Medical Student Perspective: Tips for Saving Money during Medical School
After starting medical school, I had to make many changes in my study habits, lifestyle, and personality. One of the biggest lifestyle changes I had to make was regarding my finances. I have worked a job since the day I turned 14 and have had at least one job, sometimes several, since then. Despite maintaining a part-time job while in medical school, I have found that my financial status has quickly shifted from having sufficient money to cover all of my needs and even saving some to scrounging for every penny I can find. I have outlined below some basic financial advice on how to save money while in medical school. These are tips I learned quickly from upper-year medical students, friends, my school's financial aid office, and my own medical student experience.
Budget. What's that? - The number one advice I can give to those experiencing a financial shift while starting medical school is to create a budget and stick to it. Most of us quickly learn to budget our time, but not all medical students learn to budget their money as quickly. A realistic budget allows for some spare cash and occasional money for a splurge, but it also is a great way to keep yourself in check.
There is such a thing as a free lunch - If you are willing to spend an hour with a given interest group or other entity at your school, you will likely be privy to a free meal to "compensate" you for your time and interest. Many groups, especially new groups or those interested in signing new members, have realized that this is a quick way to garner interest from their medical student population. At my school, some groups have even tried to outdo others by advertising "non-pizza" meals.
That loan thing - While student loans are a mainstay of medical education, paying them off early is prime advice. The debt-to-income ratio for medical students has doubled. According to the American Medical Association, the graduating class of 2012 had an average educational debt of $166,750. If you find that you do not need to borrow as much for next school year or can pay off a little this year, now is the time to take advantage. While you need a sufficient amount of loans to pay your tuition, the "luxuries" of life that your loan also covers can be significantly cut back. The stark reality is that you will likely need to pay back at LEAST twice as much as you borrow during your 4 years of medical school.
Coffee breaks add up - Caffeine is a must for many medical students balancing late nights of studying and early morning classes and coffee quickly became a new food group for me. With a typical coffee from an upscale shop costing upwards of $5, a two-cup-per-day habit can quickly turn into both a health and financial nightmare. I found that making coffee at home or skipping switching one cup per day for water can save an enormous amount of money.
Who has time for TV? - Through an advantageous confusion on the part of my local cable company, I quickly realized that I did not need to pay a monthly bill for cable. With a functioning computer and internet access, there really is no need for television. Medical students spend most of their time studying, and there are several options for to catch your favorite show or football game. There is often a lounge with a television somewhere on campus if you have a favorite reality show you must catch live each week. There are many sites on the internet that offer delayed viewing of most current television shows, old episodes of classic shows, full-length movies, and music selections. Many gyms have televisions on their cardiovascular equipment, and you can kill two birds with one stone by watching the local news and getting a workout. Also, there are multiple bars and restaurants that will cover your favorite game on an HD big screen television if you're not interested in going to the gym.
Insurance - I found recently that because I am putting significantly fewer miles on my car, I am eligible for a discount on my car insurance. Most insurers also offer "good student" discounts on their plans. Make sure you discuss your situation change with your insurer. I hate to bring up the Affordable Care Act, but there are many potential benefits to this for medical students. Younger students (under 26) qualify to remain on their parent's insurance through most or all of their education. This is often significantly better coverage for a reduced premium because the cost is dispersed for the whole family. While this unfortunately is not true in my state, in many states all unemployed or low-income citizens (including students) are eligible for Medicaid insurance. If you must qualify for the "individual mandate," most schools offer, and some require, health insurance for their students.
Among the many things I quickly learned in the first months of medical school, how to be a frugal student was almost as much of a crash course as my first cadaver lab. The information above has been most beneficial for me since starting medical school. I hope that sharing these financial tips will help current and future students save money and feel less financial stress while studying for their next exam.
Joshua Davis, MS1