Posted on Wednesday, Jul 17, 2019
    Don’t we all just love that scene in Jerry MaGuire where Tom Cruise starts yelling, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”? That’s how I feel sometimes with being in grad school.  It has been 17 years since I received my undergraduate degree and I am shocked at the cost of attaining a degree these days. My husband I talk to so many adults who are drowning in college debt and it’s no wonder with the cost of a 4-year degree. I can’t imagine the cost of debt for someone in a graduate program. So, where is that money? What can you do to continue your education while going to school debt-free? Let me give you a few tips that I still use to this day.

    Tip #1 - FAFSA. Period. Don’t tell me you won’t qualify. Don’t tell me it takes too long to complete.  Don’t tell me that it’s not worth it.  FAFSA may can “SHOW YOU THE MONEY!” When I started my graduate program three years ago I decided to sign up for FAFSA, even when people told me I would get no extra money because I was a grad student. I signed up for FAFSA even before registering for my classes. I’ve gotten a total of $5,800 in FREE MONEY! FREE!

    This past year I received nothing and I called Financial Aid to ask why. They said it was because FAFSA is first come, first serve.  So, when that window opens in October, you need to be first on the list to get the best scholarships and grants. By the way, I don’t take out student loans because then I won’t get FREE money.  Did I say that enough? FREE. I don’t have to pay back one dime of that $5,800. I want to hear you say the same this next semester!

    Tip #2 - Get a job. I have worked since I was 15 and just because I’m in grad school that’s no exception. Now, I understand if you’re in a program where you get paid to work in a lab and you can’t possibly fit in time to do one more thing. That I get I work full-time as a teacher. I complete my grad school coursework on the weekends. Oh, and did I mention I’m a mom with a family of four? Having a job is what has allowed me to pay for grad school in cash.  

    If you want to avoid that dreaded student loan debt, then pay as you go. Every semester I sign up for a payment plan. Oh, and did I mention that I have a second job?  I play the piano part-time for a church which is just enough to put towards my courses which has kept us out of debt. Think about if you want to work hard now and pay off school as you go, or work MUCH harder later in life to pay off those student loans.  

    Tip #3 - Budget. My husband I know exactly how much is coming and going from our checking account.  You have to write down your expenses and know what you’re spending out each month.
    If you’re like most people, then you’re probably eating away most of your savings.  There was a time that we were a family of 2 making $75,000 a year and to this day I can’t tell you where that money went to.

    It didn’t go in a 401K. It’s not in a mutual fund. It’s not sitting around making chump change in some kind of money market. It’s gone. Never to be seen again. One day, during those dark times, I added up our grocery/eating out money. We were spending $700 for the 2 of us to eat each month. We ate our savings. Here’s a video I made years ago showing you how to create a simple budget.  Trust me, this works every time.  And, yes, you can still have fun with your money.  Just write it on the budget!  

    I hope that after you follow these tips, you can show off your own money after completing grad school. Don’t work that hard for a degree, only to spend years paying it off.

    ---Whitney Sparks
    Whitney Sparks is a Masters student in the Department of Education

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