How I Saved Money in Grad School {brought to you by CampusBookRentals}

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My brother in law is weighing his options about if and where to attend grad school. He's rightfully being mindful of the money involved. We were lucky enough that a large portion of my husband's master's degree was paid for by the organization he did his thesis research with {which was only possible by my amazing husband working full time while taking classes}.

Right after Brad finished up his MS in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, I started my MSW program. I was not so lucky to find anyone willing to pay for me to get a degree in social work. It led me to think long and hard about if grad school was the right investment for me. It also led me to find ways to live more frugally to help pay for the huge investment. My brother in law's contemplation about how to make grad school a financially realistic proposition got me thinking about how my husband and I saved money while I was in school.

1. I made sure grad school was the right investment. I thought long and hard about the investment. Would I get a good return? Could I do what I wanted to without my MSW? Talking to people in the field, I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to do the work I wanted without my MSW. I needed the masters and the accompanying licensure to be able to practice in California. Now that I'm living in Texas, the MSW isn't required in the same way. However, I will make a great deal more a year having my MSW rather than having a bachelor's in a related field. The grad school investment will defiantly still pay off. 

2. I made careful decisions about where and when to go to grad school. After undergrad, I found myself working as an ABA behavioral therapist for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It was love at first sight. Working with those families gave me a clear path of what I should be doing with my life. It also led me to pursue my MSW. This job also paid very little. Like not much above the minimum wage little. I wasn't going to make a huge impact on reducing costs by working a couple of years to save. So, we decided getting started was the best plan. Now, if you're making a larger salary that might not be the case for you. You also might be able to get your company to help with tuition if you're pursuing a degree in a related field. But for me, it made more sense to get started rather than to try to save up for a year or two. 

Where to go was a whole other issue. We knew that my husband was always going to be the real money maker in the family {engineer vs. social worker}. We also knew that my husband would need to seek employment outside of our area to do the kind of work he wanted to. So, I explored online options for completing my graduate degree. This allowed me to get started regardless of a looming move at an unknown time {five months pregnant} to an unknown location {Texas of all places!}. I made sure that the program I applied to was certified by the folks to oversee social work education. I also throughly researched reputations of various programs. I wanted my degree to mean something. Getting my degree online saved me significantly as far as not having to pay university facility fees, parking, commuting, etc. I went to a reputable university with a great program. It also allowed me to get started much sooner than if I had waited to settle into a new community first.

3. I worked part time up until I had my daughter. This allowed me to contribute a small amount to my education, therefore reducing what I had to take in loans. It also let me feel like I was putting into practice what I was learning. This really helped keep my motivation high. I also think this gave me a competitive edge when it came to seeking out field placements. Good field placements allowed me to make excellent connections in the local social work community. These connections are going to make all the difference when I start looking for employment. 

4. I sought to finish in the most efficient way possible. I paid by the semester rather than by the credit hour. This meant that it made more sense for me to take extra classes so I could to finish more quickly. But, this option is really only a smart one if you know you can take on the extra load. You don't want your grades or sanity to suffer in order to take an extra class. Keeping an excellent GPA will help you get your first job more quickly and likely increase your pay.

5. I never bought new books. I hardly bought books at all for that matter. I mostly rented, saving me big bucks. And CampusBookRentals was my go to site for renting. I found their prices were consistently better than competition. Also, the books shipped free {and quickly} both ways. Not having to pay to send several large textbooks back every 8 weeks ended up being a big savings! I also had a really bad experience with another site's customer service. CampusBookRentals quickly answered questions and were very pleasant to work with. Shower me with good customer service and I'm a customer for life {hence my love for Amazon and Nordstrom!}.

I also employed general saving money tricks to keep our household costs down. I got super serious about meal planning. We drastically reduced how often we ate out. I bought nearly all of my daughter's clothes {and most her bigger ticket "stuff"} second hand. Most importantly, we made a budget and stuck to it. This helped reduce the overall portion of my husband's salary we needed to use each month, freeing more money to pay for school.

Anyone have any great tips for reducing costs during grad school? I'd love to pass them along to my brother in law!

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