This post is inspired by a MS3 who wrote me, wondering how she could minimize debt while not having a job in medical school.
Hi! I just started reading your posts and they are very helpful. I am a student at Touro [tuition is about 45-50k/year-DWM] in my 3rd year and I have been trying to be smarter with my money for the last 10 years, but since I’ve always been in school or making minimum wage, I didn’t know how that was possible. When I became solely dependent on loans is when I learned the motto of paying yourself first. Since I do not have any income to pay myself first, do you have some advice on what I can do now while I still rely entirely on loans for money? I already accepted this year’s loan, but I know for next year to pay it on a credit card first. Do you have any other tips for what I can do or a link to a blog for people like me who are still in med school? Thank you!
– MS3 with 80-100k cost of attendance every year in med school.
Here are things that help me minimize debt as MS1-4.
- Delay and minimize taking out student loans.
Think of student loan and the financial aid officers as your last resort. They should be, with the high interest rate and the ridiculous loan origination fee.
Use credit cards 0% interest rate promotional periods for all your purchases (including your 50k tuition) whenever you can.
Borrow personal loans at lower interest rate. Write up a contract and make it official. Business is business. No need to mix personal and business. But a personal loan at 3% interest rate is a lot better than a federal loan at 6-10%. And this could be totally win win as you know you will definitely pay the loan back and it offers the personal lender a much higher rate of return than a CD would.
- Use credit card rewards.
Use credit card rewards for travels, for food, for books. I like the cash back feature. Find ways to maximize cash back. Check this out. You can totally stretch your dollar when you use credit cards mindfully and responsibly.
- Cook for yourself.
Don’t eat out. It’s expensive today, cost your health, and expensive for your future in medical bills. Cooking is relaxing and helps you care for your basic needs. Make time for it, it’s definitely worth it. You can even set up a rotation chef schedule with your friends and buddies in med school and cook for one another.
- Exercise in the free school (though sometimes maybe crappy) gym.
Don’t spend money on gym. Find ways to build your exercise into your daily routine. Before or after class, between classes, hop on the tread mill at your school (my school offered a small, though a bit dingy gym, hey its free!).
- If you have kids, build a childcare swap team/ support.
Build a community where you, your partner are in the rotating schedule to care for the collective children. It’s surprising how it seems to be easier to take of 5 kids instead of 1 at times. Kids socialize and entertain one another and you might even be able to study while they entertain one another, keeping one eye on supervising them.
Tutoring is one of the most amazing way to study, and you can make money too. If you are MS3, tutor USMLE1 or MCAT content/ test strategies. That way you are reviewing materials pertinent to you and making some money. I get a wonderful sense of fulfilment and tremendous help with my bills in med school tutoring.
- Start getting paid for what you already do anyways.
There are work study jobs. Don’t pass those up. You can work in the library and spend most of your time studying, while getting paid 15/hour. You can also find your favorite professor with whom you’d like to do research with, set up work study with him/her and start advancing science and medicine while getting paid! Alternatively, find a non-profit organizations where you love volunteering at and set up an off campus work study job. Get paid while doing what you love. While we pay to do what we love-learn about medicine and doctoring- in medical school, it doesn’t always have to be. Start finding ways to get paid for what you love to do.
- Make a budget and stick to it.
Budget is a means to an end. It’s not limiting, it’s goal-fulfilling. Make one and stick to it. Frequently, you find that you become more creative and can make smaller sequential budgets!
- Spend some time finding and applying for scholarship.
It’s usually worth your time to apply for a scholarship. I especially like those that ask you to write and reflect on sometimes. In the process, not only do you learn about yourself, start getting your residency application essay together, but also you have a chance of getting a couple hundreds to a couple thousands! Why not?
- Get in the habit of paying your own bills while dining/entertaining with a group.
Why hanging out with friends and eating/entertaining out, do not be shy to pay your own bills instead of quietly subsidizing someone else’s expensive habits. If everyone in your group ordered alcoholic beverages, but you didn’t, get your own bill rather than split the bill evenly.
Don’t ever do retail therapy with your friends. Know that if you feel unhappy, shopping will not solve it. Spend time to take care of yourself so that you don’t feel deprived and end up overcompensating with material goods.
Instead of hitting the mall or the movie theater, hit the library, go on a hike, or go to the Soup kitchen and serve the homeless. If you have time to shop, you have time to serve and you’d be better of for the latter.
- Surround yourself in like-minded people.
Some people would think that you are too stingy, too frugal, no fun, don’t know how to enjoy life. Distance yourself from those people. It’s hard to share your ideals with those who don’t want to listen or just want to tear you down.
I’m sure there are a few if not 50% of your classmates who have some financial awareness of how much that the student loans they live on today would cost them in the end. Join them, hold one another accountable, and encourage one another.
- Spend 1-2 hours/month to take care of your finances.
Set it up correctly in one giant excel sheets so all your bills are paid on time and you know when your 0% promotional APR ends and have plans to pay them off (way in advance) in place.
This will pay great dividend for the rest of your life.
Bookmark these resources. When you have a few minutes like waiting for a bus or on the toilet, read up!
https://drwisemoney.com/ (my blog, i focus a lot on MS and PGY’s)
http://whitecoatinvestor.com/ (he gives information for docs at all ranges of training, though a bit heavier for after med school grads)
http://www.physicianonfire.com/ (he gives information for docs at all ranges of training, though a bit heavier for after med school grads/attending)
Bottom line is financial literacy is universal for everyone. Read today and learn; you’ll never regret it.
- File your own taxes and use the opportunity to learn.
Play with software like turbotax. Saving a penny is frequently better than making 2 more, because in exchange you get more time and time is in the end the most precious resource you have.
Last but not least, if you do have some income during med school, which can be great other than financially (it pulls you away from medicine and gives you time to refresh and get a perspective), try to fund your Roth IRA. Assuming you don’t make much as a medical student, the taxes required of you to fund Roth IRA maybe literally zero! You get to put “post-tax” dollars into your Roth IRA, which then can grow tax-free and be withdrawn tax-free in retirement (the principle and earnings.)
This is definitely one thing I regret not doing during my MS years, especially given 2010-2014 enjoyed some of the best stock market return in the last 2 decades.
If you like this article, you might enjoy other DWM articles on Personal Finance, Investing, Retirement, Practice Management, & Lifestyle.
All articles by DWM are for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional accountant, financial adviser or lawyer, before making financial decisions.