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Thrive92

How to not get into 100k + debt pursuing a law degree? (serious question)

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Hello everyone.

I'm a prospective law student who have thought about how to finance my education over and over again, and I am wondering how one can stay below 100k debt pursuing a law degree?

I read a recent post in this topic where someone was inching past this figure, and I thought to myself "Isn't that number average for law students?" As I read the comments in the post, I realized that many people have significantly less debt than 100k. Unless you receive help from your family members or you have saved up before pursuing a law degree, I am curious as to how you can go below this figure?

I have a little over 50k in student debt right now pursuing my undergraduate degree. I understand that this is more than many undergraduate students who have received student loans (around 35-40k).

The law schools I would like to be accepted into would require about 14k per academic year including ancillary fees and textbooks (so about 42k for 3 years). That with 30k for rent and living expenses for those 3 years would leave me with more than 120k of debt (or about 110k for the average student who took out student loans during undergrad).

The 30k of living expenses for 3 years of my law studies is projected with me being very frugal with my money (no car, cheap rent with roommates, no eating out). If someone can help me understand how you could shave off that debt below 100k during your academic career, I would be very interested.

Thank you for reading.

Edited by Thrive92

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I don't have a lot of good advice here--by the time I went to law school I had done enough living in squalor with shitty roommates and eating ramen and was inclined to say "fuck it" and take on a bit more debt to finally enjoy my life a little, and for whatever reasons my law school never hooked me up with bursaries, scholarships, etc.

With that said, the one thing you have not accounted for in your post is summer employment.

EDIT - Also wait a sec; you're budgeting only $10k/year for rent, food and other living expenses? Damn, good luck with that...

Edited by CleanHands
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Just now, CleanHands said:

With that said, the one thing you have not accounted for in your post is summer employment.

That is true, I completely forgot to include that! By working for the full 3 summers, maybe I can lower my debt to 100k, but I doubt that I can get it below that? (If I can that would be awesome...)

Just now, CleanHands said:

EDIT - Also wait a sec; you're budgeting only $10k/year for rent, food and other living expenses? Damn, good luck with that...

Exactly what I'm thinking. Maybe if I get lucky and find a room to rent for 700 dollars a month + 200 dollars for food and other expenses, that would put it at 10.8k per year. However, I know that would be hard to come by.

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1 hour ago, Thrive92 said:

200 dollars for food

I feel that groceries are the worst thing to scrimp on. The savings tend to be relatively minimal and it sucks to eat like crap. Spending an extra ten to twenty dollars per week to stay properly nourished is a worthwhile investment in your short-term productivity and your long-term health. Absolutely, you should shop smart, as long as that doesn't come at the expense of a balanced diet. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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When I was in school a group of us would hit up the big box store a couple times a month and avoid the grocery stores closest to campus where the prices were much higher. 

A group of four to six students can pool their cash and get bulk household items like toilet paper and bars of soap, flats of canned goods, and “family sized” meat portions. Divvying it up after will show you how much less $ you spent compared to getting individual sized goods. Get a crockpot and use your freezer.

Invest in a good pair of boots, a good winter jacket, and a quality backpack / bag. If you have these already don’t feel the need to buy new. 

Do not buy textbooks in advance. Ask around to see what you can borrow or buy used. Some texts are just recommended reading while others are essential. Figure out which is which first.

Don’t treat “an ability to go into debt” like “having money”. Lots of students get dizzy with sudden access to five figures with no supervision and get stupid. Budget so you have a reasonable lifestyle, and check up on your budget every month or so. If you slip up and spend too much don’t throw up you hands and stop keeping track - buckle down and stick to the budget again. A month or two of excess is very different from a year or two. 
 

Random bits of advice but I hope they help. 

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By the way - if you have never shopped for your own food before, here is what you need to stock your kitchen with to get you on good footing for the school year:

A box of table salt

A pepper grinder with peppercorns 

Big bottle of vegetable oil

Big bottle of soy sauce or other favoured flavouring 

Big jar of mayo (fridge after opening)

Big tube of tomato paste

A couple bottles of some kind of spice blend; a generic Italian mix is a good start, something spicey, something savoury

Flat of tinned diced tomatoes

Flat of tinned beans (kidney beans or white beans or mixed beans all fine)

Flat of tinned tuna

Giant bag rice

Giant jar peanut butter

Flat of ramen noodles

Big box of dried pasta

 

^so with this in your cupboard, you can add perishables (meat, veggies, fruit) weekly and make almost any kind of quick meal. Noodle soup with meat or veg. Pasta and sauce. Stir fry. Chilli. Tuna salad or tuna sandwich. Peanut butter sandwiches if all else fails. 
 

Obviously other people will tweak this but it’s a decent start to a pantry with cheap and flexible ingredients that are healthy and can go into all kinds of meals.

Get in the habit of eating with others, potluck style, and you will save even more and have a much more varied diet. (Obviously once socializing face to face is safe again.)

