Don’t take out more loan money than you need. Figure out your monthly expenses (rent, food, transportation, gas, school expenses, incidentals, etc). Only take out the loan amount that you need and do so at the lowest interest rate you can find. Although it’s nice to have “just in case” money, for emergencies or unexpected expenses, most of us just end of using the extra money for shopping trips or vacations. So unless you have an unprecedented amount of self-control, it is probably best to only take out what you need.
Avoid high interest rates or private loans, if you can. Try to get the lowest interest rate possible on loans. If your interest rate is higher than 7%, talk to your financial aid advisor or financial planner and see if they have additional loans available at lower rates. This may seem like a dead end, but I got much lower interest rates in medical school by simply meeting with my financial aid advisor and asking if I was eligible for any loans with lower interest rates. Some of the loans I got had rates as low as 2% and several others were government loans for around 5% (much lower than the direct “unsubsidized” loans that are the default). I also lowered the interest rate on my credit card by simply calling my credit union and asking them to lower it. Yes, it really was that simple.
Don’t overspend. I can’t tell you how many happy hours, post-test outings, or birthday celebrations I went to as a medical student with little thought as to how much I would spend. I’m not saying you need to check your bank statement after every purchase, but definitely be mindful of cost. Before you go out, take a look at the menu and write down a set dollar limit you don’t want to go over. You will be surprised how quickly those drink specials and half priced appetizers add up.
Don’t purchase things you don’t need just because it’s “on sale.” As a female who is a admittedly a little vain and loves nice dresses and cute shoes, the mall was not my friend. My self-control wasn’t high enough for me to walk by Express, New York and Company, or DSW without “browsing the store” and convincing myself to buy something I probably didn’t need. I finally realized that until my self-control was improved, I needed to avoid going to the malls as much as possible. Although I wanted new clothes and nice shoes, I wanted to build wealth more. I knew that if I was ever going to reach the point of financial freedom, I needed to change my spending habits and avoid situations that tempted me to do otherwise.
Avoid eating out more than a couple times each week. It may not seem like it initially, but it often costs more money to eat out than it does to cook the food ourselves. While we may not have the time, creativity, or cooking skills to make gourmet meals at home, eating out multiple times each week will put a serious dent in our pockets and overall financial goals. We should aim to eat healthy, affordable home-cooked meals, but I do recognize that this not be an option for everyone. If you don’t have time to make meals during the week, then consider cooking large amounts on the weekends aka “meal prepping”. If you don’t know what to make, consider investing in a couple cookbooks or trying out services like Blue Apron once or twice a month for new recipe ideas. Whichever way you choose, avoid eating at restaurants or even fast food spots more than a couple times a week.
Avoid being late on any payments. Although most of the time it can be a simple case of forgetfulness, it is absolutely vital that we pay our bills on time. Failing to do so could put our financial goals in jeopardy by ruining our credit and making it difficult to for us to secure basic things like housing (apartments and mortgages), transportation, and bank loans in the future.
My point? There are several things we can do even as young professionals or current graduate students to put ourselves in good financial standing. First, we should avoid taking out more loan money than we need in school, avoid high interest rate loans/credit cards, and try not to overspend. Then, we should stop purchasing things we don’t need, limit the amount of times we eat out, and ensure that we pay our bills on time.
Tell me, are you already doing some of these things? If so, which tips are you following and which ones are you still trying to work on?