Reader Case Study: Nursing Student by Day, Restaurant Worker by Night, Needing to Make Ends Meet
John is in his late twenties and lives in a small southern city in the US along with his cat. He recently made the decision to go back to school to become a nurse. Previously he worked at a nonprofit and, while he was passionate about the mission, the work/life balance wasn’t tenable for the long term. John started his nursing program this month and is also working front-of-house at a restaurant to try and cover his living expenses. He’s excited about school and his future career as a nurse, but no longer having a salaried position has him in a slightly precarious financial position. Let’s help John figure out how to financially survive nursing school so that he can graduate and become the best nurse he can be!
What’s a Reader Case Study?
Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight and feedback in the comments section.
For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.
The Goal Of Reader Case Studies
Reader Case Studies intend to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!
The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 71 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.
I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight and trans people. I’ve featured men, women and non-binary folks. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland and France.
I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.
The goal is diversity and only YOU can help me achieve that by emailing me your story! If you haven’t seen your circumstances reflected in a Case Study, I encourage you to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Case Study Guidelines
I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn.
There’s no room for rudeness here. The goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.
A disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises.
I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.
With that I’ll let John, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!
Hi Frugalwoods! My name is John, I’m in my late twenties and I live in a small southern city with my cat. I’ve lived alone for a few years, which was one of the best decisions I’ve made (although also one of the most expensive).
I’m really happy with my life and spend most of my free time doing things that bring me a lot of joy. I love music and play often with some of my friends. Several days a week I lift weights, and sometimes I run, swim, and hike. I love going to see music, sports, movies, and drag shows with my closest friends. I spend my alone time reading; currently I’m reading the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (affiliate link). I feel part of a wonderful community and am able to spend time doing things that bring meaning to my life.
I’m submitting a case study because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case study for a situation like mine, but I think it’s something a lot of people might relate to. I’m in my late twenties and at the beginning of a career change after four years in a salaried job. This month, I started nursing school at my local community college, which will last for the next two years.
John’s Career Change Decision
I was making a $47,000 salary, with benefits, at a nonprofit job I loved but was completely draining. It wasn’t a job designed to be held for more than a couple of years. And after a couple of years there, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was in a very specific field that has almost no job opportunities or opportunities for advancement. So I decided to go in a totally different direction: nursing, a field which has wide-ranging and almost endless job opportunities along with robust opportunities for advancement and higher degrees. Nursing will allow me to continue helping people, which is what I loved most about my previous job. I’m very excited about this career change, but I’m stressed about my finances.
In September 2021 I left my job, and in October, I started working in a restaurant, with no previous service industry experience. It’s the best-paying job I can find that will also work with my school schedule, making about $16/hour (including tips). I’m hoping to make about $15,000 next year at work. I’m getting about $5,000 in student loans this semester, which will help (although of course about half the loans will go to paying tuition). But still, even with the loans it’s looking like my best case scenario is a drop in annual income from $47,000 to $25,000 for the next two years.
This is a huge financial shift, and I’m really struggling to figure out how to balance everything financially. I’m not sure it’s actually even possible for me to make enough to cover my living expenses while I’m in school. I have now accepted that I will definitely be relying on student loans, but I’m beginning to think I will also have to rely on a certain amount of credit card debt until I graduate.
This is my second time in school; the first time (for my undergraduate degree) I had a full ride scholarship and support from my parents. It’s very different going back as an adult! Because it’s my second degree, I’m not eligible for any of the programs that make college free. And as far as I can tell, I’m not eligible for any financial aid except for loans and scholarships.
I’ve been a Frugalwoods reader for several years. I always read the Case Studies, and at the beginning of COVID, I did the Uber Frugal Month challenge. It changed my life financially. I was able to establish a budget based on my salary at the time and I allocated every dollar from my paycheck to expenses, debt repayment, and eventually savings. This helped me get my spending under control. I implemented the 3-day rule for purchases and began keeping a wish list of things I needed or wanted. I cut my monthly grocery spending from $300-400 down to $150. I go to the grocery store every two weeks now, and I keep a calculator adding up things I pick up, and put things back if I go over $75.
There are things I’ve accomplished financially that I’m really proud of. In addition to cutting back my spending on groceries and impulse purchases, while I was at my last job I traded in my old, unreliable, expensive car for a Honda Fit and paid off the $6,000 loan and $4,000 in repairs from an accident in less than a year. I paid off more than $6,000 in medical debt that was on a high interest medical credit card before the interest could kick in, again in less than a year.
I’ve looked for other ways to cut expenses too. I share a gym membership with friends and I trade streaming services with friends so we only have to pay once. A lot of my clothes come from clothing swaps or thrift stores, although you might not be able to tell that from my spending. When I left my last job I paid off $300 on my phone financing and switched from AT&T to Tello (an MVNO, which I learned about from Frugalwoods). While I was at my last job I kept my savings in a CD so I wouldn’t spend them before I needed them for school; now that I need them liquid, my savings are in a high-interest savings account, another Frugalwoods tip.
Overall, I think the best habit I developed in my last job was budgeting money out of every paycheck. My biweekly, regular pay became a limit for me to stay under. I track my spending and bills using Mint. Every paycheck, I subtracted my fixed expenses from and then discretionary spending, and cut discretionary spending and saving to fit into the amount I had. I tried to put 20% of each paycheck toward debt repayment or savings; after I paid off some of my recurring expenses I was putting as much as $380 every two weeks into savings. I also tried to put aside $50-100 from each paycheck toward larger purchases, which helped me control my spending and slow down impulse purchases. It was an idiosyncratic system, but it really worked for me. I split my rent between my two paychecks every month and it’s always the first bill I pay.
The Bad and The Ugly
Like I said, things have been tight since I left my last job. I make good money at the restaurant for an entry-level job, but I’m not making as much as I spend every month. Even if I cut back my discretionary spending drastically, I don’t think I would make enough to cover my rent, utilities, phone and internet, health insurance, food, and gas.
Things will get easier in 2022 in several ways. I’ll receive my first student loan disbursement of $2,500, which will pay my tuition. And my health insurance will drop from $242 to $54 because I switched my plan during open enrollment and adjusted my tax credit to my new income.
But things will also get harder in other ways. Right now I’m working 4-5 days per week. Standing on my feet for 6-8 hours is having a big physical toll on my body after just a couple of months; I’m sore all the time and have aches and pains in my shoulders, hips, and feet. That’s just part of the job. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up the same number of shifts per week and do school full-time (school also includes a weekly 12-hour clinical shift on my feet). School has to be my first priority; there’s no way to get through nursing school otherwise, and besides, I want to learn everything I can to be a good nurse. But this will cut into my earning ability.
Budgeting on a Budget
The other thing that’s been challenging is that it’s been, paradoxically, harder for me to control my spending since my income dropped. For one, my budgeting system has completely broken down. I mentioned before that I had an idiosyncratic but effective system where I budgeted each dollar out of every paycheck and used that to prioritize fixed expenses and cut discretionary expenses. But that was much easier to do when I had a fixed paycheck of exactly $1,421 every two weeks. Now my paycheck varies wildly; in the past month I had $514 one check and $850 the next. Somehow it just doesn’t work with my brain to be able to budget when things change so much.
I am still covering my fixed expenses first. The imperfect system I have right now is that the most critical fixed expenses–rent, utilities, health insurance, and internet–come directly out of my bank account, and my paycheck is basically covering those, with some dipping into my savings at times. Then, I’m using my credit card for all discretionary expenses, including necessities like food and also more impulsive purchases. I’m paying down my credit card in full from my savings each month, but that won’t last forever. I do not want to deplete my savings to below $2,000.
And even worse, because I can’t cover even my necessities with my income, I’ve become more impulsive with purchases that I want or maybe need but aren’t as fundamentally critical.
It’s hard, somehow, for me to distinguish between what is and isn’t fundamentally necessary when it all has to go on my credit card. For example, I’ve bought three pairs of shoes in the last two months, because I hurt my feet at work, and I’m trying to find shoes that will help and that I can wear at either the restaurant or nursing. I’m sure I didn’t need all three pairs, but it’s hard to decide what I do and don’t need. And this is the type of excess spending that maybe isn’t ideal, but wouldn’t have been a big deal under my previous salary. Now, it has a much bigger impact on me financially. The consequences are also higher, because if I pick the wrong shoes I’m likely to exacerbate this injury into a serious one. And somehow it all feels a little fatalistic, because it’s all more than I can afford. Maybe another way to frame this is, a career change comes with some unexpected expenses (like clothes and shoes), and those are a lot more difficult to handle on a limited income.
Despite these difficulties, I still have a lot of hope. This was always going to be a difficult time financially, and I’ve done everything I could to prepare for it by saving and paying down debts; I stayed at my previous job for two years after I was ready to go so that I could prepare financially. In the past I’ve been able to dramatically rein things once I develop a system, so I think that’s what I need right now. I can’t do the impossible, but I think I can settle into a pattern that’s more sustainable and won’t dig me into as deep of a hole. And all of this is in preparation for entering a new profession two years from now that is financially stable and well-paying. I won’t be rich as a nurse, but I think I can expect to make at least what I was making before, with opportunities for advancement above that (median starting pay for nurses in my area is about $50,000); I was perfectly financially comfortable in that pay range in the past.
My goals right now are to develop a budget system that works for a low-income job, and is (more) sustainable; and to hopefully develop some habits for living on a tighter budget, so that when my pay increases again after school I’ll be used to living on less and can save a lot more.
What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?
There are a lot of things I like and find fulfilling about my current lifestyle. I have a great and supportive community of friends around me. I like watching movies with friends and playing music. Reading is also a really good outlet for me. I’ve worked out several days a week since I was a teenager. It helps me keep consistency and a kind of rhythm to my week and it’s a good physical outlet.
One thing I like about my job is the ability to come to work, clock in, and clock out when I leave. It’s hard for me to balance deadlines and obligations, and I like that my current job doesn’t require me to think about work when I leave.
A few years ago I made the decision to live alone. This has been really good for my mental health and stability, although I know that right now it’s making things even harder financially. I really enjoy having my own space, and especially having room for family and friends to stay with me when they visit.
I’m excited about starting nursing school and moving forward with this next big step in my life. I’m really proud of how much I’ve grown over the past couple of years. I’m happier with my life and who I am than I’ve ever been. The decision to leave my last job and change careers was a huge one, and it feels like a big step forward for me to be embarking on that. The time I’m in right now feels challenging, but I see that as a sign of growth.
I read the below quote in Alice Walker’s Living by the Word recently and I feel like I’ve just come out of a period of change and am experiencing the amazing results, and also like I’m entering a period like this now (affiliate link):
Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.
What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?
Work is very physically challenging. I’m tired and sore all the time, and I feel like I’m developing injuries in my feet. But I’m still not making enough to make ends meet.
I’m stressed about money all the time. I’m struggling to decide if I should try to pick up a second job, as most of my coworkers do. But it seems like it would be impossible to work two jobs while in school. My previous employer offered that I could do consulting or even part-time work for them, probably for at least $20/hour or potentially much higher, but I worry about my ability to balance more deadlines and work that’s not easily hour-bound.
I would like to see my family more. It was hard to visit because my last job was so demanding, but I think the upcoming period of my life is going to be even more challenging to find time.
I’m already stressed thinking about what my daily schedule is going to be like once I start nursing school. Balancing school and work seems almost impossible.
Where John Wants to be in 10 Years:
- I want to be out of debt, financially stable, and living within my means. There’s a lot contained in that one sentence: I want to be in a place where I’m not living paycheck to paycheck and don’t have to worry about a catastrophe taking me under.
- I want to be putting a sizable amount in retirement, especially since I haven’t been able to up until now.
- I don’t know yet if I want to have children, but I’m considering what it would take to be financially prepared for children in the next 10 years.
- I’m sick of paying increasing rent to landlords every year and would like to be able to buy my home.
- I’d like to be partnered and maybe have kids.
- I want to have a good work-life balance so that I’m not spending all my life at work.
- I want to be able to take care of my family as my parents grow older and my siblings’ kids grow up.
- I want to continue to have rich friendships and be rooted in community, providing care to my friends (and potentially their kids!).
- I want to be solidly established in my nursing career, well-respected and experienced.
- If it feels right, I might go back to school to become a nurse practitioner, but I want several years of experience as an R.N. first.
- I want to be excited about my career and feel like I’m making a difference.
- Like I said above, I want to have work-life balance and not be consumed by work. And I really don’t want to be burned out.
|Paycheck||$1,000||Highly variable. I work a restaurant job, and my wages are heavily based on tips. I’m new at this job, so I am still figuring out how much my average paycheck will be; I make about $16/hour counting tips. Right now I am trying to work 4-5 days per week, but I won’t be able to work as much once I start school. I also get a small amount of tips separately in cash (~$10/week) that I use as spending money for bars, restaurants, and shows.|
|Student Loans||$875||I will have $5,250 in student loans for the spring semester. Assuming I get the same amount in the fall, and dividing by 12 months, this comes out to $875/month.|
|Cash Tips||$40||Pretty variable. Most of my tips are on my paycheck, but actual cash is split as cash tips outside my paycheck.|
|Item||Outstanding loan balance||Interest Rate||Loan Period/Payoff Terms|
|Federal Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans||$2,729||3.73%||Deferred until graduation in December 2023. Balance will increase by roughly this amount for the next 3 semesters, unless I turn it down.|
|Federal Direct Subsidized Student Loans||$2,521||3.73%||Deferred until graduation in December 2023. Balance will increase by roughly this amount for the next 3 semesters, unless I turn it down.|
|Item||Amount||Notes||Interest/type of securities held/Stock ticker||Name of bank/brokerage|
|Savings Account||$11,000||This is both my education and emergency fund. When I left my job, it had $16,000, but I’ve been having to use it to pay bills. I want to keep a minimum of $2,000 for emergencies.||0.5% (was higher before interest rates were lowered)||Marcus by Goldman Sachs|
|Checking Account||$100||I keep my cash fairly low; any extra funds are moved to my savings account (although right now there aren’t any extra).||Local Bank|
|Vehicle make, model, year||Valued at||Mileage||Paid off?|
|Honda Fit 2011||$8,000||117,000||yes|
|Car Maintenance||$153||This year this included a new set of tires and shocks; without those it would have been $68/month|
|Utilities||$150||I have it set to level off each month, so it stays around $140-150.|
|Car Insurance||$133||My car insurance is high because of my driving record. I do not carry collision insurance. I have used a tracker to get discounts in the past and will likely enroll in that again.|
|Groceries||$130||Includes some household supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Before I left my previous job, I was aiming for $150/month in groceries. Working in the restaurant has since helped cut my grocery bill further since I can eat free meals there.|
|Gas||$123||Highly variable. This includes some cost from travel, so that will likely decrease next year. But my daily commute will increase because of the distance to school. Maybe I could carpool?|
|School Books||$88||This is an estimate; hoping to get it lower by renting books, etc. Also may be lower after my first year.|
|Restaurants||$81||Primarily a social cost; I rarely eat restaurant food or takeout alone.|
|Physical Therapy||$58||I had a joint injury this year. Hopefully this won’t be a recurring cost, but I do get injured often.|
|Doctor||$55||I have a couple of doctors I have to see regularly, and I’m not sure how much that will cost on my new insurance|
|Doctor (injury)||$53||Other costs related to my injury; hopefully this won’t happen next year.|
|Donations||$53||Donations to fundraisers and campaigns, mostly not tax deductible|
|Travel||$50||This is lower than I spent last year, but I don’t anticipate having the funds or time to travel as I have this year.|
|Gifts||$45||Gifts for birthdays, weddings, holidays|
|Shopping: Books||$43||An indulgence. I’ve been trying to get books through the library more, although I love owning a copy.|
|Nursing School Supplies and Other Fees||$40||Scrubs, lab supplies, liability insurance, drug test and background check, immunizations, etc|
|Health Insurance||$38||$388.81 minus a $351 Advance Premium Tax Credit. After I left my job I switched to an ACA plan in October. I was paying $243/month, but I used the open enrollment period to recalculate my premiums.|
|Cat Food and Supplies||$37||Food, litter, medicines|
|Fast Food||$37||Feel like this cost could rise unless I’m really careful because of how busy I am. Maybe I could offset some of this by keeping some microwave meals on hand?|
|Home Furnishings and Repair||$36|
|Sporting Goods||$28||This includes some work shoes.|
|Pharmacy||$24||Hopefully this will drop to ~$10/month once I start my new insurance in January, which has a $3 copay on all prescriptions. One of my prescriptions is very expensive, and if for some reason my insurance failed, my prescriptions could easily be more than $500/month. But I have access to programs to be able to get it for free if that happens.|
|Contacts||$21||$252 purchased once; hopefully will be mostly covered under new vision insurance|
|News||$20||Two local newspapers and three national magazines|
|Gym||$18||Discounted from $32 by splitting an account with friends.|
|Health Supplies||$17||Including masks, supplies to treat injuries, etc|
|Bars||$17||I don’t drink much alcohol, so this includes is primarily cover charges.|
|Vet Exam and Shots||$16|
|Phone Service||$14||Paid off my phone and switched from AT&T to Tello when I left my job.|
|Vision Exam||$14||$165 split over 12 months; considering getting vision insurance to cover this and contacts.|
|Dentist and Dental Supplies||$12|
|Vision Supplies||$11||contact cases and solution|
|Movies||$11||This does not include movies I watched during vacation at a film festival (that’s under travel)|
|Parking||$9||Wish this was $0.|
|Bike Maintenance and Supplies||$3|
|Phone Supplies||$3||Screen protectors, chargers, etc|
|Bus||$2||Have taken the bus and biked more in the past to offset costs, but my city has slow buses and poor bike infrastructure. With work and school doesn’t feel like I have the time to do this :/|
|Therapy||$0||I was in therapy for $60/month, but I discontinued both due to needs and funds.|
|Monthly subtotal:||$3,274||Wow, that’s a lot higher than I thought it was going to be.|
Credit Card Strategy
|Card Name||Rewards Type?||Bank/card company|
|Bank of America Travel Rewards||Travel||Bank of America|
John’s Questions for You:
- How can I budget? Can you give me tips on developing a budget system that could work for me?
