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Tips for Staying Financially Healthy During Graduate School

February 11, 2016

By Kelly Pedersen

Being a graduate student isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to finances. Many students are forced to discontinue working full time when they decide to pursue graduate study. Some are living off stipends or student loans. Living with limited resources can be tough, but we often make it harder on ourselves when we aren’t conscious of our spending habits. Budgeting and tracking where your dollars are going is the first step toward financial well-being in graduate school. Below you will find some tips on how to start budgeting.

  1. Track Your Purchases

First you have to figure out where your money is going. Spend one to three months tracking your expenditures. Break everything you buy into categories to see where you might be spending unnecessarily. You can use Excel or Google Sheets to do this or try a free budgeting app. Some recommended free apps are:

  1. Wally
    If simplicity of use and design are your thing, look no further. Wally tracks your income and expenses and projects your savings each month. It takes out the tediousness of actually creating a detailed budget and focuses solely on your spending vs. saving vs. income ratio.
  2. BillGuard
    This app not only automates your entire budget, but it also alerts you anytime an unauthorized charge occurs on any of your accounts or credit cards. The user experience is both intuitive and enjoyable, and it’s a great app if you’re looking for a more automated budgeting system.
  3. Dollarbird

Dollarbird allows users to create a budget and enter expenses manually. The design is light, bright, and easy to use. This is an ideal manual budgeting app for a single person trying to stick to a budget.

  1. Mint
    Mint takes you out of the budgeting equation and literally does it all for you. You can also use it to keep track of our net worth at the end of the month since it tracks the balances of your various accounts.
  1. Separate Expenses into Wants And Needs

No need to give up all of your wants, just recognizing what you must spend and what you are choosing to spend can be enlightening.

  1. Figure Out Where You Can Cut Back

For example, can you get a cheaper cable package or cut out cable all together in favor of Netflix or Hulu? How about making your own coffee at home instead of buying it on your way to class?

  1. Be Proactive

You can call your phone or credit card company to renegotiate your terms. You can also plan your purchases in advance and shop around for the best deal. Instead of walking into a store and buying a TV or piece of furniture, do your research and find out where you can get the most bang for your buck.

  1. Don’t Take On New Debt

Avoid signing up for new credit cards or taking on private loans while you are in graduate school. Seeking out new credit can damage your credit score.

You can consult Cash Course at Mason if you want to get your current debt under control or learn more about budgeting.

University Life has partnered with the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) to provide Mason Patriots student-centered information on helping you boost your financial literacy. You will be asked to enter your Mason email address and will be prompted to select George Mason University from a list of schools.  Once you have access to Cash Course, you can take tutorials, watch videos, use calculators and worksheets, and save your work to the Cash Course site.

Remember, grad school is likely to be a short time in your life and living within a limited budget doesn’t have to last forever. You don’t have to get rid of all of the fun things you do, just be aware of where your money is going.

Kelly Pedersen is a Graduate Assistant with University Life Arlington and masters candidate at the College of Visual and Performing Arts in the Arts Management program.

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