Life in Grad School Doesn’t Have to Suck…All Your Money

Grad School 101 w/ Mrs. BudgetsAreSexyGuest post by Mrs. BudgetsAreSexy ;)

Life as a graduate student is notoriously tough. Generally, you’re operating on a slim-to-nonexistent source of income, yet with the workload of a full time job and the expenses to go along with it.

I consider myself very fortunate to be a married grad student. It’s great to know that I am not forced to work out housing and other living expenses all on my own; however, even with this “safety net” of sorts, I still strive to maintain my own expenses as much as possible. My husband may be “Mr. Money” on this blog, but I try not to call him that at home – wouldn’t want to crouch his fiscal style if I can avoid it! ;)

Many of you may be aware of how we generally operate financially as a married couple. Typically, we get our paychecks deposited into our separate personal accounts, and we each deposit a certain amount of these into a “common account” for home-related items like the mortgage, groceries, etc. This worked out great when I was working with a full-time job, but as a student, my tiny TA stipend just isn’t enough to cover the same monthly needs. Thanks to personal savings, some financial help from family/selling off some inherited stocks, I was able to put together a good chunk of money to pay off my “share” of the common expenses for most of the first year or so of my being in school (much of which is noted in the “cash savings” area of J’s net worth updates).

As with any savings, however, they start to dwindle when you actually need to use the money! Thus, I have made a tremendous effort during my grad-student days to continue to build up my portion of the “home fund” for the duration of my schooling. Below are a few of my favorite frugal-living tips on a grad student (or any kind of student) basis:

  1. Save, save, save. It’s the same tip that everyone tells you, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s just hands-down the most important. Since my portion of our “shared” expenses comes out of the stockpile of cash I accrued before starting school, the rest of my salary (a whopping $12K annually), almost entirely goes directly into my savings account. If I have an immediate personal expense, I pay for it out of this money, but otherwise, it’s all stuffed into my own “home fund in waiting” account.
  2. Conserve your travel expenses. If you’re a commuting student, trying to condense your class schedule into 2 or 3 days a week can save a ton on daily commuting costs.
  3. Keep an eye out for extra work opportunities. If you can find some good RA or TA jobs on campus, even the pittance that these jobs pay can definitely add up in the end – I think I added a solid $3K to my salary last year based on RA jobs alone. (Just remember not to take on more work than you can handle!)
  4. NEVER buy your textbooks at full price. EVER. Go through Amazon,, or any other online textbook source – or if you don’t need to keep your books, get them from your campus library! Take the extra time to shop around for good book deals; it def. pays off in the long run.
  5. Avoid falling into the campus Starbucks/fast food/vending machine traps. Pack snacks, drinks, and a lunch from home as often as possible.
  6. Alcohol can be a major drain on expenses when you’re in college. Though this would apply more to most undergraduate than graduate students, my advice would be to A) drink less, B) drink cheaper stuff, or C) drink at home or at a friend’s house. If you must go out on the town, options A or B can at least keep the cost at a more manageable level!
  7. Become well-versed in the art of window shopping. And if you’re shopping online, make use of the “save for later” option instead of buying things on impulse. You’d be surprised how waiting a couple of days can give you the necessary perspective on whether or not you “really need” a certain item.

All in all, life as a grad student doesn’t have to be a total sacrifice – besides, so much of your time is spent on schoolwork that you tend not to worry about a ton of frivolous spending anyway! Just stay focused, save as much as possible and remember that light at the end of the tunnel. Now back to the paper-writing cave I go…

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  1. Mrs. Money February 18, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    Hi Mrs. Sexy! So glad you posted here. I especially like the tip about not buying books at full price. There are too many books out there already!

  2. A Family of Geeks February 18, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    Definitely look for extra RA/TA jobs. I've seen schools where if you take X amount of TA jobs, they'll cover your entire tuition.

  3. Anonymous February 18, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    Thanks for the tips, Mrs. Sexy.

    Another option is to do grad school part time while continuing to pursue your career full time. I'm doing this, and while it will take me 3 1/2 years to finish a 2 1/2 year degree program, I am:

    – gaining valuable work experience
    – establishing a salary history
    – earning a full salary
    – getting a small tuition reimbursement from my employer

    I'm not saying it's easy, but I do think people should consider it before signing their lives away on student loans.

  4. Lisatella February 18, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    I'm starting grad school in the fall and am terrified about going from a full-time salary to something that doesn't even come close. Even if I end up going to school part-time, I worry about racking up loans and expenses. I've got my FAFSA filled out and I'm definitely going to keep your tips in mind!!