- How much should I put toward things that are discretionary (but improve quality of life)?
- In the past I’ve found that I do better if I allocate a certain amount of money to these sorts of expenses and push myself to choose things that I really like and want, rather than trying to cut them out altogether.
- I can tell my spending has gotten out of hand over the past few months *because* I don’t have a stable income and therefore don’t have a budget. On the one hand I’m spending less on regular expenses like groceries and gas and trying to keep those in check, but on the other hand, I’m making a lot more impulse purchases. It’s like I know I won’t be able to afford things for a really long time, so I might as well just go ahead and buy them. Any amount of regulation would help me rein things in and keep my spending lower and more consistent.
Are there any clear ways I could cut money? Even just mapping out my monthly expenses like this I see a lot of things I could cut back on.
- Any strategies on getting things like clothes, shoes, books, tools for cheaper would be much appreciated. I cut back my groceries a lot by switching to a cheaper grocery store, but it would be good for me to do the same in other areas.
- One idea I have is to try and use only my cash tips at work for going out. I do already limit how much I spend when I go out by drinking water instead of alcohol and eating at home.
- Would it be worth it for me to get vision insurance? Or would this just add another monthly expense that I can’t afford?
- How much debt is acceptable, assuming in two years I start a decent paying job as a nurse (median starting pay around $50,000/year)?
- How much safety net do I need to keep in case something goes horribly wrong and I *don’t* start a decent paying job when I graduate?
- How much do I *need* to make after graduation to cover debts and begin saving?
- Tax credits and other assistance: Can I get tuition back in taxes? Are there any other tax credits or assistance programs I should be looking into?
- I’m already getting a huge tax credit that pays for most of my health insurance.
- I won’t be eligible for food stamps in my state unless my liquid finances are depleted below $2,000, which I hope doesn’t happen.
- Are there other lending sources I should consider?
- What’s a reasonable number for monthly expenses to shoot for? Ballpark high and low numbers?
- Based on my fixed and discretionary expenses
- Based on my income
- Should I get another job? Any suggestions on what kind of job? Should I reach back out to my previous job about part-time work/consulting on the side? If I did, is there a certain hourly amount I should ask them for?
- Do I need to get a roommate? I really don’t want to. It would be a huge change in my lifestyle, and I would lose the ability to have my family stay at my house, which really means a lot to me. I also worry about someone keeping me awake or making it difficult for me to focus on nursing homework. But I recognize that it would cut my expenses significantly, and could also add positive benefits too. I’d say my past experiences with roommates have been about 50/50, but that could also be better with someone older and more mature (although it might be worse, too).
- Anything else I’m missing here that I should be looking at?
Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
What John is doing takes courage and I commend him for that! It’s not easy to leave a stable career and pursue an entirely different one, but John is doing it! I really admire that he took the time to inventory his life, identify the things that weren’t working for him and then make bold changes. Very well done. ALSO, huge congrats to him on paying off his debt!!!
Two Years: Both Long and Short
I really appreciate the quote John included above and I want to emphasize for him that this is only two years. Although I know two years feels like a lifetime when you’re at the outset. But in the grand scheme of what I hope will be a long, productive and fulfilling life for John, two years is a blip.
My hope is that, in ten years, when John is working as a nurse, he’ll occasionally pause while doing some very important nurse-thing and remember these two years, then shrug and smile, realizing how happy he is in his career, how stable his life is and how thankful he is to himself for making the sacrifices to get there. EASY FOR ME TO SAY, right?! I’m not the one doing it! Not this time, anyway. But I’ve been there in the past, many of us have been there, and it’s easy with hindsight to brush off the briefness of two years without acknowledging the challenges.
Today we will confront those challenges, but my hope is to do so with the insight and mindset that it is, after all, only two years. I come from a line of nurses–both my mother and mother-in-law were RNs–so it warms my heart to see John pursuing this career path.
Spending Must = Income
My top line concern is that John’s spending outstrips his income. Since living on credit card debt is a VERY BAD idea, I want to focus my efforts on helping John sort out how he’s going to live for the next two years. This is an equation with two variables: income and expenses–and we’ve got to tackle both.
First Up: John’s Job
I am so impressed that John took on a service job the minute he left his salaried position. That was the smart, responsible thing to do and it speaks volumes about John’s character. I am wondering, however, if that might not be the best fit for the duration of nursing school. As John noted:
- It’s exhausting because he’s on his feet
- It doesn’t pay enough to cover his expenses
I agree with John that his highest priority should be school and so, exhausting himself at a job that doesn’t pay enough doesn’t seem like the ideal solution. Since John has a BA, and work experience, I encourage him to explore part-time office jobs. In particular, I wonder if he’s browsed the job postings for his community college? If he were able to find a part-time office job at the college, he very well might kill quite a few birds with one stone:
His commute would be truncated and he could potentially work longer hours since he’d just need to walk across campus to attend class.
- He could probably find a “sitting down” desk job so that he could conserve energy for his nursing classes.
- The college *might* offer tuition remission for employees and retirement benefits (although this is less likely for a part-time position, it is worth exploring!!!!!).
- I imagine he could find something rote that wouldn’t require too much mental exertion. I very much understand his comments about appreciating the fact that he can leave his restaurant job at the restaurant–this is an important element enabling him to put his mental faculties towards school.
- He’d get a set work schedule and regular paychecks. I have to imagine that, at some point, the variable schedule of restaurant work is going to be at odds with the fixed schedule of nursing school. Having regular hours would likely alleviate a lot of stress for John and avoid last-minute scrambles. Additionally, John noted the challenge of having irregular pay and so the predictability of a paycheck would be another helpful factor to his budgeting process and would cut down on the amount of time he has to spend budgeting.
- Even if this job pays the same as his restaurant job, it’s probably still worth making the change for the above five reasons.
All that to say, if I were John, I’d be hopping onto the college job posting website ASAP to see what administrative/desk positions are available. Data entry, anyone? Again, John, you have a BA and work experience, so this seems like a slam dunk option.
If there’s nothing available at the college, I still think it’d make sense for John to seek out a part-time administrative position. Less stress, less physical pressure, higher pay. Again, I 100% commend John for getting a front-of-house job, but it really sounds like that’s not going to be the ideal solution while he’s in school. If he can’t get a job at the college, I suggest he try to find something nearby that would enable him to compress the commute.
John mentioned he might be able to work hourly part-time for his former employer, but it also sounds like that might bring a lot of stress into his life. I completely understand his desire to not be sucked back into a work environment he chose to leave, so let’s assume that’s not his top choice right now, but one that can be kept in the proverbial back pocket.
Second Up: Expenses
To be honest, I think what John should focus on right now is finding a better paying, more comfortable job. But, until that happens, John does need to dramatically cut back his spending. He’s frugal and his spending is super low; the issue is that his income is even lower.
John’s biggest expense–his rent–would obviously be decreased if he got a roommate, but I also hear that he loves living alone and really doesn’t want a roommate. If that is indeed John’s highest priority right now, he’s going to have to work on eliminating a lot of other smaller expenses, which can totally be done.
I went through John’s expenses and did the Uber Frugal Month exercise of fixed vs. discretionary identification, which I know is something John’s done in the past:
|Item||Current Amount||John’s Notes||Liz’s Notes||Proposed New Amount|
|Car Maintenance||$153||This year this included a new set of tires and shocks; without those it would have been $68/month||Fixed||$153|
|Utilities||$150||I have it set to level off each month, so it stays around $140-150.||Fixed||$150|
|Car Insurance||$133||My car insurance is high because of my driving record. I do not carry collision insurance. I have used a tracker to get discounts in the past and will likely enroll in that again.||Fixed; although this is super high and I encourage John to shop around.||$133|
|Groceries||$130||Includes some household supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Before I left my previous job, I was aiming for $150/month in groceries. Working in the restaurant has since helped cut my grocery bill further since I can eat free meals there.||Fixed||$130|
|Gas||$123||Highly variable. This includes some cost from travel, so that will likely decrease next year. But my daily commute will increase because of the distance to school. Maybe I could carpool?||Fixed; can this be decreased with carpooling? Biking more?||$123|
|Shopping: Clothing||$110||Eliminate for now||$0|
|School Books||$88||This is an estimate; hoping to get it lower by renting books, etc. Also may be lower after my first year.||Fixed||$88|
|Restaurants||$81||Primarily a social cost; I rarely eat restaurant food or takeout alone.||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Personal Care||$75||What’s included in this? Can this be reduced/eliminated?||$25|
|Physical Therapy||$58||I had a joint injury this year. Hopefully this won’t be a recurring cost, but I do get injured often.||Fixed||$58|
|Doctor||$55||I have a couple of doctors I have to see regularly, and I’m not sure how much that will cost on my new insurance||Fixed||$55|
|Doctor (injury)||$53||Other costs related to my injury; hopefully this won’t happen next year.||Fixed||$53|
|Donations||$53||Donations to fundraisers and campaigns, mostly not tax deductible||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Travel||$50||This is lower than I spent last year, but I don’t anticipate having the funds or time to travel as I have this year.||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Other shopping||$45||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Gifts||$45||Gifts for birthdays, weddings, holidays||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Shopping: Books||$43||An indulgence. I’ve been trying to get books through the library more, although I love owning a copy.||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Nursing School Supplies and Other Fees||$40||Scrubs, lab supplies, liability insurance, drug test and background check, immunizations, etc||Fixed||$40|
|Health Insurance||$38||$388.81 minus a $351 Advance Premium Tax Credit. After I left my job I switched to an ACA plan in October. I was paying $243/month, but I used the open enrollment period to recalculate my premiums.||Fixed||$38|
|Cat Food and Supplies||$37||Food, litter, medicines||Fixed||$37|
|Fast Food||$37||Feel like this cost could rise unless I’m really careful because of how busy I am. Maybe I could offset some of this by keeping some microwave meals on hand?||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Home Furnishings and Repair||$36||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Streaming Subscriptions||$34||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Sporting Goods||$28||This includes some work shoes.||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Pharmacy||$24||Hopefully this will drop to ~$10/month once I start my new insurance in January, which has a $3 copay on all prescriptions. One of my prescriptions is very expensive, and if for some reason my insurance failed, my prescriptions could easily be more than $500/month. But I have access to programs to be able to get it for free if that happens.||Fixed||$10|
|Contacts||$21||$252 purchased once; hopefully will be mostly covered under new vision insurance||Fixed||$21|
|News||$20||Two local newspapers and three national magazines||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Gym||$18||Discounted from $32 by splitting an account with friends.||Fixed; I’m hesitant to drop this expense since John noted that working out is a key part of his life. I’d keep it if it were me and find other areas to cut back on.||$18|
|Health Supplies||$17||Including masks, supplies to treat injuries, etc||Fixed||$17|
|Bars||$17||I don’t drink much alcohol, so this includes is primarily cover charges.||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Vet Exam and Shots||$16||Fixed||$16|
|Phone Service||$14||Paid off my phone and switched from AT&T to Tello when I left my job.||Fixed||$14|
|Vision Exam||$14||$165 split over 12 months; considering getting vision insurance to cover this and contacts.||Fixed||$14|
|Organizational Dues||$13||What is this for? Is there a student discount?||$13|
|Dentist and Dental Supplies||$12||Fixed||$12|
|Vision Supplies||$11||contact cases and solution||Fixed||$11|
|Music Streaming||$11||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Movies||$11||This does not include movies I watched during vacation at a film festival (that’s under travel)||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Social Media||$11||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Live Music||$10||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Parking||$9||Wish this was $0.||Fixed||$9|
|Coffee Shops||$8||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Sports Events||$5||Eliminate for now||$0|
|Bike Maintenance and Supplies||$3||Fixed||$3|
|Phone Supplies||$3||Screen protectors, chargers, etc||Fixed||$3|
|Bus||$2||Have taken the bus and biked more in the past to offset costs, but my city has slow buses and poor bike infrastructure. With work and school doesn’t feel like I have the time to do this :/||Fixed||$2|
|Therapy||$0||I was in therapy for $60/month, but I discontinued both due to needs and funds.||Are there any on-campus therapists offered for students at a discounted rate? Or does John’s new insurance cover this? Hate to see therapy be eliminated.||$0|
|Monthly subtotal:||$3,274||Wow, that’s a lot higher than I thought it was going to be.||Proposed New Monthly Subtotal:||$2,554|
|Annual total:||$39,288||Proposed New Annual Total:||$30,648|
The challenge is that, even after stripping out every single discretionary thing, John’s basic needs still total more than his income. This is not John’s fault–it’s not that his basic needs are super expensive; again, it’s that his income is too low. In addition to finding a higher-paying job, I think John might need to consider taking out more student loans.
If the option is between going into credit card debt and taking out more student loans, I would choose student loans every single time. John’s situation is what student loans are designed for. It is unlikely that nursing won’t be in demand when John graduates and so his career prospects are good.
The caveat is that if John makes the decision to take out more student loans for living expenses, he needs to be 100% certain he’s going to work as a nurse after graduation in order to pay them off.
Taking out student loans is a speculative investment in your future and you need to make sure it’s going to pay off. However, John selected a practical major with fantastic job prospects and he’s going to a very affordable community college. John’s made all the right choices here, he just might need more in loans. It’s not a failure or a bad thing, it’s literally what student loans are for. Once again, let me reiterate that credit card debt is BAD IDEA because the interest rates on credit cards are sky-high, while the interest rates on student loans are reasonable AND the loans are deferred until John graduates.
Plus, John’s only in a two-year program, which means he should be employed as an RN very soon and able to pay off the loans quickly after that. If possible, federal student loans are usually the best way to go.
John is spot on that salaries for nurses–even first-year nurses–are typically excellent. Something John may also want to consider in the future (particularly before he has children, if applicable) is travel nursing. I believe you need several years of experience before becoming a travel nurse, but it could be a great future option.
We hosted travel nurse Amy as a Case Study subject back in October and she’s currently making circa $100k a year as a travel nurse. This could be a fabulous option for John to right his financial ship after graduation.
With a high salary, he could:
- Pay off his student loans ASAP.
- Beef up his emergency fund.
- Invest for retirement.
- This should be a top priority for John since he’s close to 30 and doesn’t have anything invested for retirement. But not to worry–it is highly likely his future employer will offer a retirement plan, to which he should likely begin contributing as soon as he’s hired.
- Consider his next long-term goals.
