Thanks to Cecilia Granda, Associate Director of Financial Aid, for this guest post. 

The idea of budgeting makes everyone cringe. Picture days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches followed by nights of staying at home staring at a spreadsheet wondering where all your money has gone. But take it from a lifelong New Yorker who has lived in the Upper West Side, Gramercy, Inwood, and the Bronx — by creating budgeting plans, I have been able to continue to call New York my home, raise a family, create an emergency fund, and enjoy the occasional Sunday brunch.

The FAFSA and federal student aid

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident applying to SIPA and would like to be considered for a scholarship, you must submit your FAFSA with your SIPA application. The FAFSA for 2020-21 is available as of October 1st, so you can complete it before you submit the SIPA application. The SIPA school code is 002707. Be sure to input your 2018 income information; do not include your parent’s information.

Once this is done, you will have at least put yourself in the running for any potential SIPA scholarship funding.  But don’t stop there.  Start researching external funding sources to determine if you are eligible.  Keep track of application deadlines and requirements so that you don’t miss opportunities.

Photo: FAFSA Facebook page

Budgeting

For me, budgeting is all about planning ahead, self-awareness, and adjusting habits in order to save small amounts of money that can add up fast to help me reach my goal. When budgeting, I like to prioritize needs versus wants. Everyone’s priorities are going to be different. For graduate students the top three needs are clear: food, shelter, and education.

The first step is an inventory check. How much money do you have? How much do you spend in one week or one month? Keep all your receipts and calculate how much you spent. Categorize your expenses between essential and discretionary; then priorities your expenses. If you are considering a graduate program, you can start early in transitioning your lifestyle from “working” to “grad student.”

Next, set your goals. Once you’ve determined how much you have and how much you are currently spending, decide how much you need to save. Become familiar with the tuition and fees associated with each program you’re considering. Consider how you will manage these costs and how much you need to save now in order to achieve your educational goals. You can start small by calculating how much you need to save on a weekly basis. It might be $50 a week, which becomes $200 a month, and turns into $2,400 a year. Once you find the right number, see if you can find ways to increase your weekly savings. One easy way to save, and a habit that you can bring to the big city, is shopping generic brands. Non-perishables like tissues, toilet paper, medicine, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cleaning products, detergents, shampoo, and soap are all great options. This small change in purchasing can save you hundreds of dollars.

Now you want to be sure your able to track and not touch your savings. Be honest with yourself. This is where self-awareness comes in handy. Can you set aside $50 each week? Do you need a budgeting app like Mint or Digit that will help you manage your money, track your spending, and force you to save? You might decide to give yourself an allowance for the week, only spend the amount in your wallet, and not use a credit card. Find a method that you can stick to and hold yourself accountable.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. You most likely have friends who have similar financial goals. Make a pact! Agree to only go out to dinner once a week. This will help you transition to graduate school life. Many Seeples are very responsible about their finances. Some share a Costco membership so they can buy food in bulk and split the quantities (there’s a Costco in East Harlem). Others put together meal prep plans, share recipes, and organize pot lucks. One great thing about Seeples is they come from all over the world and have wonderful cuisine to share!

I hope this information is helpful and don’t fret if you aren’t able to do it all. Even the smallest change in habit or savings will help you prepare for your next step.

*Disclaimer: The applications identified in this article are based on personal recommendations, and SIPA is not receiving any form of compensation for mentioning them in this blog post.