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Financial Aid

“If You Live Like a Lawyer When You’re a Student…”

However, once your loan money is deposited in your account, then what? Common sense and thrift can make a big difference in a student’s long-term financial health.

Spahn suggests students consider the example of a simple pizza. If they buy pizza every night using their student loan disbursement, they wind up paying not just the $20 for the food, but also the interest on that $20, spread out for years after they graduate.

“That pizza tends to get pretty expensive,” Spahn said.

Suggestions for stretching your aid dollars include careful budgeting. Calculate your cost of living, which should include not only the total cost of school attendance but also extras, including travel, social activities and the like. Don’t forget to include “luxuries” like food and utilities, which are often overlooked by budgeting students.

In order to stretch every dollar, Spahn suggests turning to other, “non-financial” sources of support. If your family can provide you with a car or a place to stay, it could help to greatly defray the cost of school. Consider taking in a roommate to cut down on housing costs, or, as Machen suggests, consider a lower rent apartment during your school years.

Think of it this way, Spahn says: “If you live like a lawyer when you’re a student, then you’ll live like a student when you’re a lawyer.”

Machen cautioned that students doing internships need to be especially careful not to be lured into a lawyer’s lifestyle before they actually graduate.

“I think sometimes they are somewhat seduced by it all and forget they are a student for another year,” Machen said, referring to law students’ experiences with their summer internships before graduation. He explained that very often he would see students start to spend money like they were already partners at a law firm, even though they had a year of student level living left.

Negotiating Financial Aid Packages

A final option for securing more financial aid is to try to bargain with your school. Some schools will allow students to present their financial aid packet from another institution and see if it can be matched or beaten. However, Spahn and Machen both advise caution if students take this road.

Students can research what schools are offering by talking with other applicants, either directly or through Web discussion boards. Machen explained that this helps to keep law schools honest, and the playing field level.

“More transparency is definitely a good thing,” Machen said. However, he cautioned that not all schools will bargain with students, and that students must initiate aid negotiations with both courtesy and tact.

Melissa Hursey, Three Years Later

Three years out of law school, Hursey left her job at a Chicago law firm to spend time with her newborn child. Yet, while her career path has changed, her school debt burden remains. She and her husband pay $1,000 a month in loan repayments and will continue to do so for years to come.

“I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will be paying student loans for a very long time,” she said.

Reflecting on her school years, Hursey remembered the nights of eating whatever she could scrounge out of the cupboard, usually crackers and peanut butter. Though it was hard, Hursey said she thinks she did pretty well, even without budgeting her dollars.

“I knew what my budget allowed,” she said. However, after a moment of introspection she added an afterthought on using spreadsheets.

“It would have been a good idea,” she said, with hindsight and a chuckle.

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