I recently completed my student loan exit counseling, which is both exciting and frightening. Exciting because it means I will soon be done with law school and on to my legal career. Frightening because a large amount of the proceeds of my early legal career will be used to pay down the debt incurred to attend law school. My Grad Plus loans bear an interest rate of 6.84%, and unlike the loans I took out as an undergrad, these accumulate interest over the course of law school. As I look forward to student loan payments, I am comforted by the fact that I made a conscious effort to borrow as little as possible, which means that there is a smaller principal accruing interest for me to pay off.
During my first year, all of the first year students attended a presentation made by a financial planner who told us that living within (or below) our means during law school would make the transition to our post-law school life significantly easier. Of note, I took to heart a few pointers that have helped me keep my cost of living, and, as a consequence, my student loan debt low. Ultimately, the changes I made to my pre-law school lifestyle were relatively minor, but I can see the difference now.
The first change was to my food budget. Instead of spending money to eat out, I chose to eat at home every day. Law school is a very busy time, and one of the first and easiest short cuts is on making meals at home. However, food expenses can get out of control very quickly, regardless of whether you are choosing fast food or a sit down restaurant. On average, by making all of my meals at home, I am able to keep a weekly food budget of under $20, which is close to how much I would spend on a single dinner at a restaurant. Law school, not counting breaks, will run for 102 week. I’ll let you do the math. As a fun bonus, I have become better at cooking, something I enjoy.
The second change was to my entertainment budget. I got rid of cable – who has time for TV in law school? – and replaced it with a [insert online streaming service of your choice] subscription, saving $30 per month. On demand TV, even if it is not as up-to-date as cable or satellite, works well around a busy law student’s schedule. Additionally, I changed my idea of what other entertainment could be. Instead of going bowling, to the movies, or out to the bar, I get together with friends at someone’s house. We have game nights, movie nights, and the occasional murder mystery dinner. The savings are noticeable, and the quality time with friends is great.
As you start law school, give thought to how you want to live, both during and after law school. While these steps may seem hard or even catastrophic, your wallet – both now and later – will thank you.