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Money Management in Grad School: Big Things to Keep in Mind

UL Grad School -- 10/11/2019

Every graduate student has their own experience of changing their financial habits during grad school.  You may be stretching every dollar of your assistantship, or find yourself ordering more takeout while balancing a full-time job with homework. Graduate students are savvy with their money by necessity.

Pursuing a graduate degree is a life-changing decision, and graduate students are highly aware of the importance of balancing short-term challenges with long-term payoffs. You’ve given thought to what a graduate degree will do for you, be it a promotion at work or a career change. Money management is an inseparable consideration, both in deciding to attend a graduate program in the first place, and in strategizing your career moves post-graduation.

No matter your age or income, money management can be intimidating if you’re not sure how to approach graduate student loan debt or start saving for retirement. At our recent discussion on financial planning in graduate school, Dr. Brian Bolton led a conversation about the biggest considerations for grad students planning their future. Here are our takeaways:

Work backwards

Think what you need to do today to invest in your anticipated situation. Grad students should save for retirement, even if you have student loans or credit card debt to pay off. Commit to putting away a steady amount every month, however small. If you have an employer who matches contributions to a 401k or 403b plan, make sure you’re making the most of this opportunity to grow your funds.

Bring in a professional

It’s sensible to be wary of financial advisors, whose fees can slash the total yield of your portfolio, but making a periodic appointment with a professional can clarify your options and help you prioritize your goals. It is never too early (or too late!) to get your finances in order. Just be careful about entering into a long-term fee-based relationship. 

Weigh your career options

To some extent, matching your career plans with your financial obligations is a balancing act. You might live below your means and be able to retire comfortably after working at nonprofits throughout your life, or you may be driven to find a high-paying job that will allow you to put away money for your children’s college expenses.

When it comes to graduate student loans, the playing field can be even more complex. Federal employees, medical professionals, teachers, and others may be eligible for student loan forgiveness. The process for successfully receiving loan forgiveness can be difficult, however, so make sure to research carefully.

If you are aiming for a tenure-track academic position, you know that your number one goal is to obtain tenure at an institution you want to be at long-term. Once you are tenured, your income will be reasonably secure, but you’re unlikely to receive many raises. A professional position, meanwhile, can offer greater financial opportunities, while your job and salary security may be less.


We believe financial planning should be part of the conversation around succeeding during and after graduate school. Tell us what topics you want to learn more about and discuss.