Let’s face it – being an Indian student in a global university is not easy. First – there are currency exchange rates. Then, there are the cultural differences. Finally, there is the aggressive competition.
Amid all of this, the only way you can survive is by focusing heavily on your grades and getting the coveted scholarships. Guess what – I was the Dean’s List scholar at SUNY Buffalo in the graduate program I was attending. Yet, I couldn’t make the ends meet when I was staying in New Jersey.
Finally, I made a plan. I was studying business administration. So I decided to treat my graduate program like I would treat a business. I made a spreadsheet and made two columns – Revenue and Expenses.
To my surprise, the revenue side was easy to be filled. Graduate Assistantship, giving prep classes to undergrad students, selling the photos I clicked on stock photo portals, taking up consulting projects and even selling my old stuff. But the sooner I found a source to fund my graduate studies, the faster I also had expenses lined up. Finally, I reached a point where it became more important to contain my expenses. That was when I formulated these steps. It helped me tremendously.
The first thing I did was this – whenever I would visit a store, I would ask for student discounts and exchange offers. I had a ton of stuff that I didn’t need. Exchanging all of it allowed me to clear up space in my dorm room while still making some extra cash. I became an expert in selling old stuff online, but that story is for some other day.
The most remarkable thing I learned about studying in America is this – if you ask for things, there is a high chance people will give it to you. Initially, when I was accepted at SUNY Buffalo, I hadn’t received a scholarship. When I showed them an offer letter with a scholarship from Brandeis and asked the admissions team at SUNY Buffalo to match it – they did. The same happened at small, family-owned stores in New York. Whenever I told them I was a student, they would try their best to give me a better offer. Put a smile on your face, be humble and ask for it. You might actually get a discount!
Eventually, I understood that simply asking for a discount wouldn’t be enough. I had to formulate a strategy to get discounts more frequently and at a wider variety of places. That was when I got to know about the ISIC and it practically changed the way I approached life! When you are in NYC, you have a ton of spots to hang out and have a good time. But I started focusing only on the restaurants and stores where I could exercise my ISIC student discounts. I started seeing the difference in a month. The ‘Expense’ side of my budget started shrinking and the smile on my face starting expanding.
This is probably the most unconventional advice I have ever given to help grad students save money. When I landed in NYC for the very first time, I went berserk. I would try new restaurants every week. Global cuisine was at my doorstep and I had to try it all out. By the end of the first semester, I had blown half-way through my graduate allowance for the entire program and had gained more than 10 kg. I understood that this was a problem and I had to fix it.
I started by focusing on eating healthy. Initially, it was difficult but after I lost a couple of kilos, I got motivated to do it more often. Cook something instead of eating that pizza. Instead of having that burger in the morning, go for a jog to Central Park and get that free bagel. Focus on eating to get energy for the day and not just amusing your tongue.
This did not mean I didn’t treat myself once in a while. The international student identity card I had eventually helped me save money even when I was eating out.
Grad school is a unique situation to be into. You will face new problems every now and then. These problems and you will need creative solutions for them. My formula was simple – ask for offers, get an ISIC and eat healthily. You can develop your own philosophy on top of this. Peace!