My husband and I were married during his pre-med years. We started our family relatively soon after being married and I chose to stay home. Because of this, we have had huge challenges financially throughout the entire process. I think it's safe to assume that we took one of the more difficult routes to get to where we are today.
These years were full of creative ways to make and save money. My husband always had part-time research positions or teaching assistant positions during his undergraduate degree. I worked full-time until we had our first child. I tried working part-time until the baby interfered with my husband's studying. Once at home, I took on every baby sitting job that I could find. For a few months my husband and I were employed by a maintenance company to clean a bowling alley. We carefully transported our little 8-month old every morning at 4:00 a.m. and spent three hours cleaning like crazy while he slept. We felt like it was the ideal job and it paid all of our bills. Unfortunately the company we worked for was underbid so we lost the job. Just thinking of all of the totally clogged toilets and disgusting messes I cleaned while my husband waxed the floor by the bowling lanes makes me think we were crazy for being so happy. When our baby turned one, we found a job managing a storage facility in exchange for free rent and utilities. We thought we had definitely 'arrived' and continued there until we had to move in order to start medical school in a different city.
We still took out some school loans during these years but felt very blessed that I could stay home with our kids while my husband studied and continued to prepare for medical school.
MEDICAL SCHOOL YEARS
Many people told us to take out as many loans as we could, and not to worry about paying them back. That seemed so irresponsible! It took us a little while, but eventually we did end up taking out all of the school loans that we could. I was in graduate school during my husband's MS3 and MS4 years so I took out additional loans when we needed them. We also had help from family. I remember thinking we were so poor during those years, but looking back, I wish we had saved more of those loans and lived a little more carefully. We did not need to watch our finances like we learned during residency simply because there were also additional school loans available.
Residency has been a little more difficult than the other years. This is probably largely due to the fact that we have four children and I stay at home.
The biggest challenge after moving for residency was figuring out our finances. We were surprised at how different it was not being able to take out an extra loan whenever we needed. Before moving, we did not look ahead at what our needs would be before signing contracts for a rental home agreement, car insurance, home rental insurance, umbrella insurance, and a bundle package for wireless internet, phone, and cable. I wish we had planned out a rough budget before signing these contracts so that we knew exactly what we could afford. We were committed to paying these large bills every month for the year, which made our budget very inflexible.
Most people warned us that my husband would be paid very little during residency. We have decided that residents actually do make a decent salary; however, it is a bit challenging to also provide for a wife and four children without a supplemental income. There are three things we have followed that have helped us to survive with a resident's salary.
1. Budget. It took us a few weeks, but we figured out a budget that we felt like we could live with. The budget is just an excel spreadsheet where we keep track of our incoming and outgoing expenses. Having a budget truly brings peace and tremendously decreases the ever-present-stress regarding finances.
2. Savings. We included a 'savings' fund and a 'slush' fund in our budget. The savings fund brings a lot of peace of mind. The budget was terribly hard to follow at first, and we were both a bit edgy. Within a few days we knew that we had to have a "slush fund" or a fund that we would put bits of money into each month, and that we could spend without guilt. Even though we rarely use the slush fund, somehow just knowing that we have money that we can spend on something fun or crazy helps us to live frugally 99% of the time.
3. Live within means. We plan for two pay checks per month, rather than a pay check every two weeks, so that at the end of every six months, we have an "extra" unaccounted-for pay check. This allows us to "save" and have money for unexpected, large expenses (i.e. dentist or car repairs). This also allows us to make mistakes and go 'over' budget if we need to and not worry.
We really feel like we are "rich" with luxuries, such as healthy food, money to put our kids in sports, always able to buy socks, etc., when we need them, and enjoy dinner out once every few months.
It is really not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, as long as we watch ourselves and budget carefully.