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Furnishing Your Law School Apartment Without Breaking Your Budget

Written by Brett McKay

This is a guest post by Chris Longman, a 1L at Gonzaga.  If you’re interested in writing a guest post at The Frugal Law Student, contact me. Thanks, for the great post Chris!

Over the last two weeks my wife and I have been trying to find the best ways to arrive at a “presentable” rental home. What we learned about furnishing on a tight 1L budget has really surprised us: Craigslist isn’t always the best deal, the cheaper something is the more likely it is to break during moving, and the most fun way of acquiring an item is often the cheapest.

We’ve been using the following pricing guide to decide what we’re able to spend on each room:

Presentable and family-friendly: $100-$350

Need something that the parents can sleep or eat on when they come visit? Some stores offer relatively quality furniture for not much more than you would spend on a few new casebooks. If you live in a decent-sized city and have room in your budget for a nicer couch or table, try out BigLots!, Target, or Fred Meyer. Our big splurge was an overstuffed leather couch that we’ll probably have for ten years, but payed less than $300 for. Some smaller department stores may also have closeout deals on older beds and lights. Generally in this price category you will still have to assemble things yourself, so keep that in mind when you purchase something that you’ll want to use that weekend. Given the typical 1L budget you probably won’t be able to buy more than one or two items at stores like this, but you’ll appreciate the items you do buy that much more.

Furniture stores, surprisingly enough, are usually a poor value for law students. Keep away from any showrooms (furniture, auto, or otherwise) until after you’ve passed the bar and made a dent in your loan payments.

Functional and comfortable: $25-$100

This category is a great one to fill out with items from a mixture of sources. Craigslist, eBay, and your law school’s internal classifieds are good candidates in this price range. If you like your furnishings new, be sure to check out local stores for sales or hidden gems. For example, my wife and I were disappointed in the selection of sub-$75 desks on Craigslist, but luckily found workable “student desks” in the back corner of Office Depot for $50. If you don’t mind second hand, you can furnish many of your rooms by stopping at three or four yard sales with a total budget of $75. Check Craigslist or the local newspaper for notices of yard sales and get there early; the competition can be vicious!

Law school specials: $0-$25

Sometimes, you just have to be a responsible spender and know your limits despite that huge loan check you just deposited. Right now, I have old camping chairs to watch TV and study in. Tough luck. I’ll suck it up. Someday I’ll be able to afford a real chair or two but until then the $3 camping chairs from the local reused sporting goods store will have to do.

Sometimes you can find the occasional furniture deal on Craigslist for under $25 but prepare to be fast and move it yourself. I would instead suggest you spend your time looking at your schools’ internal classified ads. If you don’t see any ads posted, ask a friendly 2L or 3L if they have any furniture they’d like to give or sell you. Everybody moves this time of year, and everybody ends up with more crap then they want come moving day. You’d be surprised to find how much some students are willing to leave behind when moving out.

If you’re really hurting, free or near-free items can be found towards the end of the weekend at yard sales or at Goodwill. Many of these items won’t be in the best condition, but at least they’ll be functional. You can also try the occasional dumpster dive (the dumpster by Goodwill is often a gold mine) but beware that many cities have ordinances prohibiting dumpster diving. No matter what you see inside, never dive in a dumpster that is locked or is clearly on private property.

The best part of furnishing your home with items in this price range is that it’s not shocking to you or your guests- everybody knows the financial situation you’re in and nobody will think less of a law student that has a card table for a desk. Be proud about how far you can make a dollar stretch today and it will make for better stories in 20 years when you’re furnishing your third summer home.

Rekindled love: Priceless

Just because you’re going to law school doesn’t mean that any of those items you bought during your undergrad are any less desirable. Crappy coffee tables double as TV stands, broken chairs work as bedside tables, and if the stereo stops working you can always use the computer instead. Sometimes you can’t really appreciate the value in something until you find a new use for it– be creative with what you already have and you’ll have and you’ll end up with more money now for books, food, or saving.

Photo taken from Flickr by Shannon and Matthew.

180 Money Saving Tips to Turn Your Financial Life Around 180 Degrees

Written by Brett McKay

Here’s a list of 180 money saving tips that can turn your financial life around 180 degrees. These are things that I have learned while reading blogs or other books. I’ve tried to provide links to blog posts and other articles that elaborate more on the tip. This was a fun exercise. While I personally don’t practice every single tip listed, it was a good way to find out how I can do better on saving money.


