As a first-year grad school student, I’m delighted that the end of the semester is in sight! In a few weeks, I’ll finally have some time to relax, visit family, and truly reflect on everything I’ve learned the past few months. I’ll also take that time to determine how much I’ve spent on grad school so far, and what I should expect to spend in 2017. Since I’m paying for my program through a combination of education awards, savings and student loans, I’m trying to stay on top of what I owe, and how much funding I have left.
This process also keeps me mindful of other ways I can save money while in grad school. If you’ve attended or are attending grad school, you know that an advanced degree comes with unexpected expenses. From textbooks to transportation, full-time or part-time study ultimately costs more than what you initially expect when you submit your application.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate all grad school-related costs, but here are some ways — both big and small — that I’m working to reduce extra expenses while taking advantage of what I’m already paying for.
1. Studying at the library instead of the coffee shop
In college, I always used the library to study, meet up with friends, and even relax with a book. Sometime after graduation, I stopped using libraries as a place to hang out, and started using coffee shops instead. I love coffee shops for many reasons, like their lovely coffee smells and bustling atmospheres. I also think they’re a great place to study, especially when you’re with a friend. But they’re really not the best place to hang out if you’re trying to be savvy about saving money while in grad school. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the temptation of spending just a few extra dollars on coffee or a treat. And, if you’re not going to buy anything, you don’t want to be that person — the one who goes to a coffee shop and claims a seat for hours but doesn’t spend money.
2. Avoiding purchasing a parking pass
One of my least favorite ways to spend money is on parking. I’m perfectly willing to spend money on things I believe matter, but when it comes to parking, I always feel like there’s a way to get around the system. At my school, most graduate students buy a parking pass and park in the garage. I don’t blame them — the garage is close, convenient, and presented as the only option for on-campus parking.
But instead of joining them, I’ve avoided the garage for the last 18 weeks by parking on the street. It’s required me to be creative and flexible — it’s never a guarantee that I’ll find a spot, but I haven’t had a problem yet. In the process, I enjoy a longer walk, mentally prepare for class, and save $160 a year.
3. Renting instead of buying textbooks
I’m still amazed by how much textbooks cost. I understand that the price of textbooks is nominal compared to the overall cost of going to grad school, but textbooks can take a sizeable chunk out of your budget over the course of a program. That’s why I was happy to discover that I could avoid buying every textbook and rent through Amazon instead. This semester alone, I’ve saved $297.37 by renting instead of buying textbooks. (By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the factors that play into textbook costs, the Planet Money podcast has a great episode on the issue.)
4. Working out at the university gym
Even though it’s hard to find free time when working full-time and going to grad school, I know prioritizing exercise helps decrease stress. I know it’s a good way for me to maintain balance, and it helps me feel better prepared for the week, both physically and mentally. Since I’m already technically paying for access to the university gym through tuition, I don’t spend money on a separate gym membership. This way, I’m saving anywhere from $25 to $80 a month in gym fees.
5. Taking advantage of student discounts on public transportation
Where I live in St. Louis, most local universities have a deal with our public transportation system that provides college students with free passes. I love this benefit, especially since I can use my transit pass whenever I need, not just when I’m traveling to class. Using the pass saves me money on days I take the train to work by eliminating the need to pay for parking and the cost of gas.
6. Utilizing my school’s career services
It’s easy to put off visiting your school’s career services — I know I’m guilty of only visiting mine once so far. I’m pledging to change that in 2017, and will work with an advisor to develop a career plan, improve my resume, and practice interviewing. I love that I get to take advantage of this perk, because if I wasn’t currently enrolled in grad school, seeking out an independent career coach would typically cost hundreds of dollars.
7. Packing snacks for class
Each night I have class, I see it: a fellow student forgets to bring food to get them through four hours of class, and he or she is forced to hand over hard-earned dollars to the vending machine. It’s not really a big deal every once in a while; after all, who really has the time to prep each and every meal ahead of time? It’s only when it becomes a habit that it’s a problem.
Some days, I’m tempted by the salty treats the vending machine offers. Most days, however, I’m glad that I’ve packed a dinner — or at least snacks — that will get me through a long day of work and class.
When it comes to unexpected graduate school expenses, I see it this way: I’m already paying thousands of dollars for an advanced education. Why bother paying even more for avoidable expenses? When I can trim my costs and take advantage of the perks I’m already paying for, then I feel confident about investing in my degree and the opportunities that will come with it.
Emily is a technical marketer and finance writer in St. Louis, MO. She is passionate about educating people on how to make smart financial decisions and writes about her experience working toward personal financial goals and going to grad school at emilyknippa.com.
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