One of the best ways to reduce your amount of student loan debt after graduation is to minimize the amount of money you need while in school. Although many students get help from their parents and other resources as undergraduates, the same is not true for those entering graduate school. Attending graduate school can be especially hard for people who already have careers and adult responsibilities, not to mention the expenses that come with them. For this reason, it can seem difficult, if not impossible to return to a student budget while working toward a graduate degree. However, there are a number of options for reducing expenditures and minimizing budgets while in graduate school. Some tips to keep in mind include the following:
Buy used items as much as possible.
Thrift stores, garage sales, and even eBay are great friends to the graduate student. When you absolutely have to buy an item, you can often get it through these sources at significantly reduced prices. You can purchase everything from textbooks to laptops used to save some money. Over time, these savings really add up, especially if you have to relocate to a new city to attend school. Instead of purchasing new furniture, you can use Craigslist and other resources to furnish a new apartment much more cheaply than buying new, even if the new furniture comes from bargain stores like IKEA.
Minimize living expenses.
One of the biggest expenses that graduate students incur is rent. Therefore, you should try to live with family members during this period, as doing so can significantly reduce or even eliminate your rent from the budget. If this option is not possible, you might look into getting roommates. Renting any extra bedrooms in your apartment will greatly reduce your rent burden, plus it will lower the amount you owe for utilities such as Internet and electricity. While taking on roommates definitely requires compromise and giving up some degree of privacy, these are merely temporary sacrifices to help you further your education.
Cook at home.
Another large budget item is food. Frequently eating restaurant meals will quickly become very expensive. Unfortunately, the stress of schoolwork, especially if you are also working, often drives people to dine out or order in. However, even seemingly cheap restaurant meals start to add up. Instead, you should try to cook at home as much as possible. Making large meals that can you can divide into many servings can quench the urge to get fast food or eat out. After all, heating something up in the microwave is even faster than ordering out. It is also often the cheaper option. For example, roasting a few pounds of veggies along with a whole chicken can feed you for days with a per-meal cost of only a few dollars.
Get involved with campus events.
If you are an older student, attending campus events may seem a little strange at first if there is also a large undergraduate population. However, these events are typically free or inexpensive forms of entertainment. Various parties, festivals, and lectures can keep you engaged with the community while minimizing your entertainment budget. Even better, a lot of these events come with free food and drinks, which also cuts down on your food spending. Events hosted by your particular graduate school are also great opportunities to network and get some leads on jobs after graduation.
Take advantage of student discounts.
Often, graduate students feel like they do not have a right to student discounts—as if these perks are somehow reserved for undergraduates. Remember, you only have a few years to capitalize on these discounts, so you should take advantage of them as often as possible. Many places, including unexpected establishments like restaurants and clothing stores, offer such discounts. A little bit of online research can help you identify the best deals in your area. Also, many schools maintain directories of the special discounts they have arranged with local vendors.
Pick up some odd jobs.
A great way to get some extra spending cash is to perform odd jobs in the community. Often, these jobs have flexible schedules and don’t take much time out of your day. For example, you can find gigs as a babysitter or a dog sitter and get a lot of homework done while you work. Instead of going to the gym, you can sign up with a dog-walking service. You could also hire yourself out as a tutor to other students. This can be a great way to earn money while refreshing yourself about relevant topics.
Apply to schools with large endowments.
This one takes some advanced planning, but it is worthwhile to research which graduate schools have the largest endowments. When schools have more money, they tend to give away more financial aid, whether it is based on need or merit. Getting funding as a master’s student is not common, but it is possible, especially if you are also willing to do research on behalf of the university. A number of resources on the Internet exist for investigating which schools provide the most financial assistance to their students. Attending these schools will help you minimize tuition and control debt.