 

 

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Here is my advice: 

  • Cut out all non-essential expenses
    • i.e., consider how much money you spend on a phone and really think about whether what you pay for is a necessity or a luxury. Do you have monthly subscriptions? Cancel them as they aren't necessary. 
    • On the topic of non-essential fees, perhaps consider the school you want to go to as well. By the sounds of your post, you are aiming to attend Osgoode. Ask yourself why you want to go to the particular school you want to go to, is it necessary or is there perhaps an alternative institution that would produce more cost savings without detracting from your career ambitions. 
  • Consider cost savings by buying bulk 
    • I got laughed at for this by lots of people, but when food/household goods went on sale for a really good price I bought them in bulk. I bought toilet paper in bulk, pasta in bulk and other non-perishable goods in bulk. In the end, this reduced the trips I had to do for groceries and also saved me money by buying some normally high cost items for low amounts. 
  • Work as hard as you can and be willing to delay gratification 
    • Seriously, I'm always amazed at students who complain about how onerous school debt is but they don't work during the summers or during the holidays. Instead, they take a holiday that they really can't afford because "they deserve it" or "really need it". I'm not suggesting you don't work, but I don't take it for granted that students do because I've come across far too many students who don't. Find places that you can work at during holidays and during the summers. Work as hard as you possibly can. 
    • Making income of $7k a year by working over holidays and extra during the summer will total $21k over three years...that's almost a semester of tuition. You can certainly earn more income per year than $7k. 
  • Take OSAP and use your debt free status on the loan wisely 
    • OSAP will likely give you about $5000 a year in bursaries. Over the span of three years that's $15k. So right off the bat, you're down from $120k to $105k. 
    • Use the remaining loan portion prudently by drawing upon it first before any LOC.  
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I'm not even in yet but I've been thinking about this a lot, I want to minimize my debt as much as possible. I'll definitely be working as much as humanly possible during the summer. One thing I just cannot do, even though it would be the ultimate savings move is get roommates. 

I have some savings going in. I don't know if I can defer for financial reasons, but it's something I would definitely consider as well because I'll be in a much better position financially a year from now. 

I also echo what @realpseudonym said about not skimping on good food. There are a lot of resources that talk about how to eat healthy on a budget. Oats, rice and frozen fruits and veggies are your friend here. Don't eat ramen every day! 

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28 minutes ago, legallybrunette3 said:

One thing I just cannot do, even though it would be the ultimate savings move is get roommates. 

Ironically, in addition to being extremely unpleasant, having a shitty roommate can actually be more expensive in the long run if you end up on the hook for damages, etc, because of them. I speak from experience and I never felt guilty about getting my own place after that.

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You could just...wait and work a few years before starting law school? Build up your savings?

 

Depends on your job prospects out of undergrad i guess, but building some cash reserves via full time work doesn't seem like an issue in any circumstance, except for lost time, which it seems people over rate as a concern.

 

I'd like to know why this option is not discussed more.

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24 minutes ago, 618194 said:

You could just...wait and work a few years before starting law school? Build up your savings?

 

Depends on your job prospects out of undergrad i guess, but building some cash reserves via full time work doesn't seem like an issue in any circumstance, except for lost time, which it seems people over rate as a concern.

 

I'd like to know why this option is not discussed more.

Because it is a terrible idea if finances are your concern (which is the premise of this thread), because the vast majority of people will earn significantly more after graduating from law school than before.

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Is there a reason not to just live reasonably comfortably (e.g., get decent groceries, live alone, not work my ass off every holiday) until I graduate and get a job? 

I'm wondering whether there is a clear benefit to minimizing debt during law school or if I can leave it as a problem for future me (who is probably financially better off). 

 

 

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3 hours ago, samii said:

Is there a reason not to just live reasonably comfortably (e.g., get decent groceries, live alone, not work my ass off every holiday) until I graduate and get a job? 

I'm wondering whether there is a clear benefit to minimizing debt during law school or if I can leave it as a problem for future me (who is probably financially better off). 

 

 

 Like in all things, I think there is golden mean to be achieved. You don't need to live off bread and water and work every moment that you are not studying, but you should live frugally, not take vacations on your PSLOC (seriously, people do this), and find work during the summers (and some people don't do this). 

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5 hours ago, samii said:

Is there a reason not to just live reasonably comfortably (e.g., get decent groceries, live alone, not work my ass off every holiday) until I graduate and get a job? 

I'm wondering whether there is a clear benefit to minimizing debt during law school or if I can leave it as a problem for future me (who is probably financially better off). 

 

 

I think the benefits will depend on who is asking it. For some, they’re cool with having and carrying debt. For others, going into debt is stressful and causes more harm than good. It eats away at them. 
 

I personally see debt as very restricting and, for myself, unnecessary (given I can work). There’s plenty of people at my school who have said something along these lines, “yeah I’m working at X firm because they pay really well. I don’t really like it there but I will just stick it out for four years to pay off my debts”. While I’m not judging this approach, I think not having a debt loan can really give people freedom in what they do post grad. For myself, I work at a firm in a smaller region and get paid less than my Bay Street friends. However, I go home at a decent time every day, I’m not stressed about money and can enjoy my time now with friends and family. I wouldn’t be doing that if I had the debt that some of my colleagues have. 

