After a professional career in the computer software industry, one of the biggest adjustments in my return to Graduate School was changing my attitude to money. Now, here in my fourth year, I truly have new found appreciation for the value of a dollar!
I was poking around on the web today for advice on how to live on a graduate student budget. Most sites focus on housing choices. No surprise, it’s probably the single largest financial decision and one that drives many other expenses (like transportation, utilities, even recreation and shopping expenses).
I did find even more specific advice laid out at the Harvard School of Public Health:
Choices and Adjustments
Many HSPH students have not been in school for several years and have developed a lifestyle that is dependent on their level of earnings. Returning to school as a graduate student may require an adjustment to spending habits. A more frugal lifestyle may seem like a difficult sacrifice, but should be viewed as a temporary measure that will be well worth the short-term inconvenience. Below are some ideas for reducing costs:
- Roommates: Sharing the cost of rent is always less expensive than living alone.
- Inexpensive clothing: For those moving from warmer climates, inexpensive winter clothing can be purchased at local second hand clothing stores, consignment shops, and discount stores. Dressing in several layers is warmest so that a few sweaters, a coat, a hat, a pair of gloves, and a pair of waterproof boots can take you through a Boston winter.
- Limit entertainment costs: Planning for recreational activities should be done within the limits of your budget. As part of a university community, you may be able to use your student status and ID for discounts for movies, plays, museums, and other cultural activities in the Boston area. Many area schools also offer free social activities as well.
- Do not bring a car: Financial aid cannot cover costs of car payments, insurance, parking, or maintenance. Owning a car in Boston is very expensive; insurance rates and parking costs in most areas are expensive. Using public transportation is most economical.
- Pay off credit card debt before school begins: Your budget should only include current living expenses.
It all looks like sound advice to me, with the caveat that in some locales a car is an unfortunate necessity.
In other money-saving tips, I would add: shop for textbooks online, avoid impulse buying and look into all the possible avenues (your dept., your school, other grants, professor’s research budgets) for conference travel reimbursement.
Did you find the transition to a graduate student budget difficult? What strategies have worked (or failed!) for you?
Filed under: PhD Student Life |