As an OOS (out of state) med student, the thing I least like to think about (other than neuro, which I apparently really hate) is my ongoing piling debt. At $50k a year for tuition alone, the only thing that gives me comfort is the fact that if I were to die, my debt goes with me (so I can’t drag down my family). Although cost of living here is dirt cheap (I pay well under $600 for a furnished 2 bedroom apartment, including water/electricity/internet/garbage), things do add up, and most people have turned to the philosophy of, “I’m already in this much debt–what’s another $____?” I’m still trying to hang on to the last threads of my Asian frugality that I had ingrained into me so early on. At present, it is still winning, but I do admit to one bout of retail therapy (in my defense, it’s cold here and I got a jacket, a coat, a dress, and two tank tops for $60. I’d like to think this is a win.).
My brother asked me how I rationed my money, because I once managed to live pretty effing comfortably throughout an entire school year on under $10k. This included absolutely everything (rent, tuition, groceries, a 6-day trip to the east coast, you name it), so I figured I’d share some frugal living tips I’ve been living by. I will likely address in a later post how one might attempt to climb out of the seemingly endless hell of a pit known as med school debt (or just school debt, but the stuff I talk about is likely going to be specific to me/what I want to do, because let’s face it, it’s what I know best).
I don’t claim to be amazing with money, but I’ve been somewhat of a miser all my life, and here’s how I got by!
1) Keep track of every penny you spend.
See, this sounds terrible, because it makes me feel like a total penny-pincher (which I guess I am in a sense, but it’s for the greater good). It’s like keeping a food journal (which I don’t do, because the amount of food I consume is alarming). Under the advice of my good ol’ brother Sam, I started an excel spreadsheet in August of 2006 before I started undergrad and have been logging everything I spend ever since. It helps you to keep track of where your money’s going and helps you to see where you could stand to spend a little less on. I divided my spreadsheet into the following categories:
Academics (encompasses tuition, books, rent, utilities, and everything school-related)
Food (everything I spent eating out at restaurants + the like)
Groceries (kinda self-explanatory)
Social/Gifts (how much I spent going out with friends/on presents for other people)
Hobbies (I have a crap ton of hobbies, so this was kinda a must so I could learn to ration)
Transportation (until 2011, this only ever included public transportation + plane tickets, but now there’s gas money because I can actually drive now)
Savings/Income (monies from gigs, from different jobs I’ve worked, from taking surveys, selling my belongings and being a research subject…)
Other (everything else)
2) Buy things on sale.
Up until the age of 20 (might have been 21), the most expensive piece of clothing/pair of shoes I purchased for myself did not exceed $25. Ross and I were wonderful friends (I made it a point to have the patience to weed through the racks there, because I’ve come across pretty amazing finds–for instance, my $20 junior prom dress, my $12 senior ball dress, my $10 Rampage bikini set…). I also made a beeline for the backs of stores because that’s usually where the sales racks are, and let’s face it, those things are wonderful.
To that end, I’ve been absolutely loving the “manager’s specials” at Kroger. The price markdowns are sometimes pretty ridiculous, considering that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the product, so I’ve definitely been taking advantage of those.
Since I mentioned the whole “til the age of 20” part, I guess I should admit that I was infected with girl disease in college and actually started taking a liking to buying things sometimes. Usually, I save it for Asia, where I can get way more bang for my buck, but when I can’t and it’s over what I believe to be a reasonable amount to charge, if I still like it in a couple months/years, I’ll go ahead and get it. Unless it’s on sale and not likely to go on sale again in the foreseeable future. :O
Bottom line: Evaluate whether it’s a “want” or a “need.” It’s usually the former.
My senior ball dress got multiple uses too (see that rather vibrant blue? that’d be me); I unearthed it again for the NKOH semiformal and for my graduation from UC Davis. <3! In case you can’t tell, I like it a lot.
3) When possible, walk/bike everywhere. If you have to drive, carpool when possible.
This is basically helpful on a variety of levels. You leave less of a carbon footprint, you don’t have to pay for gas, and you get some exercise/vitamin D (depending on where you live) out of it. I actually had to do this out of necessity because I didn’t have a license until I was 22.5, so I spent the greater bulk of my life walking everywhere because, I kid you not, my brother would charge me for gas money even though he wasn’t the one who had to pay it. When I went to Davis, the walking became biking (and sometimes bussing when it was raining too hard/too windy) because it was faster (and so very bike-friendly). During my year in New Jersey, I didn’t have a car, so I got by with the Rutgers buses (free for everyone, courtesy of the undergrads!) and good friends. This is honestly the first time I’ve ever actually had to regularly drive to and from school and it’s a weird feeling. I miss walking, but I love my living situation too much to move. I would totally bike, but as I discovered, I am not hardcore enough to take on mountains, and, come winter, this would basically spell death for me. I’ve remedied this by just not going to class anymore (just kidding; that’s not the reason I don’t go).
4) Cook your own food and eat out less (or not at all).
