How to make (and stick) to a law school budget

By Alexandra Sumner

Ten years from now when we’re all still paying off our loans, everyone will be masters of retrospection. “Was I foolish to live in that luxury dorm freshman year? Why didn’t I work more hours at the coffee shop? Did I really need both my kidneys at 20?”

It’ll be easy to chide our past selves and their “impulse purchases,” but what will be harder is living with the consequences. In legal compliance work, they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so let’s apply the theory to our budgets. Going forward, here are five tips to help you spend less while saving your future self a few headaches.


Pack Your Lunch/Meal Prep. When making a decision to control spending or stick to a budget, the easiest place to start is the kitchen. Law school means long hours, so start packing your lunch each day and bring a few (quiet) snacks to nosh on during the day.

Tote along your own coffee and tea and be sure to pack your water bottle each day. Start planning your dinners in advance too; it’s easy to just grab some fast food on the way home instead of cooking dinner, but over time those trips can add up to a hefty sum. Save yourself the trouble of cooking each night by meal prepping each weekend: there’s nothing quite like coming home to a home-cooked meal.


Rent or Resell Textbooks. Please don’t keep your textbooks. Just don’t. I get that we’d all like to have a “hey look I went to law school” bookcase, by not renting or reselling your books you are leaving hundreds of dollars to atrophy on the shelf.

A lot of students think they’ll look back on these books frequently — and maybe even use them for bar prep. But the honest truth of it is they just take up space and grow out of date. At the end of each semester, sell back your books. It’s a great way to pay for new ones.


Upgrade Your Current Laptop. As much as you would like one, you probably don’t need a new laptop. While it would be nice to type notes out on the newest Mac or Microsoft product, save a huge chunk of money by upgrading it yourself (or with the help of an IT professional.) Save and export your files to an external hard drive, reset the computer, and give it a good wipe-down. After you’ve uploaded your files and cleaned between the keys, you’ll find that the computer runs like new: no purchase needed.


Work. A great way to bring in some extra income during the semester is to work a part-time job. It doesn’t even have to be related to the law. Pick something easy to do that pays well or offers you other benefits.

A friend of mine worked weekends at a fitness studio: she would help check in clients, answer the phone, etc., and she could study when it wasn’t busy and while the instructor gave fitness classes. On top of her paycheck, the studio also allowed her to take classes at a discounted rate: talk about work and play. Find a no-stress position you enjoy — it will give you a chance to get out of the house and socialize while giving you some spending money.


Sign Up for a Bar Prep Provider Early. I mentally kick myselffor the amount of times I ignored the bar prep provider tables in the lobby. Each time I thought “I don’t have the money for it now, I’ll figure it out later.” That lasted until my last semester of law school, when I had to get serious about preparing and taking the bar.

If I had thought ahead, I could have saved myself (literally) thousands of dollars. Get familiar with the providers early and decide which one you like: The earlier you sign up, the cheaper it is. You can even set up payment plans and take advantage of certain bar prep benefits early. Easy to understand Tort lectures, anyone?

Save yourself a few loan payments by thinking ahead. Even small steps toward frugality can pay off in the long run; no need to go full-on minimalist. Just think: one of the reasons people go to law school is the expectation of a decent salary. Don’t fret it all away before you’ve even earned it.

Alexandra Sumner is a recent graduate of Indiana University — Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.