While I struggled financially during my tenure at social work school, this was hardly a new experience.
As a so-called “professional student”, the many years I had spent prior in college and grad school had taught me one particularly invaluable skill: being thrifty.
Many financial pundits advocate thriftiness in the form of cutting down on “latte factor” expenses. These are unnecessary things such as yes, lattes, which seem small to start with, but add up over time.
So for example, I’m a big tea drinker, but I’ve for example learned it’s way more cost-effective for me to buy my tea in bulk and make it myself.
That said, every time someone mentions the “latte factor”, there’s a part of me that feels like someone is waggling their finger at me for being a “careless Millennial”.
For those of us used to living on a shoestring, the occasional latte can be a well-earned treat. But while in school, frugality generally is a good rule, as is having—and following—a budget.
But there’s one more piece to this: the need to think laterally about how and where you spend your money. Here are my top tips to help ease any strain brought by tight finances while attending social work school.
Saving cash when in social work school
1. Attend food giveaways or attend food banks. While you might not feel quite needy enough to visit a food bank, a free box of food can go a long way.
2. Shop smart. Bulk-buy staples like rice, legumes, beans, and nuts at warehouse-style food and supply stores such as Smart & Final.
Get other food and basics at discount retailers and grocery stores like 99c Only, Dollar Tree, and El Super.
Clothes, shoes, kitchen-, and homeware can be bought at discount department stores like Ross.
3. Meal plan. If you don’t know how to cook, teach yourself. Try using an Instapot to simplify the process. If you can, cook meals in batches, then freeze and reheat as needed.
5. Do your own tax. If you don’t expect to have a complex tax return, chances are you can do it yourself, at no expense, using free software or web-based services.
6. Apply for bill reductions. There are programs that you can apply for that can reduce your power and gas bills. Just ask your service provider.
8. Conserve data. Use your phone’s data saver mode and make sure you’re connected to your home WiFi when at home. Download your individual Google Maps in advance of travel.
9. Borrow, don’t buy. Your school may have a loan program for computers or tablets. You can also access ebooks and audiobooks for free on the Libby app or Overdrive website using your current library card.
10. Maximize card benefits. Supermarket loyalty cards offer discounts for free. Use them. Take advantage of credit card bonuses and cashback rewards.
11. Get your rental deposit back. Don’t let big realty companies nickel and dime you out of your deposit. Know your rights and be willing to fight for them.
13. Apply for SNAP. If you’re eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what are you waiting for? Apply.
14. Request reimbursements. If your field placement requires you to travel offsite, it’s worth asking if they will offer to pay fuel costs.
15. Ask for medical debt reduction. Medical care providers don’t advertise this, but you may be eligible for a reduction or total debt forgiveness based on your income. It’s always worth asking.
17. Share costs. If you and your friends use an entertainment subscription service, share a family plan. Split the cost of additional training, such as those offered by PESI.
18. Buy discount fuel. Visit budget gas stations such as 76. You can compare current prices at different gas stations in advance by looking up each station on Google Maps. If you have a Costco membership, you may want to take advantage of their cut-rate fuel.
Many of the ideas I shared with you may not be news to you. But if you’ve learned something new, let me know in the comments. If you have any additional tips for saving cash in social work school to share, I’d love to hear them.
These tips and more are available in my free guide to surviving and thriving social work school.