Food is kinda one of the things I look forward to every day, but maybe you’re not so obsessed. :X Going out to eat gets pretty expensive, and even if it’s fast food (which is pretty terrible for you anyway), that adds up quickly. I’ve been out to a restaurant twice since my parents left back in early August–once because Luke was visiting on his drive back to Indiana and the second time was for a friend’s birthday. When I cook my own food, I get to see what’s going into it, season it exactly as I want it, etc. It invariably ends up much healthier than anything I could buy ready-made, and since I usually cook in bulk, I have enough food to bring for meals later on. You wouldn’t believe the amount of money I’ve saved over the years just by bringing my own food with me wherever I go. (This is partially to save money and also to save the people around me, because I get super cranky when I’m hungry.) Plus, you learn to make awesome food. Win-win.
Last year, I made an exception to the whole not-going-out-to-eat for Soupervan because they’re awesome, but in essence, I was donating a meal every time I bought one from them, so it was definitely for a good cause.
These are kinda awesome and a good alternative to going out to eat, assuming that you have friends who can make edible substances without burning the house down. In most cases, making the food yourself is a lot cheaper, and you invariably end up with leftovers so everyone can go home happy. :D I’m a firm believer that food is an event and that you don’t actually have to go out and do things to have fun. As long as you’re in good company, you’re good to go.
6) If you’re located in a college town or something like it, there are free food opportunities everywhere. Everywhere.
Club meetings and guest speakers. Enough said.
But in case more needs to be said, if you happen to be around when the event is ending and they still have leftovers, they usually throw them out, so you can ask nicely and basically end up with enough food for a week. This has happened to me at least 5-6 times this year, and with pretty amazing food (platters of seasoned chicken, meatballs, gourmet salads, packed box lunches of sandwiches/chips/cookies/pasta salad), not gonna lie. My church also feeds me really amazing food.
I got 2 giant bowls of this awesome salad and 2 platters of meat from a single event back when I was in NJ.
7) Have a roommate.
While I’m actually not presently abiding by this one, I did share a room with one of my closest friends for 3 out of the 4 years that we were at Davis (senior year, we shared a wall). Assuming you get along (which is precisely why I didn’t look for one this year), you get awesome company, and you can split rent/bills/groceries. (You also don’t have to be the one to clean everything each and every time…) We had a tradeoff where I’d wash all the dishes in exchange for cooked food (I was in class all the time :x ). During our senior year, aside from there being a 4-way split between everything, we also quadrupled our closets because we were all the same size. (That, my friends, is freaking awesome. <3 ) My argument for not having a roommate this year basically stemmed from my unease that we might not get along, and I did not want to even have to fathom the possibility of not wanting to go home because I didn’t want to deal with my roommate/housemate. With that said, my downstairs neighbor is basically like my roommate of sorts. We share garbage with one of my friends so that each of us only has to pay once every 3 months (thus saving us each an extra $14/month ;). I’m being a sneaky bum and not asking him for garbage money ever though, because he feeds me on such a regular basis and gives me so many awesome things. I hope he doesn’t find out, or he will likely insist on paying. :x hushhush.
We had a lot of fun together.
8) Trade skills for meals/monies.
Back in the days of being the emergency accompanist for the music department, I used to play piano for all sorts of auditions/juries/recitals/performances. However, since they were usually for my friends, I’d feel kinda guilty for charging them. The solution? They’d pay me in meals! Two of them basically cooked dinner for me whenever I wanted, and I got taken out to dinner, given all sorts of gift certificates, rides to places when biking/walking couldn’t cut it, etc. There were gigs where I would actually charge money (those were pretty awesome too, not gonna lie). I also wanted to learn horseback-riding, but was too poor/cheap to pay for lessons, so I worked at the equestrian center in exchange for lessons. In addition, I taught piano, worked at the music library, took surveys, and participated as a research subject in a bunch of different studies (works especially well if you go to a super research-oriented school) to supplement my livelihood.
This was one of my unpaid research subject experiences. We’re seeing how much I need to pee after standing in warm water for 45 minutes. (<3 and miss you, EXB!)
9) Don’t drink (alcohol).
At $5-10+ a drink, I’m pretty sure I save a crapload of money by just not consuming alcohol. I never found any appeal in the whole partying scene because I highly dislike being in large groups (especially when they’re mostly strangers), and watching drunk people is only entertaining for a very short period of time. I’d much rather spend the time hanging out with several of my closest friends, but to each their own. I guess if you really did still want to drink, you could try to employ the nice face discount or get people to buy drinks for you, but that goes against my moral code and it would, in essence, be a waste because I don’t even like alcohol, so I don’t do it (+ ordering drinks other than water at restaurants also adds up, so water is all I ever order :x ).
10) Be nice.
You’d be surprised how far that can take you. According to Adam, if people in West Virginia like you, they’ll feed you. I’ve been getting all kinds of awesome food everywhere (mainly through him, the school, my friends, and my church), so it’s nice to know I’m not hated. :P I like making food and bringing it to share with friends (during the times where I actually show up because class is mandatory that day), and they reciprocate because we’re all foodies. My church seems to think I’m rather awesome because I can sing/play piano–I may start playing for church service soon so I’ll feel like less of a freeloader. (They say that since I’m just one single person and a med student to boot, I don’t need to contribute to the potluck and just my company’s enough. <3 But I’d still like to help out somehow.) I will, however, probably always be indebted to my neighbor though because try as I might, I cannot top all the things he does for me. ._. But anyway. When you’re a decent human being and friendly/nice to people, they’ll tend to like you and want to help you more. True facts.