10 Unconventional Ways To Save and Earn $$$ in Grad School

April 12, 2017

Disclosure: Some links to products on this website will earn an affiliate commission.


Whether you’re paying for grad school or making a meager stipend as a PhD student, one thing unites all grad students: we’re broke.


We’ve got 10 unconventional hacks to help you stay afloat financially throughout your 2 years of a masters or 10 years of an MD/PhD.


1. Buy Discounted Gift Cards for Everything You Know You'll Need


You know what you’re going to spend money on in grad school:

  • Your favorite clothing store

  • An airline so you can travel home for the holidays

  • Chipotle

  • Starbucks

  • Barnes & Noble

  • Ikea

  • Zappos

You can buy gift cards for these stores at a discount on sites like Raise.com or CardPool.com.



Pro Tip:

If you have gift cards around that you don't want, you can also sell them to Raise or CardPool for cash or Amazon credit. 


Personal Story:

I have used these sites 10+ times and have had great experiences. I buy loads of gift cards to Starbucks and Chipotle because I am an addict. I buy giftcards for airlines if I am planning to buy a flight or to Ikea before I go load up on furniture. The discounts vary - usually between 1%-22%, but it can really add up if I plan ahead.


Potential Savings:

10% on Books

10+% on Chipotle and Starbucks (let's be real, that's all you eat)

2% on Furniture

1-2% on Gas

5% on Flights

15-22% on Clothes


Let us know what deals you find:




2. Pay Your Tuition and Rent With a Credit Card


Explore whether your university or landlord accept credit cards for your payments.


If not, you can use Plastiq, which is a service that charges your credit card and then cuts a check to your school or landlord. Plastiq charges a 2.5% fee to you for their service. This fee negates regular credit card rewards but can be lucrative if you are going for a credit card sign up bonus or using a point multiplier technique. We wrote a whole article about someone who did this for his MBA tuition.



Pro Tip:

Plan ahead and monitor your Plastiq check closely to make sure it gets sent before your bill deadline to avoid late fees or other problems.


Pro Tip:

You can also use Plastiq to pay your student loans but ...



You should not use Plastiq to pay the portion of your tuition that is being paid by student loans. Student loans are usually sent directly to your university to pay your bill, not to you to pay off your credit card!



Credit cards aren’t free money – always pay your bill in time and in full to avoid paying interest.


Potential Savings:

Thousands of credit card points.

Hundreds or thousands of dollars of cash back.

Free flights and hotel stays.


Try Plastiq here and get 200 "fee-free" dollars after your first $20 payment. 


3. Negotiate With Your Favorite Restaurant For a Pre-Pay Discount


Got a favorite restaurant or a restaurant you know you’ll frequent during your degree?


Reach out to the manager or owner, introduce yourself as a loyal patron, and ask if you can buy a gift card in advance, in exchange for a discount.


Personal Story:

I tried this and was shocked when the owner agreed to a 20% discount on hundreds of dollars of gift cards. Here's the email!


Potential Savings:

5-20% of Your Eating Out Budget


4. Negotiate With Your Landlord


Landlords usually love students as tenants because they’re *usually* pretty quiet and well behaved, they’re temporary (making it easier for the landlord to raise the rent when they move out), and they often have cosigners, making them low risk for eviction or default. Before you sign your lease, or if you’re resigning, be sure to negotiate.


Here’s a few strategies for a hypothetical rent of $1000 on a 1 year lease for a studio:


Strategy A:

Ask for one month free on your lease. That’s a savings of $1000 off of $12,000 annual rent.


Strategy B:

Ask for $80 off of the monthly rent. That’s a savings of $960. Almost the same as a month free, just phrased differently.


Strategy C:

As for $40 off monthly rent in exchange for signing a 24 month lease. That’s about the same as one month free and the landlord will like it because they won’t have to find a new tenant in a year.


Strategy D:

Ask for a shorter lease (10 months) if you think you’ll have to eat the cost when you leave for a summer internship or summer travel


Strategy E:

If the landlord won’t negotiate, keep shopping around. Most college towns (with exceptions) have a lot of housing stock – you can find a great deal! Don’t rush.


Pro Tip:  

This strategy works best in cities where it is a "buyer's market." But don't assume that you can't negotiate because you live in San Francisco or NYC. You might be surprised.


Pro Tip:

Be polite and nice while negotiating - you won't get anything if you're rude!


Personal Story: 

I tried this and got the landlord to reduce my monthly rent by $50, for a total savings of $600 on a 12 month lease.


Potential Savings:



5. TA an Undergraduate Course


You’re in grad school, so presumably you have some skills and went to undergrad! Your university probably hires teaching assistants to lead recitations, graders for quizzes and exams, or even people to write and proctor exams. These jobs can pay hourly or a stipend.


