Money Matters

Holding a piggy bank

Graduate students are not typically known for their glamorous, jet-setting lives. "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Graduate Student Edition" will probably not hit a television near you anytime soon, and the stereotype of the young professor with patches over the elbows of his jacket hits close to home for many members of academia.

Psychology graduate students may even have it even worse, on average, than their cash-strapped peers in other disciplines. A recent National Science Foundation study found that, among students graduating with a doctorate in psychology, nearly twice as many reported "high" levels of debt as their nearest peer group, students graduating with a degree in a social science. Fewer than 30 percent of psychology students graduated without any debt, by far the lowest proportion among all of the academic fields examined.

That means that students such as Kilianne Kimball, in her fourth year at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, must keep a tight budget. Kimball's husband is also a graduate student, and the couple have two young children. Yet Kimball and her husband manage to make ends meet on part-time teaching assistant salaries and financial aid.

So how do students such as Kimball and her husband get by? Careful budget management and creative cost-cutting, they say.

 

PRO FOR BROKE

Kimball and her husband attribute part of their success to paying attention to the big picture.

"We consolidated our loans so that the interest rate is actually slightly lower than inflation. We can pay them off gradually and come out even," she says. They also work to make sure they never carry a balance on their credit cards, which would only worsen their financial situation over time.

Another aspect of managing a grad student budget involves cutting unnecessary expenses. Jessica Matthews, a clinical psychology student at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology, spent eight years as a schoolteacher before returning to what she calls "the broke life." To transition back to living as a student, Matthews gave up some of the perks she had become used to.

"I have to pare down my expectations: buy my makeup and hair [products] at the grocery store instead of a department store, and give myself a haircut."

To begin, figure out where corners can be cut, says Casey Murray, a first-year cognitive neuroscience student at Dartmouth. Murray took a close look at his lifestyle and the types of needs he has as a student, and then made big budget decisions. For example, he de-cided that he could live without paying for Internet at home, thanks to Dartmouth's first-rate Wi-Fi coverage on campus.

For Murray, these sacrifices pay off.

"I'd much rather focus on my graduate research and studies and consider that to be my job, than try to make a few extra bucks in the evening when I could be studying." Assess necessities

There are some expenses, however, that can't be cut. Presumably, even graduate students need a place to sleep at night. But that doesn't prevent you from lowering your expenses on such essentials as housing.

For instance, Murray had trouble finding an affordable apartment near Dartmouth, so he arranged a house-share with other graduate students using a university message board. In addition to saving on rent, the group's utilities are cheaper, and they can pitch in to buy groceries in bulk.

But while being stingy can pay large dividends, Murray cautions that students must honestly assess where they can happily live. Saving $100 per month sounds fantastic right up until the rats are gnawing through your laptop cord.

Transportation is another high-price-tag item that most students can't live without. To keep costs down,Kimball uses public transportation to get to her practicum site. Aside from saving money, it gives her extra time in her busy schedule: "I do work while en route, so there is no opportunity cost."

Some universities may not have plentiful public transit, but you can still find other students with whom to share rides. Or you can pay a bit more for housing near campus and save on gas and car insurance. Textbook costs, food and clothing, and other necessary objects can also be found on the cheap (see sidebar).

Such savings may seem small, but over time they can help you avoidspending your entire financial aid check in the first month of the semester. As Murray says, "Nobody lives like a king on stipends, but if you're smart with your money and cut the right corners, you can be more than comfortable."


Andrew Daniller is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.
Students must honestlyassess where they can happily live. Saving $100 per month sounds fantastic right up until the rats are gnawing through your laptop cord.