- Does he want to pursue home ownership? Become a parent? So many wonderful options!
Credit Card Consideration
One other thought I had is that John may want to get a cash-back credit card. As long as John continues his responsible usage of credit cards–and pays them off in full every single month–a cash back card could be an ideal way for him to help make ends meet.
He currently has a travel rewards card, which is great and he can keep that open. But he likely won’t be traveling all that much while he’s in school and so a cash back card could make a lot of sense during this time period. And in the long run, he may find it’s advantageous to have both a cash back card and a travel rewards card (that’s what I do!).
Here are a couple straightforward, no-fee cash back credits cards he could consider:
1) Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers a hierarchy of cash back percentages:
- 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
- 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores
- 1% Cash Back on other purchases
- Earn a $200 statement credit if you spend $2,000 within the first 6 months of card membership
2) Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- Earn $200 if you spend $500 or more in purchases within the first three months of card membership
3) Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card:
- 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and grocery stores, excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®.
- 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
- 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
- 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards.
- 3% cash back on dining and drugstores.
- 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
- No minimum to redeem for cash back, rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.
- Earn $200 if you spend $500 in your first 3 months from account opening.
Note: the credit card links are affiliate links.
- Look for a higher-paying (or at the very least, lower physical toll and regular hours/paycheck) part-time office job, ideally on campus.
- Reduce spending as needed to eliminate the need to deplete savings or go into credit card debt.
- Look into taking out more in student loans in order to avoid credit card debt.
- Map out a post-graduation financial plan.
- Consider getting a cash back credit card to help make ends meet.
- Feel confident that you’ve made good decisions and that yes, this two-year period will likely be tough, but it will be worth it in the end!
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to John? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask questions!
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In terms of budgeting, it might be useful for him to budget using last month’s income. If he brought home $850 last month, use that to zero-sum your budget. If you bring in $950 this month, use that number for next month’s zero-sum budget. I second Liz’s suggestion to look into working for your school. I work at a university and it is easy to take classes here. Also, look into mental health options at your school. A lot of health centers have therapy options for students. Good Luck!
This is very helpful, and that’s kind of what I’ve started doing! Now that I’ve been at my job a little longer my income has settled into around $1600/month, which is higher than I anticipated based on my first couple of checks. It will drop once I have to cut hours for school. But basing my spending off of an average and/or what I made last month has helped.
John: You are on a great career path. I am hoping you are heading towards your Bachelor degree. Get a year of basic Med/ Surg nursing. Then start traveling ASAP. I have a friend that just did this and made $65,000 in 12 weeks before taxes. There is huge money out there and single you are single and young go out and make as much as u can. My friend is getting her Bachelor degree online. You can also do this with your masters degree. Do NOT stay at a local hospital and make measley money. Good luck to you.
John: Retired LPN with a BA in Spanish and Sec. Educ. here. I worked the last 5 years during the pandemic on the front end of a grocery store OMG. I retired on a limited budget with substantial savings for me. And an equal amount in checking. I have no credit cards and proud of it. The stress is substantial mentally and physically. I took breaks and began back to get my RN. Unfortunately my mom got cancer and I felt she needed looking after so my RN was never completed. When I left school I was a straight A student. Consider work study jobs. When you get into nursing do not stay on the floors long. One to 2 years max. Go on for your nurse practitioner or medical assistant program. I have a nephew who is a medical assistant in Arkansas . Get some mens support hose and do yoga. Concentrate on strength training. Pay in cash as much as possible. Use your online resources. Make your own detergent using Castille soap. Consider a scooter for transportation. Clean hardwood floors with vinegar and water and a mop with removeable mopheads that can be washed. Shop at dollar general or big lots. Do not eat out except once a week with friends. Federal student loans are good not pri vate. The payment arrangements are awful when you finish school if you get private loans. They’re not dischargeable in bankruptcy court. With federal loans you can get them put on hold if you have to or pay them back based on income or lack of income. If you get a roomie get a 2 bedroom 2 bath. You’ll be less inclined to kill each other. I retired at 68. I went back to school at 59 and finished my studies in paralegal studies from a community College and graduated on the deans list. I studied bankruptcy law along with medical malpractice. Jobs were not plentiful when I graduated because of the recession thus I worked as a janitor before I retired. I was somewhat disabled but have recovered doing free online classes and walking the dog 3 miles a day 7 days a week. Be careful with credit cards. I moved into a poorer area in a well to do suburban town and I can walk or bicycle everywhere. Even though I live modestly I can travel. The bus cheap late night flights rent a car. Rent a room at an air bnb or in a hostel. In Canada I can travel with my dog and rent a room in the hostel for me and the dog. My dog is small and can be in a pet carrier under my feet on a train. Renting books online is a good option. They are much cheaper. Btw I ude phone internet and over the air TV. I also use an mvno. Good luck and best regards
I don’t have a lot of advice on the financial front here, I lived off student loans to get through nursing school as a single parent and I don’t regret it even though it sucked having the debt. I just wanted to say what gets me physically through long shifts on my feet as a nurse is good shoes and regular yoga. Don’t feel guilty about finding the right shoe! I used to love ASICS kayanos but switched this past year to Hoka one ones and I would highly recommend them. I find it gets easier because you aren’t usually just standing still all the time, it’s a lot of walking.
And because he will be keeping his internet service, he can find yoga on you tube for free (assuming the gym he pays for doesn’t already offer what he needs for that). Might also have an increased benefit long term of decreasing injuries from the standing and walking.
If the shoes he has purchased are all ones he plans to keep (not sure from the post), it is a good idea to rotate them around instead of wearing the same shoe every day. This is a runner’s trick to help the shoes last a little longer. If the shoes are not good options and will just sit in the closet, maybe consider selling them.
Thank you for commenting! It means SO much to me to hear from a nurse that the loans are worth it – and to be affirmed in prioritizing good shoes. At work I’ve started wearing Altras, which has helped a ton, and for nursing school I bought Cloves. Being on my feet has also gotten a lot easier; the first month or so at the restaurant was the hardest while my feet/legs/body were adjusting.
As a nurse and an FNP, I also recommend compression socks! A little hot and sweaty at times, but saved my aching legs and feet when standing all day during hospital shifts. I would go for the medical version (I forget, they come in a certain mm Hg compression I think) rather than some of the cutesy ones that are just tighter socks. Just a thought!
And don’t they offer you a meal for free at your job?
No free food unless you the hospital is code black with revolving door admissions. Cue pizza party.
I highly recommend some sort of orthotic. Even though I have custom plaster cast orthotics, even the simple by the number ones from a dedicated orthotics store or any sporting goods store will help quite a bit. (There are ones you warm in your oven before molding to your feet; they were less than 50 dollars when I used them, and they lasted for years.)
Depending on the demands of his program, John may not be able to accommodate a part-time office job — nursing students often need to keep daytime hours open for clinical rotations, etc. He could look into night shift work at a local hospital — try “patient sitter” or “milieu counselor,” as these are generally less physically active roles and the clinical exposure would be beneficial. At some point in nursing school, I think you become qualified to work as CNA (this would be a more physically demanding position), though I don’t remember the specifics.
There are also private loans with somewhat lower interest rates that are specific to medical and nursing students (presumably because you are expected to bring in a higher salary upon graduation), so that’s something to look into, need be! Also, keep HRSA in mind — I had trouble qualifying for loan forgiveness as an RN, but if you ever pursue a higher degree, it is easier to access those funds if you plan to work in a high-needs area.
I’ve had good luck with dansko clogs, though they’re not for everyone. And they’re pricey. You actually want them to fit a little loose, so there’s a slight “flip flop” effect.
Welcome to nursing! We need you!
Thank you for commenting, it’s really good to hear from nurses! I’m going to look into getting some private sector loans, which I hadn’t really considered before now; student loans are a whole new world to me.
I would be really hesitant to suggest taking out private loans when you have the option of taking out additional federal loans. With federal loans, you can get on an income-based repayment plan, so there never has to be a student loan bill you can’t afford. (I’m on PAYE and payments are capped at 10% of discretionary income; whatever I haven’t paid after 20 years of payments is supposed to be forgiven.) Your student loan interest rate isn’t very high compared to what they were a few years ago. And with private loans, you won’t benefit if, hypothetically, the government gets something done to cancel student debt.
It’s true that you will probably make a good salary and if you don’t end up needing income-based repayment or loan forgiveness, you will save money by finding the lowest interest rate possible. But having peace of mind in case something happens to limit your income is worth potentially paying a little more over the long term, in my opinion.
I agree — would only recommend private loans (as small as possible) if he had maxed out federal aid and needed a little more $ to spare his health/wellness.
RN here, a few thoughts:
Explore jobs with a local hospital/ healthcare system. They will likely offer scholarships or tuition assistance to become a nurse and you will get a sense of what it’s like to work in healthcare. They are also generally flexible around school. Most people I know did this route in nursing school.
Also figure out how to get comfortable being on your feet long hours… this is really important in nursing.
Travel nursing isn’t a great option for new nurses, even though you go to school most learning happens on the job. Pick a supportive unit for your first job..
Lastly unless nursing school has changed since I went (20 years ago) you will be VERY busy and likely not have time to go out much or read something that isn’t a nursing book. Those expenses should melt away.
Good advice on healthcare jobs – after all these comments, this is definitely something I’m going to keep an eye out for and ask about within my program and the hospital where I’m doing clinicals this semester.
The restaurant actually is helpful in getting me acclimated to being on my feet (although that’s been a painful process, as I mentioned). I’d never worked a job where I had to stand for so long before. The first month or so was the worst, but now that it’s been a few months I’m a lot more used to it.
I am a nurse myself, and want to suggest that, definitely after your first year of nursing school, you should apply to local hospitals as a Patient Care Tech, basically a nursing assistant position specifically for nursing students. You could work the entire summer, then weekends during year 2 of school, gain experience, earn seniority and get an inside track on applying for jobs at graduation. SInce nursing school is pretty much a Monday thru Friday full-time job, it is hard to balance a second job with that. I was married part of the time going through school, but also had an on-campus job at the library, and as a church musician, had a weekend job there; before getting married, I also worked as a well-paid babysitter for doctors and other professionals evenings and weekends. Who wouldn’t want a nursing student to watch their children? Good luck on your journey…..I’ve been an in-the-trenches RN my entire (38 year) career and can’t imagine having another job. Take care of yourself, it’s a physically demanding job, but you can do it!!
Many parents of special needs children or family members with disabilities/elderly look for nursing students to babysit for them or provide interim coverage. He could get at least $15/hr and might be able to do overnight shifts, etc.
I hadn’t thought of babysitting! That could be a great side gig. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for hospital jobs and ask around in my program and at my clinical shifts. Thanks so much for commenting – it’s really encouraging to hear from nurses!
I would advise John to look into a hospital job.Some are 12hour shifts/weekend and that will allow him plenty of time for nursing school/study.Most hospitals pay for a big part of the nursing school tuition
Thanks, I’m going to look into this!
I am a server as well and I’ve had foot and back issues. I would highly (!!!!) recommend Dansko flexible XP clogs. They are expensive ($150 for mine) but they last forever, are slip proof, and make my legs and feet feel comfy and energized even on a double shift. The bonus is that you can wear them for nursing, too! Make sure they’re the flexible clogs…I’ve had the best physical response with them.
Thanks! I’ve seen that those are very popular in hospitals. I’m going to check them out.
17/hour and no benefits is rough. I would be searching for a work from home customer service job like this: https://www.apple.com/careers/ie/aha.html – I think they even off benefits to part time people.
Alternatively I’d look into non-nursing jobs at the local hospital. This would also help you when it comes time to look for a nursing job as hospitals like to hire people with hospital experience and hospital nursing jobs pay very well.
Also I would look into whether you can take out more in loans for living expenses since you are nowhere near the maximum loan amount. For nurses there are several paths toward student loan forgiveness, but probably the most generous is the National Health Service Corps – 2 years of service for 56k in loan forgiveness. You have to find a job in a high need area and then apply, but I’d look into that.
Thanks for validating the struggle. It’s hard to get benefits around here, but it’s definitely a shock to my system after having a job with benefits. Especially not having paid sick or annual leave is a big adjustment.
I’m going to look into hospital jobs for sure. And I appreciate the encouragement around loans; based on what everyone’s saying, I think I’m going to take out some more loans so I can cut back shifts at the restaurant for now. I wasn’t familiar with the National Health Service Corps, thanks for recommending that!
John, Although you may be feeling overwhelmed wondering how to balance work and school and pay your bills this next two years, as a nurse I can tell you that you’re going to be in a great position, job-wise, on the other side. Also, the work you’ve already done to understand your spending is fantastic and will serve you well. A few thoughts:
– Have you considered applying for public benefits like SNAP, and/ or using a food pantry to supplement your food budget? You have a defined period of need that these might help you through.
– Mrs. Frugalwoods is right that you need a less physical job. For the next two years you’ll need to save wear and tear on your body so that you’re able to complete the hands-on portion of your training. You might look for administrative jobs within hospitals or home health care agencies. You’ll gain a helpful understanding of some aspect of these employers, and many provide funds for education in the field.
– Have you checked for state programs that support nurses in training? Some states are using pandemic relief funds to educate more nurses, because of shortages.
Best wishes to you! You have chosen a great field with more employment options than any other I can think of.
Thanks so much, it’s so great to hear from nurses.
Unfortunately where I live there’s a very low cap on assets to qualify for SNAP, and I don’t want to deplete my savings to the extent that I would qualify.
I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for some kind of admin job at a hospital. It would be nice to get experience in the hospital setting now.
I hadn’t thought of potential pandemic funds, I’m going to check and see if my state has anything like that!
Do look to see if there is a local food bank. I volunteer for one in my community and there is no means testing. You just need to give your name and address to start receiving food.
I’d agree with the food bank suggestion. I’m not sure if this is how John feels, but after choosing to leave a full-time, well paying office job (especially when you have not historically needed any kind of financial assistance), it can be extremely difficult to feel like you “deserve” to access resources like a food pantry. I went through an extremely similar experience at times during graduate school (for mental healthcare). However, I worry that you are at risk for burning out. If access to some food through a food pantry alleviates even a bit of stress and offers you slightly more flexibility (i.e., one less hour at the restaurant = one more hour of sleep), it could make a big difference over time. There are a lot of options here, but just something to keep in mind – a food pantry is also a resource that is pretty easy to access and so you could only go when needed, or until you potentially increase your income.
Thank you for going into nursing – we need you!
When I was in nursing school, the only way I qualified for SNAP was by having a work study job which was determined by my FAFSA application. And I had to be currently employed with a work study job to receive SNAP benefits. Being a student disqualifies you from receiving SNAP even if you’re low income unless you have a work study job.
The shortfall per year is only around $8000.00 and I’m assuming John will get a 3 month break in the middle of the year where he could work full time and make up some of that money.I’m from Australia so not sure re breaks etc.The worst case scenario is that John borrows $16000 for the 2 years and then repays in his first year of working.He’s already shown that he has the ability to budget in the past and I suspect the present overspending is a result of the anxiety one feels when struggling financially.It can actually stop you thinking straight.John’s choices have been excellent so far and as long as he can stay focused on his studies,the money is not an enormous problem,just a bit scarey.
Yes, I should get about 3 months off from school each summer and a month in the winter. I definitely plan to work more during those times (as I have been now), so you’re right that that should help with money. And you’re definitely right that my recent overspending has been a lot about anxiety. It’s nice to hear someone relate to that 🙂 I’ve mostly gotten it under control by using my small amount of cash tips for discretionary spending and cutting everything else. I really appreciate your encouragement and the reassurance not to freak out too much!
I feel you on not wanting a roommate when you are used to living alone but maybe it’s worth it for just two years? It’s not just splitting rent but utilities, streaming services … You can discuss clear ground rules for quiet hours, use of shared space, cleaning, etc. before they move in and have a written agreement. I had to do this a few years ago when times were lean and it really helped. I controlled the lease so if the situation didn’t work out, I could ask the person to move out. Just a thought.
Also, Broken Earth is THE BEST thing I have read in my life. I still talk about it years later! Jemisin’s writing is amazing and I just started her Great Cities series.
I hadn’t thought of having a situation where I could control the lease – that would definitely help me feel better about a roommate. I think for right now I’m going to keep that option in my back pocket, but it’s nice to have the potential there if I need it.