  1. Wash and vacuum your car at home.
  2. Buy a used car. New cars drop significantly in value as soon as you drive off the lot.
  3. Get rid of your car. If you’re married, just have one.
  4. Keep your tires inflated at the correct pressure.
  5. Do not carry unneeded weight in your vehicle. Excess weight puts a heavier load on the engine.
  6. Accelerate slowly and smoothly. Avoid jackrabbit starts. Get into high gear as quickly as possible.
  7. Use your air conditioner only when absolutely necessary.
  8. Avoid unnecessary stopping and braking. Maintain a steady pace.
  9. Do not rest your foot on the clutch or brake pedal. This causes needless wear and poor fuel economy.
  10. Keep the front wheels in proper alignment. Improper alignment not only causes faster tire wear, but also puts an extra load on the engine.
  11. Rotate your tires regularly. Rotating tires slows down tire wear.
  12. Wash your car regularly. A dirty car can damage paint.
  13. Avoid heavy traffic. You’ll save on gas by not idling as much.
  14. Change your own motor oil.
  15. Observe speed limits. You’ll save money on gas and avoid costly speeding tickets and the resulting increase in insurance rates.
  16. Pay your auto insurance premiums annually instead of every six months. You’ll get a lower rate.
  17. Use the bus to get to school or work.
  18. If possible, ride your bike or walk to your destinations.
  19. Carpool with co-workers.


  1. Find an image consultant in your town and ask if you can have the clothes their clients get rid of.
  2. Don’t buy into trends. Keep a wardrobe of classic pieces, so you don’t have to update your clothes every year.
  3. Buy clothes at a thrift store.
  4. Wear clothes more than once before washing them. You’ll reduce wear on your clothes and save energy by not washing so often.
  5. Shop at outlet stores.
  6. Avoid buying clothes that require drying cleaning.
  7. Cut dryer sheets in half to double the value of each box.
  8. Buy your winter clothes at the end of winter/beginning of spring. Buy summer clothing at the end of summer/beginning of fall.
  9. Shop at discount stores like TjMax and Ross.


  1. Forage for food. Check out a book on local edible plants and start stocking up on them.
  2. Buy a water filter and make your own bottled water.
  3. Buy bread at the bread outlet store and freeze excess loaves.
  4. Make meals that are left over friendly, like soups and casseroles.
  5. Join a food co-op.
  6. Make dinners in a crock pot
  7. Buy in bulk.
  8. If you buy soda, buy 2 liter bottles instead of cans. It’s much cheaper per unit price.
  9. Have potluck dinners.
  10. When you eat out, share meals. Most restaurant meals are big enough for two people.
  11. If you don’t have someone to share it with, split the meal and half and put when half in a to-go box for next day’s lunch.
  12. Skip the soda when you go out to eat, and drink water.
  13. Quit smoking.
  14. Make your own coffee. Better yet, stop drinking coffee.
  15. Quit drinking alcohol.
  16. Quit drinking soda.
  17. Find cheaper café’s and restaurants to go to.
  18. Cook your own meals.
  19. Take a list when you go shopping and stick to it.
  20. Buy generic brand products at the supermarket.
  21. Bring your lunch to school or work instead of buying it.
  22. Grow your own vegetables.
  23. Use coupons and loyalty cards at grocery stores.
  24. Reduce meat consumption.
  25. Eat cereal instead of fast food. It’s cheaper and usually healthier.
  26. Have a late lunch/early dinner when going out to eat. You can save on lunch menu items.
  27. Buy cheap food coupons on eBay.
  28. Join clubs at school and take advantage of free food at meetings.
  29. Don’t buy prepackaged cheese or meat. Go to the deli and have them slice it for you. You can get more for you money.
  30. Collect vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer. As soon as it’s full, make a soup out of them.
  31. Buy whole roasted chickens. When you have used all the meat, throw the bones into a soup.


  1. House sit. Older affluent couples often leave their house for months at a time for vacations and need someone to watch it while they’re gone. Not only can you get free rent, you might get some extra cash.
  2. Become live in help. Some older people need help around the house, someone to cook meals for them, or just someone to talk to. You can live rent free this way.
  3. Relocate to an area with a cheaper cost of living.
  4. Share an apartment. Better yet, move in with your in-laws.
  5. Make an extra mortgage payment each year. You can save money on interest.


  1. Buy furniture at a consignment store.
  2. If you need a tool, see if you can borrow it from someone before you go out and buy it.
  3. Don’t throw away “dead” batteries. Remove them from your radio and use them in quartz clocks. These clocks take such a small amount of power that batteries too weak to run anything else may have enough power to run a clock for a while.
  4. Wash and reuse plastic bags.
  5. Clean your own carpets. You can rent carpet cleaning machines for about $10.