  5. Financial Samurai February 18, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    It really is a great thing to be married to someone to help with the expenses while working!

    How long do you plan to work for, once you graduate?

  6. Investing Newbie February 18, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Mrs.Budgets are Sexy! Thanks for the wonderful post. I'm planning on going to B-School part-time, so I will definitely try to use some of your advice for extra savings!

  7. Mrs. Budgetsaresexy February 18, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    Hi there! I definitely love finding bargains on textbooks. It can actually be fun – if you have the time, of course! :)

    I should have also mentioned that an important thing when even first considering grad school is to factor in the cost of tuition before anything else. Going part-time is a great way to continue your career at the same time, but it can be very draining mentally (especially depending on what field you pursue). If your employer does have some tuition reimbursement though, it's an awesome option. Thanks for pointing that out!

    If you do decide to go full-time, I would recommend doing EVERYTHING in your power to get your tuition covered!!! Applying for financial aid, scholarships, whatever is absolutely critical. Particularly in a social science field–or any field where your salary coming out is not likely to cover much of your loan repayment– you have to go where the money is!

    I definitely want to put my degree to good use after I'm finished, so I plan to work for as long as possible! Hopefully I can actually find a job at that point… :)

  8. Jenna February 18, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    I definitely agree with your book tip! It only took me one semester in college to realize that while convenient, buying books from the campus bookstore was not the best way to spend my money! I found new or like new books online (mostly through for MUCH less. The nice part was that if I didn't need to keep them, I could turn around and sell them at the end of the semester for pretty much the same price as I paid for them, which then helped pay for my next semester's worth of books.

    Another suggestion I'd have is to ask the professor if previous editions of the book are acceptable. Often they haven't changed much between editions, and the savings is significant.

  9. Sallie's Niece February 18, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    It's nice to hear from you Mrs. Sexy. Sounds like you are doing great as a grad student on a budget.

  10. youngandthrifty February 18, 2010 at 4:03 PM

    Hi Mrs. Budgets Are Sexy! Nice to meet you =)

    I'm so glad to hear that you are still contributing to your melting pot of finances. I'm planning to go back to grad school next year AND mr. youngandthrifty and I are planning to buy a place… so am currently trying to save save save so I can contribute to my share of the mortgage as well.

    sounds like you and J Money have a good plan.. I think keeping the finances separate is a good idea too. Less arguing about money LOL. =)

  11. craig February 18, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    More Mrs. Budgets and less Mr. Budgets

  12. Robert February 18, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    As a fellow grad student, I would like to add that textbooks can now be rented for the semester in some universities. I like to keep textbooks as references for the future, but they're a fantastic deal for those looking to save cash. Also, the university library is a FREE place to check out books, use the internet, study, etc. My university even provides $10 in free printing costs per student each semester, so take advantage!

  13. Anonymous February 18, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    I don't think renting is the greatest idea. Despite the cheap cost being so tempting, I'm a fan of buying them online and reselling them for more.

    In conclusion, I make a profit off of my textbooks :) is the BEST!!!

  14. J. Money February 18, 2010 at 8:47 PM

    Thanks for giving my girl some love everyone! I'll have to have her pop in a bit more.

    I think it's great that we have better tools and resources to help us save money these days too. Back in my college days we didn't have jack! No, no discount stores, nothing. Shows you how old I am ;)

  15. David February 19, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    My girlfriend and I are both considering grad school. I will be graduating undergrad December 2010 and she will be done Spring 2011. We are both in debt from private undergrad schools.

    I appreciate the tips, but if anyone knows of blogs COMPLETELY devoted to grad school or grad school and finances, etc. let me know!


  16. J. Money February 19, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    Hey, that's not a bad combination at all…don't know one myself out there, but perhaps it's worth starting one yourself and getting the community involved? I get a lot of my info from commenters like you when I need some help – with a blog you can just post the question and see what people have to share ;)

    Plus, learning how to become more frugal or better money management can be applied to all areas of life out there. So it's great you're researching already for this stuff as you can still use it! I'll keep my eyes open though and holler if I come across any sites like this. Maybe try Life After College? Not related to grad school but still a fun (and helpful) blog :)

  17. J. Money February 19, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    OH! I totally forgot about Broke Grad Student!! He stopped blogging late last year, but his archives of content is killer – DEF check it out. Used to be one of my favorite bloggers.

  18. Anonymous February 26, 2010 at 2:44 AM

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