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Interview With Austin Groothuis of CALI’s Pre-Law Blog

Written by Brett McKay

This week’s interview is with Austin Groothuis from the CALI’s Pre-Law Blog. Austin is a third year law student at Chicago-Kent. In addition to writing for CALI’s Pre-Law Blog, Austin is also the Communications/Marketing Coordinator for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). (What a busy guy!)

1. How much student debt have you racked up during undergrad and law school?

I have just under $100,000 in combined school debt. I have paid for all of law school and virtually all of undergrad/graduate school plus cost of living during those times on loans/scholarships/or money I earned working while in school. I’ve had very little outside financial help so loans have really added up.

2. What action or habit do you think saved you the most money while in law school?

A lot of things combined. I buy all of my books used online at Amazon Marketplace or Half.com and then resell them at virtually the same price. It’s quite a racket the law school bookstores and casebook publishers have going on. I try not to participate in it as much as possible. I wrote about this on my blog here:

Cost of Text Books In School

Whenever I need something new I’m freakishly insistent on getting the best price through research online. Basically all of my gifts for Christmas this year were bought on deal websites and over half of them had rebates involved.

I sold my car last year to save money on maintenance, gas, random fees, and inevitable street cleaning tickets in Chicago. I just don’t need it in the city.

Although I don’t know what I’d do without my girlfriend to chauffeur me around the city at times. She has a real job and a car so, obviously, part of my advice is get to get a sugar mama (don’t worry, she never reads my stuff). :)

And most importantly, I opted to take a full-time job with CALI and switch to school part-time in the middle of my second semester. This extended my time in law school. But it literally cut my debt in half. That’s right, I’d be looking at upwards of 160k in debt had I not taken this CALI job. Amazing. It really saved me.

3. If you have student loan debt, when would you like to pay it off? How do you plan on reaching your goal?

It’s going to be a real long-term thing that depends on how much I make, what career path I choose to take, and what kind of family decisions I make (dual income? children? where to live?).

Optimistically, I think the best case scenario is 15 years to pay it back. But I could see using up the whole 25 or 30 years. I’ve never really sat down and thought of a schedule because I just can’t get a grasp on what my life looks like and what opportunities will be presented to me after I graduate.

4. What other personal financial goals have you set for yourself?

Don’t default on my loans and never have to ask someone for financial help.

5. What is your weakness in regards to your personal finances and how do you think you can improve it?

Eating out and the Starbucks across the street from work/school. I’m at work and school all day so it’s just too easy to not make a lunch the night before and worry about lunch the next day.

And it’s not like I’m addicted to Starbucks. But paying 4.50 for a latte once or twice a week at most really burns me just due to the fact that I’m paying infinitely more per gallon for coffee than what I paid for gas. But I really do love the mocha. It’s a bad habit but at least I don’t smoke!

6. How do you manage your finances? Is there a particular software you use to keep track of your money?

I do everything online. I don’t have to keep balances because I pay all my bills online and my bank transactions are reflected really quickly in my online checking account. I haven’t written more than 2 or 3 checks in the past 2 years.

My credit card (which I pay in full from month to month) is through the same bank and I can access that info easily and simultaneously with my checking.

I have an HSBC personal online savings account that pays 5+% and has no fees for transfers to and from other accounts and no minimum balance. Compare that to the less than one percent you might find at your local bank. It’s awesome.

7. What do you think is the biggest money mistake law students make?

Not understanding the way law school and legal jobs work. I think a lot of future students rely on the average salary of a school or become star struck by the numerous law firms paying 150k+ salaries and sending out press releases every time they increase starting salary. So students think they can go to any law school and rack up a ton of debt because they will be able to pay it off in 5 years with a $160,000/year salary.

