10 Ways to Save Money on a Grad School Budget
Budgeting can be tricky, but for the penniless grad student, it can often seem downright impossible! I’ve always been more frugal than most, so when I entered the grad school world I figured my spending habits would keep me in the clear.
I sat down to make a budget, and by the time I finished, I had run out of numbers. It was time to rethink everything about how I handled my money.
While there’s no magic trick to turning a meager grad school stipend into a CEO salary, I discovered some unexpected small tips and tricks along the way that can give you enough wiggle room to make it to graduation. Here is how to save money in grad school!
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
It’s likely that your (magic!) student ID card is worth a lot more than you’d think, especially if you’re in a big city.
The most obvious discount is on tickets- you can get student deals on movies, shows, museums, and train tickets. But there are also many unexpected places that offer small student discounts that add up. You can get discounts at Qdoba, Spotify, J. Crew and tons of other stores, even if they don’t advertise these deals. Do some googling and find out where you can save –or get in the habit of asking about a student discount!
Find the Free Pizza (it’s out there!)
Sure it seems a bit desperate, but money-wise grad students aren’t ashamed of going to a grad-student meet up just for the free pizza (and beer!). There are tons of campus groups that entice students with free perks, so keep an eye and ear out for these opportunities. Better yet, you might even stumble upon a group that you like and build your community, an essential step for any grad student! And if you don’t like it, grab that pizza and bounce! Win-win.
Before grad school, I didn’t realize how much money I spent at restaurants! You can save so much money by planning your meals ahead of time and stretching out your groceries. Planning your meals for the week also helps you avoid over-buying groceries that will go bad before you can eat them.
It takes a little more time to meal prep, but it saves you money on food and keeps you healthier when you’re on the go. You don’t have to be as strict as a fitness warrior, but you’re likely paying a premium every time you buy food that’s not from the grocery store.
The way I think about it is, the more I plan my meals out during the day, the more wiggle room I’ll have to treat myself to a dinner with friends here and there.
Embrace the Leftover Life
An important part of being smart with your food budget is being willing to stretch your meals.
Try to minimize your food waste and don’t buy new produce without using what you’ve got. That means finding creative ways to use odds and ends in your fridge. Every time you can create a meal with ingredients on hand, you can save $5-$10. And that adds up! This gets easier as you learn the limits of your cooking skills and what foods are better to buy in bulk and keep on hand (rice and pasta).
Sure grad school teaches you important things like how to become a competent and productive contributor to your field- but did you know that it can also teach you how to make a free firepit out of rocks and an old wheelbarrow?!
If you’re willing to get crafty and apply those research skills to the wonderful world of Youtube tutorials, you can save a ton of money with DIY projects. Every time you think of buying something, ask yourself whether there’s a way for you to DIY.
You can make your own cleaning, beauty, and home products if you’re creative enough (plus, it’s fun). If you’re not super crafty, you can still save money with the DIY mentality by doing things on your own like learning to make a latte and doing your own taxes.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your budget, you may feel tempted (like me!) to turn into a hermit and never leave the house. The good news is your social life doesn’t have to disappear as long as you socialize smart!
Going out can be particularly expensive, especially if you aren’t aware of how much you’re spending. Curb this money drainer by starting your night with some friends at home- a good pre-party can save you lots! It’s also wise to find a campus dive bar or chase some cheap happy hour specials. And why not mix up your social routine and spend some time doing fun, free things- like free park concerts or festivals. Your wallet will thank you.
Sharing is Caring
It’s easy to feel helpless when you’re strapped for cash, but if you’re in grad school, you’re probably surrounded by people with similar budgets to you. Take advantage of the solidarity and pool your resources. The biggest way to do that is to live with roommates. This can make a huge difference for your expenses, especially if you’re living in a city with a tight housing market.
If you aren’t close to your roommates, try having potlucks with the people in your department. Once you get to know the rest of your cohort, you may be able to barter some skills when needed. Having a community can ultimately help you save.
Find a Flexible Part-time Job
This one depends on how rigorous your program is. If you have the time to work another job, this obviously helps give you some financial padding beyond any stipends or loans.
Jobs like nannying, tutoring, contract work, bartending and driving an Uber can all be flexible and a good option to supplement your income. Another option is to use your grad school skills and do some editing work for other students or journals.
Travel Funds from the Department
If you’re looking to do any traveling for conferences, make sure you check with your department about travel funding they have for students. It may seem like large trips and conferences are out of financial reach, but departments want to promote themselves and their students. Not only is this great for your academic career, but you may even get a few vacation days vacation out of it!
Divide and Conquer with Apps
Being on a tight budget can be a mind game. Sometimes just being aware of your expenses is the first step to cutting back on unnecessary purchases. Regularly check your bank account and keep track of all the things you’re spending money on. Consider tracking your expenses through a finance app like Mint.
Depending on how you are allocating your resources, it might be helpful to divide your money into multiple accounts and use them for different purposes. This helps keep you aware of how much you’re spending on different types of things.
Get Cash Back from Shopathome.com
Last but not least, this one is seriously a no brainer. Since you’re already going to be buying essentials, use a website like shopathome.com that gives you cashback on all of your purchases. I’m talking go-to’s like Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy, but also local deals wherever you are. This is literally free money, people! And while 5% cash back may seem like a small perk, these can add up, especially if you use it for essentials like your computer or bike.
Shopping this way takes minimal effort. It can be time-consuming to search for deals if you’re old school couponing, but you can install a shopathome.com button on your browser that automatically applies deals when you’re shopping online.