Financial Wellness: CFMS Longitudinal Wellness Initiative
Medical school can be very expensive, and costs can stack up. It might be stressful to think about paying off costly medical school and undergraduate loans and expensive exam fees while balancing academics and rotations.
Thinking about how you are spending your money and which areas have the highest cost for you is important. For me, I used to spend high amounts on food and groceries. Given the little time, I used to buy food from outside often, which at the end of the month was very costly. Learning easy to make recipes and preparing meals on my days off for the following week has been a major place to cut back on my spending. I also started making a list for my groceries to avoid impulse buying and browsing time. Moreover, I love my caffeine! I began buying bulk coffee supplies from Amazon and making my own coffee, which has been a huge cost benefit.
Busing to work and school on sunny days instead of driving helps cut cost of expensive gas. Carpooling with friends on the same rotation is also not only more enjoyable, but also less expensive. Lastly, instead of buying new books, I began renting books from Amazon or my local libraries.
Remember, small changes can make big differences over time!
Finances can be a difficult topic to navigate for medical students, especially since most of us don’t have an income and are relying on student loans to support us. Even though accumulating debt in medical school may be inevitable, here are some strategies I’ve found helpful to help mitigate some of the stress related to finances:
- Track your expenses and create a budget: - I’ve found that even the habit of tracking my expenses is helpful. It makes me aware of my patterns of spending and what a typical amount for me to spend on groceries, school related costs, fun activities, etc on a money basis. This information is helpful to build a budget, because then you know what a realistic amount to budget for each category of expenses is. There’s lots of free templates for budgets online, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sitting down once a month to go through your debit/credit card statements, cash receipts and bill payments can go a long way to making you more aware of your financial situation.
- Live within your means: - we aren’t doctors (yet!) and ideally your lifestyle should reflect that. I find that minimizing my debt reduces my stress related to finances. Some choices I’ve made to reduce my living expenses is to minimize eating out, living with a roommate, and driving an older, reliable vehicle.
- Plan fun, inexpensive activities - just because you don’t have a large disposable income doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! There are tons of inexpensive activities you can do solo or with friends, including outdoor activities (winter is a great time to try skating), having potlucks with friends, or having a movie night at home.
In medical school, there are a variety of costs with tuition, transportation, and daily living. It can be difficult to allocate additional funds for leisure and having fun with all of these costs at baseline. Here are some tips for saving money throughout medical school in general, but also through the lens of enjoying time with your friends.
Financial Tips for Activities:
- In university towns especially, look out for deals/promotions for various fitness places, such as free week at hot yoga, or introductory memberships for other physical activities. One membership that I really enjoyed was attending a bicycle spin class, with a $50 membership for 2 weeks and unlimited classes!
- Go out in big groups! Sometimes places like laser tag or mini golfing allow for group discounts, lowering the price for every player.
- Organize a potluck with friends - everyone can be responsible for bringing one dish, opportunity to try a variety of foods.
- Play recreational sports outdoors - try to enjoy the nice weather by grabbing a soccer ball or basketball, gathering a small group of friends and playing a game. Sharing the equipment can allow you to expand the range of sports that you may play.
- Carpooling is a great tip to save on gas, and it is also better for the environment. On weekend trips such as to Montreal, Niagara Falls, or other cities nearby, carpooling with friends is not only efficient but you get to have great company as well!
- Some of the most enjoyable experiences have been attending conferences with friends. Medical schools often have financial support to cover some of the fees for conference attendance, especially if you are participating by presenting. It is a great way to build skills, network, and also explore a new place.
I hope that these tips and tricks help with discovering new ways to have fun while spending wisely!
As medical students, we are expected to learn a large amount of information in only a few short years. Personally, I feel as though the more medical knowledge I consume, the less room I have in my brain for other topics. In particular, nothing overwhelms me quicker than talking about finances. Truthfully, I wish I could completely delegate all my financial decisions to someone else, so I didn’t have to think about budgeting or investing or learning what a RRSP is.
While we are fortunate to be given access to loans and lines of credit with low interest rates, I feel my anxiety rising as the amount I owe back to the bank increases with each tuition, car, rent and utility payment. When I was accepted into medical school, I was approved instantaneously for a sum of money that I had never seen before in my life and was expected to know how to spend and utilize it without any guidance. Furthermore, in medical school, financial lectures are geared more towards how to manage money made while in full practice, not how to manage budgeting and student loans while in school. Lastly, I felt embarrassed that my financial literacy was so low while having such a high health literacy.
Here are a few things that helped me increase my financial wellness:
- Talk to someone - I kept my worries about finances to myself for longer than I should have. Others may be more comfortable with finances and can offer advice. A trusted friend or partner may be able to sit down with you and go through the details of your finances and help you plan. Feeling alone with a problem is the worst feeling – we should and are allowed to accept help.
- Write it down - When I first opened my line of credit, I also created an excel sheet where I tracked my purchases. It doesn’t need to be a fancy spreadsheet with complicated algorithms – simply write down what you are using your LOC for, so that when your amount owed rises, you are able to look back and see what you were spending your money on.
- Balance frugality and treating yourself. - Yes, most of us will owe a substantial amount of money when we finish medical school and being frugal will reduce this. However, medical school is a stressful time, and I firmly believe that we deserve to use some of our financial resources towards our mental wellness. For example, take a ski trip, go out for dinner once a month, buy a new shirt that increases your confidence – these things are important too. These four (or three!) years can be some of the best of our lives – and it is absolutely okay to splurge a little from time to time.
- Find a good financial advisor - There are many businesses (example, MNP) that are used to the particular financial situations of medical students, residents, and physicians. Ensure that you feel comfortable with your financial advisor and that they take the time to explain things to you in a way you understand. Do not let them assume you understand the intricacies of finance just because you are in a professional degree program.
