Managing your Money in Medical School – Part 1

By Jaysson Brooks

For most newly minted medical students, the loan money they received for living expenses may possibly be the most money they’ve ever managed at one time. As the popular saying goes, “more money equals more problems,” and this could not be truer than for a MS-1 with a $2,000 loan check. So how do you keep track of where your money is going? How do you use your money wisely? Below I will answer those questions based on my experiences.

First and foremost, you can not use your money wisely in medical school unless you know where it is going. I tried many a method to budget my money, including Quicken, Moneywell, and I finally settled on Medical students are BUSY…very busy, and any budgeting system that requires you to manually input each transaction or manually categorize each transaction is too much to keep track of while skimming through First Aid in preparation for Step 1. I liked the system because:

  1. It gave me the option of easily downloading my various bank accounts into its system
  2. It automatically placed transactions into predefined categories that I had created
  3. It had an Android, iPhone, and iPad, and computer browser version, which were all devices that I had at one point or another
  4. It was free
  5. It would send me emails warning me that I was over my shopping budget or my fast food budget

For me, a reasonable medical student budget included:

  • Utilities
    • Cellphone (I decided only to use a mobile phone. Land lines are archaic and an extra cost for very little value)
    • Electricity
    • Gas
    • Water
  • Rent
  • Auto
    • Fuel
    • Service & Repairs – Don’t forget to put away ~$50 a month for auto repairs. An unexpected car repair can really throw a kink in your budget. You don’t want to have to use a credit card to cover a repair that you could have paid for by saving a small amount every month
    • Insurance – Don’t let this expense sneak up on you, especially if you’ve got one of those insurance plans that you pay every 3 months. Put a little away every month to prepare for this expense
  • Food & Dining
    • Groceries
    • Fast food – Try to limit fast food purchases because they can drain your loan check VERY fast and basically cause that white coat to fit more snuggly as the years go by. However, I would advise against completely removing this category from your budget. Don’t fool yourself, during some rough nights, you will turn to nutrition that is fast and close by, and if you can’t account for what you purchased then the budget has failed you (or you’ve failed your budget!). It’s better to be honest about how you are spending your money.
    • Hospital food – It’s easy to pour a bunch of money into food that is close and convenient, but if you just brought a lunch to the hospital every day, you would likely save close to $100 permonth, or $1,200 for the year, which could more than pay for Step 2 CS and Step 2 CK
  • Personal Care
    • Hair cut/styling
    • Dentist
    • Doctor
  • Education
    • Books
    • Standardized tests – These tests are EXPENSIVE. If you put away just $50 every month during your first year of medical school, you will have saved up more than enough money to pay for Step 1 or Step 2 CK. Not preparing for these exams with careful financial planning will result in the use of credit cards which only make life less pleasant.
      • Step 1
      • Step 2 CK, CS

There is undeniably a ton of stuff to talk about when managing money and living on a budget while in medical school. Although I could probably write a book on the subject, I’ll try to keep what I have to say to one more post.

Stay tuned for part 2!


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