Health Care

  1. If you take a prescription medication on a regular basis, ask your doctor to write a three month prescription. Instead of paying three co-pays, you only pay one.
  2. Go to the dentist at your local dental school. Students need people to practice on. You can get all your dental needs fulfilled at a reduced cost.
  3. If your doctor gives you a prescription, ask if he has samples that he could give you.
  4. Use your local park’s playground as a workout station. Monkey bars can be used for pull-ups and leg lifts. The park will also have a trail where you can run.
  5. If you go to school, use the school’s gym. It’s free.
  6. Brush and floss your teeth. You’ll save on dental expenses.
  7. Eat right and exercise daily. You’ll reduce health costs.
  8. If you join a gym, find one that offers a month to month contract. That way if for some reason you stop going, you won’t be stuck with a 1 year contract that you have to pay for.

Beauty and Hygiene

  1. Use baking soda for toothpaste.
  2. Use baby shampoo for a makeup remover.
  3. Buy makeup online.
  4. Use makeup samples.
  5. Don’t throw out small pieces of bar soap. Wet the small piece and the new bar and stick them together.
  6. Add water to your shampoo to get more uses.
  7. Stop using shaving cream. Shaving cream’s purpose is just to keep your beard wet. You can maintain a wet beard in the shower.
  8. Cut your own hair.
  9. Simplify your beauty products. Do you really need 5 different types of body lotions?


  1. Pack your travel meals in advance.
  2. Buy snacks at the grocery store, not at roadside convenience stores.
  3. Plan trips where you have friends and family. You might be able to score free room and board.
  4. Go camping.
  5. Stay at a college dorm room when traveling. Many universities rent out dorm rooms at a decent price during the summer.
  6. Book your flights and cruises way in advance. You can get lower prices.
  7. Always negotiate hotel room prices. Hotel rooms are like highly perishable food: if they’re not used that day, they’re wasted. You can almost always get a better deal just by asking, but do it with a nice smile face-to-face when you check in, or with friendly calls direct to the hotels you’re considering. It won’t work if you just call national 800 numbers, because they can’t negotiate. If your flight is overbooked and the airline offers a voucher if you take a later flight, take it.
  8. When flying, bring your own snacks. Airport food is expensive.
  9. Avoid renting a car at the airport. You’ll find more competitive rates, plus avoid extra surcharges at car rental agencies away from the convenience of the airport.
  10. Time your stay for best hotel deals. Plan the timing of your stay according to the type of place you visit. Hotels in cities are usually cheaper on the weekends, when business travelers aren’t staying there, but hotels in resort areas or other places that are popular with leisure travelers are often cheaper during the week
  11. Tourist spots sell everything from film — to capture those special moments — to sunscreen, bottled water and aspirin for prolonging your fun, at a higher cost. Purchase these items before and save.
  12. Travel after peak season. This might not be an option if you have school-age children. But families with infants and toddlers can take advantage of discounted rates by traveling in the fall.
  13. Bring an empty water bottle with you to the airport. Bottled water at airports is expensive. While you can’t bring any liquids past security, you can bring an empty bottle. Put it in your carry on and fill it up as soon as you get past security.
  14. Stay in hostels when traveling overseas. While you do have to share a bathroom and a room, you can stay for as little as $5.
  15. If you need a quick get away with your significant other, spend a night in your local bed and breakfast.


  1. Buy an Entertainment book. The initial investment is about $20, but there’s hundreds of dollars in entertainment savings in it.
  2. Join Gamefly for cheap video game renting.
  3. Trade video games, DVD’s and books with your friends.
  4. Start a book or film club. After reading the book or watching the film, discuss it.
  5. Have a game night with friends.
  6. Attend movies at dollar theaters.
  7. Take advantage of your local university. Colleges often have free entertainment events.
  8. Join the library.
  9. Read magazines for free at bookstores.
  10. Check out DVD’s from the library, rather than renting them from the video store.
  11. Find cheaper hobbies like blogging or jogging.
  12. Go on a hike, take a walk in the park, or go to the beach. Some of the nicest things to do in life are totally free.
  13. See if your local zoos, museums, entertainment parks and water parks have annual passes. Often the annual passes may not cost more than the price of a couple of visits.
  14. Save money on movies by going to the matinée.
  15. Watch amateur sports. High school athletic competitions are cheap and can be just as exciting as the pros.