I just finished Stone Sky – wow, what an amazing series!!! I’m really excited to read more of her work. And I’ve switched from buying them to getting them at the local library 🙂
Stone Sky was my favorite! She not only wrote a great series but she closed it well, which is hard to do. They way she pulled everything together? Oh man, you’re gonna love it. Local library is the way to go! I had bought them for my husband for a Christmas gift a few years ago and then he passed them on to me, knowing I would devour them.
If you chose to stay solo on the housing front, that’s cool, too! I worked as a hostess for a while and had a studio apartment on my own after my divorce. It was legit the first time I had ever lived alone. It was liberating and I needed it. I shared WiFi with my neighbors, which helped a lot. I did this for four years until I remarried. But back in the day when I had a roommate, I controlled the lease and had written terms and agreements with roommates. I only had to ask one to leave.
Worse comes to worst, you can go the loan route and pay it off when you graduate. I had several friends at the restaurant where I worked who supplemented their incomes this way until they were able to get work in their files. Also, check with your bank, sometimes personal loans can be really inexpensive, too, and don’t have as many hoops to go through. I did this to help pay for a couple of classes in grad school because the percentage rate was so low. Good luck!
I got to second Cindy here, but perhaps even look at a shorter term than two years? You could advertise a short term sublet of 6-12 months and see how it goes. That way if it’s not a good fit there’s an end date to it and you’d only have to stick it out for a bit before going back to having space to yourself.
I’m very close with my housemate and I love living with people, but she totally only lives with me because it’s cheaper! 😛 Like, don’t get me wrong we’re such good friends but she would totally prefer her own space and I suspect will drop me as soon as that becomes financially viable for her. 😛
Someone else mentioned a short-term sublet too, I think I’m definitely going to look into this!
Any travel nurses coming through your hospital who need a short-term place to stay?
An interesting case study! My daughter took an accelerated nursing program to get her BSN in 15 months and it was intense. All she did is class, study, eat and sleep. It was impossible to work a job, and it is difficult even with a more relaxed schedule. She lived on student loans and has never regretted it. She ended up going back after 5 years of working as an RN to get her masters and now works in primary care as a nurse practitioner (FNP) and loves it. She makes over $100,000 with great benefits. A good solution to your budgeting issue is YNAB (You Need A Budget). It is an annual paid subscription but they offer it to students for free. You budget your money only when it is actually in your hands, and is perfect for variable income. They offer a 30 day free trial so you can check it out before you commit.
Thankfully I won’t be in an accelerated program (I decided against that because the local one flat out said you can’t have a job and do this). The community college program is at a slightly more manageable pace, but it will definitely be very challenging. I really appreciate the validation that student loans are worth it. They’re new to me and a little scary.
A couple of people have mentioned that YNAB is good for a variable income, so I’m going to check it out.
Nursing professor here. Nursing school is very demanding and the schedule usually makes day time employment difficult.
There is also a lot of prep the evening before clinical and nights before tests.
In my opinion work needs to be part time and mainly weekends only. I have seen many a nursing student look just at the schedule of classes and think there is time for a full time job.
I suggest student loans and a roommate to get the costs down enough to cut back on work. Once you get to second year you may be able to work as a nurses aide in the hospital or long term care which typically pays well.
Thanks for this advice – based on my class schedule and work hours, I could *technically* work 5 or 6 days a week. But it’s good counsel for me to remember that just because I won’t be in class, I should be really cautious about overloading myself.
Do you have a sense of how many days a week is feasible in a typical program? I was hoping for 3-4, but I’m recognizing that maybe 2-3 is more realistic.
It was impossible to plan a work schedule in nursing school. Clinical days would have to change at the last minute. I remember having clinical dates and times change one day before they occurred. Unfortunately nursing school controls your life while you are there since every part is essential to graduate (classes, clinicals, benchmark exams we took to monitor competence). I think taking out student loans would be the best way to pay for school. When I was in nursing school, less than 80% was failing and you could not “fail” (get under an 80%) in two courses or you had to restart the program. Almost half of the class did not progress past the first year because of this. Nursing school is worth the time and investment, so don’t risk your grade to work more if loans are an option.
Additionally, working as a CNA or ED tech (way better option since you can place IVs and see more) can allow you to pick up flexible shifts. Working on breaks between semesters will help. Multiple new nurses on the unit worked as CNAs before becoming a nurse and were offered jobs since the manager knew them. Another nurse’s hospital paid for the nursing program while she worked but she had to commit one year of work for every semester paid. There are options once you get your foot in the door. Also definitely try out being a CNA first. I would have gone perused a different career if I did that. Nursing money is good but not worth it. Punched, kicked, cursed out and still have to be the one to deliver care. It’s rough out there. Find out if it is tolerable for you
While it doesn’t help with the exhaustion component, thoughts on working at the hospital as an aid or registration position? You’d likely get tuition reimbursement and with how short staffed they are I think you could find flexibility in scheduling.
That’s a really good point – I’m going to look into whether our local hospital systems do tuition reimbursement.
Great work, John! Never forget how you crushed that debt and you can do it again with student loan debt etc.
Agree with Liz on the job hunt. Plenty of part time admin positions come with a set schedule so you’re back to reliable, consistent paycheck amounts.
I assume John would have thought of this, but nursing is an “on your feet” job too. Often with 10-12 hr shifts on your feet.
Foot stamina can be improved. I have tender feet and I worked in restaurants when I was young and I’m a retail manager now. At the restaurants I would use very soft socks that didn’t create pressure points at the seam etc. Sometimes I’d switch shoes halfway through the shift. I recently found that adding a daily walk increased my foot strength and stamina at work. “Legs up the wall” yoga pose after work or just every night helps too.
And yes, my foot stamina has already improved a LOT. I think what happened, honestly, is that I got a stress fracture during my first month at the restaurant from wearing the wrong shoes. We aren’t required to wear any specific shoes, and a lot of my coworkers wear shoes that are more fashionable than supportive. I was wearing shoes that pinched my toes a bit, and that start causing a ton of pain, I think because my foot just couldn’t move the way it needed to. I got an x-ray but it was inconclusive.
I’ve since switched to only wearing very wide tennis shoes both at work and outside work, and the pain is pretty much totally gone. Hopefully whatever it was has healed.
Lessons learned, and standing on my feet doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did the first couple of months. I’m glad I’m adjusting now rather than once I’m a nurse.
I quit a sedentary career and re-trained for a job that has me on my feet (you can do this! It’ll be amazing!). Good call on switching to Altras. Shoes with a wide toe box made a big difference for me too. Regular shoes just pinch too much after a long day.
The other thing that helped me was foot strength exercises. Maybe you got some from PT already. If not, there are plenty online.
The two years will go fast. The first day of my training program feels like just yesterday. I wish you the very best of luck!
If John is not willing to totally cut out his book and news spending, he could look into a service like Scribd (referral link https://www.scribd.com/gi/6pyb7a). It’s $9/month with access to a vast catalog of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and sheet music. There might even be some textbooks available although I haven’t looked into that. There’s also some complimentary subscriptions to CuriosityStream, Pandora Plus, and others included. Our library system does not have great availability for the books I like to read so this is the solution our family found. John could then keep a list of books that he’s read and would like to own someday and can use that list when money is more available.
Thanks, I’d never heard of Scribd!
I am definitely very preferential to physical books, but luckily my local library does have a pretty good selection, plus I have access to the college library. I’ve been able to get some other books through Inter-Library Loan, too.
I love the idea of keeping a list of books I want to buy once I have the money. I’m definitely going to start doing that!
I’m going to tag onto the library suggestion. I’m amazed at the offerings at mine. They have electronic copies of nearly every magazine & few access to a couple of streaming services. It
For entertainment, there is a free streaming service called Pluto in hat has a lot of movie channels. It has a lot of commercials but when I want to plop down & v g out for a while, it works for me!
Good luck in your studies!
John, you’re doing amazing. Great advice here from nurses.
I would take out student loans, honestly. Borrow what you need to feel in control of your finances (after you make the necessary cuts), and then you will pay it off quickly once you’re employed as a nurse because you’ve shown you have the willpower to do so. (With Liz’s caution that you must be certain you’ll work as a nurse.)
I’m in a kind of similar situation now though in my 50s and trying to pay off my house. I’m making the deep cuts for the short term and then I’ll be comfortable again. It’s worth it for a year or two, for sure, and you can absolutely do it. There gets to be some pleasure from the denial of short-term gratification for long-term goals accomplishments.
You’re doing such a great job with life!
Thank you so much. This affirmation really means a lot to me and helps me. It’s a relief to have so much affirmation that more student loans are a good idea in my situation; I’ve been stretching myself so thin trying to figure out how to work enough.
Fellow nurse here. I strongly encourage John to look at local hospitals for work. When I was in nursing school they has “nurse extern” jobs. You essentially did nursing aid work but the schedule was very flexible, the pay was decent, and they often handed out scholarships! You may have to be proactive. Don’t just skim the job boards, call HR and ask. Hospitals are so short staffed and healthcare workers are so burned out I can’t imagine you would be turned down. Plus, it looks great when you go to apply for your first RN job.
Thank you, this is really helpful! I super appreciate hearing from all the nurses on here. Thanks for this very specific advice too, because I wouldn’t know where to start otherwise.
John, congratulations on the new life stage! It is incredibly brave of you to make such a drastic change and I’m proud of you.
I made a similar change in my early 30s and it was a financial emotional rollercoaster so I completely get where you’re coming from. Liz has some fantastic advice above. If you stay in a role that is hourly and will be variable income each month I would highly recommend this blog series to help you budget https://www.youneedabudget.com/say-goodbye-to-crazytown-mastering-your-variable-income/. It can seem like whiplash trying to wrap your head around budgeting when income changes each week. Budgeting the money you have by month (i.e your savings $$) will help you see that you potentially have 2.5 months of expenses covered. That’s enough to create a buffer and hope. Now, you can start budgeting dollars into the future as they come in. I completely understand where you are coming from with the abnormal spending! I’ve done the same thing when I my finances feel out of control. Perhaps seeing what you DO have money for will help get spending back in line with your priorities and give you hope to take control again.
Also, you might find help to cover expenses short term at a local non-profit (search for rental reimbursement programs, internet reimbursement and the like). Even one months rent payment can be reprieve to help you feel better prepared for future months.
Lastly, cutting your expenses more or increasing income are the only ways to prevent debt. I don’t say this lightly because you seem to be intentional about each of your expenses which you should be really proud of. I’ll say from experience, cutting every non-essential expense (even giving and gifting) is key to making things work for a few years. The good news is that you can come back with a bang when you are able to increase you income down the road! And if you’re looking for flexible jobs that can work with your school schedule you could consider a delivery service like doordash or instacart. I was very pleased with these jobs during a time when I needed increased income and flexibility. Liz’s suggestion for an on-campus job is a fantastic one as well! Applying at the temp job service at the school can also help you land in a position that you like and explore different pay levels across campus.
Enjoy the next few years John! They will go fast, but you’ll likely look on them fondly in the future. You are doing great! Your future you is already thanking you for planning ahead!
Thanks so much for the article and for the affirmation! All the encouraging comments people are leaving on here really mean a lot to me.
Nursing can be even more physically exhausting than waiting tables – are you absolutely certain that nursing is the field you want to be in, given the foot/back/joint issues you’re current experiencing?
Are there any opportunities for higher-paying restaurants? I worked in a bar as a cocktail waitress and it practically printed money. $150-$200 per night wasn’t unusual.
Salesforce jobs are everywhere, and pay really well. IDK how long it takes to onboard, nor do I know if you can do it part time, but something else to look into.
If I were in this position, I would take out student loans to cover my living costs, and plan on working as a travel nurse to aggressively pay them off as soon as I graduated. Nurses are in short supply, and as a travel nurse, you can follow the money to pay the loans off, then go back home or to wherever you liked best to settle into your new career. I hate debt, but why make life harder than it has to be?
I was thinking the same thing. It’s VERY physically demanding.
The hardest thing about the physical aspect of working in a restaurant was the transition period into it. I had never had a job before that required standing on my feet all day, and the adjustment period of the first few weeks working 5-6 days a week was really brutal.
Thankfully, since then it’s gotten much easier. So, I’ll just say I’m grateful actually that I made that transition before starting nursing.
I’m not a server – since I have no restaurant experience, I’m working as a host. My current pay is very high for a host in my area. I think if I do stay in the restaurant, I can probably move up to being a server at about $21-25/hour either at my restaurant or elsewhere within a year.
Thanks for the encouragement about student loans. I’m going to look into that more.
I would second the recommendation to find a roommate just for the short term. Rent is your biggest expense and a roommate would cut it in half. When you’re in school you’re not going to have as much time to socialize, so having a roommate may not be as burdensome. Cash based budgeting with tips is definitely what I would recommend for any discretionary expenses.
Thanks! I’m going to think about potential short-term roommate options, that’s something I hadn’t really considered, honestly.
Since I wrote the post I’ve already started implementing cash budgeting from my tips, and I was able to cut about $600 last month mostly through that. It’s really helped me cut out a lot of spending, so I’m definitely going to try to stick pretty rigidly to that going forward.
One small piece of advice that might help with book costs is to check out what the school library at the community college offers. Do they have copies of your textbooks available as ebooks? Could you check out your textbooks from the school library? Might help with the cost of textbooks.
Also, maybe look to see if you can get any scholarships for nursing students. Or just scholarships in general.
I had great results with inter-library loan through nursing school, especially for classes I didn’t want or need the book long term.
Yes, I love the library so much! I’ve used ILL a bit, probably am going to take advantage of that.
Textbooks from the library is a great idea. I did that during my first degree but had forgotten until now that that might be an option. I’ll certainly do that any time I can.
John please reach out to see if there are nursing grants for students offered in your community. In Houston there are some available no matter which nursing degree you are working on from an ADN up to a PhD or DSN. The recommendation of hiring on with a local hospital to fill in as a unit secretary or other role is a great idea. Many hospitals offer nursing scholarships to their employees to help them with nursing school expenses. Also, it will work with your school schedule and potentially offer you your first full time job after you graduate.
Thanks, I’m going to look and see whether any of the local hospitals have support for nursing students. This is a great idea.
I’m struggling to understand the appeal of working a front-end service job during John’s years in nursing school. The math of 4-5 x 6-8 hour shifts per week for $1000 per month also doesn’t seem to add up to being $16/hour in the end. I’ve definitely seen people go into restaurant work expecting to make good salaries through their tips and have it turn out to be much less than expected. It can take awhile to realise that the reality doesn’t match the appeal.
It seems like something in the healthcare/elder care realm would pay better and more consistently, and also give John relevant experience that will make his future nursing job search a lot easier. I would also hire someone with education and relevant experience over education alone.
John may find budgeting more helpful if he uses fewer categories. Going granular can help root out expenses to cut, but here having 5-10 categories for medical care for example creates a false impression that he is spending very little on everything. It may how the final budget number was such a surprise.
Thanks for the job ideas, I’m going to look into that. And I definitely agree about the idea of larger budget categories. This exercise was very useful to see all the areas I’m spending money, but the bigger picture is more useful when I’m thinking month to month about what I can cut.
John, I agree with Liz’s recommendations. As a Nurse recruiter, try and get a job within healthcare like CNA or some hospitals will hire you as an Employed Student Nurse while you are completing school (I’m in Canada so it might be different in the US). Definitely try and get more student loans instead of using your credit card as sometimes federal or state student loan debt can be forgiven if you are willing to work in an underserved community post-grad. Plus way better interest rate! And for your aches and pains try soaking in a epsom salt bath; Epsom salts are cheap and I find it helps.
Thank you! I’m going to check out opportunities at local hospitals, especially once I start clinicals this spring. And I definitely appreciate the encouragement on student loans. My friends keep telling me about Epsom salts so maybe I should listen 🙂
You may want to also look into a job at your local library. I formerly worked at my local library and a number of our part-time employees were also college students. Our department head was great about scheduling around classes, plus you’ll have easy access to free books, movies, and tv shows (on dvd) to replace the ones you currently purchase.
