Since most medical students are not actively making money in medical school, the importance of being financially savvy is often downplayed or altogether overlooked in medical school. Sadly, this continues into residency and fellowship, and when most people take their first attending job, they are struck by the number of things they should have done differently in retrospect. Whether you’re being financed by scholarships, loans, or your family, your medical school spending will ultimately play into your financial future. Here’s a few things to keep an eye on:
- That coffee habit (or eating out, etc). Even the most basic cup of Starbucks coffee only once a day will cost you well over 700 dollars a year. Spending $10 a day on eating out will cost you $3650. Consider buying yourself a coffee maker and brewing your own cup as you shower, try and learn some quick and easy recipes you can make after a busy day, and master the art of making extra for leftovers.
- Student loan deadlines or opportunities to refinance loans. Considering that the average medical student graduates with approximately 200k in debt, the interest payments add up quickly. You may think you’re going to make so much money in the future that it won’t matter, but you’ll be surprised how burdensome student debt can be. Many are paying back ~$2000 monthly. Depending on your salary, this could mean $3500 of your pretax monthly salary goes towards loans. Coupled with a mortgage, living expenses, childcare expenses, and saving for your own retirement and kids’ education, it isn’t as easy for most physicians as you think.
- Scholarship, grant, and award opportunities. It may seem like a pain, but here’s why it’s worth it. First, many awards finance activities you’re already doing anyways (e.g. research and summer projects). Second, these awards look great on a resume, and will ultimately help you land a residency. Third, you’re going to have to get most of these same materials (recommendations, CVs, transcripts, etc.) together at some point anyways, so it’s good to have them in your back pocket.
- Paranoia. Don’t buy every textbook, sign up for every test prep program, or apply to every residency program just because. There are entire industries that play on these fears. Assess what you really need to do to get to your goal, and direct your energy at preparing rather than panicking.
- Thinking ahead and anticipating needs. If you aren’t going to need your apartment over the summer, make plans to sublet it. If you know you’ll need professional clothes for clinical rotations, buy them when you see them on sale, instead of waiting for the day before the rotation starts. Don’t get stuck paying late registration fees or more for your flights or hotel rooms for those exams.
It’s amazing how much money you can save yourself by making small changes. This has two ultimate results: 1) less debt and 2) better habits for the future. You’ve already proven that you’re smart - make sure that smartness extends into the financial realm.
Nisha Mehta, M.D.
Dr. Nisha Mehta is a physician and writer with interests in physician wellness, medical education, and health policy. Follow her on Twitter @nishamehtamd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nishamehtamd.