Ways to Save / The Graduate Student Budget

three two-dollar bills on a table

Boston isn't cheap—so how does a poor student make do?

You're a grad student living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Living can and is often expensive. Not sure what corners to cut? Read on.


  1. Learn to cook. You don't have to cook complicated and fancy dishes. Learn how to make pasta. Learn how to make oatmeal. Maybe stir-fry. Steamed vegetables? Smoothies? Sandwiches? Salads? There are a lot of simple things you can cook at low prices. Check out food blogs like Budget Bytes for ideas. This will, incidentally, allow you to eat out less often, cutting costs there too!

  2. Get your grocery store's discount card, if it offers one. Sure, the grocery store will be able to track your purchases... but your food will be cheaper. Make sure to get the coupons they mail out, too. Coupons, you ask? Aren't those a bit old-fashioned? Don't diss coupons—I got a free gallon of ice cream once! Also, if there's a produce store around, find it—it'll often be way cheaper than produce at a big grocery store. For example, if you live out toward Medford or Somerville, try Roberto's.

  3. When faced with two options at the grocery store.... pick the cheaper one. When looking down the snack food aisle, think to yourself, "Should I spend $5 on a bag of chips... or $5 on two or three pounds of delicious apples?" Did you know that bags of dried beans are at least two-thirds cheaper than canned beans? But then there's this tradeoff between time and money. Do you buy the cheaper option, like dried beans instead of canned, but spend more time cooking them? Or is time spent boiling beans actually equivalent to the time spent wrangling cans with your old busted can opener? (Maybe that's just me. My fiancé has an old Russian can opener from WWII, which we use whenever we remember that the normal can opener doesn't work that well.)

Not Food

  1. Utilities. If you pay for heat, turn down the thermostat by a couple degrees and put on a sweater. If you pay for electricity, remember to turn off the lights. If you pay for water, take a shorter shower. Fairly straightforward.

  2. In the transportation realm: Walk when you can. Did you know there's usually only a mile or less between T-stops? If you don't have a monthly T-pass, walk if you only have one stop to go! If you do have a monthly pass, make sure to take advantage of MIT's partially subsidized train and bus passes. Combine errands and other trips out so you spend less time and money on transportation, even if means you carry a bit more stuff at once.

  3. Get a laundry drying rack. Instead of spending money on a dryer, drape your clothes over the rack. They'll dry themselves! This works better in warm weather or if the drying rack is set up near a heater. Be careful not to set your clothes on fire, though.

  4. Buy used stuff. Shop at thrift stores and dollar stores. You can find great deals on furniture, clothes, silverware that doesn't match, kitchen and cleaning supplies, decent quality dishes, and much more.

  5. Be inventive! Buy less stuff in general. Need an end table? Have a box of random junk, books, computer parts, or summer clothes that you have to store anyway? Take the box. Set it next to your couch. Drape a nice-looking piece of fabric or a blanket over it. Bam! End table and storage, all-in-one! Even Ikea can't beat that. Don't have a good desk chair? Take a pile of textbooks, stack them on your desk, and make it an ergonomic standing desk instead!

This article originally appeared in the MIT Graduate Student Council publication The Graduate, February 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013 - tags: advice balance grad-school


Comments are closed.