Another option would be to look for a clerical job at the hospital, like patient registration or billing. Suggesting this because I think you need to look for office jobs at places that are open evenings and weekends to allow you to work around your class schedule. Plus, you’ll be an internal candidate when you are ready to apply for nursing positions.
Good luck to you and thank you for choosing nursing!
This seems to be somewhat mind over matter because you had to have cut back significantly to pay off $16,000+ in debt before you quit your job. On $47K, that’s $31K/year you were living on. When I was a struggling college professor (and all my friends were high paying execs), I would write down everything I REALLY wanted and add up the cost. Somehow seeing it on paper made me realize I didn’t want it that much and could defer until I had more disposable income. I also would look for a job with a hospital ASAP given Covid is surging and your hours at the restaurant (as I’ve seen with my 16 year old) could be cut back and/or be less flexible) and definitely less tips. At the hospital, you would have to make more than what you’re making PLUS a friend had her tuition paid for by the hospital when she wanted to switch into medical billing. There is a shortage of nurses, so there has to be a shortage of support staff, too. At your age and since you’re single, I would cut where people can’t see. Keep the gym membership and budget $50/month for social, while eating rice and beans at home. Cut back meat and/or buy a roast and eat it through the week. Given your difficulty, I’m wondering if you are sure that nursing is for you. It seems to be a calling as much as a profession. I would confirm that before you spend much more time and money. See your CC guidance office – there are tests you can take to help you determine your aptitude and interest in different things. I would also look for grants and other opportunities for whatever you do. Finally, the ACA is a financial lifesaver for sure. I’m sure they offer therapy even if it is limited to 6-10 visits/year. Good luck to you!
I am an RN, just retired at age 73. I love nursing and being a nurse. It is demanding, exhausting, emotional; it is also deeply rewarding, every day you get to make differences in the lives of suffering and scared people. I went to school many decades ago, so my advice could be a bit dated. I highly recommend that you investigate your state’s regs for becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant and that you consider working 2-3 12 hour shifts a week in a hospital or long term care facility. You will gain terrific experience in relating with patients and families, you will gain valuable exposure to the culture of health care, you will practice the basics of providing care to someone, you will (hopefully) gain respect and appreciation for the contribution of people whom you will supervise as an RN. I doubt that it would be more exhausting than your current job. Of course, you should only do this if you can match or exceed your current wages. Secondly, investigate possibilities for tuition compensation/write off if you choose to practice in an underserved urban or rural area or with the U.S. Public Health Service. As time goes on and you get a good start in nursing, please consider going back to school (Aaaargh) for your Bachelor’s degree in Nursing so that you can further expand your opportunities. There are many options for earning a BSN while working full time in nursing. I haven’t looked at the case study in detail so this is all I can comment on now. Wish the very best of luck as you enter an amazing profession!!
Hi, John. RN myself who worked in various field of nursing expertise before deciding to be an OR RN. Great suggestions (mentioned by others) about you exploring work opportunities in your local hospital. Not sure what state are you but mostly – hospital’s cover part of your tuition fees, I have many co-employees who are studying nursing school while working as NA, ORA (Operating Room Attendant), Surgical Tech, CPD or OR Front Desk Personnel. In OR particularly (esp. if it’s a 24/7 surgeries) managers are very supportive & flexible with your schedule ( you can work weekends, nights, evenings etc) if you are studying nursing. My trusted Shoes: 1. Hoka 2. Asics 3. Sketchers. Try wearing compression socks too. Good luck & great decision with Nursing! You will be highly needed!
You can make decent money being a CNA, doing evening or overnight shifts with elderly folks. Being a nursing student might be a plus when applying. Any experience with kids? I used Care.com to get a very well paying childcare job. Again, your status as a nursing student might be a plus when applying.
I imagine the overnight shifts would be tiring but probably not as tiring or physical as a restaurant worker. My friend worked as a 1:1 CNA while she was in school for a child with special needs. Her experience was a big asset.
That’s what I was thinking! An overnight or two on the weekends even could be a real income boost.
And there’d be time to study while the client slept!
Sleep is also so, so important for physical and mental health, especially when working a physical job and in school/learning lots of new things! I think CNA work is a great idea – I would just caution John into viewing overnights as a time to make money but sacrificing vital sleep during these two years.
A few suggestions:
– If your previous job as a consultant would pay $20/hr minimum (he could negotiate more) and be stable hours, how many hours would you need to work to offset the physically demanding waiter job? Could you get flexible hours with previous job?
– Look into a higher paying medical related job. What are the requirements to be a CNA in your state? Many of my friends in medical adjacent school got their certification to get higher paying jobs, especially as personal care assistants. It’s hard work but usually 1:1 and may be less stressful than a busy restaurant.
– Car insurance – I know Liz said the insurance was high but what is your safety net/plan if this car breaks down or is in a significant accident? What is the price difference for two years of full collision? John, you mentioned that your driving record isn’t great and I’m nervous if there was an issue. Right now, you could afford a new used car but if your savings keep decreasing, that could be an issue.
Ditto what all the nurses said regarding health care jobs. I’ve known a number of people working as HHA or CNA during school (though the experience caused more than one of them to reconsider nursing as a career).
If you have really wide feet, Dansko may not work for you (at least that’s been my experience for their female lines).
I’ve seen too many people killing themselves physically or having to retake classes because they weren’t getting enough sleep or time to study because they were working instead of taking student loans. You definitely want to avoid high interest debt, but if it’s a choice between hurting yourself or your future career prospects and taking out loans, take out the loans.
John, have you tried thrift stores for your books, movies, or other items? I am an avid reader and love having a physical book. I usually pay $1 for books. We also have little free libraries in my city, are there any of those available near you? Books don’t have to be returned, so if you really like one, keep it! Put books you don’t like or won’t read again in one for other people to take.
I get my contacts online, I don’t know if that’s how you’re getting yours. It ends up being much cheaper per box than paying full price at the eye doctor.
Have you looked into different grants for school? When I went back to school, I was able to get around $5000 that didn’t need to be paid back.
As far as the roommate situation goes, I hear you on that. Could you perhaps advertise for a short term roommate? Rent out a room for 1, 2, or 3 months at a time? Keeping it extremely temporary might make it less stressful while giving you some breathing room with your finances.
For budgeting without a fixed income- I know how that goes. I am now self employed as a massage therapist, so my income varies drastically. I have found that budgeting ahead for fixed expenses when I have a larger paycheck helps keep things evened out. For example, if I bring home $800 this week, and I only have $400 of fixed expenses this month left to cover, I budget for those, and then move on to next months priorities instead of using that remaining $400 towards variables or wants. That way, if my next take home is only $400, or $500, I don’t have to scramble to cover the mortgage. Super simplified explanation, but I hope it makes sense!
I use YNAB for my budget, which is based on the envelope system of budgeting. There is an annual fee but I find it well worth it. You can do a 30 day free trial to get an understanding of the system and then switch to doing a spreadsheet or even using a notebook so you’re not adding another expense.
I completely understad your feelings with the impulse spending. I do the same thing- I’m already in debt, might as well get this thing too!- I have to keep telling myself that yes, I’m in debt, but if I don’t keep adding unnessecary things to my debt, I will eventually get out of debt again! It’s a mind game for sure.
Ultimately, think about your end goal. This is a temporary situation and you will get through it and in the end it will be worth it. When I went back to school for massage, I was working 12 hour overnights at a factory, was divorced with 4 kids and no help of any kind from my ex husband, and no money. I kept working while going to school, so I averaged about 4 hours of sleep a day. It was difficult but I knew the end result would make it all worthwhile, and kept telling myself that I could do it for the next 8 months. I kept thinking of how my life would be better once I made it through and that kept me motivated.
Not buying that coffee, skipping that movie, (who am I kidding, sleep was how I spent my downtime if I wasn’t studying) etc became pretty easy to do when framing it in the point of view of it being temporary. You can give up an awful lot without feeling deprived when you can change your mindset!
For pain management, if you choose to continue your restaurant job-Epsom salt baths and/or foot soaks. Peppermint oil is a great topical pain reliever. Make sure to dilute it first. Stretch! Check into getting a stainless steel scraper. I got mine (gua sha scraper) for $38 and it has made a huge difference in my muscle soreness and pain levels after a long day on my feet.
You can do this!
Hi. Wow, John, you have done an amazing job with figuring out your expenses to this point. Excellent. One thing to focus on might be milking the heck out of the resources you have available. Where can you get student discounts (Amazon prime if you use that for streaming, internet, etc) ? Nurses and restaurant people are experts at working on their feet. If you are going to keep working at a restaurant, who can give you advice on managing pain and good shoes? What events at school have free food? Is there a dental program at your school where you can get discounted cleanings? If your gym in not through school, can you get any additional access to a gym or fitness perks for free through school to enhance it? Maybe take a really good look at the school library and the public library where you live to uncover hidden resources. For any job you choose, pay is part of the picture. Try to look at the whole picture of get from it – can you find a job with tuition reimbursement for even some of your classes? Free food is good. Can you get any kind of benefits that are useful? Can you do temp work on school breaks? Can you get employee referral bonuses if you refer someone who gets hired? Or a referral bonus if someone you know starts renting at your apartment building? Having a roommate can be a drag, though in addition to rent, it has potential for sharing expenses to get more for your money. Do you have one or more frugal friends who can be your non-roommate roommates so you can pool resources? Basically taking the idea you are using to share streaming, but for more things – being able to buy some groceries in bulk and split them, using resources from their work like trading free food you are allowed to take home, carpooling, use of spares (buy a set of drinking glasses and only need half of them), DIY skills, apartment complex perks if they are in a different building, companion travel passes maybe, gym perks using guest passes, credit card referral bonuses. Can you join a gas station rewards program or use a free app to find the cheapest gas? Do you know someone who is good with car repairs? It sounds like you already have a streaming device. Youtube (with ads) is great for lots of free content and how-to’s. For reading, textbooks, some news, maybe some magazines, and some streaming, you might want to check out scribd.com, where you can access a lot of materials online. It’s about $9 a month. Free trial is 30 days, but you can probably get a coupon code for 60 days on retailmenot.com. I’m not sure if it’s included in the free trial, but there is a perks section where they partner with some streaming services, so you can get free services with your membership. You MAY be able to get some of your textbooks there. Check both the books and the documents section. If you end up deciding it’s worth the cost of paying for a membership, be aware that you can pause the membership. I do this when I’m reading something else and am not going to be using it. This stretches out the bang for your buck even more. One thing to think about – if you can access something, you don’t necessarily have to own it. Look for free options – free food is one of the easiest things to get, free ebooks (sign up on ereaderiq.com to get notified when prices drop to $0 on Amazon for certain books or authors), free news, free entertainment. Try to pack your life full of lushness you can get for free, so your money goes further. Sign up for birthday freebies and fast food freebies. On the budget scale you are working with, every little bit helps. You can search on Pinterest for “free money” and find ways to bring in some side income here and there in your spare time.
Regarding the emergency fund – save what you can and see how it is going with your lifestyle once you try the tips people are providing. Then determine what a sustainable budget amount is for you longterm. You will probably be able to find some kind of job right away – hopefully nursing – but I would think you’d be highly employable in at least SOME job with benefits. Maintain a good credit score if you can. Though not ideal, in an emergency, financing a car or getting a loan or using a credit card (sensibly of course) can make up for not having a huge emergency fund. Also insurance coverage helps reduce the risk from unforeseen events. Could you move back with your parents shortterm or get a roommate if you absolutely could not find a job? In an emergency, is there a food shelf (or combination of free food sources) you could use to get your grocery budget to $0 short term? Hope this is helpful! I wish you well. Sounds like you have a great foundation for the future, and I commend you on correcting course early when you found the previous career trajectory was not working for you.
Use your library! I am an avid reader, I read about 2 books a week and I haven’t paid for one in years. They should also have movies available.
I also hated having roommates, but I wonder if it would be worth it in the short term. It would really cut expenses, and between work and school you probably won’t be home much anyway.
Just a note when you cut out restaurants, bars and coffee shops your groceries will probably go up a little. $130 is very low.
John, I can attest there are scholarships and financial resources for people like you, you just need to know where to look. Get in touch with the financial aid office and ask for assistance. It is a slog but don’t be discouraged and be prepared to do a lot of digging. Think of looking for money as a mini part time gig. Regarding your rent, consider finding a nursing student who is in the same boat as you. They will understand your situation and have the similar needs like you. Your family can make their own arrangements for two years while you are in school, if they want to see you, they will find a way.
Even with a dicey driving record, you may be able to get better car insurance rates by shopping around. My rates skyrocketed after an accident for which I was at fault, but I spent about an hour calling around and getting different online quotes and found something even lower than what I was paying before the accident. Worth a shot!
Check out the offerings of your public and college libraries! library cards might get you physical or electronic access to those newspapers and magazines you are currently paying for as well as thousands more including streaming movies/tv/music to entertain you. Check with the financial aid office at your school and nursing department, local nursing associations and unions for scholarships. In your program, will you become a CNA after the first year? If so start work asap as a CNA. Look into work at home health agencies as a student nurse and build up that nursing resume .
It sounds like you know yourself and your needs so don’t move or get housemates if it will hurt mental health and school focus. Talk to student services at your school. What services are available at your income? Are you eligible for SNAP, food pantries, fuel assistance, etc.? Exhaust and use all options before using loans to pay rent.
Sorry in advance this is off topic and a bit of a downer. I am wondering if nursing full time would mean being on your feet as much or more as you currently are? Have you considered that? I know some nursing jobs involve a good bit of sitting at a computer, but the vast majority of early career nurses are on their feet pretty much all day every day. I know that you’ve put a lot of thought and time and money into nursing already, but it would be awful for you to graduate and get a full time nursing job and then realize that you aren’t physically able to do it.
Other than that my main opinion is that you should absolutely look into more student loans rather than credit card debt.
Just came here to say great choice on the Honda Fit!!
I’m sure yours is newer and nicer than my 2008, but darn if I don’t love my little dinged-up beer can! Bought it for a song, and it’s hauled me across the country twice, along with a whoooole lot of my stuff, thanks to its physics-defying clown car interior capacity.
I wonder if there are AmeriCorps jobs available in your area? AmeriCorps members are automatically eligible for foodstamps (with a few caveats) and you might even find a part-time position relevant to your future career in nursing. You would also earn an education award through AmeriCorps service, which could be applied to a future semester/quarter, or used to pay off student loans.
Also, can we get some recipes for that amazing-looking meal?? Especially that potato/chickpea concoction.
It may not be worth it since you have a good network of friends, but look at different areas of the country for work when you graduate. In some parts of the country, like New Mexico, hospital nurses are in such demand that they are getting $10,000 signing bonuses. A friend of mine worked as a patient sitter (stay with a patient at risk for falling or leaving the room) during nursing school during which time she could often study while a patient was sleeping. Also, working for a non-profit hospital qualifies you for loan forgiveness after 10 years of on-time payments if you choose not to pay off loans more quickly.
I’m also in the midst of a mid-life career switch— leaving a good job for almost no income for a couple years. It. Is. Hard. I’m just going to piggy back on the recommendation to consider a larger student loan. You can carefully budget the loan, and make plans to keep expenses low and pay it off quickly later. But the reality is that schooling is an investment that takes a lot of time.
I hate it, but I’m also working on saying to friends and family: “I’m sorry, but quitting my job to go back to school, that’s not going to be in my budget this year.” I didn’t send my siblings or nieces and nephews gifts for instance. I wrote what I valued about each friendship in a card instead of purchasing Christmas gifts.
I also LOVE buying books, so I’m starting a new idea: borrow/library and I’ll keep a list of titles I love to purchase once I graduate.
Overall, I’m impressed with how well you saved, you have no previous student loans, and you’re making a huge, scary leap. Congratulations!
I would also suggest that John investigate remote work options, including some of the gig economy websites. Some of these offer very short jobs. They don’t pay a lot per job, but if John builds the habit of tackling one or two whenever he has some spare time, it will contribute to his income. Also, a remote work job with flexible part-time hours would save John gas and commute time. Lastly, I read elsewhere about someone who walks dogs to enhance his income. John could consider walking dogs once a day to help boost his income and stay fit as well, if that would work with his schedule – walk them early in the morning, perhaps, to make sure it doesn’t conflict with school and work.
Best of luck to you, John. The world needs more people like you! It sounds like a tough slog for two years, but I’m rooting for you.
