Managing finances is one of the biggest challenges for a graduate student. This is especially true in the case of students with a family. This post is an attempt to summarize a few things that worked for me in getting my finances under control. Although this post is written with married graduate students in mind, I believe it is as useful, if not more, for others as well.

  • Track your cash flow. You should know where your money is going. I use Mint and Personal Capital for this purpose.

  • Once you understand your spending patterns, create a budget. Have a goal in mind when creating the budget. For instance, my goal is to save a particular amount of money from every pay check. The good folks at YNAB is giving away their highly acclaimed software, You Need A Budget (YNAB), for free for students.

  • It is hard, but make efforts to stick with your budget. Level app helps me with this, it shows me how much I can spend without going over my budget.

  • Bank with an institution that does not ridicule you with miniscule rates and outrageous maintenance fee. I use Ally bank.

  • If you manage to save money, invest your savings. With long-term inflation rate above 3%, a savings account is a bad investment choice. WiseBanyan lets you invest as low as $10 a month in a combination of stock and bond ETFs for free. The stock market has returned an average of over 7% historically. Assuming this holds in the future, investing $500 every month will make your net worth exceed the median American middle class by the time you graduate!

  • Sign up for good cashback credit cards such as the Chase Freedom card. If you have more than one credit card, an interesting app to use is Wallaby, which tells you the best card to use when you shop.

  • Cellphone service is a basic necessity, but gone are those days when you had to spend a fortune on a decent plan. RingPlus and FreedomPop are among a new breed of operators offering FREE service.

  • While it is convenient to order things from Amazon and have it delivered to your home, many everyday essentials such as toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, body wash etc can be obtained absolutely free if you are willing to do a little bit of couponing along with some help from store specific blogs such as IHeartCVS and IHeartWags. However, I must warn you that couponing is very additctive.