My husband and I lived on a monthly stipend of about $2400 and his savings during gradschool. So, we tried our best to stay frugal in order to save money. These habits allowed me to put $5000 towards my car downpayment, invest $6000 in my ROTH IRA almost each year, and travel to Paris and New York City on a limited budget.
On-campus housing: The first year of gradschool, we stayed at graduate student housing. This was a really great deal, because all the furniture was provided, and all utilities were covered.
Off-campus housing: After the first year, we decided to move to off-campus housing nearby, because we wanted to get a puppy. The rent was comparable for a 1 bedroom apartment, but we did have to pay for utilities ourselves. We split the rent 50/50, so my share of the rent was about $500. And we didn’t live in downtown, where apartments were going for double the price at half the size.
Free food at events: There are always events with free food during gradschool. One time, my friends and I stayed behind after a professor’s endowed professorship lecture, and we were able to grab all the leftover lambchops and salmon burgers. That was a great feast. And sometimes they had free beer so that was fun. So try to attend all the events with free food, and maybe bring Tupperware for occasional leftovers.
Gatherings: We also did tons of potlucks instead of going out to dinner. Occasionally, we did BBQs and pooled money together to buy ingredients and supplies. This was so fun and cheap, and we always had leftovers for everyone.
Groceries: I was too lazy to coupon for groceries, so we mainly stuck with Kroger and the Asian market near us. At some point, an Aldi opened about 15 minutes away, so that was really great for cheap groceries. For good quality meat and bulk items, we went to Costco.
Food pantry: My school also had a food pantry and anyone under a certain income could go there to get free groceries. There were also events where a school organization would give away free groceries.
Cooking at home: We cooked all our meals during the week. I doubled the servings while cooking dinner so we could eat the leftovers for lunch. All the meals I made were really simple recipes, because I really don’t like cooking elaborate meals that much. One night a week, we’d have takeout with friends, and watch a movie afterwards at home.
Going out: Of course, we still went out to eat, but it’s a rare occasion. We usually went to expensive restaurants during restaurant weeks, and there are also birthday deals. And I always brought leftovers home.
Coffee: I rarely bought coffee at Starbucks. We had access to a kitchen near our office, and someone always brewed a pot of (not so great) coffee. If I did wanted better coffee, I just brought my insulated mug to the students’ coffee shop on campus, where refills were 99 cents.
Health insurance: We had really good health insurance through my university. So copays, medication, and doctors visits were usually very low or free. We also had access to the university health center, so whenever we needed to see the doctor, that’s where we went first. And I got all my medication through the health center’s pharmacy since it was cheaper than Riteaid or CVS at the time.
Dental insurance: I went with our intermediate dental plan, because I frequently have issues with my teeth. It wasn’t that much more than the basic plan, plus it covered a great deal more. Still, I was spending a lot on my teeth during gradschool, as I needed to have 3 crowns done.
Vision insurance: I also had vision insurance as I wear glasses. But my health insurance covered a yearly eye exam, so I don’t think I used my vision insurance at all throughout gradschool. If I did need new glasses, I paid for them out of pocket and filled my prescription at Costco. I bought good looking frames that were inexpensive. I tried eyebuydirect and zennioptical, but didn’t have a good experience with either of them since they kept messing up my prescription.
Exercise: Our university also has the best gyms I’ve ever been to. They also offered group classes at a great rate per semester, so I took advantage of that. I really miss those classes, because I usually went with a friend, and it was a great way to get a workout in while socializing.
Public transportation: Before I got my car, I would take the bus to school. At Michigan, we had free access to the bus system with our school ID, so all rides were free. So while it was annoying to wait in the freezing cold for the bus, I didn’t mind not having to pay for gas.
Car: I bought my car at the end of 2017. My credit was good, so I qualified for near 0% APR loan. I got a 3 year loan through Honda for 0.9% for the 2018 Honda Fit, a very economical car. Because I was lazy, I emailed a bunch of dealerships and asked the total price out of the door. I pitted their offers against each other. At the end, the car cost $18000. I put $5000 down and paid the car off 2 months early.
