Alright full disclosure this is really something I struggle with. Every month I do my best to set a reasonable “additional expenses budget” but one textbook or mandatory background check later and my whole budget is blown. For the last couple of years I have gone between using Dave Ramsey’s “Cash Envelope” budgeting system and Jordan Page’s “simplest” budgeting system (below)
It is also helps to track your expenses using an online budgeting tool (I really like using the Mint app).
Cut excess expenses:
Look at your fixed expenses and see if any of those costs can be cut or lowered. If you are on a solo cell phone plan see if you can coordinate with your siblings, parents or trustworthy roommates to be on a family plan. If you pay for cable, cut the service and opt for an antenna instead. Paying for a gym membership you don’t use? Cut it and see if you qualify for a student rate at a local gym or better yet see if the hospital you rotate at has an employee gym available.
Coordinate with your friends to find out which reference books you have and which you would be willing to share. During my third year I was often able to borrow study materials from other students who had already completed a rotation in that specialty in exchange for my own study notes or reference materials.
Find the free food:
While not as prevalent as it was in college, there are plenty of opportunities for free food as a medical student. There are no shortage of club meetings during your first 2 years of medical school and most hospitals offer some kind of free food or discounted meals for their rotating students. If you don’t mind spending a free evening listening to a drug rep’s spiel consider going to a drug rep dinner if the invite is extended to you. In my experience the drug rep dinners are at some swanky places and you get more than enough food to be guaranteed leftovers home for lunch the next day. For my fellow HPSPers, read your orders!! If you are on ADT rotating at a hospital there is usually something in your orders about “partial meals”. All you have to do is turn in a copy of your orders to the nutrition office and you should get your meals free of charge. I was able to get breakfast and lunch most days without having to pay in. You are also authorized to eat at any DFAC as long as you bring a copy of your orders and your military ID.
HPSP folks listen up! Being allowed to get a school loan is dependent on your school’s policy. During my 3rd year of medical school I watched as my savings dwindled after I had to pay for a moving truck and all associated moving costs to move to where core rotation site is located. I reached out to my school’s financial aid office asking how I could apply for a small loan to help make ends meet, and was promptly told I did not qualify. Stunned I asked why not and under my school’s policy the amount of money I receive from HPSP exceeds the amount of money they permit students to take out in loans. Since HPSP covers all mandatory expenses, the school has a lower cost of attendance listed for students in HPSP as all books and supplies have been subtracted out of the cost of attendance. I had to apply for a one-time loan exception and was allowed to take out $5,000 loan after providing documentation of my monthly expenses, my budget and my bank statements to prove that I wasn’t frivolously throwing money away. After moving again between my 3rd and 4th years and preemptively planning for the expensive interview trail I asked my school if I could take out another loan and was told that students only qualify for a loan exception once during their time as a student (womp womp). Also if you had loans from undergrad like yours truly, make sure you contact them to defer your loans while you are a student. Fair warning to some DO students out there, not all DO schools are acknowledged by all private lenders. One of my loans has been in repayment since my first year of medical school because my DO school is not on the list of schools that qualify for deferment.
Get a job:
I’ve found that working while in medical school is surprisingly controversial. I started babysitting at 12 years old, and from the age of 16 I worked as many hours as my schedule allowed throughout the rest of high school and college. I never had to worry about making ends meet. After I started medical school I was too busy to grocery shop or do laundry (or so I told myself) that a part time job was out of the question. Fortunately my school allows 2nd year students to work in the library which meant I got paid minimum wage to study for 10-20 hours per week. Some of my other classmates were paid to tutor first year students. Following the completion of my 3rd year rotations, my 2nd level boards, and my audition rotations I found myself having more free time than I’ve been used to in the past couple of years so I got a part time job waitressing. The job is perfect, as it only requires Friday and Saturday night shifts and doesn’t interfere with the typical hours I work in clinic. I have heard from several of my classmates that I should be focusing all of my attention into my clinical rotations or researching residency programs, but the cash I earn each week affords me peace of mind that I can purchase the supplemental textbooks I want and splurge on a coffee without fear of throwing my budget off.
Rent out your place:
Live with roommates
Although HPSP students are given a monthly stipend to cover costs of living, the stipend is a fixed cost regardless of where you live. This means the HPSP student in NYC is getting the same amount as one living in Oklahoma. Only when you are active duty and assigned to a base do you get given a BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) that is calculated based on cost of living where you are assigned. For the first 3 years of medical school I lived with roommates (with 5 of us living in a house at times!) and it greatly helped with cutting costs of rent & utilities, carpooling and sharing of resources. Try looking for other student’s who share similar studying styles as you do and are on a similar schedule to your own to ease the chance of roommate disagreements.
Take advantage of being a student:
There ain’t no shame in asking for a student discount. Many retail shops will offer 15% to students and there may be student rates for gyms, hair salons, or other services such as car insurance or utilities.
Use Technology to your Advantage
Download any apps available for the stores you frequent the most often. Enroll in Rewards programs at your local grocery store or gas station so you can make the most out of the items you purchase regularly. If you love shopping at Target as much as I do, download their coupon app “Cartwheel” which has hundreds of items that are discounted each week (sometimes up to 40% off!).
If you find yourself with free time or just need a break from studying, check out The Penny Horder website which posts articles with unique ways of earning money (free scratch off tickets, online surveys, and side job opportunities) as well as providing advice and suggestions when it comes to budgeting, investing, taxes, or retirement.
If you are a big online shopper, consider downloading Earny which is a website that tracks prices of items you have purchased previously. It uses the “price match” policies set out by the companies they work with to alert you if the price of an item has dropped within the time frame that companies allow reimbursements. Earny does take a percentage of your reimbursement but the savings still add up! My first time logging on to Earny I was able to get $40 back on items I had purchased! This is great for students if you are frequently buying textbooks and study materials because prices drop as soon as new editions are released.