How to Save Money in Graduate School

One of the easiest ways to save money in graduate school is to track how you spend your money. Just like people track what they eat lose weight or what they spend time on to save time, you absolutely need to track how you spend your money to spend less. This will be a good skill to have in the long run, as psychologists don’t make a lot of money until much later in their careers. You can easily do it using excel (I prefer to use this method), but if you are not good at excel there are websites like Mint that automate it for you.

Once you have done this for at least three months, you can split your spending into several different categories:

1. Fixed Expenses: 

  a. Wants: This includes things like a gym membership, cable, data-heavy cell phone plans, etc

  b. Needs: This includes things like rent, internet, etc.

2. Variable Expected Monthly Expenses

  a. Wants: Ei – Going out to eat

  b. Needs: This includes things like gas and groceries

3. Unexpected Monthly Expenses

  a. Wants: Ei – Vacations, weddings, presents

  b. Needs: Ei – car repairs

After you do this, start by cutting out or reducing as many of the wanted fixed expenses. as possible. This may be the most painless way to save money, as you will automatically save money each month. Do you really need to have cable? What about that expensive gym membership fee? You may be able to reduce some fixed needs as well, perhaps by switching to a cheaper electricity provider or by moving to a cheaper apartment when your lease runs out. Check out this website for ways to cut bills. 

If you can bear it, you can then cut out some of the variable wants. But remember that it tends to be much more effective to cut out the variable expected monthly expenses. Some ideas include:

  • You probably heard this one before, but don’t buy $5.00 lattes regularly. If you absolutely must spend money on coffee, buy drip coffee or cafe au lait’s, which tend to be much cheaper
  • Don’t spend too much money when you go out. Drink at home and only buy one drink out. When you drink at home, buy $4.00 wines from Trader Joe’s and make sangria (I promise you won’t notice that the wine costs less than $4.00)
  • Instead of going out to eat with friends, consider hosting a potluck. I am sure other poor graduate students will appreciate it!

You can also cut some variable needs. The biggest item that comes to mind is groceries. I used to spend an obscene amount of money on groceries when I was working, but I later learned that there are many easy ways to eat delicious healthy food on a budget. Some ideas include:

  • Planning your meals. This is HUGE. It will help you avoid wasting groceries / going on grocery trips more often than once a week and wasting time and money. You should only go to grocery stores with a list, and only once a week. Check out Cook Smarts , Wandering Scientist, and  Eat at Home for quick meals and efficient meal plans
  • Make as much from scratch as you can. If you plan efficiently, you can meal prep on the weekends and cook what you need (ei – rice / beans / etc)
  • Eat less meat. Meat is expensive and not very good for you
  • Cook things that freeze well in bulk (e.g. chilli, lasagna) and freeze them! This saves time and money, two things that graduate students lack. Check out this website for freezer friendly recipes. 
  • Shop sales. If you get a sales flyer, plan your meals according to what is on sale that week
  • Stick what’s in season (it tends to be cheaper)
  • Get a free-trial membership to amazon prime, as many items are much cheaper in amazon than in a grocery store. You can also buy in bulk, which saves a lot of money. I am not sure if the full-price membership is worth it – I pay for it because I have a kid and a spouse who works crazy hours, so I need to save time as well as money, but it may not be worth the money for everyone. You need to do the math.
  • Oatmeal for breakfast is your friend. It is cheap, delicious, and healthy. Check out this website for ways to make oatmeal taste delicious. You can buy oatmeal in bulk online, too.

After that, you can cut out unexpected monthly expenses. These are hard to cut out because they are so unpredictable, but they are many ways to cut the most common unexpected expenses:

  • At this age, weddings are a big one. You don’t have to go to all invited weddings. If you do go, try to save money by buying flights well in advance and staying with a friend in the area or sharing a room with other friends
  • A big unexpected expensive monthly expense is car maintenance. Learn about cheaper quality car repairs in you area (hint: ask older graduate students) and practice basic car maintenance
  • Buy cheaper thoughtful gifts. Check out pinterest for ideas!

After you figure out what you can cut out, make a budget and STICK TO IT. From my experience, this is the only way to save money. Just saying you will spend less does not tend to cut it. Even though you are a graduate student, you should still save at least 10% of your income for emergencies as well as for major things like APA internship interviews.

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