Most pharmacy schools don’t teach personal finance, so it’s up to you to set yourself up for success by taking control of your money while you’re still a student.
In average, pharmacists today are graduating with more than $170,000 in student loan debt.1 Figuring out how to tackle that debt, on top of other financial priorities like making a down payment on a home or planning for retirement, is not easy. Most pharmacy schools don’t teach personal finance, so it’s up to you to set yourself up for success by taking control of your money while you’re still a student.
Here are 10 tips to help you get started.
1. Create a Budget
When you hear the word budget, what comes to mind? Eating ramen, living frugally, shopping at thrift stores? Although none of these are bad practices (and could certainly help you save), making a budget simply means creating a game plan for your money. A budget helps you prepare for expenses in advance, allowing you to direct your disposable income (the money left over after paying the bills) toward financial goals.
Developing a budget as a student is key to avoiding overspending and will help you minimize debt. Your Financial Pharmacist offers a free and simple budgeting template. After setting up your budget, consider using an app like Mint or EveryDollar to track your monthly progress.
2. Develop Solid Financial Goals
Even though you might not be making a lot of money as a student, consider having specific, measurable, and timely financial goals for savings, net worth, and debt payoff. Here is a basic framework you can use for goal setting: By <date>, I want to <financial goal> so that <why you want to achieve it>. To accomplish this, I will <steps you will take to make the goal a reality>.
3. Set Up an Emergency Fund
Emergencies and unexpected expenses can come up anytime and quickly derail your financial plan, unless you have an emergency fund. A general guideline is to have 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency account, but saving that much can be a challenge for students. Choose an amount you’re comfortable with so that you won’t have to rely on a credit card to bail you out if an unforeseen expense crops up.
4. Minimie Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt is often the result of overspending or paying for unexpected expenses. Setting up a budget and contributing to an emergency fund may help prevent you from slipping into credit card debt. If you do have it, try to eliminate it as soon as possible and find a strategy that will help you avoid it in the future.
5. Calculate and Track your Net Worth
Calculating and tracking your net worth is a quick way to analyze your financial health. Your net worth is your assets (things you own) minus your liabilities (debt you owe). Thanks to student loans, this is probably going to be a large negative number for a pharmacy student, but don’t let that discourage you! Remember, the trajectory of your net worth is more important than its current amount.
6. Develop a Student Loan Payoff Strategy
Considering that most new graduates have well beyond $100,000 in student loan debt, it is important to have a solid repayment strategy in place. Start by reviewing the federal and private loans you have to see what your current balance is and what it is likely to be upon graduation. Become familiar with loan repayment options like public service loan forgiveness, refinancing, and other repayment plans, so you can be a step ahead when you graduate.
7. Start Educating Yourself
You don’t need a master’s degree in finance to be successful with money, but it’s important to have a strong foundation that will help you make smart financial decisions and develop good money habits. If you’re interested in resources created for pharmacists, check out Your Financial Pharmacist’s book (Seven Figure Pharmacist: How to Maximize Your Income, Eliminate Date, and Create Wealth), website, and podcast.
8. Consider a Side Hustle
Side hustles are ways to make extra cash beyond a full-time job, which, for pharmacy students, is most likely just school. But you can turn your skills or personal interests and hobbies into an income stream to reach your financial goals faster.
9. Start Investing in Your Company's 401(K), 404(B), or Thrift Savings Plan
When you’re mired in student loans and other debt, it can be hard to pursue investing, and you may feel that you can put off retirement savings for a few years. The reality, however, is that you should take advantage of compound interest, and the earlier you start saving, the better.
Those working as pharmacy interns probably have the option to contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. If the company offers a matching contribution, it is giving you free money. For most people, qualifying for the company match is the best option, even while paying off student loans. How much you save beyond the minimum requirement depends on your financial goals.
10. Set Up Systems to Avoid Lifestyle Creep
Lifestyle creep can happen even if you’re a student who is not making the salary of a typical pharmacist. It is important not to fall into the comparison game with your peers. Spending money on vacations, on decking our your apartment, or on a lot of clothes for interviews and conferences can cause you to accrue more debt.
Take Steps to Prepare Yourself Financially
There are many steps you can take as a student to prepare yourself financially. For more tips, resources, and information, visit Your Financial Pharmacist.
Want to Hear More? Listen to the Pharmacy Focus: Study Break episode with Tim Ulbirch.
Tim Ulbrich, PharmD, is the CEO and a cofounder of Your Financial Pharmacist. Since 2015, the company has been on a mission to help pharmacists achieve financial freedom through fee-only comprehensive online financial planning services, 3 weekly podcasts, books, webinars, and numerous other resources.
American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Graduating Student Survey: 2021 National Summary Report. Published July 2021. Accessed February 9, 2022. https://www.aacp.org/ sites/default/files/2021-07/2021-gss-national-summary-report.pdf