As the saying goes, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” Looking back over my time as both a grad student and a medical student there are a few things I wish I would have done differently to put myself in a better position financially.
1. Set up automatic withdrawals for recurring monthly payments. This may seem obvious, but as a female in her early twenties who did not have much experience paying bills, this was not common sense to me. I didn’t like the idea of money coming out of my account automatically and always feared that an if an emergency occurred I might need the money that had already been automatically deducted. As a result, I would often rely on my memory and attempt to pay my credit card bill, car note, and cable bill on time. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well.
I would occasionally forget to send a payment in by the due date and have to call the company in a panic to pay over the phone and beg to get the late fee removed. After a few months, I started setting alerts in my phone to remind me of the payments. This worked well most of the time, but I still missed a few payments. Not because I did not have the money, but because sometimes I would be busy doing something else when the alert would go off. I would then silence the alarm notification and forget to pay the bill later. Finally, I let go of my pride, saved up a small emergency fund to ease my worries, and set up monthly automatic withdrawals. The moment I did that, my life got so much easier. I started doing that about 3 years ago and I don’t think I have missed any payments since then. I paid off my car shortly afterwards and my credit score improved. It’s amazing how much better things got when I relied less on my memory to pay monthly expenses.
2. Cancel unnecessary [cable] subscriptions. You may be already doing this, but I’ll be honest and say I was not. Many people do not rely on cable and would rarely use it if they had it. I am NOT that person. I love tv. Not because I have an abundance of time to watch it, but because when I can spare a few minutes watching it, I’m better able to relax. I love being able to come home and marvel at the homes on HGTV, watch old comedies to get my mind off of a stressful day, and cheer on my beloved Duke Blue Devils during basketball season. Cutting cable was never something I even remotely considered. From my perspective, it was a necessary stress reliever and source of enjoyment.
Instead of just accepting this as fact and sending Cox Cable $100 a month, I should have done more research. It wasn’t until I was a 4th year medical student that I learned about services like YouTube TV which would allow me to watch live TV for around $35 a month. It also wasn’t until I was 4th year med student that I learned Hulu was free with my $5 student-Spotify account and had a live TV option that was cheaper than cable. If I had simply done more research sooner, I could have saved hundreds of dollars and still maintained my same standard of living. If only I could go back in time...
3. Consider side hustles for additional cash. As a medical student I could not work. In fact, I think they made me sign some form agreeing to not accept any full-time positions as a student. As a 4th year medical student, I had much more time than I had the previous 3 years of medical school and should have considered side hustles or other ways to increase my cash flow. When I graduated, I desperately wanted to travel the world and make the most of my freedom before starting my first hospital job, but I also needed money for moving expenses. Having money saved from babysitting or some other side hustle would have been very useful.
Ironically enough, some of my friends who had already started their respective careers, told me about things they were doing to supplement their income and fund their tropical vacations. One was getting paid to test out new hair products on Instagram. Another was teaching English to kids online and tutoring current students on academic subjects she had mastered. A few others had created online blogs that were starting to gain traction, offering personal training services to people trying to get fit, and making diet plans for clients seeking to change their eating habits. I even knew of someone who charged people for consulting advice on how to manage finances and invest in the stock market. Regardless of the route, I wish I started thinking about my potential side hustle earlier. Even though I am starting my career as doctor, the high-paying salary is still years away and I needed cash sooner rather than later. Having a side hustle is a great solution to that problem.
4. Make friends with people who are good with money. We pick up habits and emulate the behavior of our friends. Although the people in my life are amazing, I did not have anyone close to me who was “money savvy.” Most of us were in the same boat with similar spending habits. In fact, with my background in finance and passion for investing, I was the person all of my friends went to whenever they had questions about money. I wasn’t necessarily lacking in knowledge, I simply needed someone to help me implement some of the wise money practices I wanted to create.
I wanted a person around me who had actually created a budget they could stick to without getting discouraged. Someone who would caution me to think twice before splurging on a dress I didn’t need and advise me not to purchase overpriced food from restaurants that I could make at home. Since I didn’t have this ideal person, I decided to seek it out in the people closest to me. I started talking to my brother who showed me a few budgeting tools and apps that could help keep me motivated along the journey. I then let my friends know about my savings goals and we all made a pact to save and invest a similar amount of money each month. Having this kind of accountability and support has helped me so much. I wish I had thought of this sooner.
Tell me, was this helpful? What money moves do you wish you had made as a college student?