Going to grad school is a doozy. You have to do a lot of work for very little pay, and most programs are a minimum of a year long. I know my program is looking more like 5 or 6 years, so what does someone like me do in a situation like this? After all, if you know me or you’ve read any of my blog posts, then you probably know I do like to enjoy the finer things in life – I mean, really, who doesn’t, but as a grad student it can get really tough! So, what I’ve done for my new grad student peeps is list off my Top 10 ways for you to stay on budget and in style during your graduate school career!
This may be the most important thing you do for your budget during your grad school career. Figure out what you like to do and the things you are willing to spend money on. For example, I know I like to live in nicer places and I like to have nice clothes. Anything that is not rent or clothing, in my head, counts as unnecessary spending. Now, also keep in mind you’ll need to budget for necessities like your groceries or that time you get a flat tire that’s not actually a flat tire, but now you have to pay the mechanic for checking anyway (true story), but we’ll talk more about that next.
Staying on budget has never in my life been my strong suit, so what I did was get an app to help me – because, naturally, technology is the answer right? I got an app called Mint. I used it to clock my spending and in which places I spent what for three months. I then went through all of my purchases and charted where I was spending the most unnecessary money. THEN I finally built my budget. The app allows you to both build a budget and track your purchases (it does this for you!) This will help make sure you are staying on budget. When you are getting close to overdoing it, it will let you know, and when you have overdone it, it will let you know that as well! So, figure out your priorities, track your spending, and build your budget.
- EAT IN BULK
So, what exactly does that mean – no, I am not condoning binge eating, I am simply informing you that cooking a large amount of food at one time is a GREAT way to save money.
1) As a vegan I have to go to the grocery store more frequently because most of my food needs to be fresh, but the plus side is that my items are less expensive – an orange for 49 cents, a tomato for 35 cents, so on and so forth. No, again, I am not advocating for veganism [although it does help the planet, your health, and your wallet 😉 ] what I am saying is that you should try and buy fresh, and ONLY what you need.
2) We all know only buying what you need at the grocery store can be like eating only Cheese It (no, I have not been vegan my whole life – I have had a Cheese It – or 86). What I did to help make sure I only bought what I needed was, first, invest in a cookbook and look up some great cooking blogs. Each week I sit down and go through my cookbook, Thug Kitchen, and see if there is anything in there I feel like eating the next week. If not, I simply hit the blogs. Then I compare the ingredients I already have to the ingredients I need to buy and make a list. Then I make sure the items I need will fit my budget.
*Vegan and vegetarian meals typically have very few items per meal anyway, so that always helps!*
I know this seems like a lot of work, but it’s really not! Once a week take 30 minutes to build your meal for the next week. The rest is just cooking and storage!
So, the “old Alexis,” as I like to call her, would rather pay someone to do something really well than even attempt to do it herself. “New grad school Alexis” just does it herself until it turns out really well! DO THIS.! You would not believe how much money you spend buying things that you could make on your own.
Buying the ingredients for bread is cheaper than buying the actual bread (that is if you’re buying bread that is healthy for you in the first place and not incredibly processed. Processed foods are often very cheap but will have a dramatic negative impact on your health, so be warned!). You can do the same things with yogurt, parfaits, soups, dried fruits, juices, smoothies, sparkling water, and the list can go on for days! For example, I bought a juicer and I now get my juice for the same price as I buy the oranges, or apples, or berries. With websites like Amazon, which can help you find the cheapest options for the best value (discounts on prime for students), you’re juicing in no time! So, learn to do things and put in the effort!
When you like really nice things they typically cost a lot. I wouldn’t say I search for nice things, I would say I go in a store and the things I happen to like just also happens to be the most expensive thing in the store. A talent really – not useful – but a talent nonetheless. The way I cope with this in grad school is patience. If I see something that I like I will save a little money at a time until I can afford to buy it. For some, taking the cash out of your account every two weeks may be the ticket, so you don’t spend it. For others, transferring money to your savings account may be the best way not to spend it. It’s dealer’s choice, but what is FOR SURE, is that buying it flat out is the quickest and easiest way for you to GO BROKE.! All good things come to those who wait, so get your waiting pants on and TAKE. A. SEAT.
- IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS
When you do your budget breakdown you’ll realize that you spend the most money on the smallest things. You probably don’t even think about gas, or that pen you lost last week, or that snack you got because you left yours at home *rolls eyes* (another true story), but those things add up. You have to remember that you may need to buy a book, go to a conference, go to a training, or buy a new blazer when you spill make-up on yours *rolls eyes to the back of her head* (yet ANOTHER true story). You have to have extra money in your account for unforeseen circumstances, but you won’t have any money left if you’re not careful about the miscellaneous things that you buy. Five dollars, ten dollars, twelve dollars, hell one dollar, adds up over time, so budget for miscellaneous and PAY ATTENTION when that warning comes that you’re spending too much.
- PUT YOUR GRANNY PANTS ON AND SIT DOWN
You no longer have the luxury of going out every weekend with your friends. This is a fact. Just sit down and stare at the wall for a minute while it sinks in. YOU’RE POOR. That one drink at the bar that turns into five drinks can no longer happen. The twerk team is on sabbatical, so sit down and put your granny panties on.
Start looking for activities that you enjoy that don’t cost money, or are a minimum cost. I know I like to drink Grey Goose, so for me, going out can get quite pricey if I haven’t budgeted to do so. What I do now instead is have movie nights with friends, I go to coffee shops, which are less expensive than drinking alcohol because when you drink coffee your decision making isn’t impaired and (for most) you’re not at risk of buying way too many coffees lol. I go for walks at the nature trails we have here in Lawrence, or take my dog to the dog park. I may venture into the city for a day and window shop (I HATE WINDOW SHOPPING, so I’m probably just walking around the city being in the city atmosphere – I won’t lie).
The bottom line is you can’t go out as much unless going out is one of the things you prioritized in your budget – THEN GO WILD. For those of us who did not prioritize it, it doesn’t mean you can never go out, but it definitely means you have to plan it more than you used to, and that’s ok, because when the time comes it will be JUST. AS. FUN.!
- BUY A DAY PLANNER
Hell, buy a life planner. Just start planning. I’ve always lived a heavily planned life. I think it has the most to do with being in competitive sports when I was younger and having several different practices at several different places, as well as trying to keep up with school work. If you’ve lived that life with any activity or hobby, then you know!
Trip down memory lane – off track – but the point is that your life is more structured now. You can’t just do what you want when you want. Well you can, but you’ll likely flunk out, or get kicked out, whichever comes first.
I love traveling, so traveling is a high priority of mine, but I also know that I need to plan a minimum of 6 months in advance in order to be able to go anywhere in the manner of which I want to go there. This means, I like going nice places and being able to afford to do nice things while I’m there. If I plan my trips in advance, then I can save slowly over time without it being a huge hit to my budget. So far I have Miami, Vegas, and New York coming up and two trips to California already under my belt – without missing a beat!
- I LIED
You will miss a few beats, at times. There will be times when everyone is going out, but you understand that you have a budget you need to keep so you don’t go. No one loves to be left out or feel like you’re missing something, but it’s a feeling you’ll need to get used to. And get used to saying no.
I am a yes person. I will typically say yes unless I am ill, and even then, I will probably make a way to do whatever it is. This journey, however, has taught me that I HAVE to start saying no, it’s no longer an option. At first, I felt crappy – really really crappy! Not putting in on something that everyone else can afford to do, just because even $5 out of place may throw off your budget is incredibly difficult. You feel just like a stupid Steve – just a greedy/selfish person and it sucks. Over time though you begin to realize that if you make an exception here then you’ll find a reason to make an exception there and there and over there and way down there, and then before you know it your budget is TOAST – crispy and charred. All I can really say to help is that the sooner you start saying no the easier it will get over time.
- THE CLICHÉ
I’ll end with a plug for minimalism, which I bet no one is surprised at – As it gets easier to say no over time, it also gets easier to get used to having fewer entities in your life (clutter, if you will). I used to have a bunch of stuff and when I say the cliché is right – it. Is. Right. – Less is truly more. We live in a society where the more you have the more status you have, and seemingly the better you are as a person, but that’s not at all true! We all buy into this idea of self-worth based on how much we have, when really, it’s all about the quality of what we have. This goes for relationships as well as material items. Having something of quality will end up staying with you for life, whereas having a lot of things and continuing to add, will only end with you being broke and lonely – and no one wants that!
*I have no affiliation with Amazon or Mint, and everything here is based only on my personal experience*