Four years ago, my husband ended his military career and started school as an engineering major. One day while lying in bed he said to me “I think I want to become a doctor”, and the rest is history! He is currently in year two of medical school (MS2) and so much has changed since he made that decision. We’ve grown from a three to five person family and are definitely not your average med school family. I’ve had to learn a lot on how to afford medical school as a family of five!
I had a hard time finding experiences from other med school spouses online. As a result, I started this journey with my husband feeling completely in the dark. Our situation is not the norm for medical students, but we certainly aren’t alone. I’m not exactly a “seasoned” med school spouse, but I’ve learned a few tips that I think could help others. If your spouse is in medical school, or any other post graduate school, I feel like these money savers could really help your family!
Medical school is medical school is medical school. One of your biggest money savers will be school choice. A public state school will be half the price of private or out of state tuition. This website tells you the tuition of every medical school in the country. Our state has many schools, ranging from over $70,000 to around $35,000. Thats a total difference of $140,000 over the course of four years. This doesn’t even include living expenses! Of course, you might not have the option to chose your school based on your acceptances. If you have an option, go to the cheaper school!
Whether you’re renting or have a mortgage, housing costs are almost always your largest expense. My first and probably most important tip beyond cheaper tuition, is this: get your housing costs as low as possible! We started medical school living in a beautiful, newly renovated home. Our rent was $1500 a month and did NOT include utilities. We would have spent $72,000 by the end of the four years on a house that wasn’t even ours! After six months, we decided to break our lease and move in to a home that was less than $500/mo. For rent and utilities, our total housing costs per month were around $2000 at the start of school. Now we are paying half of that! By doing this, we’ve been able to drastically cut down on the amount of loans we take out to live on each year.
This one is probably going to be controversial, but shouldn’t be. Here’s a hard truth: Your spouse will make $0 while he is in medical school. A full time med student is probably doing school for a minimum of eight hours a day, every day. During clinical years, it’s way more. He won’t have a job, and if you’re a mom of small children, you probably won’t either. (unless you have a high paying job, childcare for multiple children just isn’t worth the expense) You WILL be living on loans. And they add up very quickly. One way to keep your total debt down in school is through government programs created for those who need help.
For insurance, our family uses Medicaid. Honestly, if you’re a family in medical school, I don’t see any other option for health care. If you’re a mother on Medicaid who is pregnant, nursing, or has small children, you automatically qualify for WIC. This program allows for you to get a specific amount of staples every month. Things like milk, cheese, eggs, fruits and veggies, and whole grains are covered under WIC. You may also qualify for SNAP benefits (food stamps) if your family meets the requirements as well. Requirements vary state by state, so do your research on this!
Rewards Credit Cards
I am 100% not okay with debt. (Student loans not included) I’ve listened to far too much Dave Ramsey and debt makes me nauseous. However, one thing Dave and I disagree on are credit cards. On a “don’t pay for things with money you don’t have” level, we’re on the same page. But here’s where we differ: I am 100% for credit cards and using them to your advantage. I.e, getting one with a low limit, paying it off every month, and reaping the cash back rewards.
We opened a credit card the month my husband started school, and now a year later we have almost $1000 in cash back rewards. Now, $1000 might not seem like much, but when you’re a broke med student (with or without a family, tbh!) $1000 is a TON of money. $1000 covers two months of rent for us. Or three months of groceries. Or gives us Dave’s $1000 emergency fund. All from using our credit card on things we already had to buy. We have used Discover for the last year, but are doing research on what cards currently have the best cash back/reward options.
Cash Back Apps
Other than cash back credit cards, my second favorite way to rack up cash is by using apps like Ibotta and Fetch Rewards. Ibotta gives you cash back for buying selected items at grocery stores nationwide. My favorite way to use it is through Walmart Grocery Delivery, so that I can shop directly from my phone and not leave my house with my kids! Year to date I’ve gotten $600 just by using this nifty little app! Ibotta now allows you to transfer directly to your bank account, too!
My second favorite cash back app is Fetch Rewards. This app does not require you to purchase specific items. You just scan your receipts (ANY receipt!) and collect points. Occasionally you can purchase products that have a higher point value (1000-3000 points/$1-3) but generally you’ll get 25-50 points per receipt. You can even scan receipts too! These points can be traded in for gift cards to stores like Target, Old Navy, Amazon, and even restaurants. The best part about these apps are that they are FREE! You can use my referral code for Fetch Rewards (7A591V) for an extra 2000 ($2) when you scan your first receipt!
I hope these frugal living tips for how to get through medical school as a family have helped you! Let me know your best money savings tips below!