. My husband may be “Mr. Money” on this blog, but I try not to call him that at home – wouldn’t want to crouch his fiscal style if I can avoid it! ;)
Many of you may be aware of how we generally operate financially as a married couple. Typically, we get our paychecks deposited into our separate personal accounts, and we each deposit a certain amount of these into a “common account” for home-related items like the mortgage, groceries, etc. This worked out great when I was working with a full-time job, but as a student, my tiny TA stipend just isn’t enough to cover the same monthly needs. Thanks to personal savings, some financial help from family/selling off some inherited stocks, I was able to put together a good chunk of money to pay off my “share” of the common expenses for most of the first year or so of my being in school (much of which is noted in the “cash savings” area of J’s net worth updates).
As with any savings, however, they start to dwindle when you actually need to use the money! Thus, I have made a tremendous effort during my grad-student days to continue to build up my portion of the “home fund” for the duration of my schooling. Below are a few of my favorite frugal-living tips on a grad student (or any kind of student) basis:
- Save, save, save. It’s the same tip that everyone tells you, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s just hands-down the most important. Since my portion of our “shared” expenses comes out of the stockpile of cash I accrued before starting school, the rest of my salary (a whopping $12K annually), almost entirely goes directly into my savings account. If I have an immediate personal expense, I pay for it out of this money, but otherwise, it’s all stuffed into my own “home fund in waiting” account.
- Conserve your travel expenses. If you’re a commuting student, trying to condense your class schedule into 2 or 3 days a week can save a ton on daily commuting costs.
- Keep an eye out for extra work opportunities. If you can find some good RA or TA jobs on campus, even the pittance that these jobs pay can definitely add up in the end – I think I added a solid $3K to my salary last year based on RA jobs alone. (Just remember not to take on more work than you can handle!)
- NEVER buy your textbooks at full price. EVER. Go through Amazon, Half.com, or any other online textbook source – or if you don’t need to keep your books, get them from your campus library! Take the extra time to shop around for good book deals; it def. pays off in the long run.
- Avoid falling into the campus Starbucks/fast food/vending machine traps. Pack snacks, drinks, and a lunch from home as often as possible.
- Alcohol can be a major drain on expenses when you’re in college. Though this would apply more to most undergraduate than graduate students, my advice would be to A) drink less, B) drink cheaper stuff, or C) drink at home or at a friend’s house. If you must go out on the town, options A or B can at least keep the cost at a more manageable level!
- Become well-versed in the art of window shopping. And if you’re shopping online, make use of the “save for later” option instead of buying things on impulse. You’d be surprised how waiting a couple of days can give you the necessary perspective on whether or not you “really need” a certain item.
All in all, life as a grad student doesn’t have to be a total sacrifice – besides, so much of your time is spent on schoolwork that you tend not to worry about a ton of frivolous spending anyway! Just stay focused, save as much as possible and remember that light at the end of the tunnel. Now back to the paper-writing cave I go…