Everyone knows that law school is extremely expensive. Unfortunately what many people do not realize before 1L year is that it doesn’t stop at tuition, there are numerous other expenses that you will be subjected to during your three years in school. Unfortunately, you can’t count on a part-time job helping out much, especially during your 1L year. I’m sure you already have some experience with living on a tight-budget from undergrad, however there are a few nuances to saving as much money as possible in law school.
In this article I will discuss the best avenues to saving a decent amount of money in law school to help reduce your debt.
Choose Your Housing Carefully
This is so incredibly important for students attending a school in an expensive housing market such as D.C or N.Y.C. It’s important in other areas as well, but when you’re looking at potentially paying a minimum of $1600 or more for a studio apartment, housing becomes a huge hole in your financial aid.
I recommend that 1L students stay as reasonably close as possible to the law school they are attending and maybe even live on campus. Most law schools will offer graduate student housing for 1L students, and it would be wise for you to consider it. Take a look and check whether the on-campus housing options are comparable to living off-campus, and check what kind of ratings students give the housing. My law school offered on-campus housing, however it was more expensive than the cheaper studios I found, and post-grad students usually gave it a really bad rating. Not only did the student housing cost $200-$400 more a month than the studios I was looking at, but graduate students had complained about black mold, frequent roach infestations and a general neglect of the housing (no thanks!!!).
Usually the disadvantage of living close to campus is that it’s often more expensive, but it makes up for it with quick accessibility for the first year.
You had to live with roommates your first year of undergrad and probably at least another year or two after that. Everyone has mixed experiences about living with roommates in college, I know I did. In post-grad you can save a lot of money by living with a roommate, but man it really sucks if you get stuck with a random person that ends up being a terrible human being. I kid you not my fourth year in undergrad I lived with a guy that was in love with Vladimir Putin and Communism (?!?), the kid would go on about the socialist revolution and had a Soviet Union flag hanging outside his window. On the otherhand he did cook pretty well.
For a lot of people it might make more sense to live alone your first year. That way you have an opportunity to get to know some of the students at your law school and potentially room with one your 2L year. You sacrifice some privacy and space, but living with another law student pretty much guarantees that you’re going to have a quiet place to study and sleep. If you do decide to get a roommate DO NOT under any circumstances live with an undergrad. Do you remember how you were in undergrad? Well maybe you weren’t crazy but everyone else is. At the end of a long day a law student needs a nice quiet place to study and sleep, and living with an undergrad is detrimental to this goal.
Another important thing about housing especially for inner city students is that you should pretty much focus on studio apartments. When I was looking for an apartment in D.C, I couldn’t believe that the cheap studios were starting at $1600! Even more insane, I could not find a single bedroom for under $2,200. The area I am originally from in North Carolina typically charged around $500 a month for single bedrooms. My financial aid package didn’t even come close to covering a single bedroom in D.C, so a studio was really the only one in the cards for me.
If your law school is in an expensive area you can move further away your 2L and 3L year and find cheaper housing. The better the deal on housing you can find, the further you can trim your loans. The goal of law student housing is that if you are financing your education you owe it to yourself to take on as little debt as possible. Living in an expensive apartment complex with flashy amenities and tile floors might be really tempting but expecting that you will obtain a top tier legal job after law school and magically pay it all off in a year or two is playing with fire.
Save on Furnishings
Some apartments will come fully furnished, and in that case you can ignore this piece of advice. If you are considering a furnished apartment, check how expensive these are compared to an unfurnished apartment. Usually they are considerably more expensive than an unfurnished place, and it makes more since to furnish it yourself. If an unfurnished apartment is your best bet there are a variety of marketplaces to check out to find cheap used furniture. Some examples include: Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Letgo. If your school has a forum for selling student stuff you could check that out as there are always students moving in and out and trying to get rid of old furniture. They are usually trying to dump all of it off as quickly as possible and this is where you step in.
Buying new furnishings is usually just too expensive, and there are plenty of good deals to be had with used property. Plus most graduates end up trashing most of their furniture within a year after graduating law school and replacing it with new stuff, so why spend a bunch of money on stuff that you are unlikely to keep over the long haul?
Watch the Night Life
If you are someone like me that enjoys a good drink or two you need to be careful about going out to frequently in law school. I was absolutely stunned when I realized my fall semester of 1L year how frequently students went out bar hopping and clubbing. Granted, I attend law school in Washington D.C where there is a multitude of opportunities to go out on the town, there might not be so many opportunities where you attend school.
If you are in a big city though be careful about frequent nights on the town. The bill racks up very quickly with uber rides, drinks at the bar and food. I ran through my loan money ridiculously fast my 1L fall semester by going out partying two-three nights a week instead of studying. Don’t be like me your 1L year, save that beer money!
Cook a Lot of Your Food
Another important thing that I quickly learned back in undergrad is that preparing meals is far cheaper than going out to a restaurant or dare I say a food truck. Making your own coffee is a lot cheaper than Starbucks. Studio apartments often come with an embarrassingly small kitchen, but hey it’s more than enough for us law student to get by. In fact, my 1L studio was so wimpy it did not even come with a kitchen, it had a closet with a stove inside and a mini refrigerator. It wasn’t easy but I got through that year by going grocery shopping once a week.
I’m not saying you have to go as far as eating Ramon every night mixed with some chicken or vegetable for flavor (Yumm), just don’t expect to save any money going out to restaurants all the time. Coupons can be an awesome way to save some money here, and there is an ample supply of coupon websites nowadays for all kinds of things.
Negotiate Your Scholarship Award
Did you know that you can negotiate your scholarship award? The fact that you can doesn’t necessarily mean you will succeed, but there are plenty of success stories of students saving tens of thousands of dollars by doing this. If you were accepted into a school that you really want to go to, but they haven’t offered you squat and you have another school or two offering you a lot of scholarship money, than you should call the school and let them know of your awards from other law schools. There is a good chance that they will come back with an offer. Even if they don’t offer you a better deal the worst they can say is no, so give it a shot!
Law School is a time for students to hunker down and focus on their studies. Don’t get into the cycle of feeling as if you need to compete with the rich kids in class. Trust me, at the end of the day your student loans are no match for daddy’s money. Live below your means, and save as much as possible over these three years. Remember, that there will be a lot of expenses when you start your career after law school and potentially move to a new city. It’s a great thing to already have a nest egg to dip into when you are first starting your career.