Budget Friday Voting!

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This past Friday I did something unique for the Budget Friday series. I asked the readers of this blog to help out Tom, an aspiring law student, with his budget for living cheap in New York City while going through law school. A few of your stepped up and gave some awesome suggestions. Thank you for that! For those that entered, I am putting it to a vote to elect the best grad. school budget for Tom to use, and the winner receives a $25 Amazon gift card! Below are the budgets submitted:

Mom of Two Prescious Girls’ Budget Entry

No work in the 1st year of law school is normal protocol. The first year is INTENSE. I don’t have complete solutions, bc I am out of touch with NY prices, but some ways I can see saving money are:

Rent: Go to school administration or any orientation events possible and try to meet people to split rent with. My best friend went to Columbia a few years ago, they chose an apartment in Harlem (not as bad as it used to be) for $1500/month BUT it was a huge 3 bedroom apartment. Even better is to find a place where utilities are included in rent (it is possible).
Cell: If not locked into a contract get a basic go phone!
Internet: Necessity. Especially for a student, but skip cable…with good internet you could watch tv!
Car Related: Dude, you’re going to be in NY…skip the car and opt for a monthly metro card. If you keep the car, be prepared to be paying a WHOLE LOT of parking expenses! The city is not set up for cars and they rip you off :0)
Gifts: As a broke student those that you love and love you won’t care that you can’t give them STUFF! Even as a grown adult with kids, there have been times where I have had to tell people that we can’t participate and hope that they can respect that and they do!

While you can’t hold down a true job there are things to help supplement your income. Take advantage of freebies (hello shampoo/conditioner etc!). Use Swagbucks to do your internet searches and do their little daily assignments to earn points toward Amazon, Starbucks etc. Use ebates for when you absolutely must order stuff online and get cash back. Use a Perkstreet DEBIT card to get 1% cash back. Find survey companies to earn points and giftcards. Enter contests!

Kev’s Budget Entry

Here is what I came up with, I think this is pretty realistic based on my experience and some quick craigslist research. I went to NYU and worked in Jersey City NJ for a long time. I think his best bet is to live out of the city for the first year. He can definitely score a nice 1 bedroom in JC near the Path trains for $1000 if he were willing to get a studio he could find one for $750 probably. This plan even has $50 extra for a little buffer.

I assume that Heat and Hot Water are included in the rent as normally are water, sewer and trash. He should get student medical insurance through the school as part of his tuition so I kept medical to a minimum. Someone else said it about no car, this is NYC no car is required and there are lots of zipcars for when one is needed.

Rent $1,000.00
Electric $50.00
Cell Phone $100.00
Cable/ Internet $100.00
Medical $50.00

Food $400.00
Public Transit $60.00
Spending Cash $160.00

Entertainment $100.00
Restaurants $100.00
Gifts $50.00
Misc $50.00

Expenses $2,220.00
Income $2,277.00
Balance $57.00

Caitlin’s Budget Entry

I’ve lived in NYC so this comes with some experience, but as always, take it with a grain of salt! I’m also a law student, so have some experience in the common expenses. (Note: He should NOT have to pay for Lexis/Westlaw – they generally provide that for free to students in law school).

Rent – $1000 (You can definitely go below $1300 if you’re living with roommates, but you still don’t want a crazy commute because you’ll likely be either living in the library or wanting to socialize with classmates. If you’re going to NYU, try to live in Brooklyn in a cheaper neighborhood – if Columbia, look to Harlem).
Electric – $50 (this is a high estimate)
Natural Gas – $60 (likewise – most NYC apartments run on radiators)
Water/Sewer – $ 0 (never had to pay this in an NYC apartment, generally included)
Trash – $0 (same)
Cell Phone – $50 (try to get on a family plan. I know you could do a pay as you go phone, but really you’ll probably want a smart phone because you’ll be checking your email constantly)
Cable – $0 (no time!)
Internet – $ 60 (if you share, if can go lower)
Car Insurance – $0 (no car in NYC!)
Public Transport – $140 (Just over $100 for a monthly metrocard, and the rest is for taxis, because there will be late nights where you don’t want to wait for the train)
Medical – $0 (should be covered by tuition in school, unless he may have prescriptions)