You can even reach out and secure gigs before you start your degree, so you can start right away your first semester. Of course, TAing may be required for your degree and be considered part of your PhD stipend, but explore whether you can help with another class for pay. If you’re a masters student, TAing probably isn’t required, so go hunting for a class you can help with.


Personal Story:

I did this an earned an extra $2,500 per semester.


Potential Earnings:

Extra $500-$3000/Semester


6. Shop Around Hard for TextBooks on Amazon


The school bookstore is a notorious ripoff. Here are some strategies to get affordable textbooks:


Timing Timing Timing! Obviously, demand is highest at the beginning of the semester. So prices are higher.


Check out this absurdly expensive Oxford Textbook of Medicine:




Here is a graph of its price from the awesome tool CamelCamelCamel, a Chrome extension that tracks Amazon prices. See the little spikes where the price rises to $700? Those are the beginning of academic semesters. Don't be a sucker!


Buy Off Other Students – But Time it Right and Negotiate!

The prime time to get a deal on textbooks is not at the beginning of the semester. It’s at the end. So plan ahead and buy your next semester’s textbooks at the end of the prior semester.


Rent Your Textbooks on Amazon

The Oxford Medicine Textbook above is $127 to rent for the semester, versus $319 to buy.


Buy Used on Amazon

The Oxford Medicine Textbook discussed above is $278 used, versus $319 new. Note that the list price is $730. That might be how much they’re charging for it at the school bookstore.


Explore E-Textbooks on Amazon

They can be half the price or less than the physical version. Check out all E-Textbook options here: 


Buy an Old Version of the Textbook

Parkin Microeconomics 12th Edition is the most recent and most expensive: 



Has microeconomics really changed that much in one year?


Buy the 11th edition instead:


Or how about we get really crazy and buy the 9th edition because microeconomics hasn't changed since, like ever: 



Check Out the Textbook from the School Library

Did you know that your school library might rent textbooks hourly for free or even for the whole semester? Go check!


Personal Story:

I did this and saved tons on textbooks. And then at the end of the semester, I bought additional textbooks off students and flipped them for profit at the beginning of the semester. 


Potential Savings:

30-90% off Textbooks 


7. Become an Airbnb Host To Reduce Your Rent!


Get a big apartment, do the math, and Airbnb or sublet the other rooms. If you rent a 3 BR apartment and strategically sublet or Airbnb the other rooms, you could end up paying no rent. You could also end up paying a lot of rent if this plan fails, so be sure to pick a desirable apartment and screen tenants well.


Potential savings:

All or part of your housing costs using Airbnb!


8. Pet Sit and Babysit for Professors. Hustle to Get The Best Gigs!


Advertise yourself up front as available for pet sitting and babysitting. Meeting with a professor and see pictures of their kids or a dog on their desk? Mention that you love babysitting and dog sitting.


Also consider signing up for Rover, which is essentially Airbnb for dog sitters. If you’re sitting at home writing your dissertation all day, may as well be surrounded by puppies and get paid for it!


Potential Earnings:



9. Tutor

You’re in grad school so you presumably did pretty well in undergrad, have some skills, and took a test to get in (like the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, or MCAT).


There’s lots of people out there trying to follow in your footsteps and they need tutors! Explore tutoring through a local agency.


Google “Tutoring in [Your City]" and reach out to introduce yourself to local agencies to ask if they’re hiring.


Explore tutoring through the tutoring center at your university. They may be hiring tutors.


Advertise your tutoring services using flyers around campus.


Advertise your tutoring services to professors, if they have kids


Tutor online or through a national agency:

Explore positions with Varsity Tutors, Magoosh, and others.


Potential Earnings:

$15 - $200/hour, depending on the subject


10. Explore Alternatives to Student Health Insurance


Some campus plans are good but some can be really bad and have limited coverage. But one thing that unites nearly all of them is that they’re all super expensive.


Consider the following options which may be cheaper: 


If you’re under 26, explore whether you can stay on or go back on your parents’ plan. 


If you have a partner or spouse, explore the process and cost of being added to their employer plan (if available). 


Explore the cost of buying health insurance on your own either directly through an insurance company like eHealthInsurance or through the healthcare exchange. Beware: read the fine print of any policy to make sure you understand what it covers.


Explore whether you can go on your state’s Medicaid plan, which usually has $0 or very low premiums and copays. Since your income is probably very low, this may be a possibility. Beware: it can be hard to find providers that accept Medicaid for outpatient visits (like gynecologists, psychiatrists, etc).


Personal Story:

I did this! School health insurance cost $3,348. Cost to stay on parents’ plan: $0.

Saved = $3,348.


Potential Savings: 

Hundreds or Thousands of $$

Have a great time in grad school!

Study hard and let us know how much you save!



The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are an opinion. The content on this site is intended to be educational and  used for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The owner of this sites assumes no liability for information provided above. The information may not be correct when applied to your specific situation. 









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