Thursday, May 5, 2011

Grad School on a Budget Part 2

In part one I covered every conceivable way to get free or cheap food, now in part two, we'll tackle the rest of the grad school equation.

Student Discounts
You're paying damn good money for that ID--use it to get discounts.  You can get student discounts at museums, stores, restaurants, movies and any number of other establishments as well as public transportation.  If you haven't been a student for a while, you've probably forgotten how handy that little card is.  If you don't know if a place offers a discount for students, ask.  When I was a sheepish undergrad trying to be cool, I never asked for discounts.  Once I was a frazzled grad student,  I asked for discounts from every person I gave money to (practically), and found discounts in unexpected places.  The worst that can happen is that they say no.  I found out that my local movie theatre has a student discount as does J. Crew (not that I can afford J. Crew even with a discount, but a friend just bought her first interview suit there and got 15% off). Always always always ask.

If you have a large cultural venue in your town, you may also be able to get last minute student rush tickets. Right before a big concert/performance, you go up to the ticket booth and ask to purchase student rush tickets for half price.  Since it's right before the show, the venue is happy to sell them for less rather than not at all.  The downside is that if the event sells out, you're out of luck.  I saw The Nutcracker two years ago for $12, and it was awesome.  Make sure the venue offers this option before trying it out, and they may not do it for all performances.

It's gotten to the point that now, two years after grad school, I'm still breaking myself of the 'asking for a student discount' habit.  I was at a museum recently, and the man asked if I was a student.  I say "no." and then couldn't think of what a non-student is called, so I finished with "I am a regular."  He gave me a funny look, so I just said, "I'm a grown-up."

Stick with Students
The hardest thing about staying frugal in grad school is when you're socializing with people who have real jobs and incomes.  Some of your friends may not have to budget as strictly as you, and therefore don't understand your financial limitations, or even the demands that grad school makes on your time.  I'm not saying jettison your friends, but it's important to come to terms right away with the fact that some of your relationships may change.  See my earlier post about socializing on the cheap, and keep in mind that it's ok to say no when your fancy friends want to go out for a fancy meal.  To keep the friendships up, make sure to be honest about your circumstances, and suggest other, more frugal social options like pot-lucks, museums, picnics, etc.

Carpooling and Public Transit
College and University campuses are always on a bus line--why not take advantage of that? Your student ID probably gets you cheap or free bus fare and you can study while you ride.  With gas prices these days, it just makes sense to use public transit every chance you get, and I find that the somewhat erratic bus/class scheduling can actually be conducive to getting work done.  Rather than rush home right after class, you can strand yourself in a quiet work space free from distraction.  If public transit doesn't work, try to arrange carpooling with classmates, sharing driving duties will certainly save on gas, and you may also be able to split the cost of a parking permit.

To be honest, I rarely bought books for grad school.  My first masters was a writing program, so we didn't really need books, and my second masters, I learned right quickly that doing the reading was a waste of time.  Everyone already knows to buy used books if possible, check the library for an older edition that may work just as well or share books with a friend.  I'd also advise that you maybe wait a bit to see if you actually need the book at all.  Some professors in some disciplines absolutely require you to get the book, others don't care.  Obviously, doing well in grad school is much more important than saving money, but don't think you're a bad student if you skip spending $50 for something you'll never use.  Of course, if you do buy books, sell them back through or

Keep Frugality in Mind
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it's very, very easy to get caught up in grad school and let your frugal ways slip.  If this happens, don't beat yourself up because academic success is more important than saving a dollar, but just try to keep frugal habits at the back of your mind and keep yourself in check.  Most likely you will be taxing your brain and working harder than you ever thought possible all while seated at a desk, and you will need some kind of release--something to look forward to.  Set up a system of rewards that don't break the bank, and give them to yourself when you feel like you're going to crack, or like you just need a little boost.  My boost was a 32 ounce iced coffee with cream and sugar from Dunkin Donuts that I would drink on my walk to class.  It was a reward for walking instead of driving, and perked me right up so I could learn more.  Plus, it only cost $2.43.

If anyone has any other ideas, tips or tricks, please leave them in the comments--I know I can't possibly have covered everything.

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