Time and Money Saving for the Grad Student

by Nadyne Mielke

I'm a graduate student, working full-time and attending school full-time. Spare time is a vague memory. But there are lots of things you can do to save money. The first thing you have to do is determine where you're spending your money. Keep a small notebook or a bit of paper with you that you write all of your spending down on. You may be surprised! This doesn't have to be elaborate. Just jot down that you spent $.60 on a Coke or $1.50 on paper. At the end of the week, you'll probably have a good idea of places you can spend money.

We've gotta eat, right? But when you're up late studying, or there's not much time between classes, what do you do? There are all sorts of things you can do here.

  • Eat breakfast. Have a bagel, or toast, or oatmeal, or whatever else you can quickly put together. {Bagels, toast, etc are good for eating on your way to class.}
  • Keep small snacks in your backpack. Peanuts, dried fruit, an apple, whatever. That will save you from those overpriced vending machines.
  • Along those lines, keep an empty cup or water bottle with you to fill at a fountain or in the bathroom so you don't end up staring at a Coke machine.
  • If you know your day is going to be hectic, pack a lunch of things you can keep in your backpack (sandwiches, fruit, etc) so you don't have to run back to your dorm/apartment or, worse, buy fast food.
  • Comparison shopping doesn't have to be done all at once. For example, on groceries, if you have a couple of grocery stores close by, go to one the first week. Note prices of things you normally buy while you're doing your shopping. It probably won't add that much time to your trip. Then go to the other one next week and repeat the process. Compare the normal prices on things, and you've just made a great start on it.
  • Coupon cutting may or may not help. It's handy if you buy convenience foods or pre-packaged snacks. It doesn't take too long to go through the Sunday coupons and cut only what you will definitely use. I keep the coupons I've cut in my car, so that if I have an extra 30 minutes to run to the grocery store, I'm not without the coupons. They just stay in a plain envelope, no fancy scheme to order them.
  • I can't speak for you, but books take up a large part of my budget. Here's what I do to get the most out of books:
  • I always try to buy my books from previous students. They're generally cheaper than the bookstore, and in better condition.
  • Likewise, I sell the books I don't intend to keep to other students. The bookstore doesn't give you very much money back on your books. I split the difference of what they would give me back and what they're selling used texts for, and that's the price I ask for my books. You may also be able to trade texts with someone who has a book you need.
  • Wait until after you've gone to the class to buy the book. Sometimes, the professor will tell you that you don't really need to buy the book. Other times, you'll realise that you just don't need it for one reason or another (you've read most of the books in the anthology and can get a paperback of the one you haven't from the library, etc)
  • If you do need the book, determine how much you're going to need it. Can you and a friend buy the book and split the cost? Is it a reference-type material, and you can use the library's copy when you need it?
  • If there are more than one bookstore for your school, shop around. At my school, there is the bookstore on campus and one across the street. The one across the street always charges less, and they're nice people.
  • Don't forget to check out online bookstores. I ordered one of my textbooks from amazon.com because, even after shipping, it was $10 less than I could buy it for here.
  • Ask professors if they have an extra copy of the book they could give you or let you borrow. They get free copies of the book to evaluate, and oftentimes they have no use for them. Many of my professors have been happy to help me out. Canvas other professors in your department, don't just stick to the one teaching that particular class.
  • Don't write off a used copy of the book because it's the previous edition. Textbook publishers play a nasty game with editions. You'll often find that the differences between the current and the previous editions are minimal. If you can get away with using the previous edition (which you'll be able to buy for less money or get free), go for it.

Remember that your student ID card gets you lots of discounts and freebies. Many restaurants give me a 10-20% discount, ditto for some stores. Movie theatres often offer reduced student rates. If you don't see anything about student discounts, ask!

Use campus resources as much as possible. Instead of printing out your 30 page paper at home, save it to disk and print it off in their computer lab. (Their printer is better than that inkjet on your desk anyway.) Cancel your internet account and use the free account the school gives you. Email friends and family instead of calling them.

It's not easy being a graduate student. You're living on a shoestring budget, teaching or working in a lab, taking classes full-time, trying to pull together a thesis or project... There's not much time left over. You get home at the end of the day and just want to collapse, but you still have homework. It takes planning and good time management, but it's possible to be frugal and still survive graduate school.

True or False

Debt is preventing me from taking a vacation this year or the vacation I'd like to take this year! Tell us: Yes, debt is affecting my vacation plans! or No, we're going exactly where we want to go but we'd love to learn make our trip as inexpensive as possible!

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