Category Archives: finances

How to Have Merry Christmas When You’re a Broke Student

I found myself giggling this morning, realizing its exactly 3 days until Christmas. I’m hoping for snow (don’t hate me!), and juggling shopping trips, coordinating the menu planning for an extended family get-together, and enjoying endless reruns and Christmas music.

This year is quite a bit different than last – after all, I’ve joined the ranks of “broke student” and wear the identity proudly. Well, not exactly the “broke” part. That one can be a little tough. But I’ve found ways to make Christmas super fun even on a super tight budget, and thought I’d share some ideas here in case it might help someone else.

  1. Consciously CHOOSE to have a great time together with friends and family, completely disconnected from the gift-giving part.

This year, our family is all getting together a couple of days after Christmas. We planning an informal “lets get together and eat good food, sing songs, play games, with NO gifts.” Its an experiment of sorts, designed to give everyone a break from the gift-giving stress. Remember that the greatest gift you can give is the gift of your presence.

2. If you’re going to give gifts, consider making them.

One of the most enjoyable memories I have from childhood is a Christmas when our family had exactly zero resources to spend on Christmas gifts. So we made them. We used old newsprint salvaged from the newspaper office and decorated it with potato prints dipped in paint for wrapping paper. I gave my mother a hand-painted watercolor that I’m sure betrayed my age and (minimal) talent but she loved it. Scour second-hand stores too for those nuggets of super cool and super cheap gifts, or check out a Dollar Store. You don’t have to spend lots of money to have a joy-filled Christmas!

3. Be willing to let people know you’re a “broke student” and would really appreciate cash or gift cards for Christmas.

People really do want to know what you’d like! And if “what you’d like” is cash and/or gift cards, let folks know.

4. Especially if you’re a non-traditional student and have your own children (but equally applicable for single ‘broke students’), make full use of your town’s resources.

Just about all towns and cities in the United States have things like food banks and even community centers that exist solely to help out struggling individuals and families. Don’t let your pride keep you from asking for help!


This last point is what I consider the most important. When you’re struggling to juggle bills and groceries and somehow have a few pennies left over to enjoy Christmas, its easy to lose sight of the importance of service. But I promise, as you give, your heart will hugely benefit. And serving will get you out of the self-focused stress and let you focus on someone else’s needs for a bit.

From my home to yours, here’s wishing you a peaceful and joy-filled holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Money Madness

I’m the sort of person who just tells it as I see it – and this is one of those posts. Its about the financial dark side of being an older medical school student. And while its only my experience and conclusions, I’ve discovered many others in the same or similar category who feel the same way.

Technically, anyone who is over the age of 25 when they begin medical school is classified as “nontraditional”. I’m not sure who started it, but that magical age of 25 and over seems to have been officially / unoffically designated as the demarcation between ‘typical’ med students, and those who for whatever reason have come to the game a little late.

I submit that there needs to be a whole ‘nuther category: adults over 40 who have decided to pursue the study of medicine, don’t have deep pockets, don’t have a scholarship, continue to have life and family responsibilities, and do a herculean juggling act just to make it from month to month financially. As one who fits squarely in this last category, I’d like to share a few helpful nuggets I’ve learned over the years when it comes to managing on a super incredibly sometimes painfully tight budget.

1. Lose the poor person attitude

This one is tough. There’s a measure of shame involved when I have to make use of the local food bank in order to have enough food for me and my son. Its downright embarrassing to have to admit I truly can’t afford to go watch a movie with friends, put gas in the car, or pay my electric bill. There’s what I call community shame and some pretty far-out-there preconceived notions that whole communities seem to embrace when it comes to those without any resources at all. The community of medical school is no different, and in some ways is even worse. And if you internalize those shame messages, you run the risk of either becoming an emotional basket case, or of turning into one of those super annoying loud-mouthed poor people with an entitlement attitude.