Banking and Investing

  1. Start an automatic savings plan with your bank.
  2. Use your credit card to make all purchases, but pay it off each month. That you’ll earn cash back or travel points.
  3. Invest in index funds. There are hardly any costs in purchasing and owning index funds.
  4. Open an online savings account. Most online accounts offer a 4% interest rate. That’s much better than the 1% you get at your current bank. E-mail me for an ING referral.
  5. Avoid ATM fees. Only withdraw money from machines approved by your bank. 7-11 doesn’t have a surcharge.
  6. Pay bills by direct debit. You save on postage and avoid the risk of paying late fees.
  7. If you use checks, don’t buy them from the bank. You can get a better deal with other printing companies.
  8. Don’t overdraft on your account. You’ll save yourself money on penalties.
  9. Invest with a cheap online brokerage company like Sharebuilder.


  1. Buy gender neutral baby clothing so you can use them again with the next baby.
  2. Make your kids Halloween costumes. It’s cheaper and more fun.
  3. Buy your baby toys from the thrift store. Toys suck these days. Give your child the gift of old school toys that actually requires an imagination.
  4. Buy your baby’s and tot’s clothes from the thrift store. Your kid isn’t going to notice the difference between a thrift store onezy and a Gap onezy.


  1. Use a clothes liner to dry clothes. You’ll save on your energy bill.
  2. Replace old appliances with ones that have Energy Star approval.
  3. Regularly clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator. A clean coil uses less energy.
  4. Make sure your freezer is full. An empty freezer requires more energy to keep cold.
  5. Use washable coffee mug instead of Styrofoam. You’ll save money and help the environment.
  6. Replace all your incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent lighting.
  7. Turn off the lights when not using a room.
  8. Turn off your appliances when not using them.
  9. Don’t use a cell phone.
  10. If you have a cell phone, don’t buy the extra features like text messaging and web access.
  11. If you have a cell phone, get rid of your land line.
  12. Get rid of cable. Who needs 100 channels of crap?
  13. Use the internet at school or the library. Not only will you save money, you’ll save time.
  14. During the winter, leave the oven open after you cook to heat the house.
  15. Sign up for Skype for long distant phone calls.
  16. Turn your heater thermostat down 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in the summer.


  1. Get a digital camera. You save money on film.
  2. Don’t own a pet. You’ll save money on food and shots.


  1. Avoid impulse buying. Practice tantric shopping.
  2. Buy as much as you can online.
  3. Negotiate the price on big ticket items like cars, electronics, and large appliances.
  4. Use cash as a negotiating tool. Nothing makes a seller’s mouth water than cold hard cash in their hand.
  5. Before you buy something, ask if the item will be put on sale in the near future.
  6. Don’t buy extended warranties. Eighty percent are never used, and they’re a major profit item for the vendor. That’s why they push you so hard to buy them!
  7. Keep receipts and send in rebate slips. Very few consumers actually return rebate coupons. Which is, of course, exactly what the manufacturers are hoping for.

Low cost ways of making extra money

  1. Sell your old stuff, like CD’s and books on eBay and Amazon.
  2. Turn your hobby into a business. Pretty much anything you do can be turned into a business of some sort.
  3. Sign up with an online survey company like Survey Spot.
  4. Become a mystery shopper. Not only can you make some extra money, you might get some free stuff as well.
  5. Have a yard sell.
  6. Start a blog and put Adsense on it. You might only earn 4 cents a week, but it’s something.
  7. Become a consultant. Do you know a lot about a particular skill? Put that knowledge to work by helping others.
  8. Do freelance work on the side. If you’re a good writer, photographer, artist, or programmer you can make some extra money by selling your talent to companies.
  9. Start an errand Service. Offer to pick up groceries or dry cleaning for others.
  10. Waiting service. People these days don’t have time to wait on the plumber of cable guy. Charge by the hour to do the waiting for other people.


  1. Check out study supplements from the library. Don’t buy them.
  2. Buy used text books.
  3. Take advantage of free pens and pencils at business conferences.
  4. Keep track of your pens and pencils. You’ll spend less on them if you don’t lose them all the time.
  5. Buy back packs that your kids can use for years. While they might think the Sponge Bob Square pants one is cool in 2nd grade, they probably won’t think it’s cool in 4th.


  1. Use open source software like OpenOffice for your computing needs. Here’s a huge list of all the open source software you’ll ever need.
  2. Refill ink cartridges instead of buying new ones.
  3. Print off your documents in draft mode. It’s faster and saves ink.
  4. Use free online storage for all your digital storage needs.
  5. When you buy new computers or printers, keep the old cables. You never know when they’ll come in handy.


