If you are a medical student or resident or a doctor’s wife, you already know that finances are tight. It can be stressful to figure out how to live on a resident’s salary or how to minimize medical school debt during the training years.

For starters, if you are a medical student you aren’t earning any money yet – you are spending it all on tuition. As I’m sure you are well aware. Unless your spouse is working, your only source of income is school loans. And yeah, these loans can feel almost like Monopoly money! Just fake, magic money that comes in. The money comes in, you use it on whatever, and life is good! Until you have to pay it back. It is wise to know some key ways to cut back on your spending during medical school to minimize the amount of debt you have to pay back later.

If you are a resident physician you do take home a paycheck but it is a small amount (especially when you consider how many hours you work). If that is your only source of income then finances are tight. It is frankly not a lot of money.

We are currently in residency and my husband’s paycheck is our only source of income. I am a stay-at-home mom to our two boys. My job is to try and figure out how to financially make it through each month. It is HARD and so not fun. Sometimes I just get sick of not making money for so many years, especially with how hard my husband has been working! And some months I wonder how in the world we are going to financially make this work.

But over the years I have figured out some simple budget savers that helped us so much financially in medical school and continue to save our budget in residency. These are simple things that every medical student or resident and their families can do but they make a BIG difference in your budget.

residency budget

1. Keep Eating Out To A Minimum

I love eating out. It doesn’t matter where, it is just fantastic that I don’t have to cook or clean up the kitchen afterwards.

But going out to eat gets very expensive very fast. And even if you eat at inexpensive places (aka fast food) it adds up. So sit down as a couple and come up with a limit for how often your family can eat out each month or how much money you can spend each month on eating out.  

For example, my DrH and I have a limit of going out to eat 1-2 times a month. If we go to a nice restaurant for a date night, then we go out to just that one restaurant for the month and that’s it. But if we eat at cheaper places then we can go twice a month. I know it sounds crazy and SO not fun but it’s worth it! We save soooo much money each month by eating at home.

If eating out is important to you then great! Just make sure to include it in your budget and try to eat out as infrequently as you can.

2. Meal Plan

Speaking of eating at home, meal planning is key to financially surviving medical school or residency. It saves you so much money on food! Sit down and plan ahead what you are having each day for dinner during the week and make your grocery list off of that plan. Why is meal planning so financially awesome? Let me tell you.

Less Frequent Shopping Trips

If you plan out your meals, you can get everything you need in one grocery shopping trip. This way you won’t be running back to the store two days later because, “Oh man, I forgot onions!” or “Shoot, I need evaporated milk for that recipe today.” Because every time you walk back into that store, you risk spending money on things you DON’T need. And those little $4 purchases of fancy yogurt don’t seem like a big deal, but they add up!

Choose to meal plan so you don’t go to the grocery store that often. I only go grocery shopping every 7-10 days because I meal plan. I love it! I spend less money and I don’t have to drag my kids along to extra shopping trips. Plus I HATE grocery shopping, so it’s a win-win for me.

Less Likely to Eat Out

Remember how you’re not supposed to eat out as much? If you meal plan you tend to eat out less. Wanna know why? You know those days, where you look at the fridge and can’t think of a single possible thing you can make for dinner that night? What do you end up doing? Ordering chinese food or running to your favorite taco joint of course. I am guilty of the same thing! If I have no idea what I’m making that night I am more likely to eat out instead. But when I plan out my meals I know exactly what I’m making each night so I’m not tempted to just grab some food because I have no idea what to make.

3. Pack Your Lunches

If you are a medical student or resident, don’t buy your lunches! Seriously, don’t! Just simply packing a lunch everyday will save you so much money each month.

“But I don’t have time to pack a lunch everyday, I’m so busy!” Yes you do. Choose to make the time. You can slap together a PB&J in the morning in less than 5 minutes. You can have one day each week where you make your lunches a ahead of time. Pack your lunch the night before (depending on the type of food you are bringing) so you can just grab it when you head out the door in the morning.

Leftovers also make fantastic lunches. I make extra food for our dinners almost 3-4 times a week so we have plenty of leftover options for lunches. My DrH packs leftovers to work almost everyday. Sometimes when the leftover pickings are scarce he will bring something as simple and easy as a can of Ravioli, since it has the pop-tab lid. He opens that bad boy up, pours it in a bowl, microwaves it and he’s good to go. Not the most glamorous or healthy of lunches, but it works!

4. Cut Out Cable

When you are in medical school or residency you want to cut out things that are unnecessary. Cable is one of those things you can honestly live without! Especially today in the online streaming services age. It is so easy to get access to TV shows and movies for a much cheaper price than paying for cable or dish television.

My DrH and I don’t have cable. We got rid of it when we started medical school and have honestly not missed it. And it’s not that we don’t like to watch TV! We love to relax at the end of the day and watch something together.

But even without cable we have PLENTY of things to watch together. We have a Netflix subscription, VidAngel, and we also use DrH’s parent’s cable account when we want to access TV channels online.

Online streaming services are usually less than $10 a month. Obviously better than paying $100-300/month for cable or dish TV. So just cut it out!

5. Buy Used

When you are on a tight budget, used items are your best friend!! Used furniture, used clothes, used kitchen appliances…. Almost everything! I know there are some things you don’t want to buy used (mattresses, ew) but most things can be bought secondhand.

Seriously, don’t be that person who is “too good” to buy used things. Don’t. You will eventually have your “it gets better” phase when you are done with training and you can buy everything brand-spankin’ new. But for now, just suck it up and buy things used when you can. It can save you a ton of money.

For example, I hardly ever buy new children’s clothes. Especially new kid shoes – are you kidding me, they grow out of those so fast! Not worth it. Consignment sales are my best friend. I also buy used furniture and decor when I can.

How do you find used items that you might need? Craigslist, the classifieds in your local paper, garage sales and local buy/sell/trade Facebook groups are a good place to start.

6. Learn to Do Without

And finally, it’s just a good idea to develop this mindset. Learn to do without. This goes back to the whole “needs vs. wants” idea. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Yes of course, it’s fun to do some fun things and make some fun purchases. We have a budget set aside for entertainment and fun purchases. But don’t make these “want” purchases the norm! Put a limit to them.

Do you really need the latest iPhone? Do you really need to buy that new movie or that new flat-screen TV? Does your child really need to be enrolled in that art class?

Learning to do without is hard and definitely not fun. I know I am not preaching a popular idea here! But learning how to do this is key to keeping your finances in control during the lean, training years as a physician.

And practice makes perfect. Just start working on developing this mindset and it will get easier for you to learn to live without. Thank goodness that we all have “it gets better” to look forward to when we are done with training!

**Picture from Pixabay