One of the most important questions students often ask me to answer is “How much money will I spend on living expenses?” “Can i live under 1000 dollars per month?
I want to share my experience regarding this with you.
(If you want to know how to obtain education loan to fund your graduate studies click here.)
Most of you know that I studied at Carnegie Mellon University. CMU is notorious for its high tuition fee which ranges anywhere from $40000 – $70000 a year. For many middle class students like us, private financial institutions like Credila make it possible to cover the tuition expenses. The only way to minimize the cost of education abroad is by reducing living expenses. And in order to live under 1000 dollars per month you need to follow some strict life style.
Between 2014 and 2016, I lived for about $600. I am currently in a high paying job. Yet, I need to send money back home to pay my education loan. Therefore, I spend still spend less than 1000 dollars per month ( about $750- $800 a month). So I wanted to share tips and tricks on how I spend so low, but still live a reasonably comfortable life.
1000 dollars per month is not an impossible goal if you follow these 10 steps.
Step 1: Save on Rent. Get roommates.
Housing and lodging is the single biggest expense anyone will incur during their stay abroad. If you are a single, living in a college town or a small city like Pittsburgh, get a roommate. Even better, get multiple roommates. When I was a student, I had four roommates and we rented out a 2-bedroom apartment, which cost us $1395. I said apartment and not a town house, because apartments are much safer and the management pays for most utilities other than internet and laundry. Search for apartments that include a community hall, a gym, utilities paid for, has central heating and ones that average out your utilities over the year. Find as many roommates as possible who want to reduce expenses. Team up with them and sign a lease. As a result, I only paid $350 per month for rent.
Step 2: Get a group telecom plan.
Mobile phones are costly in United States and your phone bill can range from $50 to $100. Team up with your roommates again and get a group or family pack. T-Mobile for example has a package that lets you add up to 5 people and gives you up to 4GB LTE speeds and unlimited national phone calls and messages. Use dail91.com for international calling to India. The total phone bill will be $150 and you end up paying $30. There are cheaper options like Lyca mobile and campus Sims that gives you the same options but network coverage might not be as good.
Step 3: Learn to cook (Includes not entering Starbucks ever)
If you eat every single meal at home and occasionally, treat yourself for a drink and a restaurant visit. You will end up saving lots of money. Remember this includes making your own cup of coffee. You will be surprised at how much groceries you can get for $100- $125 a month. On an average, I spent just $20-$25 a week on groceries. One of my friends could not even make coffee. (Or should I say he was just too lazy to take the effort). He spent $2 on every cup of coffee. Moreover, in graduate school coffee is a staple, you will end up drinking anywhere between 4 to 5 cups a day. I spent less on my food compared to what he spent on coffee the entire year. Cook in bulk and store, it will go a long way.
Step 4: Get a bicycle; use the public bus and university shuttle.
Get a bike. Walk and bike as much as you can. You spend time commuting and working out at the same time. If you cannot, ride the public bus. Most often, your college ID can act as the bus pass. You already pay for the public bus along with your tuition. If not, get a monthly pass or make sure you rent an apartment that falls along the university shuttle services. Makes your life a lot easy. You will spend close to $50 for this every month.
Step 5: Learn to groom yourself.
Get good cloths from home. Though cloths are cheaper here, you do not want to end up spending lots of money on cloths. Use the laundry every week and fold them and store them well, they will last a long time.
I literally shaved my hair off during graduate school. Many people asked me why I did this. Some even laughed. However, I did not give a damn. Keeping my hair short helped me get ready soon. Saved me headaches due to excessive sweating and sinus issues during summer and I was here to study not to be a model. In addition, I ended up saving $15-$20 every month. Get a good clipper, razor and a pair of scissors you can do a good job yourself after the first few months.
Step 6: Buy stuff second hand or barter.
Every single piece of furniture and electronic stuff other than my laptop, cloths and comforters were second hand. There are infinite campus groups and barter pages on Facebook that you can use to buy this stuff. You will pay 1/10th of the original price and you just need them until you graduate.
Step 7: Use your student status
Show your ID where ever you go. Whether you are going to the movie theater, a shopping center, a bar or a restaurant most places will give discounts to students or a group of students. You can enjoy everything at 2/3rds the price.
Step 8: Party less
This is not undergrad, you are here to study and you will see that once you lose a grip on your GPA it is very tough to catch up. You will end up wasting more time and spending lots of money on booze.
Fun fact: Most active gun violence against immigrants happens in bars and pubs: P
Step 9: Get an on campus job
Midway through my Masters, I got a teaching assistant and research assistant position. The pay was not amazing but at $15/ hour for 15-20 hrs. A week it was just enough to cover my rent. Which was the biggest chunk of my expenses.
Step 10: Track your spending
I fixed a monthly budget and stuck to it. I maintained a monthly track of budget manually using a spreadsheet. I would sit down and do my finances once a month. Even later (That is now) when I can afford to spend a lot more, I track my finances closely with mobile apps and spreadsheet.
All the best spending less than 1000 dollars per month.
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