A Seeple’s take on managing a student budget

Being a student generally means you’re poor. Or you feel poor. There, I’ve said it! Now, that’s not necessarily the case for everyone, or all the time, or an inescapable situation. SIPA makes shrinking budgets particularly painful, because most students come from working for a few years before SIPA (it is a graduate/professional school, after all), and losing that stream of full-time income can be downright depressing. However, fear not, future or current SEEPLES, there is a method to the (financial) madness! Read on!

If you’re lucky enough to have generous support from your family, significant other, awesome government, etc., and ALL of your living and tuition expenses are covered, great! You may read the rest of this post as pure amusement or if you really care about saving a few pennies. But really, you can just skip the rest of the post and go have a relaxing afternoon!

For the rest of us plebes: it really comes down to three things: take advantage of cost-managing resources (campus and off-campus), try finding additional sources of income, and manage your expectations.

  1. Cost-managing resources: while general wisdom dictates that being a student is financially sucky, I tend to disagree. Students have a variety of perks available to them, which allow them to get access to everything from academic resources to leisure/entertainment choices for a fraction of the cost “normal people” have to pay for them. A few of my personal favorites include:
    • Cuts on buying and renting books (if you think you need to pay at all! I haven’t bought a book since my freshman year of college. They’re all usually at the library, or the profs have copies you can borrow).
    • Cuts on electronic and IT equipment and software (stores from Apple to B&H offer student discounts)
    • Fitness/physical education discounts at gyms throughout the city, including Columbia’s own Dodge Fitness Center, where you get special rates
    • Entertainment/art discounts (see Columbia’s Art Initiative for free concerts and plays, discounted performances, and special events; also, if you’re a Met Opera fan, like me, check out their Met Students Program – you pay $ 25 for seats that are normally in the hundreds!) Cost management also includes assiduous financial aid research – apply to everything you are eligible for!
    • You should also talk to the Admissions and Financial Aid Office, OSA, advisors, etc., and identify external and within-Columbia/SIPA fellowships, scholarships and funds you can apply for. I had my second year and half of my first year entirely covered, tuition-wise, all thanks to fellowships and scholarships! I also got reimbursed for participating in conferences and other academic opportunities, such as research fellowships.
  2. Find additional sources of income: from campus opportunities (assistantships: TA-ships, PA-ships, Reader-ships; paid research opportunities; fellowships and scholarships) to off-campus streams of income (paid internships, part-time jobs, consultancies, etc.), you will find that with careful planning and excellent time-management skills, SIPA allows for enough room to take advantage of these options. But it’s up to you to find them. They will rarely fall into your lap. I have successfully supplemented my income with most of the above-mentioned (some of the oddest, and least-SIPA related have involved modeling and selling stock photography. Some of the most-SIPA related have included paid research and assistantships).
  3. Manage your expectations: you will see this stressed everywhere, and even though I’m not personally a great believer in it (do you adjust your dreams to your life, or your life to your dreams?), it is worth mentioning. My mother always reminds me that I’m a “student” now (again! gah!), and that I’m supposed to live within my means. Luckily, I have a SO who disagrees, and an ambitious, resourceful personality that helps me in finding opportunities to support my needs and interests. But generally, yes, it is a very wise and mature approach to downsize your travel, living arrangement, eating preferences, entertainment, etc. to match your available resources while at SIPA. It might hurt in the beginning, but you’ll get used to it, and remember: it’s temporary!

So there you have it, peeps, the essence of managing a student budget! Fret not, you will not be on it for long! 🙂

[Edited Photo by Donald Bowers Photography | Adriana Popa, MIA 2016, holding stacks of money and listening to music, because why not?!]