I was in your position exactly five years ago. Frugal and debt conscious, I struggled to find a way to get through my community college nursing program without going into excessive debt. I too worked in a restaurant and my income rarely exceeded my expenses, which at the time included a mortgage and kid expenses as I am a single mom. People gave me advice to sell my house and move into an apartment to save money, but I wanted some stability for my girls so I bit the bullet and did something I never thought I’d do. I took out student loans *gasp* and used debt to fund my education along with a part time server job at a restaurant. I just want to offer hope, becoming a nurse was the best thing I have ever done, I live in the southwest and after 3 years of nursing experience my salary exceeds $90k per year with excellent benefits. I was able to pay off my $32k student loan debt within 18 months by working extra shifts. I don’t regret investing in my education at all. If living alone brings you joy, do it. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself, as long as you take that frugal mindset with you after school and focus on paying off loans you will be fine. Nursing is an amazing career, I LOVE what I do and am grateful for the excellent compensation and benefits and flexibility that come with the job. Make school a priority and you will be fine, John! Congrats and good luck!
I second Meghan’s suggestion about sourcing your textbooks from your college’s library. They usually have them. Sometimes the borrowing period may be shorter for the latest edition of in-demand texts, but they will often have older editions of the same textbooks as well, with a longer borrowing period. Having a look at the library’s copies could also give you an idea of which textbooks might be worth the investment of purchasing. You could also make some nursing student friends and share texts between you.
About your book-buying habit: you could take library copies for a test drive before you invest in your own copy. (Have you really been lucky enough to love every book you’ve read?) I know there’s often a lot of competition from other borrowers to try to get a popular book from the library as soon as it’s published- but, you’re busy working and studying right? Maybe you can wait a week or two, instead of buying it? Also, it’s just two years before your salary should afford buying new books- in the meantime, you can make a list of the books you’ve borrowed that you want to own, and save it for the future. This list would also make great suggestions for family and friends if you exchange gifts at birthdays and holidays.
It sounds like you could really benefit from You Need a Budget, a budgeting app that helps you create your budget with only the money you actually have in your bank account now as opposed to money you’re guessing you’ll earn. This will help you sort your priorities and help you know what you actually have to spend. (It will also let you know what you have to take money from when you spend more than you should since you can’t budget with the money you expect to receive later.)
I really recommend you look into it: youneedabudget.com
(I found it when I was looking for a budgeting tool that would work well with my husband’s variable income. It’s great for that since we no longer have to base our spending on what we think we’ll have; we base it on what we know is already there.)
Fellow second-career nursing student here! Congrats on making it through the emotional decision & transition process, and working through all the right financial questions. I resonate!! Loved the quote you included. So true.
I was able to start working as a PRN tech at a local hospital after my first semester of school. They LOVE hiring nursing students, I’m one of several in the department and the pay is good ($22/hr, major southeast city). Each hospital may differ, but mine just required completion of a Foundations of Nursing-style course and one clinical. Being PRN allows me to schedule out ahead of time around my class days. I love it and am learning SO MUCH. Huge bonus — every hospital likes to hire internally and they will drop hints about hiring you after graduation. It’s an 8-hour shift and does involve lots of walking, but it’s doable and worth it. Get that foot in the door!
Good luck & best wishes, future RN!!
Way to go John! Just wanted to suggest you get acquainted with your college library—they will probably have many textbooks available on reserve, and they can help you do research and assignments much more efficiently, which should help with such a busy schedule. It might also be a place to look for a part time job! Also, never pay for access to ebooks or journal articles, the library can help you figure out how to access almost anything for free! And with access to both your school and public libraries you should be able to hold off on buying books until you’re through school.
Bless you John, we are in such a dire nursing shortage (I am an MD).
There is a huge need for anyone in any hospital position here in the Northeast anyway. I agree with unit clerk, PCA, “patient sitter” etc jobs. A lot of those should be available as per diem jobs, too. If I were you I would just take out the student loans (at a reasonable level) and work when you can without jeopardizing school. You will pay them off soon enough when you are employed especially with your frugal mindset.
Yet another nurse chiming in here. I worked 24 hours all through school, at a hospital, they were very accommodating and I took advantage of the tuition reimbursement and got amazing clinical experience at the same time. When I graduated I had my choice of jobs which I know is not as easy with a 2 year degree. I got an associates from a community college and graduated with minimal debt. I then worked full time and completed my BSN in 2 years with tuition reimbursement and scholarships paying for most of it. There are so many options for schedules and support in nursing, goo dluck!
I loved all of the cuts teat Mrs. Frugalwoods made in her advice column, I agree that when you are a student it is key to cut what you don’t need.
There are so many great tips here! (1) Totally agree with the advise to find work in a medical area – home health aide, transcription, medical office work, ER front desk, etc., something that relates to and supports nursing school. (2) If you must live off loans, definitely do student loans and not credit cards; a good nursing salary will allow you to pay off the student loans. (3) Not sure if this is helpful: https://withfrank.org/how-to-pay-for-college/how-to-pay-for-nursing-school/nursing-scholarships-for-adult-students/ but there are scholarships out there; as an older student there are absolutely ways to cover at least part of your tuition & books. Good luck! You will make an awesome nurse!
Just a quick comment on the dental insurance.
If there is a dental school or dental hygiene program in your area, all work is on a sliding scale with your income. Perhaps John can look at that so he can eliminate that cost. It is a time commitment ( they are students too) , but the dentistry is monitored and well done at lots less.
Good luck with all.
This Case Study is reminding me of how financially challenging it was for us when my husband was in nursing school. He also did it as a second degree through community college. Something we did that really helped financially was moving into a camper. We found an older camper on Craigslist and did a small renovation, (paint, new vinyl floors, new handles on the cabinets) and then parked it in a friends backyard. It brought our rent down to $0. We lived in it all during nursing school. My husband also had an exhausting job, he was a window washer working 12+ hour days every day that he wasn’t in school. It was a stressful couple of years for sure, but so, so worth it.
The other thing I recommend is taking out student loans. This wasn’t something we did, but looking back it would have made a lot of sense. As a nurse you simply won’t have to worry about money once you graduate. Right out of nursing school my husband applied to a University hospital in a large city. He got accepted into operating room fellowship program that fast tracked his career into being an OR nurse. He started out making $38 an hour for 12 hour shifts. That salary is really low, but this was 10 years ago and it did more than cover our expenses at the time.
My husband now works three 8 hour days a week with occasional strike nurse assignments throughout the year. Our income is around $120,000. Nursing is so in demand right now and for the foreseeable future that you don’t have to worry about not being able to get a job and pay off the loans.
I really recommend starting off after graduation in a university hospital if possible since it sets you up to be able to work anywhere. After a few years of getting experience transitioning into travel nursing would be such a smart move. And for short term ultra high pay look into strike nursing.
But for now, don’t worry about going into debt through student loans, you will be able to pay them off.
I applaud you for making such a big life change! I would encourage you, like many others have, to find a part-time job somewhere in health care. It is helpful to have a feel for what you are taking on. I would also really really stress getting the student loans! Trying to focus on school while working so much is nearly impossible. Its only 2 years! It would be paid off so quickly afterwards!
Definitely take care of yourself so you are able to take care of others. Don’t be cheap with shoes – buy the best you can.
And for sure use your library! I understand wanting to have your own copy, but it is temporary. The library has everything!
Thank you all for your comments and advice! I’m going to start reading through and replying to them. I just wanted to say that going through this process was really helpful for me; the process of writing all this out and doing an inventory on my spending already helped me develop some new methods of cutting back spending.
Two small techniques that I’ve already implemented and that helped me cut my spending by $700 last month compared to the previous month:
1) trying to go as many days every month as possible without spending any money on my credit card
2) using only my small amount of cash tips for entertainment, which pushed me to anticipate and budget
I would recommend anyone go through the process of answering these questions yourself (perhaps through the Uber Frugal Month Challenge!).
Kudos to you, John. To me, another person that loves to help people, your story is inspiring and very admirable. I wanted to share my favorite website for meal prepping, Budget Bytes. The food is so good it is almost like eating out, and there are lots of great ideas for make-ahead, grab-and-go meals that will be helpful with your busy schedule. Also I am so sorry about your aches and pains. Maybe inserts could help a little? I am such a “frugalhead” that I actually thought of cutting some thin packing foam to fit inside your shoes to give a little extra support. I would try anything that is free 😂 I love this community of problem solving and support. Good luck!! You can do it!!!
One thing that struck a chord with me John was your tendency to impulse buy when you feel financially insecure. it sometimes comes from childhood circumstances such as growing up poor or with parents who struggled with their own spending. . I have realised that I sometimes have “magical thinking” about money – that it will just disappear if I don’t spend it. Maybe finding mantras that work when you feel impulsive like “there is always more money” “it is safe for me to save money” “I have abundance” etc might help. Also as others have said don’t be scared of student loans if they get you where you are going you have chosen a sensible school and practical course – so have faith in yourself you will be able to pay it off. It is Good debt.
Congrats on joining the most respected career in the nation!
I have a couple of insights:
1. When I was in nursing school all I did was study- it’s a VERY demanding program. You can likely say goodbye to ALL of your discretionary spending and previous social activities. And that’s a good thing for your budget.
2. Once you graduate you can write your own ticket. Even living in a low wage area, you can travel, float pool, or pick up extra shifts- nights, holidays, and weekends are your best friends. You will find you can make lots more money than you think.
3. Since all you’ll be doing is studying (believe me, you need to do this to be a confidently educated nurse) you might as well rent a bedroom to a (nurse) traveler. They want to work, shower, and sleep period. You can get extra money without having too much disruption to your life. If you’re near a hospital this is an easy way to cut housing costs. Advertise on furnished finder and Craig’s list.
Thanks so much – it’s really good to hear from nurses.
Furnished finder – I had never heard of this! This seems like exactly what I’d want to do for a roommate situation!
Good luck John! You seem to be doing all the right things. Although I think the nurse commenters here have great ideas, I want to point out that I understand your taking the server job. Getting free food is nothing to sneeze at, and tips usually make it more profitable than many other jobs.
When I was a grad student (in English!) I also worked at a restaurant. I was in my 20s and although I know it was hard to be on my feet, I don’t remember it being such a problem at that age. Wonder why it’s so exhausting for someone who uses a gym. Perhaps you need to see a physical therapist for advice?? Maybe the one-time fee would be worth it.
All that said, I think I would look into the possibilities of tuition help through hospital jobs, etc. And maybe the first year just take more loans: That would seem worth it to make sure you can get your degree without compromising your studies by spending too much time/energy in restaurant work?
Yes, the free food has been really helpful. I’m getting half my meals free there.
I think honestly the problem with standing so long was the adjustment period coupled with me not knowing what shoes to wear. I said this in another comment, we aren’t required to wear any shoes and it’s a nicer restaurant, so a lot of my coworkers wear fashionable shoes. For the first month or so I was wearing a pair that looked good but weren’t supporting my feet well, and that plus just the adjustment to a LOT more standing gave me what I suspect was a stress fracture. At any rate, I’ve switched exclusively to tennis shoes 24/7 and the pain is gone, so call it adjustment or getting smarter but it seems like the worst is over.
I’m definitely going to look into more loans. They’re scary to me but everyone’s encouragement on that has been really great.
This is such a good case study and I’m glad John submitted it!
Adding the chorus of folks recommending a hospital based non RN job. 12hr shifts will be easier to fit around nursing school. You could work 2 12s weekly and still make the same or maybe more than the front of house job. Plus on school breaks you could pick up extra shifts on other units or covering for people on vacation and either make extra cash or make it so you can have a week off during exams. Look for per diem positions which will allow this type of schedule flexibility and have higher hourly pay rates than permanent part time or full time.
PS you might also look at registration desk, unit clerk, insurance validator/business office, or scheduler roles. May be less likely to have the 12hr shifts (some still do) but the physical demands are minimal and they are more clock in/clock out emotionally than a patient care tech type role.
Thanks for your encouragement and for the job suggestions!
What about looking into home healthcare. This may allow John to study while he is at his client’s home. Some places want overnight personnel. I have worked the past 3 years in this field.
Oh I have a tip on the shoe front: Buy your shoes for work from REI! They have more than just hiking shoes, and you can return them even after wearing them. When I worked as a restaurant hostess I went through several pairs trying to find the right shoes that would give me enough support to be on my feel for that long. That way I could get better quality shoes but not be stuck with ones that hurt my feet, or just didn’t work for me. I also didn’t have to try to figure that our based on wearing them around a store or in my apartment. Definitely don’t cheap out on shoes when you’re on your feet that much. Long term pain and injury is not worth the savings on shoes now.
I also feel you deeply on wanting to own books. What I’ve been doing for several years is almost solely reading library books, but keeping a list of the ones I’ve read that I want to own. I’ve found there are plenty of books that I read and enjoy, but don’t think I’ll read again. And then there are other books that I want to read again or loan to people. It helps keep my book spending down, and also not be overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I own (to be clear I do own a TON of books and I have no interest in changing that haha. But I have been weeding out the books I know I’m not interested in reading again)
It looks like the budget is for $4900/year for driving-related expenses (gas/maintenance/insurance). That’s a lot of money right now. Perhaps sell the car and get an e-bike? Some can still go 30+mph so good for getting around town. Or perhaps public transportation/occasional ubers/rentals for the weekend trips when needed.
Unfortunately the place I live isn’t commutable by bike or public transit. I live about half an hour away from my clinical placement, and we’re required to have our own transportation. I would love to get rid of my car and have toyed with the idea for years, though. I’m definitely going to try to find ways to carpool and cut back on gas.
I would consider signing up for YNAB and get a free year subscription since you are a student. YNAB works great with a variable income and it will help you figure out which of those “nice to have” things are really in the budget right now, or not.
Yes! Love ynab. I offered it too before seeing your mention here.
The Frugal Girl (blog) is a mature student in nursing and she has some tips for coping, along with great ways to manage a frugal food budget. You mention a few times about expected higher food, fast food and coffee spends so I recommend thinking about bulk cooking, and having easy food available when you’re tired and cold and sore. I have a chronic illness with pain and fatigue so easy food that I make when I’m feeling better, or that my partner makes, is self-care.
John… did I write this case study?? I am in my late 20s and just started nursing school as a career change after working at a nonprofit hahaha. I just finished my first semester. I will say that being an adult student definitely helped me excel in my classes, but I could not have managed to work a part-time job and also apply myself to my classes. You can definitely work… some. But not a standard part-time job with regular hours. Even if you know your class schedule in advance and can work a job around it, there will always be the last-minute study group you need to join for a hard concept, or to schedule an out-of-class practice for a skills check-off. You need complete flexibility basically.
I differ in some ways because I am married and have a daughter. I’m so lucky that my husband’s salary covers our living expenses. But I definitely had to take out loans for all my educational expenses- this includes tuition, testing fees, uniforms, shoes (I bought 2 pairs!), books, parking, office supplies, etc. It all adds up. And even though fast food and coffee expenses are discretionary, in some ways they are also necessary during school. It was so helpful at the beginning of the semester to grab a coffee with a classmate and chat and arrange study groups at the local coffee shop. And those connections are just as integral to success as buying your books. So I did budget an eating out and coffee expense into my loan (about $10 a week). And I’m really glad I did. It has made a big difference.
Some options for paying for school- look into the Nurse Corps scholarship. They actually give preference to adult, or second career nurses. You can also look into the Nurse Corps loan repayment program for when you graduate. If you are willing to work in a less desirable location to start with, it is a great option!
In summary, definitely prioritize your schoolwork over basically anything else. There is no good reducing the amount of loans you take out if you fail out of school because you are too busy and exhausted to succeed. Congratulations on your new journey and best of luck to you!!
Well done John – this is a big step changing your career. Many people don’t and you should feel proud of this step you are taking. Based on what you have said, I would continue living alone and continue to focus on your physical health with the gym. These things bring you joy and make you happy and that is important. Life is too short to be miserable! The Frugalwoods suggestions seem really good to me. Accept that you can’t do everything. You are keeping student loan debt as low as you can but you are unlikely to be able to avoid it. This is OK! The goal is to get through the next 2 years, do what you need to ensure you graduate whilst enjoying the process whilst keeping the financial damage as small as possible. Seems to me that you are close. If you can find a way to earn more per hour without being on your feet and without taking up the mental bandwidth you need to study I think that will help. Don’t stress too much over it though. I think you are doing great.