Food – $ 250 (some think this will be high, but you may be buying more convenience food than you expect, and there will be socializing)
Gas – $0 (no car!)
Spending Cash – $200 (socializing – yes, this is a priority in law school. even if you’re going to a highly ranked school, you are going to need to make friends during that crucial 1L year)
Pets – $0? (He didn’t mention a pet)

Entertainment – $50 (I lumped most entertainment into misc spending and food)
Restaurants – $ 100
Car Repair – $0 (no car!)
Gifts – $20 (always good to save up for Christmas/holidays)

I noticed one big hole in the budget: TEXTBOOKS. Those suckers are crazy expensive. The best thing to do is buy used on Amazon and then re-sell (you will probably never need your first year contracts casebook again) OR, ideally – see if your school library keeps some on reserve, and then check them out on an as-needed basis. The first semester, I bought all my books because I was freaked out and needed the reassurance, but I’ve gradually moved to an all-library strategy to save money.

One final hole: Professional clothing. You may already have a suit or two from before, but if you don’t you will likely need one in anticipation of your summer job. That will likely run you around $300. You will probably wear pretty relaxed clothing for class, but you’ll also need it for any oral arguments or moots that you do.

Another smart thing to do is realize that Westlaw and Lexis give you points for using their search engines, because they want to win your loyalty. Make sure to rack up those points/do promotions, because you can cash them in for Amazon gift cards or other prizes, which come in handy during the holiday season/for gifts.

This adds up to $1980, so probably aim for $2000 to be safe. (Ironically, this is my budget for when I plan to return to NYC, although it’s allotted somewhat differently.)

Amy B’s Budget Entry

I love working up budgets so, of course I will help. Here is what I came up with:

Rent $800 (Certainly you can find a school buddy to live with and split rent with–even if you have to resort to Craigslist).
Electric $75.00
Cell Phone $60.00 (hopefully you aren’t locked into a contract and you can get a pay-as-you-use-it phone. Let’s face it. You won’t have much time to text/talk anyway 
Cable/ Internet $100.00
Medical $20.00 (your insurance premium should be covered but this is for co-pays or prescriptions)

Food $300.00
Transportation (Public) $100.00
Spending Cash $160.00
Entertainment $200.00
Restaurants $100.00
Gifts $50.00
Books/Misc. School Stuff $162.00
Misc/Blow fund $150.00

Total Budget: $2,277.00

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Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

13 thoughts on “Budget Friday Voting!”

  1. OK, I voted, but I’m not saying for who because they were all really good contributions and I had a tough time calling it. Thanks to all for your help.

  2. Some of these cell phone bill recommendations are way high! I wrote an article detailing phone services that should cost you less than $15. $100 on cell phone?!

    Hello Jacob, I’m Jacob – 1/2 of the Cash Cow Couple. Your site rocks and I’ll now be reading and posting!

    • Jacob, nice to meet you, I’m Jacob. Thanks for dropping by! And yes, a smart phone with data is NOT a necessity in college, contrary to popular belief 🙂

  3. This is very exciting, though looks like Caitlin is rocking it! I never was intending to be an entry, so thanks for including me. Caitlin’s budget was spot on! Great job, all!

  4. Hey! I’m stoked that my budget got some recognition – this is the first time I’ve ever really done something like this (other than my own personal budget). Thanks to everyone!

    And in defense of the “expensive” cell phone plan – I definitely check my email on the go constantly, because being involved in a clinic means being response to clients pretty much 24/7. I’m on a family plan, which keeps it to $40-50 bucks, but it’s definitely worth it to me.

    Also, one last tip: use the school gym! Another benefit provided by your surely overly inflated tuition. 🙂


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