Treating Yourself on a Medical Student Budget

Fancy dinners? International trips? Those are things only available to people not on a medical school budget, right? Wrong. With a few odd jobs, and by maximizing my credit card reward points I have been able to afford the occasional luxury on a medical school budget. My life isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as my Instagram might suggest, but I have been able to make some great memories in medical school without spending a lot of money.

Medical school is hard. The days can be long and stressful, and the lead up to major milestones can be especially taxing. In the day to day, small indulgences like going out to a nice meal can make a rough week a little better. For the bigger events like board exams, having a major light at the end of the tunnel can provide extra motivation. The major limitation to enjoying these things is the limited budget of most medical students. Having a side hustle with my free time, and maximizing credit card reward points with smart spending has stretched my budget a little further.

There are lots of ways medical students can make a little extra money with their free time. Being a tutor, dog walker, and background actor are a few of the odd jobs I have done in medical school. The key to all of them is that they are flexible and fun. School always needs to be a priority, and the schedule is highly variable, so a job that has no time expectations has been crucial. Having fun with something has also been important. Medical school is too hard to do a job that is draining in my free time. I am a huge dog lover, but do not have time to own a dog myself. Walking dogs has been an easy way to make extra money and fulfills my desire to spend time with furry friends. Being an extra in a TV show has also been a bucket list item, and has made for an enjoyable “job.” It is also important to lay a foundation in another industry if medicine does not work out for some reason. There are lots of simple jobs like this that are available to medical students in their free time. I have treated the money from these jobs as fun money, and paying for the occasional indulgence with it removes the guilt from using loan money. The work breaks up the routine of patient care and studying as well.

Maximizing credit card reward points has enabled me to go on a trip after each major board exam, and has heavily subsidized my fourth-year interview travel. It is important to note that I pay my balances off in full every month, and do not use my cards to spend more than I would otherwise. I have a few different credit cards with different earning categories to ensure I maximize the number of points I accrue on my purchases. Having multiple lines of credit has increased my credit score while in school, and the sign-up bonuses from each card have added to my point total. I have used the points to completely cover my flights and hotels on multiple breaks, and having a trip to look forward to has provided extra motivation while studying for board exams. Choosing cheaper places to visit on these trips has also stretched my side hustle money farther.

Life on a medical student budget is rarely glamorous, and involves many more home cooked meals and nights at home than nights spent out. Smart spending and some extra side work can make the special days a little better. The extra money and free travel have made breaks from school more exciting and rewarding. With these strategies, hopefully every medical student can make their time away from school a little more enjoyable.


Image: siraanamwong / gettyimages


Cameron Todd is a fourth-year medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine going into Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. He is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

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