Jenny Beth Johnson: Budgeting in grad school

By Jenny Beth Johnson. Posted February 6, 2014.

Graduate school should be a positive experience, hopefully unburdened by financial challenges.  Below are a few tips that have helped me stay on track with my budget.

  1. Consider applying for and accepting an assistantship.  Each college and department has a limited number of assistantships available for graduate students.  Many of these assistantships waive your tuition and pay a monthly stipend.  Although some assistantships are highly competitive, each department does their best to fund as many students as possible.  Some departments award assistantships only to students who specifically indicate interest in receiving one, so ask your department whether you need to take any additional steps to be considered for an assistantship. Some administrative assistantships are also available via separate applications.
  2. Set up a budget.  As I entered graduate school, I set up an Excel spreadsheet that included all of my set expenses.  These expenses included tuition and fees, approximate cost of textbooks and computer programs, rent for my apartment, groceries, and utilities, such as gas, water, electricity, and the Internet.  Other miscellaneous expenses included medicine, doctor and dentist visits, and gas for my car.  Since I have a dog, I also included estimated veterinary expenses.  Each month, I also chose to set aside $150 for fun activities.
  3. Shop around.  Many retailers have deals and discounts that can be tracked.  Based on my interest in consumer behavior and retailing, I am always eager to analyze each retailer’s sales.  For example, I have found that Super Saver always has the cheapest milk, but meat tends to be cheaper at HyVee.  The lowest priced textbooks are usually on, while the cheapest place to rent textbooks is usually on
  4. Have a stash of “mad money” for leisure activities.  While in graduate school, you may want to partake in some costly activities.  Lincoln is home to many sporting events, festivals, and performing arts.  I used my “mad money” this year on Husker football tickets and University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey tickets.  Taking part in leisurely activities can also help you reboot and regain focus on school work and research.
  5. Search for free (or almost free) activities around Lincoln and Omaha.  If you keep an eye out for events in the Lincoln and Omaha areas, you will undoubtedly come across free (and fun!) activities.  I usually use Eventful to find local event information. You can also check out Adrian Lara’s recent post about fun things to do in Lincoln. UNL’s main webpage also provides great, up-to-date information on current events.  My favorite event includes free ice skating at the Ice Box on UNL’s Innovation Campus on select Sunday evenings.  Bring your ice skates or rent them for $3!


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