Managing money can be overwhelming. It is okay to ask for help and use resources in the form of apps, webpages, advisors, and trusted friends.
MS3, University of Saskatchewan
We all know that medical school is an expensive journey; however, there are several ways to budget and take advantage of the resources that are available to us! Throughout my medical school career thus far, I’ve learned the importance and value of taking the time to apply for scholarships and bursaries. It’s important for medical students to recognize and learn about all of the bursaries, funds, and scholarships that are available at their faculties of medicine and also from student organizations such as Ontario’s Medical Students’ Association. For instance, at my medical school, the Financial Aid Office accepts applications for medical students applying for bursaries and community involvement scholarships, which can be very fruitful. Not only is it a great way to showcase your community involvement on your CV, but you also get some easy money out of these opportunities. As tedious as it may be to fill in the applications, it is just as rewarding to receive financial rewards and you can always reuse the content from applications and your CV when applying to CaRMS for residency.
In addition to scholarships and bursaries, I have found a great way to save money through meal-prepping. I find solace, peace and comfort through food, and I tend to overspend when it comes to indulging in delicious cuisines. However, with time, I have realized that if I spend just a few hours every Sunday to create meals for the rest of the week, I will be saving a ton of money, while saving time and having access to healthy cooked meals. It’s a fun way to destress while cooking; you can always catch up with your best friend or your mom to pass time. By preparing any kind of meal at home, even at least once a week, you’ll realize that you’re saving a lot of money throughout the week. Another hidden gem is Walmart. This post is not sponsored by Walmart, but their grocery section has some pretty great deals and affordable food options compared to other grocery store chain in my opinion!
Making Your Money Work For You - Nicholas Reitsma
Before even getting into medical school, money and how I would pay for things were always on my mind. Certainly, the financial investment required for medicine is significant and, at times, scary, but I don’t think I am alone in those feelings.
I am not a financial guru who understands stocks and trading or different investment strategies and has a massive excel document from budgeting. I have, however, come to some realizations about money in medicine, and I am certainly less scared now.
The biggest thing I have realized is that there are numerous ways to save money well, and there are also good purchases that, in the long run, have a greater benefit than cost. The key is understanding what things you want to work for you.
For example, I can’t stand cooking. It takes a lot of time, I’m not very passionate, and I can eat the same thing daily without issues. So, I decided to pay for a meal plan during especially stressful weeks. Is it the cheapest thing in the world? No, but at least for me, it makes things easier. I get tasty, healthy meals that I don’t have to worry about or make, which means I have more time for the things in my life that I feel are more important.
That is something vital about being in medicine. We have a ton of responsibilities, from academic, to social, to personal responsibilities. You can leverage what you have to make things easier. I am not advocating that you get a private chef as despite the improvement in free time, making a budget matters. You numerically may be able to buy the very best of everything, but that doesn’t mean you should. There are limits. But spending money on things that make your life better or easier when appropriate can make an impact.
Maybe you are one of those people who loves cooking, so the meal prep doesn’t relate, but what about treating yourself to an appliance that makes what you do more enjoyable and efficient? Or maybe you have responsibilities that make getting to the grocery store more challenging? Would it be worth getting them delivered every once in a while? Maybe it would, or maybe it wouldn’t. You are the only one who could make that decision, but it is something to consider.
I would be remiss in speaking on this if I didn’t stress having a low threshold for asking for advice from people you trust or professionals. They may have ideas you haven’t considered, so it's worth it!
Scholarship and Bursaries
You do not need to finance your entire way through medical school on your own! There are institutional scholarships and bursaries that are up for grabs. Some are entrance awards that are given upon being admitted into first year of medical school, while some others are merit-based awards for scholastic achievements in medical school. Beware that some may require specific applications. Bursaries are also available, especially if there is a strong case for financial need or hardship. We suggest that you review the attached cheatsheet on the financial aid available to you. You can explore the financial aid website of your school, as well as other more general awards available to all Canadian students. Of course, you should always apply to your respective provincial financial aid program.
Student Line of Credit
You may already have heard of student lines of credit! They are a common financing tool that medical students use throughout medical school and into residency. With the use of our four-year budgeting cheatsheet (down below!), you may realize that you will be short of funds after accounting for your cash inflow and cash outflow during the four years. Student lines of credit are a popular option to ensure that this financing gap is closed. Even if you find yourself not needing any funds from a line of credit, many still consider opening an account because of the perks associated with the line of credit (e.g., cash bonus, gift cards, gifts, credit card annual fee waivers, and many more).
Disability insurance provides protection in case of an accident, illness or death. It can protect your future income and/or give loved ones the financial support they need if you can no longer work. It provides a tax-free source of income that pays you if you are unable to study or work as a result of sickness or injury. The CFMS and the provincial, territorial medical associations (PTMAs) have teamed up to deliver advantageous insurance offers to Canadian medical students. Check out the provincial medical association in which your medical school resides for more information. We already have all the links in your cheatsheets for your easy navigation!
While we recognize that there exists many online budgeting tools out there already, we wanted to include an Excel-based version that allows for easier tinkering and so that you can save it on your computer for further modification down the road. Also, having a budget for four years will provide a solid ‘roadmap’ for your financial wellness - what is my financial reality at the end of each year and ultimately, at the end of medical school? Do not be afraid or discouraged if you do not meet your budget. You may find yourself needing to re-adjust after your first year based on more realistic spending habits. The CFMS and MD Financial Management have teamed up to provide financial advice to you during your medical school years - consider speaking with a MD advisor as you build this roadmap!