Today we have a guest blog post from Nick Angelis, CRNA MSN, about a topic that is near and dear to my heart – financial planning. I know it’s a weird thing to be passionate about, but I believe any and everyone should be able to get a higher education without going into financial ruin – which is pretty difficult today! With the appropriate planning, we can attempt to lessen the blow as much as possible. Check out these awesome and practical tips from someone much more experienced than myself – Nick!
1. Live Poor
At what point should you start denying yourself the simple pleasures of four dollar coffee or blowing a hundred bucks every weekend? When do you really need to start saving? The truth is, it could take decades to dig yourself out of debt if you don’t take the necessary steps now. There is absolutely no point in putting yourself and your loved ones through years of essentially monastic living if you’ll still be living paycheck to paycheck with a higher salary once you graduate. Currently, student loans are at such low rates that financing your life with them (and skipping the next few rambling paragraphs) is a viable option. I previously recommended that students pay off their undergraduate loans before starting anesthesia or nurse practitioner school, but it’s an individual decision. As much as it depends on you, keep your other debts to a minimum. For example, don’t make illegitimate children—child support really adds up. Chronic illnesses tend to be expensive too, although avoiding carcinogens may be more difficult than wearing seat belts, selling your motorcycle, or resisting the urge to sled down an icy hill on a skateboard. The last time I had such an urge, I at least had the presence of mind to increase my life and disability insurance first–which is a must if you have a family, once you get that MSN or whichever degree you’re striving for.
2. Get Grants
If you have a high GPA or an interesting characteristic (e.g. Navajo and Guatemalan heritage), the first step is to look for scholarships and grants. Regardless of the angle I tried, no one accepted my Greekness as any race or ethnicity other than Dark White. My GPA and essay skills were good enough to justify the time I spent submitting scholarship applications instead of working at “Niko’s House of Gyro and Lamb”. There really is no such place in my hometown, but if there were, I’d eat there twice a week. To be honest, I never did find a single grant or scholarship to fund anesthesia school, and all my undergraduate scholarships combined were laughable had I gone anywhere but the local public university. That brings up my third point.
3. Consider Cheaper Schools
The prestige of your alma mater is at best a tiny variable for your success in healthcare. A more affordable education is not like buying generic, one ply toilet paper. This isn’t business school, where networking is more important than what you learn. You’ll take the same boards after you graduate as someone at a more prestigious school, so the cost difference between graduate nursing programs is a major factor. The luxury of choice is admittedly rare unless you have a high GPA and the ability to skillfully articulate your clinical skills during interviews. Look at the value of a school, taking into consideration your personal support system, and the school’s cost and reputation. Talking to previous graduates will also illuminate whether you’re getting a great deal or if the school resembles that fabulous Groupon to a restaurant that gave me food poisoning. Just like warmed milk of magnesia mixed with prune juice matters more than a handful of raisins, a nursing school’s reputation from previous students matters a great deal more than US News and World Report rankings or any other comparable data. A small school can’t offer you the cutting edge research, tools, and surgeries found at a large academic institution. A large school is less likely to expose you to the autonomous experience of a practitioner in rural America without any backup. So, if you’ve always dreamed of practicing in the heart of New York City, the University of Iowa’s program might not be the best fit.
4. Know your Financial Needs and Goals
If you’re already a nurse while reading this blog, what are ways that you can maximize your income and experience while you prepare for even more school? My program encouraged us to take core graduate nursing classes before being accepted into the program. The unreliable hours but better pay of an agency nurse (the healthcare equivalent of a substitute teacher) allowed me to learn adaptability and get more studying done when I couldn’t find a shift to work. None of your financial plans should take into account “the money I’ll make while I’m in anesthesia school”, because it’s just not going to happen, although some nurse practitioner school and other graduate degrees may afford some part time work.
5. Invest Wisely
So what should you do with your money? Transferring loans from one 0% interest credit card to another can work for a while, unless you make a single. life-altering mistake at 30% interest. Once you run out of public and private low interest loans, websites such as lendingclub.com have much better terms than credit cards and also work well as high interest (and high risk) investments if you are fortunate enough to save money. Obviously, risking money you need for next semester’s tuition or next week’s canned soup is a bad idea once you’re in school, on par with investing all your money in foreign stocks the day before you retire. Some research on your part is necessary to avoid investing in the “Anesthesia Student Wire Transfer Fund of Northwest Potiskum”. I lived on 20% of my income as a nurse and saved the rest for anesthesia school, but my quality of life was only slightly above a vegetative state. For 2016, a high yield bond ladder is my latest advice, as it can replace what certificates of deposit did for me ten years ago. You’ll need some advice to avoid companies with bankruptcy risks, however.
6. Explore Side Gigs
A friend of mine still works part time as a fireman because of the health insurance and pension plan, while another nurse I know works at an upscale restaurant on the weekends because his large tips exceed the money he’d earn working those hours as a nurse. I don’t intend to imply that jobs in healthcare pay poorly until the initials “CRNA” or the words “Nurse Manager” follow your name. Many of my fellow nurse anesthetists started as paramedics, radiology technicians, and similar careers before becoming ICU nurses and applying for anesthesia school. Still others paid for school by funneling student loan money into rental properties (this is also a great way to immediately lose all of your money) or developing ways to make passive income, since time is so precious during graduate school. That said, you can’t type out your thoughts on a blog or book and expect the level of success that Kati has had by rolling her nurse eyes. Despite the multiple books and articles I’ve written, I’m typically more likely to donate blood than buy a book off the Internet.
7. Win the Lottery of Tuition Reimbursement
In fact, you can spend your entire working career at one institution, using tuition reimbursement programs each step of the way as your education and paychecks increase. This method never appealed to me because I knew exactly where I wanted to go and didn’t have any debt, but it’s a brilliant method to compare multiple careers in healthcare at little expense. Signing up for the military after high school is another way to do this. I tried using tuition scholarships from my various places of employment, but I always barely missed qualifying because of some technicality or other. Stay focused on your goals because few people in American culture have a concrete idea of exactly how much money is enough. The love of learning may dim when it contributes to your debt but not your paycheck!
Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, is the author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School (And RN, PA, or Med School) and regularly writes or presents continuing education articles on a variety of dry and dreary topics like this one. Thankfully, he also has a thing for fiction, non-fiction guides for students and clinicians, and satire closely resembling non-fiction. Nick works as a nurse anesthetist in the Florida Panhandle and enjoys playing several sports poorly. You can connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, or behavewellness.com.
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