Ah, thank you so much! This is very kind and encouraging and really helps me feel like I’m on the right path.
Hey John! So, one thing that might help dialing things in is knowing that it’s *only* for two years. You have a plan, so it’s short term. I agree with some of the others on the roommate deal. It’s drastically cut your expenses and, again, it’s not forever. If your rental allows, you could also look into AirBnB if you’re in a city people like to visit. It could be possible to make the same amt from temp rentals that you would with a roomie since the charges are typically higher. Also, if you do take in a roomie, since you’ll be working, in school, and studying how much will you really be around? 🙂 If you have the option, you could also just rent a room (or some people have full suites in their basements) in a home. Just some ideas to consider.
I also wouldn’t cut that gym membership. Staying fit and active might be the stress release you need from all these demands!
Wow! This is so impressive. I have been in your shoes with taking on debt for a second degree and then swiftly paid it off when I was making more money. As Liz said, this is temporary, and you will be in a different position in two years. With that being said, I know you have a low monthly income but you have a very hefty savings account. I wonder if it’s worth a mental shift using your savings. You can very easily cover your expenses for the next three months using your savings. So perhaps know that right now you have a 3 month cushion, which is great. Any income you can add on to that can start covering future months.
I also wonder if there are recruiting opportunities where future employers would pay for a nursing degree if you agree to work there. With the need for healthcare workers right now, I would imagine there is an opportunity for something like this.
You’re doing a great job!
Thank you so much, I really appreciate the encouragement! These comments make me feel so much more confident in the work I’ve been putting in and the decisions I’ve made.
John, check shoes from Shoes for Crews as long as you do restaurant work. I work full-time in quick service, in my feet 8 hours daily, and moving all the time. I’m 65. It’s all about the shoe fit. I do echo these other comments as well….two years is not that long. Look for other work and watch every dollar but this stage will not ruin you. Bravo for the good habits you’ve already adopted!
John, my sister is an RN and made great money working as a student nurse while in nursing school. I also have a brand new pair of men’s size 11.5 nursing Dansko shoes (my son’s arch is too high for them, but he worse them to work once and so unreturnable) if they would fit you. and a free year of YNAB app (www.ynab.com) to offer if you’d like them. YNAB has made a huge difference in our family budget effectiveness, and it parallel’s the Frugalwoods recommendations and objectives. Best wishes to you. You can do this!
This just made me think of another thing – check out your local Buy Nothing groups for clothes and shoes (or books)!
I, like John, returned to study full-time after working in a well paying, although unsatisfying job. I had saved while working but one piece of advice I’d have is to get comfortable with saying “I can’t afford that”, or “I just don’t have the money”. Everyone my own age was working and earning decent money, and it was just not possible for me to join them for dinners out or weekends away. As soon as I felt confident enough to say that while I’d love to do xyz, I just can’t afford it, the easier my life became. I realized my priority had become to study and qualify, and that meant I had to sacrifice on other (enjoyable) things in life. It’s not easy but it will be worth it. Also, I can 100% relate to being more impulsive with my spending once I’d stopped working! Good luck with your studies John!
Yes, this is definitely something I’ve been working on! The adjustment down in my income has certainly meant a shift socially – but my friends have a pretty wide range of incomes and have been very accommodating. Thanks for the encouragement and advice!
Good luck John! You can do it. I work in a completely different field but your circumstances are super relatable to me as I currently work one job while I’m trying to build my career in my chosen industry. I’m not making money (that often…) from my desired career so have to juggle the finances and schedule in a similar way. And you are way more frugal than me! So this was very inspiring. 🙂 I’m off to review my discretionary spending…
I’m really glad to hear my case study was inspiring to someone else! That was a big part of my motivation for wanting to post it. Thank you for your encouragement and good luck!
RN here. I think that Mrs. Frugalwoods hit it right on with the spending cuts. It’s not forever, it is for right now. The suggestion about the hospital work, even unlicensed such as an orderly, is a good one. I live in the South and my hospital system pays $15/hour for unlicensed work. I counsel a lot of people about how/why to go back to school.
While I was in nursing school, I had class Monday and Friday, clinicals Tuesday, Wednesday. I worked as a CNA Thursday-Monday. Most clinical days are not 12 hours on the unit, although 12 hours may be total amount with preparing and reading up on patient histories and preparing care plans.
There is a subscription service for textbooks through Pearson, one of the largest suppliers of textbooks. Another advantage of having a hospital job is the access to the medical library.
Nursing is hard work, and my mom, who is a nurse, tried to warn me off when I was in high school, but she now loves it because we speak the same language. Finding a nurse mentor will be important. Not everyone will speak your new language. This person will be good to bounce ideas off and talk over issues from clinical. Often, this school have a mentorship program so definitely look into it.
And remember, it is not forever.
I started with my ADN in 2001, had a wild hair and went back to my BSN in 2015, graduated with my MSN in 2020, and am actively applying to PhD programs. You can do this.
Usually after the first year you are eligible to sit for the LPN boards. If you pass and get licensed you could increase your paychecks while working part time. Most LPNs start at $25 (at least in Nj and surrounding states) now because of the pandemic.
Sounds like you’re going to be going to school and working a lot, you can use all the new people you’re meeting to see if there is someone who needs part-time housing. Someone to crash at night maybe Monday through Thursday and go somewhere else on the weekends. I would’ve loved one of these types of housing way. Cheaper than a hotel or my own apartment, and you don’t need to furnish or bring anything but some clothes. Could get you a bit amount of money without having to deal with a full-time roommate.
This is an interesting idea, I’d love something like this that would allow me some extra income from my spare room without the full commitment of a roommate. Obviously I’m not using the room all the time, so I’d be willing to have someone there temporarily. Thanks for the idea!
Just a thought – but if you had a full ride scholarship for your undergraduate degree, and you said your parents are supportive, maybe they would help you with this nursing degree, since it doesn’t sound like there were any costs before.
Could joining one of the military branches be an option? Have all the tuition paid for, access to excellent training, get a decent salary with benefits, travel possibilities (if that is attractive). The only commitment would be a requirement to serve for a certain number of years.
Retired nurse here and I loved it. Worked OR for 40 years. Some days were demanding physically but lots of us worked into our senior years. I loved working 3 12 hour shifts because it allowed me to get a lot of overtime at those times when I needed extra money. We did not help our daughters with their masters degrees but we did help them by giving cash for birthdays, Christmas and slipped them gift cards. Not sure what your family situation is like but it is worth thinking about. If at all possible work in a hospital during school. It really helps in many ways. We had support techs in the OR that only worked weekends. They made a bit more money and often there were slow times when they could study. 100% of them had a job offer when they graduated. And we loved to “teach” eager nursing students. The best of good fortune to you.
Thanks so much, it’s really great to hear from so many nurses. 3 12s is my dream, I’m hoping that’s what my schedule can be like once I graduate. I’m definitely going to look into some hospital work.
Check into the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. https://smartasset.com/taxes/is-college-tuition-tax-deductible
Wow, this was very helpful. Taught me a lot about the specific tax credits I can look into. Thank you again!
I use H&R Block’s free tax service and they usually walk you through different reasons you may be eligible for various credits/deductions. Worth a look!
Mom of a nurse here.
Nursing school is tough. It’s got to be your top priority over everything else. Literally everything. Meet with your nursing program administrators and job placement folks. Tell them your situation and ask about hospital jobs — CNA, nurse assistant — that will work with rather than against your program of study.
At my daughter’s university, full tuition scholarships were available to upper level students. Some are school-specific rather than national- or state-level awards and may be easier to grab. There could be full tuition scholarships for nursing students who sign a 2-year commitment to a nursing facility — hospital, assisted living, local practice — while in school. Our local community college has a 3-year nursing program so students in Year 3 are eligible for these opportunities. Maybe your CC has these opportunities for 2nd year students?
Given the need for nurses, many hospitals have sign-on bonuses which could help with the school debt.
You’re really looking at 4 years of intense life: 2 years of the program and 2 years as a new nurse.
You’re an excellent writer. After your first couple years as a RN, consider a higher degree that will mix your writing skills with nursing. Maybe research?
Expect to work night shifts for 6 months after graduation.
Pay for the NCLEX prep course. Don’t skimp on this even though it’ll be an added expense at the end of your program. It’ll help ensure you pass the NCLEX.
Every nursing student hits the wall at some point, thinking they’re going to fail the program. You won’t. Just realize it’s a really hard couple years and will take your full attention but it’s worth it.
Start your first full-time gig in a less intensive specialty and work your way into the specialty of your choice.
Travel nursing companies usually require 2 years of experience, often in an ICU environment.
Two years is a blip of time.
Fun note: My RN daughter moved to Germany for a masters in international health. I bought her 2015 Honda Fit and love my little toaster! Heated seats! Leather! Tons of space! Great gas mileage!
Good luck and what a great decision you’ve made.
Ah, thank you so much. This was very encouraging to read and a lot of great advice. And thanks for saying I’m a good writer!
I’d love to move to Germany, haha, maybe that’s an aspiration I didn’t even know I had!
And I love to see other Honda Fit fans!! That car can hold anything – I once fit a loveseat that looked bigger than the car into the back.
Looks like a good website for resources https://www.nursingschoolhub.com/is-there-financial-aid-available-to-nursing-students/#:~:text=Financial%20aid%20is%20widely%20available%20to%20all%20types,whether%20you%20are%20an%20independent%20or%20dependent%20student
Thank you!! This is very useful!
Thanks everyone so much for all your very useful comments! I’m still working through replying to everyone, but I’m very grateful for all your insights.
First, I feel very encouraged and affirmed about the big decisions I’ve made to get to this point and about my path forward. That in itself is something I really needed right now, and I feel so grateful for this kind and thoughtful corner of the internet giving me so much encouragement right as I start nursing school.
Second, I feel validated in the need for good shoes, haha.
Third, very importantly, I’m going to look into taking out more student loans. This is something I’ve been hesitant to do, but I feel very confident now that it’s worth it and a strong financial decision. It will support my mental and physical health and my ability to focus on learning everything I can about nursing.
Fourth, I’ve really been working on cutting down my discretionary spending even since I wrote this. It was VERY useful to see my expenses broken into fixed and discretionary – thank you Liz!! Last month my spending was $2,200, which is $600 less than the previous month and $1000 less than my annual average. While there will be months where it will have to be higher for various reasons, I feel a lot more confident in keeping my spending under control.
I’ve also been helped out by better tips during the holiday season, so my pay has been more like $19/hour, although I don’t expect that to continue.
Other ideas I’ve gotten out of this are to begin looking for a healthcare job and to look into short-term subletting of my spare room. I think moving toward a healthcare job would be smart, and I know from my previous job that it’s better to begin looking before I become absolutely miserable at the job I have now. As far as a roommate, I still want to avoid that if possible, but it does help to be reminded that even 2 years isn’t very long, and I could control the lease. I think I’m definitely going to start looking around at short-term subleasing to test the waters with what it would be like.
I’m going to keep going through and replying to comments, but I really appreciate Frugalwoods for running my post, all of Liz’s work analyzing my finances and making really helpful recommendations, and all of you making such thoughtful comments. And I seriously appreciate the encouragement towards student loans, which is going to help me make a decision that I really need and want to make.
Hi John, one thing I haven’t seen mentioned here is an idea for your fun with friends. I think that is such a good source of emotional stability that you should try to keep it up even as you work really hard for the next two years. My suggestion is to let them pay for you if they offer. If you can’t pay for something, be honest and say “I’d love to, but my budget while in school is really tight and I can’t do it.” This will let them plan cheap/free activities (you should too) and also let them offer to fund your ticket or cover charge. Obviously I don’t mean hinting around, it’s just that I would pay for a friend in your position, but honestly I might not think of $10 as the obstacle if it weren’t spelled out for me. Don’t let friends drift away because they think you’re not interested in doing stuff with them anymore. Good luck with your career change!
Thank you, this is such a good point ❤️ It’s easy to get caught up in everything, but my friends are a really important support network to me.
Possibly an alternative option for housing: Do you have a 2nd bedroom that you use for family/friends? Could you rent that out to a commuter or for local events (via AirBnB or otherwise?) Or could you rent to a fellow nursing student so you could have support? Choosing people who are fairly short term might be able to give you a little boost financially but without the constant obligation to another person.
Keep up the great work!
Yes I do! I think this is a great idea that I’m going to explore. Short-term rentals would be ideal, or a fellow student.
John, I would also look into some scholarships. When I went back to school (at 38!) there were Health Care related/specific scholarships available. Talk to someone at your school? Good luck!
John hang in there! I read thru the comments from fellow RN’s and think it’s been covered. Wherever you are going to do clinical at is a great place to get job – talk to your advisor. They may be able to help with insight on jobs available. You may come across co workers that will help too. Been on both ends of that!! Stay strong!!
Thanks for the encouragement, it means a lot to see comments from RNs!
Some thoughts for getting discounts/ temporarily free for things you’re already paying for:
-Some newspapers have discounts for students. Also, your local public library or your school library may pay for online access to those periodicals. It doesn’t hurt to ask the librarians there
-Some streaming services offer a free certain number of months or years for students. You can create a new account with your student email. Hulu, and Amazon Prime used to be ones that did – not sure if they do. Spotify used to offer a steep discount for students.
-You already have a good deal at your gym, but it’s possibly they’ll cut your part of the membership even more for students.
-It sounds like the bus is not a good option, but check if there are student discounts for anytime you might take it.
-Some colleges offer deals (money, swag) to students/employees who agree to carpool a certain amount of the time – worth checking out if they have that perk.
-Your current interest rate is VERY good for the student loans. As much as you can take out on that rate, I would. At a higher rate for private loans, I still think it will be well worth it, depending on how high the rate goes.
-Keep an eye out among your classmates to see if you think any would be good roommates. Otherwise, I think it’s worth the loans to have your own place.
-Let your financial aid office (and possibly someone in your department as well) know you are interested in a job. They might have an idea of campus jobs that work for RN students. For example, not sure if community colleges have this, but at universities there are jobs to assist professors on research, special projects, etc, where you might be able to adjust your schedule to meet your needs. Being a grader in a related field to your first degree might also work. The nursing department might need an admin assistant and be willing to accommodate your schedule’s needs, etc. If your program is designed for people with a prior degree, they might have campus jobs intended only for people with a prior degree (and therefore paying more than other campus jobs).
-Sending you lots of good vibes!
Thank you for all this! And especially about my student loan rate – I know so little about this, it’s good to hear.
RN here, I echo most of what has already been reviewed. This is my 2 cents: Shoes: New balance are great, my calfs used to hurt until I switched to those. I’m not a fan of clogs, as I nearly twisted my ankle in them. Discount surgical stockings is a site for inexpensive, but excellent compression hose. They have pairs that are just below the knee, so they don’t slide down your leg. Can be machine washed, but hang to dry only. Avoid private student loans. Avoid credit card debt. Find out if you state has the Nurse Corp or nursing grants. Get a job at local hospital. School will be your full time job, so you can only have one part time job. One exception: maybe you could pet sit. If you like animals, I’ve paid good money for someone to come spend the night, at my house, and watch me dog. One where you work two 12 hour shifts one the weekend AND they will usually provide tuition reimbursement. Use a food bank if available. I like the furnished finder idea, but would absolutely get a roommate, in some way. Be very selective: i.e.: a fellow nursing student who is also serious about quite study time and sleep. Maybe you could even car pool? You will have no problem getting a job after you graduate. Best of luck.
This comment repeats a lot of what is above, but still: Really work what your college offers! Haunt the financial aid office, for one thing!
Google search under “name of your state, nursing scholarships.” Do the same for your city name, or county name. Maybe even try with “returning students” or “male students”, (guessing from your name), as men are under-represented in nursing.
Some colleges have food banks; would be especially likely at a community college.
Spend a little while on the website of your college and check out all the services at your school and make sure you are making use of them. Mental health counseling, academic counseling, clubs to help with professional advancement (which might have free food at meetings), free internet, printing, workout places, library books, and so forth– others have mentioned these.
And be sure to make use of any student discounts you can find, for travel, transport, food, businesses, etc.
