how i paid for grad school out of pocket (and still had a life)

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Someone asked me the other day how I managed to pay for grad school out of pocket for so long. I could just say "Dedication and discipline," but I feel like this subject deserves a longer post.

This academic year, graduate tuition in the College of Business at USF is $467.34 per credit hour. I had to pay for 7 credit hours this semester, which is a total of $3,308.38 (with fees added in). Most semesters I only took 6 credit hours, but that's still over $2,500 that had to be paid (on time) every four months. I also had books to pay for, which could vary from over $200 to $0 based on the classes. 

That's a lot of money to save up every four months. Needless to say, it took a lot of discipline to pull this off. I've developed some strategies to help if you have large amounts to save in a short period of time.

  • Expect to have some hardships. To make tuition, I aimed to save $700 a month, at least. I always know that this is coming, so I plan to tone down unnecessary expenses as much as possible. I still need to pay for rent and groceries.
  • Set up a dedicated account. I use a savings account that is outside of my normal banking institution to store my tuition money. It takes a couple days to transfer the money in between accounts, so I think twice about transferring the money out. I also don't see all of the money sitting in there on a regular basis, so I think less about it.
  • Have your paychecks sent to multiple accounts. I was having a portion of each paycheck sent straight to my tuition account so I would never be tempted to not stash away money. Automatic things like this help me a lot.
  • Plan to save more. I always saved a little more for fall semesters because we don't know what tuition will be until July, and I need to start saving for fall in May. Books are always an unknown until June or July as well. Planning ahead for these will help ease any last minute money scrambles.
  • Know your means. For the majority of my time in grad school, Johnny and I lived in a lower-income neighborhood. I was making 10k less than I do now, so we needed a place with really low rent. Paying so little for rent really helped me pay for grad school out of pocket and still have a life on a low salary. If you can only afford six credit hours in a semester, just stick with that. Pay for what you know you can.
  • Give yourself a break once in a while. I'm not saying go out and spend all the money all the time, but every couple of months do something nice for youself. After a tuition payment I would buy myself a new book or treat myself to a nice lunch out to celebrate another semester down.
  • Remember that it's temporary. If you're doing this for something like school, it will end eventually. My loan payments next year will be less than half of what tuition cost me each month.

Paying for grad school on your own is hard. It means that you have to balance work and school. It means that you have to sacrifice on going out or waiting to buy a new couch. It means that you might have to take longer than your classmates. But it's pretty awesome to know that you won't have to pay those semesters back over the next 10+ years. 

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