Television shows often feature medical school residency as a stage for exploring young professional life—with no shortage of soap opera melodrama. There always seems to be an angry surgeon, overworked residents, and a love triangle or two.
But from the sound of it, the reality of resident life is really quite different. Yes, residents often work long hours—the shows get that right—but residents also have families and outside lives and worry about normal stuff like paying rent and student loans.
How Much Do Medical Residents Make?
So, how much do doctors make during residency? According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average medical resident salary was $54,600 in 2017 and is projected to be $55,700 in 2018. After (national average) federal and state taxes, this leaves the average medical school resident with $3,280 to spend each month.
Getting a stipend may feel like a relief for some residents fresh out of medical school, but making that money stretch can be a challenge—especially in high cost-of-living areas. To help, here are seven tips for getting by (and even thriving) while living on an average resident salary.
1. Make a Simple Budget
The average resident has little time to keep track of their expenses, but building a simple budget could be the difference between making it work and ending up short. Your first step should be to make a list of all “necessary” spending, such as rent, utilities, and groceries.
Compare that to all sources of income, including your resident salary and any family help. What amount is left over? That’s how much you have to spend on “extras” each month. You can either set limits for each category (for example, $100 for eating out) or you can monitor your spending as the month progresses. Or, you can do both.
2. Consider Personal Preferences and Trade-Offs
A budget can feel like a buzzkill, but if you do it right, it can also be freeing. By knowing exactly how much you can spend, you can then decide what’s important for you to prioritize and what can be ruthlessly eliminated.
Maybe you’ll decide that you want to cut cable but can’t give up going out to your favorite local wine bar. Or perhaps you’ll give up eating out so that you can spend more on rent. Really, spending money is just analyzing each trade-off; ask yourself “do I want this, or something else?” Even committing to something as simple as brewing coffee at home could save $100 per month or more.
3. Focus on Fixed Costs
One big way you can make an impact on your budget is by making “big wins” on fixed costs, such as insurance or utility bills. For example, lowering a bill by $20 each month is going to have a bigger effect that saving a few dollars on small purchases. Looking at your own fixed spending, where could you ask for better rates? Or cut back entirely?
While you’re at it, check your subscription services and other memberships. Though not often considered a “fixed cost,” they become one once they withdraw money from your account each month. Subscriptions and memberships are sneaky; check yours to make sure you’re not paying for a service that you’re not able to use because you’re so busy; try to eliminate one or two for automatic monthly savings.
4. Share a Living Space
When it comes to getting a big win, there’s usually no win that’s bigger than saving on your rent. To do this, you can move into a more affordable place, live with roommates, or rent out a room out at your place. Not only could a roommate help you save on rent, but on utilities like water, electric, and cable.
Some folks don’t like the idea of having roommates, but it can be worth considering that living alone is a pretty recent luxury. This is partly due to the increased number of people who aren’t getting married, but either way, having a place to yourself hasn’t always been the norm. While you need to do what keeps you sane throughout your residency, you might consider a roommate—especially if you’re not home that often.
5. Choose Less Expensive Transportation
If you have a car, it’s worth questioning whether you really need it, and in what capacity. For example, could you get rid of your car altogether, and use public transportation, a bike, and ridesharing instead? (Check and see if Uber or Lyft are offering a flat-rate, monthly pass option in your city or area.)
If you’re not ready to sell your car quite yet, simply try using it less. Even this small act may save you money each month. For example, if you’re spending $120 per month on gas but could ride public transportation for $30 per month, you may save over $1,000 on transportation in a year.
It might be a difficult transition at first, but you may find that you appreciate the time you aren’t behind the wheel. Another potential way to save money on transportation is by shopping around for car insurance. If you haven’t done so in the last several years, it could we well worth it—especially if you have a good driving record.
6. Cook at Home
You’re likely overworked and need to rest during your off hours, and it’s hard to find the time and energy to cook. But eating out is expensive. While it would be unreasonable to think that a medical resident could cook food for every meal, it may be worth taking a few hours each week to cook up a soup or casserole that can be eaten throughout the week. Alternatively, you can freeze individual grab-n-go meals. Making large batches of food could potentially save residents hundreds of dollars a month.
7. Refinance Medical School Loans
Like most people who attended medical school, there’s a very likely chance you took out student loans. Managing these loans while you’re living on an average resident salary may be important for your financial success. It is important to understand your loan repayment options as a medical resident. One of the first decisions you may want to make is whether you want your loans to go into forbearance or to make payments on your loans during residency.
Student loan forbearance may seem like an ideal option for a person on a medical resident salary, but that might not always be the case: Federal medical school student loans accrue interest during that time, and that interest is added to your balance at the end of your forbearance period. This is called compounding, or capitalization, and means that you’re paying interest on top of interest.
You may want to consider refinancing your medical resident student loans with a company like SoFi, that offers programs designed for medical school residents. Refinancing is the process of paying off one loan (or many loans) with another, generally to lower your overall interest rate or to change the terms of your loan.
Refinancing student loans won’t be for everyone, as you will lose access to federal loan programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). SoFi’s medical school loan refinancing offers monthly payments as low as $100 per month during residency, while no interest capitalizes during that period.
Additionally, with SoFi, you might be able to lower your overall interest rate as well, which could potentially save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. Learn more about SoFi’s medical resident loan refinancing rates and terms.
SoFi does not render tax or legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and we recommend that you consult with a qualified tax advisor for your specific needs.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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