Managing Your Grad School Expenses

Financial IQ, Financial Planning

When you started college, calculating expenses was a bit different. You were likely fresh out of high school and moving into a dorm. Instead of calculating grocery expenses, you were determining which meal plan to buy and how much to spend on entertainment.

Now, you have rent, groceries, utilities, and so forth. You may be either working full-time while in grad school or going back to school after working a full time job. Your budget will be a compilation of your expenses.

Start by Defining Your Lifestyle Situation

Are you going to live in your current apartment or home?  If so, a major change in your budget will be transportation expenses to get to and from school. But changes in other areas can defray some educational costs; for example, you may cut back on lifestyle expenses to make up for tuition or textbooks. An example of a  lifestyle expense may be owning a car when you normally use public transit. It could also mean using grocery or restaurant coupons for eating out. It should never mean giving up all your personal must haves. If you’ve ever been on a ridiculously low calorie diet, you know you’re  in for a post starvation binge.  Keep your budget realistic for your lifestyle.

Don’t overestimate your expenses either. For instance, if you estimate your budget based on your current income instead of expenses, you’ll overestimate your cash needs.

 Are you moving to a new town? If you already have a place to live picked out, do you know transportation, restaurant and movie ticket costs? Talk to friends who live in the area or call your university and ask for student money management, financial aid or the graduate student association on campus. Inquire about entertainment and basic costs of student life. Knowing these costs well in advance can help you assess the overall cost of attendance — hopefully an important part of your decision to attend grad school, in the first place.

 Are you quitting your job? You’ll probably have to shrink your budget based on your new income, no matter whether you’ll live off of student loans, scholarships, a part-time job or a combination. Utilize the cost of attendance calculator on your college’s website. The number you calculate will likely represent the maximum total loans and/or financial aid you can receive. Don’t count on income from jobs you’ve yet to acquire, even if you’re told you’re the top candidate. If the situation changes, you may have denied a federal loan you can’t change your mind about.

Tuition, Fees and Books

 No matter what your individual lifestyle situation is, you will have to pay for tuition and fees, plus textbooks. While tuition and fees are fixed costs, textbooks aren’t. Checkout Is Renting Textbooks Really Cheaper Than Buying? and Textbook Law May Save You Money at the Campus Bookstore for tips on reducing your textbook expenses.

Reach Out to Your Graduate School for Job Opportunities

“I’d advise any prospective graduate student to contact the graduate school at the institution they are planning to attend.  Great advice and information about potential fellowship and assistantship programs can be just a phone call or email away,” says Debra Stewart, President of the Council of Graduate Schools.  She added, “If you aren’t sure about what funding opportunities are available in your field, talk to faculty members and others at your undergraduate institution to give you a better sense of what your options might be.”

Adjust Your Budget as Needed

As you progress through your degree, your budget will change. For instance, rent and textbook costs can change from semester-to-semester. Review your budget and make changes as needed.

For more information on personalizing your budget, checkout How to Set a Budget Tailored Just For You.  

Reyna Gobel is a freelance journalist who specializes in financial fitness. She is also the author of Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life.

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