Car insurance: This was pretty expensive in Michigan. It cost about $500 every 6 months to insure my car under our names, and that was after shopping around. We went from Geico to Progressive to keep the insurance premium affordable.
Gas: This was the cheapest at Costco, so that’s where I would fill up if my tank was low. Otherwise, I shopped around using the Gasbuddy app. I avoided Shell at all cost.
Biking: I also brought my bike with me to gradschool and did some grocery trips on it. That was fun, but the weather wasn’t always that great to bike uphill with tons of groceries in my panniers.
Airport: To go to the airport, we had access to the Michigan flyer, which only costs $12 per person to go from Ann Arbor to DTW. Or we would ask our friends to come pick us up :).
Cheap tickets: For tickets, we shopped around a lot on Google, and I also got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for travel hacking. I basically put all our purchases on the card to earn mileage, and the card came with a bonus. We bought plane tickets with the miles through the travel portal.
Roadtrips: We did short roadtrips in our cars with friends, and split the cost of food, airbnb, and gas. We went to Mackinaw Island, Chicago, and the 365 Christmas store in Frankenmuth.
Conferences: Most of the time, conference travel was covered through travel grants, which I religiously applied to. Many conferences were held at big cities, so I also made it a point to explore the city while I was there. I went to France for an international conference, and I was able to travel around Paris in the following week to visit my cousin. I also drove to Chicago with a colleague for a different conference. We were able to explore Chicago the day after the conference. For lodging, we mainly used Airbnbs and split the cost.
Netflix and other subscriptions: Who doesn’t have Netflix these days? I have the basic 1 screen plan, because I refuse to pay for multiple screens. I also had the student subscription to Spotify for a couple of years. This came with free Hulu, but we never used it. We also did Amazon Prime because we just bought tons of stuff through Amazon. It comes with Prime Video, which is a great deal. Shudder is fun for horror movies and shows, and I took advantage of the free trials they offered. My friends subscribed to Disney Plus and HBO Max and they graciously shared their login info with us.
Movies: We rarely went to the movies, but if we did, the movie theatre had deals on certain days. We also religiously used our student discount. And usually, we’d watch movies at home.
Library: Our off-campus housing was walking distance from the library, which was great for me because I love shopping for books, and this was a free way to do it. They also had tons of movies and magazines for us to borrow. And if I did buy books, it was usually a used version on Amazon or more recently, thrift books.
Outings: Lots of free entertainment through the University. We had access to the Arts museum, frequented the law library, and visited the peony garden. The University also had free or discounted orchestra concerts, so we attended those often. People watching is also free :), and there were tons of happy hours.
Cellphone: I used MintMobile, which was basically paying only for what you’re using. And most of the time, I was on WiFi, so for two lines, we paid about $40-$60 a month. I also used Ting before, but the coverage wasn’t as good. That ran us about $50-60 a month for two lines. Before that, we were on AT&T, Sprint, etc, which were all super expensive. We have kept our phone numbers for years now, because you can easily port your number to different carriers. Now, we’re using Xfinity, and it only costs us $63 a month.
Electricity+gas: This was our most expensive bill in Michigan, especially during the winter times. We rarely ran our AC during summer, and I set our thermostat to 75-78 Fahrenheit. During winter, I set it to 70 Fahrenheit. We did a budgeted billing method so our bill was the same each month, as they average out the yearly amount over 12 months. We also insulated our bedroom window using those plastic kits you can buy at Home Depot, which helped reduce the draft.
Internet: You better believe I negotiated our yearly increase in the internet bill. I hate doing this, because it involves threatening to leave the internet provider. But, it does help save money. I was able to keep our internet bill under a steady $50 until we decided to go with AT&T fiber at a whopping $100. If you ask me, it wasn’t worth it.
In closing, I hope these tips helped save you some money. With the savings, add it to your emergency fund, invest the extra cash, save for future goals, or pay for your wants. What frugal tips and habits do you have that helped you save money?