Budgeting Tips for Grad Students: How to Survive on a Grad Student Stipend


renting budget

Let’s face it. Life as a grad student is not always glamorous. Between the cost of tuition, absurdly expensive text books that you will never read again, and basic needs like food and housing, finding the funds to have some semblance of a social life may seem impossible. Even if you’re lucky enough to attend a fully funded grad program, odds are that your student stipend still leaves something to be desired. While it can be disheartening to watch your finance friends living large while you’re grinding it out at the library, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to make the most of your time in grad school without breaking the bank.

Here are five budgeting tips to help you survive (and thrive) during your time in school.

Minimize Rent Costs

Unfortunately, graduate student housing in NYC can be just as expensive as renting on your own but it depends where you go to school and how much you value proximity to campus.

According to a recent StreetEasy study, “Overall, it’s cheaper to live on-campus in relatively high-rent areas, while it’s cheaper to live off-campus in lower rent areas. This seems rather intuitive, but stresses how important it is for students to examine what rents go for in surrounding neighborhoods are like and take time to compare the various options.” In most cases – especially with schools in Manhattan – if you want to save overall housing costs, you’ll have to forgo commute times.

If you decide to go the off-campus housing route, be prepared for a couple of roadblocks in addition to the long commute time. In most cases, student stipends are typically too low to meet the salary requirements for renting (~40 times the monthly rent). Fortunately, subletting is a great option for grad students. Not only are sublets usually cheaper and require less paperwork than signing an official lease, many sublets also come fully furnished. This means minimal moving costs and no IKEA bills. Better yet, many sublets are short-term, which is crucial for the unpredictable nature of grad school finances. If you ever become so strapped that you need to crash with friends or family for a while (yes, this happens to the best of us), you won’t be locked into paying rent or incur fees for breaking your lease early. You may feel like a bit of a nomad, but it’s only temporary and the savings will be worth it.

Love Your Leftovers

When you’re living on a budget, never underestimate the value of a doggy bag. A splurge on dinner with friends can turn into a save on tomorrow’s lunch. If you have the time and interest to cook, even better. Preparing meals to take with you throughout the week can save you hundreds of dollars a month on overpriced lunch in the city. Along these lines, take advantage of free meals where you can get them. Is your mom always nagging you to visit your NYC relatives? The next time they invite you for dinner, say yes! I’m not suggesting that you should use people for their food, but think of it as killing two birds with one stone. You get to spend quality time with family while also having a free meal and potentially taking home some delicious leftovers!

Use Your School to Save

If you’re a student, you might as well take advantage of the perks. For example, most college campuses have a gym for students, which is either free or offered at a much lower membership fee than other gyms in NYC. It might not be as glamorous as Equinox, but it’ll get the job done. Most colleges also have a student health center on campus, which may be a more affordable option than dealing with expensive copays and out-of-pocket medical bills. Some schools even offer free or low-fee mental health services to students, which can be a lifesaver for dealing with the stress of grad school! Another college perk to keep an eye out for are campus events with free food. Networking functions, job fairs, holiday celebrations… don’t think you’re a mooch. You might end up meeting new people and learning about job opportunities in the process of being fed.

Ask About Student Discounts

Don’t let pride stop you from asking stores and even restaurants if they offer a student discount. Many big name retailers like Top Shop and Madewell offer great student savings that can help you stay up-to-date with the styles even if you’re on a budget. You can also find student discounts at many museums, workout classes, and entertainment venues throughout the city. Just ask! You don’t need to be undergrad-aged, you just need to have a valid student ID.

If It’s Free, It’s for Me

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Take advantage of all NYC has to offer with free events such as movie screenings, comedy shows, concerts in the park, and food festivals. Many NYC art galleries also have free entry, so you can feel fancy without spending a penny. For more ideas about free events, check out website like Time Out New York and NYC Go.