  1. Make your own greeting cards.
  2. Make your own wrapping paper.
  3. Agree with family and friends to NOT buy each other Christmas presents this year.
  1. Offer to give a service, like a night of free babysitting as a gift, instead of buying stuff.
  2. Give baked goods. Everyone loves cookies!
  3. Learn the art of the re-gift. If you get something that you don’t like, keep it and give it to someone else later. However be careful to keep track of who gave you what. You don’t want to give a gift back to somebody.

Can you think of any more? Add to the conversation!
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Featured Resources

A great way to avoid spending extra Money is by avoiding Credit Card Offers that have a high Interest Rate. When you signup with a new Credit company be sure to check their APR rates and find out if a free Balance Transfer option can help you save money.
[tags]saving, frugality, personal finance, clothing, food, cars, beauty, health care [/tags]

Personal FinanceTips From Tijuana

Written by Brett McKay

I lived in Tijuana, Mexico for two years. While I was there, I picked up some personal finance/frugality tips from the locals. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Suba la calafia

The calafia is what Tijuaneses call their buses. They’re just old school buses painted different colors depending on the route they take. Riding the bus was cheap. It cost about 5 pesos, or about .50. Cars are money pits. If you have good public transportation, use it.

Ir de compras en las tiangues

Tiangues are huge street markets. Different colonias (neighborhoods) set up their tiangues on certain days. You could find anything you would ever need there and the kitchen sink. Seriously, they sold sinks at tiangues. Fresh fruit, meat, grains, clothes, DVD’s, video games, shoes, and tools are just samples of what you can find at a tiangues and you couldn’t beat the prices. Once, I bought pairs of brand new J. Crew, Sketchers, and Ralph Polo dress shoes for total of $30. Each week I could buy pounds of fresh fruit for just a couple of bucks. If your community has a farmers market, shop there. You’ll be supporting local businesses and you can find some good deals. Also, check out the thrift store. You’ll never know what kind of finds you’ll discover there.

Haga negocios con los vendedores

American’s don’t know how to bargain. I had to learn how to do it while I was in Mexico. Some vendors would try to picar tus ojos (pick your eyes out) with their prices. You had to play hard ball with them to get the prices down. A great book on negotiation is Negotiate to Win, by Jim Thomas. He gives advice on how to bargain almost anything. Next time you’re making a big purchase, like a washer, don’t be afraid to haggle some. Everything is negotiable.

Compra su gas por el tanke

Most people in Mexico don’t have direct pipes to their homes for natural gas. Instead, they buy it by the tank. Every morning trucks carrying tanks drive through the neighborhoods blasting their company’s jingle to let people know they can buy gas. A big tank costs about $20. I lived with three other people. With three hot showers a day and cooking, the tank would last us about a month. If we ran out before the month was over, we took cold showers and ate cereal. I don’t know how practical this would be for most Americans, but if you can, buy your gas by the tank. It forces you to use energy more efficiently

Empieza su propio negocio

If Mexico had regulations for businesses, no one followed them. It seemed like everyone had their own little microbusiness running out of their home. Some people opened little grocery stores in their living room, while others opened shoe repair shops. Another popular business was the michucana, or ice cream shop. If someone had knack for making tamales or tacos, they would sell them in the street. My absolute favorite small business in Mexico is the panaderia. If you haven’t had Mexican bread, you’re missing out. For as little as 10 pesos, I could stuff myself up with delicious sweet bread.

Find ways you can earn extra money. Every little bit helps.

Cosine con huevos, frijoles, arroz, y tortillas

I miss Mexican food. Not only does it taste good, it’s cheap. I was perfectly happy to eat a plate of eggs and beans, with a few tortillas. It tasted great and filled me up. Use simple things when you cook. You’ll be surprise how good a simple meal can taste.

No use el credito para comprar

Sadly, many of Mexico’s poorest are getting snagged in the credit trap. There are several stores that make their business solely off of high interest credit. It always saddened me to see a family living in a shack with an awesome stereo system bought on credit. Avoid debt at all costs. Pay with cash. Delayed gratification is a trait that needs to be developed if one wishes to become financially independent.

Constuye su casa con cemento

While there are a lot of plywood shacks in Tijuana, most of the houses are made with cement cinder blocks. These types of homes are extremely energy efficient. Unlike wood frame homes that are prone to energy leaks even with proper insulation, concrete itself slows down the passage of heat moving through the wall. The result is a cool house during the summer, and a warm one in the winter. I never used an air conditioner or heater while I lived in Tijuana, and I was completely