In job searching on campus, leverage your age, experience, and maturity. You aren’t just out of high school or someone who is afraid to work hard. Your nursing faculty might have some ideas for jobs or funding. They would recognize some of the challenges new students often face in their programs, time and money being on top of the list.
What wonderful encouragement people have written for you!
I am 70, retired for approx 2 years now. 43 years in nursing. Many times working 2 jobs as a nurse one full time and one parttime. I have worked with nurses who worked 2 full time nursing jobs which is very hard on the body but very lucrative. They bought rentals and became early retired too. My mother was able to get a small gift from her work company Tropicana for me to use $500. toward my nursing degree. In the 70’s this was a large amt of money. Is it possible that family would have connections to money at their workplace? So many workplaces have charitable funds to hand out, especially for students in college. Also we belong to an organization, Elks club. There are Moose clubs, Lions clubs, etc out there and each year they give out grants to students. A gift, not a loan. Have u given any thought to a go fund me on Facebook? Reference your case study with Elizabeth for people to read. A lot of respect is out there for nurses now with the pandemic. Take advantage of it as a new nursing student. Also, do you own an instant pot? Best Buy often has the insignia brand for $29. I have it, 6 quart. Makes plenty of food quick and easy for myself and my husband. You can live off of soups, chili, stews, chicken and rice dishes, so many more things you can make in it. It will cook it while you study. No attendance needed. You throw the ingredients in, set it and forget it while you study. Beans are great made in the pot. I honestly would not want to be without one. Ban all clothes buying and follow Elizabeth’s advice. Use loans as needed. You will make plenty when you graduate to pay them back. Hire into a high dollar hospital with retirement benefits if possible too. Some hospitals may subsidize housing for you. Take advantage of anything that is offered free such as clothing, food, extra vegetables at farmers markets. I agree with one writer who stated they lived in a camper for 2 years. If there is any way to do that, it would be a great option. A smaller apartment for 2 years, renting a room, a roommate, etc. It is for 2 years, you can do it. Write to purina or other cat food places asking for cat food, treats, etc. Definitely take advantage of all food banks. I went to school with a husband as a teacher at the time and a 2 year old daughter. It was very hard but I was determined to get through it for my daughters sake if I were to end up divorced I could support us and low and behold it happened. Right as I graduated thank goodness. Studying takes a toll on marriages. We had a 10 percent divorce rate in our class and that was the norm each year. You are single, much easier for you. I have worked with many women and men who have families, a full time job and going to nursing school. You do not have a family or work full time. I know you can do it. Good luck to you.
I saw someone suggest subletting your spare room short-term and I agree 100 %!
I swore I’d live alone forever after a terrible, mentally draining roommate situation until I started saving for a one-year sabbatical and that rent line item kept taunting me. I thought about how long, maximum, I’d be able to bear another potentially terrible roommate and settled on subletting my spare room for 3 months at a time. There’s always students, temp workers etc. looking for short-term furnished rooms and that way you have already have a set end-goal in mind after which you’re free again! And since you’re not in a situation where you HAVE to have a roommate you can take the time to be picky in who you choose.
And who knows, you might get lucky. My third short-term subletter turned out to be a great roommate and friend and we’ve now been living together for almost three years.
Community college professor here…be sure to check the resources at your college! My CC has a gym, counseling center, online news access to NYT, Wall St. Journal, etc.; access to a huge number of e-books, etc. These are all free to students. There may be a roommate match service if you decide to go with a roommate, and also carpooling match services as well. Many community colleges also provide links to helpful services for low-income students. For example, on our campus we host a food bank and have a service office that connects students with community resources. Good luck! I love Liz’s perspective that this is for a (relatively) short period of time. My husband always says “the time to be poor is in your 20s, before you get used to the cushy life” LOL. He retired early to pursue his love of ventriloquism performing, so we did our “poor years” in the opposite way. At any rate, it’s all been wonderfully worth it!
One comment on shoes – eBay has an amazing number of used shoes for sale. While you’re trying to find a brand that works for you, maybe try buying used. If you don’t like them, you can sell them on eBay yourself. You would get a trial period almost free!
Look into at home caregivers. Our hospital is always looking to find private at home caregivers for people needing extra help at home. It would be a job where you could study and get paid! Also good experience. Talk to senior centers in your area if you need help figuring out where to start.
I have friends who teach English virtually for overseas students and can be paid up to $25. Also, maybe you could work weekend events type things as a server. Finally, Uber driver. Not sure what they make but would be less intense then standing.
Retired RN here. Just want to tell you, John, that you are on a really good path! I agree with all of Mrs. FW’s suggestions to reduce costs. I graduated from a BSN program in 1989 so I’m sure things have changed. However, I spent ALL my time studying. I’m an avid reader but all I read for 4 yrs were textbooks. I could not work during the week due to classes, clinicals, and studying. I worked part-time as a weekend grocery store cashier for a while and then got a weekend job as a Unit Secretary at the hospital. My advice is contact your Financial Aid office and get student loans!!! There’s no doubt that once you pass NCLEX and get licensed, you will find a job. Spend the money and get excellent supportive shoes for nursing. My 24 yr career was spent as a hospital RN, mostly in L&D. After so many years of 12 hr shifts on hard concrete flooring, my feet and back still hurt to this day and I’ve been retired for 8 yrs. I mostly wore Dansko, Alegria, and Asics. Since you’re single, travel nursing would be great to make a ton of money, but you have to have at least 2 yrs experience in a particular specialty, not just overall. That could be different now, IDK. If I had to do my career over, I would choose to be a NICU RN, because the patients are small and I’d be unlikely to hurt my back lifting them. It’s also an in-demand travel RN specialty. Just something to think about. Good luck with your education and new career! Glad to have you join the nursing profession.
I didn’t see a similar comment so I’ll throw it in here as something additional to consider. If you do end up getting a job on campus or near campus, consider biking or taking the bus and getting rid of your car. I know you said bus service is less reliable and bike infrastructure isn’t great, but if you’re only doing it once to and from school each day it’s easier to plan around. Another option could be to move closer to your school so you can more easily walk or bike. Maybe not feasible but something to consider. Right now is a great time to sell a car. You would have extra cushion for your savings/emergency fund and cut out some of your larger monthly expenses associated with car ownership. Then in two years when you finish school if you need a car again you can always buy another used one.
There are so many amazing comments here and I don’t know if you’ll get a chance to read mine (especially as I’m behind and it’s already the 10th now!), but as a community college employee in a southern state, I can tell you that we offer a lot of assistance – financial (a student emergency fund, grants, etc.), health-wise (gym on campus free for students, free counseling), and a Campus Cupboard food pantry. Some staff keep bus tickets on hand at front-facing desks to help students who need a ride home unexpectedly! All that to say, there may be some resources that your Student Services area can provide to you – community colleges want to help our students succeed as much as possible, and we know that our students have life thrown at them sometimes in a way that is different from what the 18-22 year old undergrad university set experience. There may also be work-study experiences available at the college, too!
I’ll also say that our nursing students at our CC are some of our most organized and (dare I say) high-strung students. They are balancing families as well as clinical rotations, paperwork, changing rules due to Covid, and tough exams, so I know it would be tough to balance a job as well as all of that. If you’re putting your all into your schoolwork, I say it’s totally fine to take out more student loans. Your financial aid office at your school can help you find other opportunities – if you’ve tried that, please try again!
And thank you, John, for studying to be a nurse. We appreciate you!
Some thoughts…if you want to be a nurse you need to get into a health care job now. Working at a restaurant does not show job interest to instructors. See a podiatrist for proper shoes. As a nursing student you won’t have time for any recreational activities, so cut those from your budget. Agree with others to find a mature like minded nursing student for a roommate. Throw yourself 100% into the field now so you can cut your losses soon if you see it’s not for you. There is nothing worse than a medical worker who hates their job but feels stuck because of the time and money they invested.
I resonated so much with this case study! I’m an RN and also a Frugalwoods case study participant. I was in nursing school from 2016 to 2019 and I remember how financially stressful the whole experience was. One piece of advice that helped me in school was borrowing the maximum amount of Federal student loans that I could and then paying back whatever was left over at the end of the quarter/semester. My expenses and income were so variable each quarter and this tactic helped me make sure I had enough money to cover whatever I needed (books, gas money for clinicals, a cup of coffee, *gasp* a massage at the end of finals, etc.) Also, keep in mind that interest rates are way lower (typically) on student loans than they are on credit cards. And apply for as many scholarships as you can. They’re very tedious to do but may offer a HUGE financial reward. I had my first year of nursing school paid for with one scholarship. It’s worth applying.
I also worked as a CNA when I was in school and it was super helpful. I had not worked in healthcare before and I didn’t even know how to change a bed with a patient in it before I started. I gained so many skills as a CNA and also learned to be a better team player and good delegator because of this position. You’ll also be eligible for benefits if you work part- or full-time. Another bonus, many hospitals have scholarships for employees in nursing school.
Another thing I wish someone told me is though it feels like nursing school should be the priority, remember to take care of yourself first. It will help immensely with the stress and your overall learning and performance in school if you are healthy, physically and mentally. Hang in there! You’ll be on the other side soon enough!
Hi John, thanks for submitting your reader case study! I really enjoyed reading it.
I am a therapist (licensed professional counselor) and you should know that our particular ethical code has a provision that we must make a reasonable effort to provide services that have little to no financial remuneration. Your therapist may be willing to have this discussion with you and you could re-enroll. Liz Frugalwood’s advice was also great, but I know community colleges sometimes lack in services. Thank you for going into the field of nursing and I wish you all the best!
Being the devil’s advocate for the roommate… (I mean, I totally get your reasoning, but something to consider.)
How often are you hosting friends and family? When I was in graduate school, I roomed with other people in my program and we all talked about having people come visit. We either shared our rooms with our guests or used the couch in the common room. As long as it was a weekend or something, everyone was pretty cool about it. Alternatively, if you’re only hosting friends and family once every 2-3 months or so, and splitting other costs with your roommate, you’re likely going to be saving on the order of at least $450/month. If your guest wants their own space or you don’t have the type of relationship with your roommate where you’d feel comfortable having your guests over, could you use, say, $100 of that cost savings to chip in toward an AirBnB for your guest visiting you?
The cost of keeping that extra room open is pretty high in your situation.
If you do look for a roommate, see if others in your program need a roommate or look for another graduate student!
Can you move closer to school when your lease ends? Will you have summers off or any breaks from school where you can work more hours and build up savings?
I think some others suggested this but I HIGHLY recommend applying for scholarships. It’s worth the time and effort because it’s money you don’t need to pay back. Most scholarships will ask the same type of essay questions as well (basically what are your goals and how will your education help you achieve those goals) so you may as well apply for many scholarships since the work you do to apply for one scholarship is most of the work needed for the other scholarships.
I also recommend taking advantage of food pantry and free counseling at your college. And, I recommend quitting your restaurant job….sorry but I don’t think that job is benefitting you. I think you’re better off working on-campus in student leadership. This will look good on resumes, allow you to lessen commute time, and probably give you a flexible work schedule to work around your class times.
I wish you the best and believe you can do this!
Take care, Jessie
John, I’m sorry if someone else already said this, but I didn’t read all 173 comments(!).
Since you have an emergency fund, I’m going to suggest something that will be revolutionary in how you budget. I think the key to budgeting is to budget the next month with the money you make in the current month — this is especially true if you have variable income. It ensures that you always know how much you have to spend and aren’t waiting to figure out how many hours you worked or guessing what you’ll make in tips.
Normally I would suggest doing a super lean budget for several months to set aside enough to start budgeting a month ahead, but you don’t have any wiggle room for that. So if I were you I would budget February using money from your emergency fund, based on what you expect your average monthly income to be. Then you set aside every penny you earn in February, and use those dollars to budget March — you will know exactly how much you have to spend. You budget April with what you earn in March, and so forth. I suggest you use YNAB, and since you are in community college you should be able use YNAB for free for a full year.
I can’t tell you how transformative this is for budgeting, and I only wish I’d known to do it when I was much younger. This, combined with the “freedom account” concept (budgeting monthly for expenses that occur once or twice a year by dividing them up and saving that amount each month) simplifies money management for many people and helps them get a handle on their finances.
I was wondering if John has looked into jobs at a local hospital. I was surprised to learn recently that you don’t always need certification to be a phlebotomist. Most hospitals will train you. That could give experience in the chosen field and flexible hours as well as added shifts during school holidays. There are also other hospital jobs that might work. Alternatively, consider a work at home job like Hulu customer service or other remote jobs.
I would strongly consider a roommate to cut down on expenses. It would be a temporary adjustment but could help keep the debt load down.
John, I took a screenshot of the quote you included. It’s exactly what I needed at this time in my life. Im about to turn 50. The growth never stops. You are doing great and exactly where you need to be. I wish I had my head screwed on straight half as much as where you are now when I was your age. Thank you for putting yourself out there with this case study. You are teaching all of us. And thank you for becoming a nurse. As others have already commented, we need you.
While i cant address your overall situation, as a nurse and former nursing student, here’s a couple of tips that might help in the long run:
1. Look into nurse corp. It’s a federal program that offers full tuition and expenses, along with a monthly stipend fir nursing students. In return, you have to work a year for each year of assistance in a qualified underserved area- inner city, native reservations, etc.
2. Another option that entails underserved area of work is the federal student. loan forgiveness available for nurses. You make minimum payment on your loans, and after 10 years in a qualified area, the remainder of the balance is forgiven.
Keep in mind that with both of the above options you still receive your regular pay from your employer; you simply have to be employed in a designated underserved area/facility.
The other tidbit of advice is to cut everything literally to bare bones NOW, and save every penny you can. While your job may work with your schedule NOW, the further along you get, the more hours you will need to devote to clinicals and preparation for them. You will most likely also need to complete a role transition/preceptorship for several weeks, at the end of your program, and may have little to no control over you schedule during that time- you work whatever schedule your assigned preceptor works, most likely 12 hour shifts, including weekends.
If you’re willing to consider a different path, it’s relatively easy for nursing students to obtain employment as nurses aides/patient care technicians. This offers the advantage of practical experience, an employer that is most likely willing to work with your school schedule, and possibly an tuition reimbursement option.
As a nurse, who went through nursing school myself within the last decade my advice to you is different than probably the norm expected financial advice. Nursing school is a very peculiar thing and at most schools, a two-year program to become an RN is an all-consuming endeavor like no other. It is also a defined period of time. Many schools strongly discourage you from working at all. Multiple jobs aren’t possible. I would take the loans. You won’t have the time or inclination to spend much on hobbies and going out and on the rare occasions when you do it will be because you need to in order to maintain your mental health and relationships. Also, don’t skimp or feel guilty about spending on good shoes. As others probably mentioned you can look into patient care assistant jobs in the future because they are understanding and will give you connections and experience relevant to school but don’t swap your restaurant job for that unless you have plenty of funds from the loans because most don’t pay as well as being a good server in a good restaurant and are just or more demanding. I did find it easy enough to get regular and well-paid occasional babysitting jobs usually while the infant slept and I studied on the weekends. People are willing to pay well just for you to be there once you are into your program. Maybe something like that can become your discretionary income fund. Good Luck!
I would say that getting a roommate who is also in nursing school would help tremendously in many ways.
I work in higher education — having made a career change after getting my masters at age 57 — and I agree that finding a job at the community college is John’s best bet. Don’t wait for a job posting: many postings are created for an already-selected person. Instead, ask around proactively in parts of the college where you’d like to work. Let your instructors know about your situation, especially if you are a good student.
Every college has someone on staff who is like the mayor of the school. This person may not be high ranking but he/she knows everyone and how to get things done. Find and cultivate this person. He/she can help you.
Pursue small grants and scholarships because they add up. Your college has a list of these. Hit the Rotary and other service-club circuit. If your dad or grandpa was a veteran, a VFW chapter or other vets group might give you a small grant. Any money you don’t have to pay back is gravy.
If you have friends in the drag or royalty community, can they put on a benefit show?
Whatever happens, don’t give up hope. I know how hard it is to return to school as an adult. I had a half ride at a very prestigious university, but no help with living expenses. I couldn’t afford to live near campus and sometimes I slept in the library rather than drive home. My cat kept me sane … Stay strong. You can do it!