How do you make sure you get the most out of your two years at Booth without declaring personal bankruptcy? Whether you’re a prospective student just beginning your journey, or an admit giddy with an acceptance letter, the question of financing is probably at the forefront of your mind.
If you’re lucky like Alex or Suzi…or Darren…or Craig (…oh man, talk about a sudden existential crisis here! Is everyone married??) you’ll have a partner who, even if they’re not working and keeping the household in the black, will keep you honest about your finances. If you’re like the majority of people in business school who haven’t met their better half yet, and fall into the “close my eyes and try not to think about it” camp, this post is for you.
I’m not going to talk about financing the MBA or give investing advice despite my background, since I have neither the Series 7 nor the Series 63/65/66 and would prefer not to be sued. For that information, I suggest you talk to Booth’s Financial Aid department, or read this as a basic framework for figuring out how to make it work.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about all the great ways you can have fun with classmates and enjoy Chicago without busting the bank! Despite the apocryphal stories of MBAs spending money like water, the vast majority of MBAs are fairly prudent with their money and don’t go on crazy weekend trips to Monte Carlo or the Bahamas. Those of us for whom personal finance is almost a hobby have even managed to make or save some money during our time as students (see: minimizing capital gains and income tax, maxing out Roth IRAs and conversions).
First, eating out. As you might have guessed from my Twitter (@excelbaboon), food is one of the great pleasures of my life. The trick is to balance quantity and quality. Every year, I wait for Restaurant Week Chicago to roll around, and then I hit that with the force of a great typhoon. The rest of the time, I’ll cook at home, with simple dishes like bourbon-honey glazed salmon filet and kale salad with fresh herbs and apple. I often will swing over to the Divinity School or to the food trucks (detailed in Tyler’s post here) where the arbitrage to be had vs. Kovler (the cafeteria in the Harper Center) can be as great as $4/meal. Potlucks are another great way of combing the holy trifecta of budgeting, friendship, and eating food made by people more talented in the kitchen than you.
Second, traveling. I won’t lie and say that many MBAs don’t travel. We do, and frequently on borrowed money, because it’s unlikely that many of us will have the amount of free time that we do now. But there are ways of traveling that maximize value, including using (1) accumulated points vs. dollars on your credit cards; (2) going to lower-cost destinations using AirBnB to lower costs; and (3) organizing with other Boothies to negotiate travel packages, particularly in the off-seasons.
Personally, I eschewed traveling to an exotic location during Winter Break my first year, saving up for a week-long Machu Picchu Spring Break trek which was hands-down one of the most rewarding experiences I had at Booth. This year, I did Italy with two of my favorite ladies at Booth during Spring Break, but will be flying budget to Puerto Rico for a simple, low-key Spring Break. My advice: go where you think you’ll have a good time with the people, not just the trip with the most people going or the trip with the most exotic locale. At the end of the day, what you’ll remember are the deeper friendships built during these trips.
Third, Chicago hotspots. You’d be surprised how many fun things you can do in and around Chicago for little to no money. Museums such as the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry are free for Illinois residents and have everyday discounted tickets for students. If you’re a fan of the symphony or the theatre, the world-class Chicago Symphony Orchestra has an amazing deal on student tickets for certain shows, as does the Steppenwolf Theatre. Millennium Park and the newly constructed Maggie Daley Park have not one, but TWO skating rinks, and in the summer, weekly free screenings of award-winning films and dance classes open to the public.
Ultimately, it’s about priorities and being honest with yourself regarding your finances. You can use Mint to track your finances on a monthly budget and to regularly reassess whether your spending is aligned with the reason you came to Booth and how much value you’re getting. There’s no need to be No Debt MBA; if you value life’s simple and more complex pleasures…but it’s just more comfortable if you feel solid about your financial decisions. Because, at the end of the day, that’s really all that anyone can ask of you.