2. Find and use every single resource available

Every community has things like food banks, soup kitchens, and organizations that help with things as basic as utilities. Especially if you’re a parent responsible not only for yourself, but also for other people, it is especially tough when you add in the financial burden of either mass loans or a big monthly payment. Those organizations exist to help – make use of them! Join a church, make friends, go to potlucks (church potlucks have some of the best food on the planet).

3. Don’t talk about being poor

This one is a little strange for me to even write especially since I’m so passionate about staying firmly planted in reality and honesty, but I’m serious. No one (truly!) cares about your finances – they’re all concerned about their own! If you’re invited on a ski trip over Christmas break, don’t bemoan the fact that the only reason you’re not going is that you’re having a hard time saving enough money just to eat. When you turn down a fun weekend mini-golf or camping trip because the $5 in your pocket has to go in the gas tank rather than on entertainment, don’t mention it.

4. DO have a place to get real about your finances

Whether its that one good friend, a family member, a trusted professor – you’ll stay in balance and hold on to your emotional health far better if you are able to “belly-ache” about your financial woes in a safe place every once in awhile. This is especially true of single parents, who also happen to be broke med students. We are particularly vulnerable to feeling isolated and its up to us to intentionally reach out to someone we can trust. Whether its to share what it was like to eat a single frozen corn dog every day for three weeks because that’s all there was, or how we did laundry in clear water this week because we couldn’t afford detergent, or how we water down the shampoo or ate a single baked potato for dinner last night (all things I’ve done by the way) – you’ll protect yourself from brewing resentment if you share the struggles with at least one person you trust to simply hear you.

I have learned to be quiet about finances most of the time, to live frugally, to make use of every possible resource, and to reach out without shame. It saves my sanity.

I’ve also discovered that when I’ve got my (meager, insufficient) finances in their proper place using the four points above, it frees up a whole heap of brain cells that I really do need for studying.

Many years ago I was working a sales job. The top sales guy literally wore the same suit every single day for a year. I remember (in my head) judging him quite harshly. Teasing him a little even. Thinking, there’s no way I would do that!

Ummm yes, yes I would.

When the goal is so important that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get there, having just one decent outfit is all it takes. Eating simply is enough. Walking or riding the bus isn’t an embarrassment. Its all a matter of priorities, and mine are definitely in the right place.

Now how about a corndog for lunch?


Financing Your Medical Education

Medical education is big business.

Just ask docs who have recently graduated from medical school with several hundred thousand dollars of debt.

Or ask docs who have been in practice for years and are just now paying off their medical school debt.

When you’re in “med-school application mode”, one of the things you look at is: Are my school choices eligible for the US Federal Student Loan program? After all, medical school is incredibly expensive, and for most, the only way to get through the process financially is to borrow and try not to think about it til later.

Schools typically have programs designed to teach their med students how to manage that debt. Keep your living expenses low. Live like a pauper. Definitely don’t have a job (med school is a full time ‘job’, after all). Try your hardest to get accepted by your state school so your costs are low – but if you’re not one of the lucky few who make the cut, by all means don’t think about those tens of thousands of dollars in debt you’re racking up every semester.

What if you could get your medical education with ZERO DEBT?

It takes a mind-shift, I’ll admit. For years, I fully embraced the idea that a medical school ineligible for federal student loans meant a sub-par education, poor prospects for residency matching, and basically a last-gasp last-chance last-ditch-effort to become a doc (with a little embarrassment thrown in).

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Set aside for a moment your pre-conceived ideas of how much medical school is “supposed to” cost. Who said a medical education needed to cost $40,000 or more per semester? Who said your debt at the end of four years was somehow ‘reasonable’ at four or five HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS?

What if you could graduate from medical school, with your MD degree, with exactly zero debt?

That’s how it is with the International University of Health Sciences. At IUHS, a medical school that does not participate in the US federal student loans program, you never go into debt. Your education is paid for on an installment plan – payments directly to the university, with zero interest.

Are you ready to become a doc without the debt?