But go to a non-elite school and at most only 10-20% of students even have a shot at big paying jobs. And nearly all non-big firm jobs with opportunities for graduates pay an amount much less than $100,000, let alone $160,000. I’ve written about this several times on the Pre-Law Blog including here:

The Chances of a Six-Figure Salary Out of Law School

and here:

Another Post On The Cost of Law School

and here:

How High Associate Starting Salaries Affect Law Schools…

8. Do you have any suggestions to other law students regarding their personal finances?

Besides the sugar mama thing, huh? Don’t carry credit card debt. Don’t spend more than what you can pay in a month on a credit card bill.

Read The Frugal Law Student blog. No joke. There are also several other money saving tips sort of blogs out there that are good to read.

Not so much for law students, but those thinking about law school, understand the risks involved in choosing certain schools and in choosing to go to law school at all. Read some of what I’ve written about this above for a start. Make sure you weigh the risks vs. the benefits before you decide to go to school/ where to go to school.

Good luck!

Thanks, Austin, for that awesome interview! Head on over to CALI’s Pre-Law Blog. Austin has supplied some great information for those interested in attending law school and those who are already in law school. Make sure to sign up for his RSS feed as well.

If you enjoyed this post, then make sure to subscribe to my RSS Feed.

[tags]CALI, Austin Groothuis, law school, debt, personal finance[/tags]

Top 5 Ways to Save Money While in School

Written by Brett McKay


This is my contribution to ProBlogger’s top 5 group writing project. Go by, read the submissions, and contribute a post as well.

Like most young students, I’m poor. My wife and I are always looking for ways to save money so we can mitigate our already high student debt load. Here’s a list of the 5 things that I have found that have helped us save the most money.

  1. Live with your parents. Right now, my wife and I are living with her parents. This has been our biggest money saver. It’s worked out rather well for us and my in-laws. We have rent free housing and they get in home service. My wife cleans the house and makes dinner for them every once in awhile and I take care of landscaping and the recyclables.
  2. Don’t own a car or if you’re married, just own one. My wife and I just own one car. I got rid of mine when we married. We save on insurance and maintenance. Besides the savings sharing a car has given us time to talk between our busy schedules.
  3. Bring your lunch to campus. I’m surprised by the number of law students who go out to eat every day. If the average meal is $5, that means that many students are dropping $100 a month just on lunch. My average home brought lunch costs probably a $1, some time less.
  4. Buy used textbooks. Buying new is for suckers. Buying used law school text books can be tricky though because publishers come out with new editions frequently. It’s OK to not buy the newest edition. The reality it that there’s not much difference between the older and new editions. If there is something new, just read it in a friend’s text book.
  5. Take advantage of free food at club meetings. There’s always a club meeting somewhere on campus on any day of the week. Often at these meetings there’s free food. Stop by, enjoy the speaker, and load up on grub. In addition to bring your own lunch, this is another great way to reduce your food budget.

Featured Resources

f money is tight it can be tempting to overindulge in Credit spending but the interest fees will only serve to exacerbate your debt. A Low Interest Credit Card can be useful for establishing a Credit History, but the Best Credit Cards are the ones you don’t use.
[tags]ProBlogger, Top 5, saving, money, school[/tags]

Buy Books Online

Written by Brett McKay


Last week I posted on how you should sell your books online instead of at the bookstore. The same goes for buying as well. Buying books can get expensive. This past semester I spent over $400 on my text books. This semester I plan on buying my books from half.com. Looking at the prices, I can probably save up to 50% on books. Not too shabby.

What has been your experience with buying books online? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear what you all have to say.

Sell your old law school books online

Written by Brett McKay


I went up to the school bookstore today to sell my books back. They offered me $12 for my $120 case book. I turned around and went home. See ya.

You can easily get 5 – 10 times more for you old law school books on Amazon, eBay, or half.com. It’s easy, too. Just open up an account with them, enter the ISBN of the book you want to sell, and presto. My only beef with selling books online is having to go to the post office. If your post office doesn’t have one of those self serving kiosks, you can spend up to an hour standing in line. (At lest that’s how it is here where I live.) However, I think it might be worth it if it means a few more bucks.