The Secret to Having Fun while Saving Money in Graduate School

Annie Rose Stathes - October 2013



Graduate school can be expensive. Increasingly high tuition rates and student fees, the costs of textbooks, and the expense of conducting research can all force graduate students to live on small and relatively strict budgets. There are many practices graduate students can employ to work within this limited budget during graduate school without having to sacrifice comfort, fun, or purpose:

1. Create a budget and stick to it: first, write down a list of all of your expenses. Then, identify ways to lower the expense of each one. For example, exchange your daily coffee purchase for a bag of quality coffee you can brew at home; cross off items on your grocery list you could do without; identify ways to lower housing and utility bills; cancel your private-gym membership in favor of exercising outside or on campus; find ways to maintain your wardrobe inexpensively (purchase sale-item or thrift clothing and avoid buying trendy clothes or clothes that must be dry-cleaned); overall, find ways to decrease or eliminate your expenses. Then, most importantly, stick to your budget!

2. Scour the newspapers, local magazines, and campus bulletin boards for fun, interesting, and inexpensive or free things to do. Make it a challenge and include your friends—how many free and enriching things can you do in a week? A month? A semester? Anything is fair game—find art galleries and walks that offer free entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, and wine; hit museums on free days; volunteer for film and music festivals and get free attendance to certain shows; attend free talks and lectures on interesting subjects; go for long hikes or spend time walking around town taking interesting photos; create art using found items; put together weekly game nights and serve popcorn. There are numerous ways to have inexpensive or free fun—find them and take advantage!

3. Live simply intentionally. What would it be like to not participate in consumerism unnecessarily for three months? How would it feel to give away your most beloved items as gifts to your loved ones? What would happen if you only purchase the food that your body truly needed for clean fuel? What would you discover if you walked or took the bus everywhere for a whole semester? What fun might you have if you determined to spend your free time pursuing free opportunities and activities in your community? How brilliant might you feel if you threw yourself fully into studying and forwent expensive entertainment? Because we live in a materialist and capitalism-driven country, it is sometimes difficult to recognize the richness that arrives with living simply and with purpose. Being in graduate school provides a perfect opportunity to experiment with letting go of attachments and living life with (inexpensive) intention.

4. Utilize your resources! Make use of the many resources made available to students. Use your student ID to receive discounts on travel, entertainment, housing, utilities, and other services. Also, take advantage of the resources you’ve purchased by paying students fees. Public transportation, campus recreation center membership, tutoring and academic support, and quasi-public talks are all examples of resources to which students gain access by paying fees. Take advantage!

5. Whenever you spend money, use cash, save the change, and buy yourself a treat. Rather than using a debit or credit card, use cash and save the change. Then, at the end of the week, month, or semester, gather your change and use it to buy yourself a treat. This treat could be an out-of-budget coffee drink, a new article of clothing, or anything else that feels like a treat and is still affordable. This tactic will allow you to treat yourself without necessarily breaking your budget.  

As you use these five ideas, keep in mind that you’re doing so in service of the larger goal of finishing graduate school. While living on a small and restricted budget can be difficult, it is likely only temporary; once you’ve met your goal of finishing school, you will likely find a job and expand your budget. Also remember that living on a budget doesn’t have to mean living a poor life—there are numerous interesting and wonderfully challenging ways to live a full and wealthy life, even without a lot of money.


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About the Author:  Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver.  She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado.

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