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10 money habits to help you budget better through med school

A student smiling while holding a coffee while on her laptop.

Along with all your hard work to get into med school, you’ve also taken on a long-term financial commitment — especially if you’re having to borrow to fund your education. One of the most effective ways to protect your financial well-being while you study to be a doctor is by smart budgeting.

Consider these 10 financial habits to control spending, keep debt manageable, and relieve stress about money.

1. Look elsewhere before your line of credit

If you rely on a student line of credit to finance your studies, you want to borrow only as much as you need. It’s important to avoid unnecessary debt, so look first to income from other sources. You might have education savings, or the option of help from family. Make sure you’ve applied for grants or scholarships as well as government loans. Use money from a side hustle like tutoring. A budget makes best use of financial resources at hand.

Tip: Tap every source of income using MD’s ultimate guide to financing your education.

2. Estimate all your expenses

When creating a budget, it’s important to distinguish between fixed expenses and those you have some control over. Costs like rent, phone plans, and car insurance won’t change month to month, so you know how much to allocate. Same for fixed school expenses like tuition.

The rest are variable (groceries, clothing, car maintenance, etc.) or discretionary (entertainment, dining out, vacations, etc.), leaving you more control. Estimate how much you think you’ll need monthly for these. Build in a little extra to cover incidentals.

Tip: One way to save extra money is through the Scotiabank Healthcare+ Physician Banking Program. Medical students and residents can get banking benefits, including a fee waiver on chequing accounts and select credit cards (subject to conditions).

3. Set a monthly allowance

It helps to have a goal. Set yourself a monthly spending allowance based on the expenses you projected for the school year. Do your best to stick to your monthly cap, including purchases on credit. You may not nail it each month, but you can always adjust to reflect reality.

Tip: Use a single credit card for all purchases over two or three months to keep track of spending, document trends and get an accurate view of your cash flow and budget.

4. Keep track — in your own way

Keep tabs on what you spend, whether you love spreadsheets or prefer to keep lists on paper. Stick to a routine that suits you, whether it’s weekly, monthly or quarterly. Popular budgeting apps and online sites let you enter data easily. But be cautious about third-party services that ask you to link personal banking data — this could leave you vulnerable to fraud.

Tip: Spend what you earn first to curb what you owe. Extra money from summer jobs or shared costs with a roommate can be applied to minimize debt.

5. Put your price on happiness

One trick to be mindful about money is to create a personal exchange rate based on one thing that makes you happy. Say, for example, your favourite lunch is a $10 burrito. Use this to test the value of any discretionary purchase: Is a $50 item worth giving up five burritos for?

Tip: See your spending in a new light using the burrito exchange rate.

6. Shop carefully

The cost of food is often underestimated — grocery prices have been rising, and those late-night burritos certainly add up! Keep your kitchen stocked with staples, dedicate an hour each week to plan your meals, and avoid trips to the grocery store on an empty stomach. As for other types of shopping, go slow on impulse buys that can derail a budget. Before any major purchase, wait 24 hours. You may change your mind.

7. Step back to see the full picture

As your costs fluctuate and unexpected expenses arise, you may have to readjust your budget each semester and plan for new things such as attending conferences or travelling for electives (post-pandemic). Check the balance in your line of credit regularly to compare against original projections and tweak spending if you need to — things may change month to month, so look for trends.

Tip: Anticipate extra expenses in your final year, including Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) participation fees and travel costs.

8. Use your financial perks and loyalty rewards

Look for “free” dollars and discounts through your student union or medical association, available on everything from insurance to exam prep. Also, most retailers offer a student discount if you ask.

Tip: Use your most generous credit card for all your bills and purchases so you can earn the maximum rewards, and then pay off the monthly balance using cash or your line of credit.

9. Allow yourself treats

Your mental and physical well-being is essential if you’re to survive the intensity of medical school. A budget should in no way deprive you of things to keep you healthy and happy. Never mind anyone else: your needs matter, whether that’s buying nut milk or a special pair of running shoes.

Tip: Prioritize a few happy rituals in your budget, whether it’s taco Tuesday, a Sunday yoga class or a post-exam perk.

10. Get guidance when you need it

With all the hours of study and the information overload, med school may not leave you much energy to plan for your financial future. But you do need some basic budgeting skills. Start by bookmarking these personal finance resources for medical students, and get expert help if you need it.

MD Advisors* and Scotiabank Advisors have years of experience guiding students in their financial decisions, from day one of medical school and beyond. You can always reach out to your Advisor with any questions or for help setting a financial path for your career.  If you’re in your final year, consult an MD Advisor about the complexities of your upcoming transition to residency — including earning an income, consolidating loans, repaying loans, and more.

All banking and credit products and services are offered by The Bank of Nova Scotia (“Scotiabank”) unless otherwise noted. Credit and lending products are subject to credit approval by Scotiabank. Terms and conditions apply to all reward programs and benefits and should be reviewed carefully before applying. All offers, rates, fees, features, reward programs and benefits and related terms and conditions are subject to change. Visit or speak with your MD Advisor or a Scotiabank representative for full details

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* MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.