At some point during the application process for medical school, I found myself typing the following sentence into my google search bar: “How to live with student debt.” If I was being completely honest with myself, I was really looking for the answer of how to be happy while living cheaply.
Let’s examine two fictional examples, named Bob and Kate. Both Bob and Kate are paying for graduate school with student loans.
Bob knows he needs to be careful with his money, so he grudgingly makes a budget. On his way to school, Bob passes a starbucks. The scent of the pastries and spices beckons him to the doors, but he forcefully reminds himself that he has already spent his restaurant allowance for the month of December, and it’s only the 9th. He dutifully trudges past the doors and on his way to school. The day’s lectures are about the importance of diet and exercise. Bob remembers guiltily that he hasn’t exercised in months. He consoles himself by saying, “If I could afford a car and some yoga classes I would be in better shape.” As lunch rolls around Bob’s hunger wins out, and he sprints to the school’s cafeteria and buys a piece of pizza. It means he’s a little overbudget, but so what? He was hungry and the pizza was cheap. As Bob prepares to walk home in the afternoon, his buddies invite him to go to a concert. “Maybe next time.” he glumly replies, remembering that his entertainment budget was in the deep red after purchasing the latest gaming console. After a cheap dinner of pasta and canned tomato sauce, Bob studies late into the night. At one point he hears the laughter of a couple outside his window. “If I had money I could afford a girlfriend.” are his last thoughts as he climbs into bed.
Now let’s examine Kate. Kate, like Bob, uses a budget, but that’s where the similarities end. Kate bounds out of bed when the alarm goes off. She makes sure to wake up a little early to give herself time to eat a healthy breakfast. Finding healthy cheap food was hard at first, but with a little adjustment and searching she has found some great choices. Lately she’s been on an oatmeal kick. A bowl of steel cut oats literally costs cents on the dollar, and is an extremely healthy start to the day. After adding a dash of cinnamon, Kate happily eats her oatmeal, proud of herself for finding a healthy meal that fits in her budget. Each morning Kate walks the same route as Bob on the way to school. The smell of starbucks is nice, but her tummy is happy and full. Instead, Kate is distracted by the beautiful sunrise as she eats an apple. During the lecture on diet and exercise, Kate munches on the spinach salad she had packed for lunch. She takes notes of exercises that can be performed anywhere. As Kate prepares to walk home in the afternoon, her friends invite her to go to a concert, “Maybe next time!” she cheerfully replies, remembering that she was going running with a women’s running group she found at the local sports store. Kate had never been big into running before graduate school, but now that she didn’t want to pay for exercise classes she had branched out and found different outdoor activities. To her delight, she had already made some great friends in her running group, and she never missed an outing. In fact, the entertainment category in her budget always had remaining money in it at the end of the month. After running, Kate’s boyfriend comes over and they enjoy a candle light dinner of pasta and sauce. They had purchased the locally made pasta and the ingredients for the red pepper sauce at the farmer’s market on a date the past weekend. Neither cared that their dates were cheap, because they were always fun. After studying late into the night, Kate’s last thought before drifting off to sleep was, “I am so blessed. I can’t believe I live such a rich life.”
Kate and Bob are both on a budget, and spend roughly the same amount of money. But one of them lives a rich life. When Bob finishes school and gets a real job, his expenses will quickly increase, he will end up living paycheck to paycheck, and he will still find himself going to bed thinking, “If I had money…” His student loans will be paid off over the longest term possible, always at the minimum payment. Meanwhile, when Kate lands a real job, her expenses will mostly stay the same, allowing her to blast her debt pile into oblivion. However, the best part about Kate’s future is that she will still be thinking, “I am so blessed.” as she drifts off to sleep.
When I first started budgeting, I was a Bob. Now I am closer to being a Kate. The sun is rising outside as I finish typing this post. The rays will touch both the wealthy and the poor. I am grateful that tonight I will think, “I am so blessed. I can’t believe I get to live such a rich life.”