Chronicles of a Med Student: All Aboard the Financial Struggle Bus

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

I remember the sheer joy of ripping open the letter that granted me a medical school spot. Everything was roses and rainbows, and I was thrilled that my dreams were coming true. This cute little fantasy carried on until I received the tuition numbers a few weeks later . . . wow. I had no money, and I was being expected to pay how much? Regardless of what you hear from other people about how doctors make enough money to quickly pay back their debt, those five digits after the dollar sign per year are still scary.
As I’m learning to navigate not only my studies, but also this financial mess I’ve gotten myself into, I realized that I knew next to nothing about the cost of education. I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship in my undergrad years to carry me through, so this was the first time I had to deal with paying an arm and a leg–I mean, paying tuition. My parents were and continue to be so helpful in helping me navigate this, but I quickly learned the importance of educating myself when it came to my finances. After all, I was the one who would be paying back the string of numbers after the dollar sign once my time in school was over. It was while thinking through this that I also realized how unfair student loans can be, especially in regards to interest rates. Students are charged some of the highest interest rates on their loans, meaning that they have to pay back thousands on top of their original tuition dollars! This meant that I not only could I not spend any more than I absolutely needed while in school, but also that I needed to cut corners where possible. Did this mean I have to wear five layers inside during the winter so I can turn down the heat? Or give up splurging on that cute but not-so-cheap dress every now and then? No! But I did learn how to compress my needs into something I could live with for four years.
First of all, I made a budget. After talking to my parents and calculating out my living expenses, I figured out how much I would have “left over” for miscellaneous expenses like shopping and going out to the occasional movie. I learned a lot of grocery hacks as well: for example, going to the store during the week and not on weekends can get you some really good deals! I also chose to be flexible in the brands of food I buy and only buy those on sale. When I first started school, I convinced myself that I was going to be like those crazy coupon ladies that they made shows about (you know, those that buy like $400 worth of some brand of soap and end up getting it for free because they work their coupon magic), but obviously there are many problems with this. I wouldn’t suggest cutting coupons, but instead using subscription-based ones on grocery store apps that come straight to your phone—and not to go terribly crazy with this either. There are also many student discounts that go unused just because people don’t know about them! I found out about a local movie theater that gives students $6 tickets (and makes me wonder if I’ll ever fork up upwards of $11 for a ticket ever again). And now more than ever in the world of online retail and marketing, it’s possible to get free samples of makeup, shower accessories, lotions, etc. just by signing up to rate products after using them. I know some of these are a stretch and I myself only use these when truly necessary, but saving pennies will go a long way. The best financial advice I got for medical school was from a doctor I shadowed: “While in school, live like a student. When you’re a doctor, live like a doctor.” Many people make the mistake of living like doctors while still in school and this can lead to obvious problems down the road—just learn to manage your money wisely!
About the Author
Adelle is a 1st year medical student who loves to hike, bake chocolate chip cookies, and doodle on the corners of papers.