By: Isheka Orr, PhD Candidate, Earth Sciences
The demands of graduate school are hard, and part of this challenge is managing my finances. Since April is Financial Literacy Month, I want to tell you how I have learned to stretch every dollar and improve my financial situation. My strategies may not work for everyone, but I guarantee you will find one or two worthwhile. These strategies are based on my financial discipline, so take everything with a grain of salt. If there are strategies that I missed and you want others to know about, type them in the comment box below!
While I agree that stipends or graduate student benefits can be better, I want to focus on the financial areas we can control as graduate students. These include managing our money, setting financial goals, and identifying strategies that can help us achieve these financial goals. I am on a journey to develop a better relationship with money, so I pursue financial literacy for at least 10 minutes daily. I use financial resources such as audiobooks, conversations, YouTube videos, seminars, etc. It has been a life-changing journey, and my relationship with money has changed significantly. Here are a few strategies that I have used to make the most of our finances.
- I try to get most items for free or second-hand before buying.
For almost everything that I need, I try to get it for free or at a significantly reduced cost at stores such as IU Classifieds, Goodwill, ReStore, Amazon Warehouse, and Facebook Market. These items include clothes, kitchen utensils/appliances, furniture, books, etc. Not only does this save me money, but it also aligns with my sustainable living goals. For example, I bought an instant pot once that I saw on IU Classifieds for $5 from someone moving and bought a bicycle for $50 at a yard sale. These items will still serve me well for the next few years. I have also utilized services on campus when I have been in need. I have used Paws Pantry for food and Paws Closet for clothing items. You should check out these awesome on-campus, if you are ever in need.
- I make my credit cards work for me.
Getting specific credit cards is one of the best decisions anyone can make when done correctly. The two golden rules I have found to ensure that my credit cards work for me are to:
- i) never spend what I do not have to have on my debit card to repay, and
- ii) I pay my credit cards in full before the due date. These strategies prevent late interest fees or interest compounding over time. In fact, I have earned money, almost free flights, and an array of other benefits because of the ways that I have maximized the benefits of the right credit cards.
My credit card journey started with the Discover it credit card which I intend to keep for the rest of my life because it has a $0 annual fee and excellent benefits, especially as a student. I have gotten over $1000 in the four years I have had this card through referring friends, cashback, and good grades rewards.
I am an international student, so traveling home is often expensive. I used the United Explorer credit card to travel hack my way home last year. Although this credit card has an annual fee after the first year, I get way more in returns by meeting the minimum spend and getting the sign-on bonus. With the points I received from this credit card, I booked a round-trip ticket to Houston (I paid less than $28 for additional travel insurance and other fees). I took a round trip to Jamaica with a layover in Panama (less than $180 with travel insurance). This card also has other great perks, such as rental car insurance, free checked bags, two annual lounge passes, and other great benefits.
Although I do not have the Bilt Rewards Mastercard I have friends that do, and I have the App that allows me to get points that I can redeem for flights, hotels, Amazon, etc. This is a great credit card for paying rent and does not charge a convenience fee. A bonus is that while you get points by paying rent, you can complete other monthly challenges to rack up points or get incredible deals. Although I only have the App (not the credit card), for April, I was able to get a free trial for the World of Hyatt Loyalty Program, and I secured one night free at a Hyatt hotel.
I use these services in conjunction with my credit cards to save money. For example, earlier this year, I had to buy a new laptop, so I applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card that I had been eyeing for a while and made the purchase. I got points toward travel and 1% cash back for every dollar spent on this card. On this same laptop purchase, I got a 5% cashback from Rakuten and a 6% discount through ID.me. Additionally, this laptop was already on sale. I saved over $100 on this purchase and was able to rack up about ¼ of the money for the minimum spend on a credit card that I can now use to book a round-trip flight home for fees that will likely be less than $150 plus other great perks. Another great resource to get discounts as a IUPUI student is to pay with your Crimson Card for a variety of services online and around Indy. You can get discounts on Dell laptops, lowered interest rates on a variety of loans, food, and vehicles, among other services. I visited the Eiteljorg Museum for free using my Crimson Card.
- Create a Financial Plan.
At the start of graduate school, I lived paycheck to paycheck without savings. I realized that this needed to change and that the change needed to start with me. I soon learned that my situation would only improve if my relationship with money improved and I had a financial plan. Therefore, I learned how to create a budget that worked for me, tried different saving strategies, learned how to cut costs, and defined my financial goals and strategies on how to reach my financial goals. Developing better financial habits was hard, but for the first time, I realized that I had subscriptions that I did not use and made impulsive purchases of things I did not need. I still struggle with wanting to make impulsive purchases, but I remind myself of my financial goals and have implemented strategies that deter me from wanting instant gratification. I also do savings and no spending challenges, which has helped me tremendously to stay on track as I pursue financial freedom. Although I cannot save a lot monthly, I have improved throughout the years.
- I only pay for what I need or gives me value.
I have been on a discovery of self-discovery, and I am at the point where I only need to pay for what brings me value. Therefore, I have unsubscribed from services I have redefined as a want rather than a need. Take Netflix, for instance; I was spending $20 monthly for this service, and I only used it about twice per month. This streaming service was a huge waste of my money. Another service I had to get rid of was Amazon Prime because it gave me quick access to things I wanted. I would get packages from Amazon and not remember what I purchased because I bought something during the spur of the moment. A strategy to get value for your money is to call service providers to negotiate rates for services (cellphone provider, credit card interest rates, etc). I use Mint mobile cellular service, and I pay less than $200 per year for what I need. However, I was once thinking of changing my telephone courier, and I called one of the biggest telecommunications companies and told them that I would change if they gave me what I had for the price I was paying. I got an offer for less than $30/per month, although the cost for the cheapest phone plan was over $60. Another great example is when my roommate called our internet provider, and our internet bill was reduced by about $30 at one point but is currently $5 less monthly.
I really hope that you found something helpful in this post. Please let me know if there is anything that you plan to implement in your life or are currently doing.