Budgeting in Medical School

Anna Piazza - May 02, 2019

Last updated on August 20, 2020

Whether it’s loan repayments, student debt, side-hustles or the expectation of (hopefully) lavish salaries, money is a hot button topic for medical school students. And the immediate, day-to-day reality for most is that, in medical school, it’s pretty scarce.

Now, with course loads, study requirements and rotations (among other obligations) being what they are, one could argue time to spend is scarce, too, but there will always be necessities to pay for: groceries, rent, textbooks, medical resources and supplies. Plus, with the length of medical school often spanning several years, other milestones with hefty price tags are likely to come up at some point, like traveling for residency interviews or even planning weddings and having children.

But money is manageable, and with just a small amount of tracking and planning, you can make the most out of your existing funds and save, too. Here’s how you can make even a shoestring budget stretch.

Planning Your Student Budget

The simplest way to determine a budget is to first start tracking your funds. Keep a detailed record of every amount you spend for a month or so using an app, excel sheet or good, old-fashioned pen and paper (it’s less annoying than it sounds, we promise). By the end, you’ll have a great birds-eye view of spending habits and can start breaking things down.

Start breaking things down into two categories, either “fixed” or “variable” costs. Fixed costs are those which are always the same month to month (or week to week), like rent, undergraduate loan repayments, utilities or groceries—just the stuff you can’t avoid paying for. Instead, variables constantly change and can include things like going out to eat with friends or going to the movies.

It may also make sense to create a separate tracking list and budget for medical school-related purchases, like resources, equipment and board exams, as they don’t fit as neatly into either of the two categories. While they must be accounted for, they do come up at irregular intervals throughout the year, and so deserve their own cash reserve.

When all is said and done, by the end of your tracking and sorting, you may be surprised at what you find, like costs you’ve underestimated and where you’re obviously overspending. From there, determine what your ideal budgets for each category should be—and then stick to them with the saving tips we’ve outlined below.

10 Ways to Save Money as a Med Student

Sticking to a budget lies in knowing how and when to spend your money, and nothing can be more of a challenge when your purse strings are tight. With that said, we’ve got plenty of suggestions on how to save.

  1. Think about what you usually like to eat during the week and turn it into a grocery list. Then make sure to stick to it when you’re at the supermarket.
  2. Buy used (not outdated) books and medical equipment from former students.
  3. Cash is king: paying for items with cash increases your awareness of your spending habits and help keep yourself in check.
  4. Keep an eye out for the student discounts electronic device providers like Apple and Microsoft offer.
  5. Switch out your modes of entertainment with cheaper alternatives, like subscribing to Netflix or Hulu instead of going to the movies.
  6. Keep an eye out for grants and scholarships, like this one and this one, that can help you float through the semesters.
  7. If the timing works out, pick up some odd-jobs when you can as a tutor, proofreader or fitness instructor (you’re going to the gym to unwind anyway, right?).
  8. Get free room and board (at most universities) by becoming a resident advisor.
  9. Commit to a no-spend day at least once a week and see how you can budget around it.
  10. Try walking or cycling to class instead of relying on public transportation or driving.


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