If you chose to attend graduate school, you most likely have ambition, a strong work ethic, and a horrifying amount of student debt. Even with scholarships, tuition and other fees can get pretty hefty (let’s not even talk about loans, which are terrifying in themselves. On top of all that, you still have to worry about main expenses: groceries, rent, gas, insurance, etc.
So how do you manage spending without scraping by the bottom rung of the economic ladder at the end of every month? Here are some tips to help you spend smart and save more:
1) Budget, budget, budget. Seriously. If you don’t already have a budget set, you are doing yourself and your bank account a major disfavor. If you’re not sticking to your budget, you might as well not even have one. Take the time to sit down and really write down exactly what needs to be spent each month and allocate the appropriate amount of money to each activity or item. When you come up with a number, circle it, write it in your phone, paste it on your fridge, hang it on your mirror—anywhere to remind you that you absolutely cannot exceed that limit. If you have the self-discipline to continue schooling for another x amount of years, you have the self-discipline to stick to your budget.
2) Remember to allot yourself “me money”. To ensure you don’t go crazy or risk going over your budget, make sure you have a set amount of money for going out and eating at restaurants/shopping/etc. I recommend having a separate amount of money budgeted for each one—maybe $50 towards drinking and going out (unless you go to clubs frequently, which, if you’re in grad school and still going to clubs, maybe this is the first expense to cut), $100 towards going out to eat, and $30 towards shopping (enough to buy a cute shirt or dress). Stick to that amount and make sure you’re tracking how much you spend, which you can do easily if you…
3) Save your receipts. Even when you pay cash. Not only will this help you keep track of your money, but it’ll probably also help you motivate to spend less—who wants to have a whole wad of receipts in their wallet? Also, make sure you have one way of keeping your receipts so you don’t miss something—either have them electronically sent to one place or keep the paper. If you have a job, saving receipts can also help you write off some expenses–a major plus!
4) Use an app. You can be old-fashioned and simply use a notebook, or even an Microsoft Excel document, but if you’re on your phone/iPad a lot anyway you might as well utilize an app. There are a lot of great apps to help you budget—Mint is one of the best because it basically tracks your money for you by linking directly to your bank account (no input required!) and is free. Toshl, Pageonce, and Expensify are all helpful free apps as well.
5) Dollar stores are your new best friend. If you’re not already shopping at dollar stores, forget all other convenience shops and start. Now. You would be astounded at how many name-brand household items you can buy for $1 at the dollar store that are at least $2.99 anywhere else. However, even generic items are still decent quality and will save you tons of money in the long run. Think of it this way—you could buy all of your basic domestic needs at the dollar store and it would be, at most, $15-$20 for the month.
6) Find grocery stores with the best deals. Trader Joe’s is the major favorite amongst students and 20-somethings without their great quality of food and low prices. If you don’t have one near you, superchains like ShopRite, WalMart, and Giant usually have some great deals for food. And while you grocery shop…
7) Start cooking. I promise you, the whole shop-around-the-edges-of-the-store thing really works not only for your waistline but also for your wallet. Buying vegetables, fruit, and other produce is so inexpensive it’s almost ridiculous. Most produce cost mere cents and you could easily pair them with other inexpensive, healthy things like brown rice, whole wheat spaghetti, or certain lean cuts of meat. You’re not in college anymore, where it’s acceptable to eat ramen twice a day every day. As an adult, now is the best time to learn healthy habits, cook for yourself and others, and save your damn money! Whole wheat pasta basically costs the same as a a package of ramen and will save you both calories and horrible health benefits at the same time. If you’re really against cooking, buy nutritious packaged food that’ll last for awhile: whole grain bread, peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, brown rice, and beans can provide all three meals for you.
8) Save, save, save. Remember that you don’t absolutely have to spend your maximum amount of money for each activity or item. In fact, it’s probably a better decision to save, especially if you have student loans looming large on your shoulders. If you have a side gig or part-time job, know how much money you have coming in and save 25% of your paycheck (50% would be ideal, but we know difficult that is).
9) Remember the big picture. Hopefully, you won’t be this broke forever. All your hard work and studying for the degree you’re pursuing will pay off in the end. Let your budget motivate you even more to work hard so you can exponentially increase it in the future.