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7 hours ago, CleanHands said:

Because it is a terrible idea if finances are your concern (which is the premise of this thread), because the vast majority of people will earn significantly more after graduating from law school than before.

not really following here, OP wants to avoid debt, and having liquid assets on hand before entering LS helps avoid that debt. Avoiding debt is the premise of OP's thread, not what she earns after LS .

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8 hours ago, samii said:

Is there a reason not to just live reasonably comfortably (e.g., get decent groceries, live alone, not work my ass off every holiday) until I graduate and get a job? 

I'm wondering whether there is a clear benefit to minimizing debt during law school or if I can leave it as a problem for future me (who is probably financially better off). 

 

 

I think this is a very good point. Personal finance is just that, personal, what works for someone else may not work for you. OP seems be very much focused on minimizing debt, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you want to live "comfortably" (whatever that means), that is ok too IMO as long as you're being realistic about your options. 

I posted about this before, but personally I doubled my rent from 1L to 2/3L by moving out on my own. I ended up significantly over $100k in debt, but it was totally worth it for me as I was so much healthier mentally and more productive living by myself. I'm a few years out now and my debt is under control. If anything, I regretted not getting myself some more creature comforts during law school (like getting a bigger monitor instead of looking at my tiny 13in screen all day). Also, after I started working (even pre-covid), I had to constantly check my phone on vacation and I get even more stressed out thinking about the work piling up on my office when I'm away, so the extra ~3k debt (out of 100k+) to take a short stress-free vacation with some friends during law school would have totally been worth it in retrospect. 

To be comfortable with this approach, you have to have a relatively high paying job lined up (I waited until after 1L to wait for my grades and assess my chances before pulling the trigger on my plan). You also need to be ok with not having money for kids/cars/houses anytime soon. If you want to figure out how much you can afford to spend, I would figure out the monthly payments that you're comfortable with after law school (assuming a payback period of say 5-7 years), then back calculate a cap on your total acceptable debt, and work out your monthly budget in law school + discretionary spending budget based on your cap. This way you can live relatively comfortably without feeling guilty that you're spending money out of control. Think about your own personal goals and what works for you, don't sweat how other people are spending/saving money.

 

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8 hours ago, samii said:

Is there a reason not to just live reasonably comfortably (e.g., get decent groceries, live alone, not work my ass off every holiday) until I graduate and get a job? 

I'm wondering whether there is a clear benefit to minimizing debt during law school or if I can leave it as a problem for future me (who is probably financially better off). 

 

 

Thank you for your input. I would also consider living semi - comfortably and worrying about the debt later, but I think I would then be emphasizing on how much my future jobs would be offering me, even if I would not like to work with them For example, I would be more drawn towards being an associate of a law firm that specializes in wills and estates because of their attractive salary, when I have no interest in those fields.

9 hours ago, 618194 said:

You could just...wait and work a few years before starting law school? Build up your savings?

 

Depends on your job prospects out of undergrad i guess, but building some cash reserves via full time work doesn't seem like an issue in any circumstance, except for lost time, which it seems people over rate as a concern.

Although this may make sense financially, I really cannot wait much longer to pursue my studies in law. As someone who is nearing his thirties with his friends with undergrad degrees getting their second or third raises/promotions in their careers, I already feel way too behind to get a minimum (or near minimum) wage job for a year or two while my peers are close to making 100k annually, despite how sensible that may seem financially.

Edited by Thrive92

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9 hours ago, 618194 said:

You could just...wait and work a few years before starting law school? Build up your savings?

 

Depends on your job prospects out of undergrad i guess, but building some cash reserves via full time work doesn't seem like an issue in any circumstance, except for lost time, which it seems people over rate as a concern.

 

I'd like to know why this option is not discussed more.

Commenting on this. Building up cash reserves isn't always beneficial. 

It will impact your access to student loans and bursaries. Student loans are also interest free while in school and you do not have to use them. It is free money sitting in your bank account.

 

The other item with waiting is what is your earning potential before law school. Is it a minimum wage job or are you leaving a $100,000 year job to enter law school. Big difference. In the $100,000 job it makes more sense to build up those cash reserves, but for lower paying jobs, your earning potential is quite likely greater than $60,000 a year so the juice is not worth the squeeze delaying school. 

 

There are situations that this may not apply. If you are jointly filing taxes and have a spouse that earns a substantial amount of income. It would impact your access to bursaries and scholarships. In that case, spend the years saving up. 

Also - there may be life things to consider. Does someone want to have children, and what is their age deadline for that? Are they willing to have children and be in law school at the same time? If they will have kids, what is the age that they are able to manage while in school. Are their parents aging and they are family that takes on caretaking responsibilities for their elders? How does that factor in. 


I am saying all of this as an older law hopeful. I am in my 30s. People have told me to do the cost-benefit analysis of going to law school and have asked if it is really worth it. I think it is, even at my age, and I cannot put it off any longer. That said, I might have to put it off if TRU tuition fees will end up being my only option. 

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