7 essential cost-saving techniques for the modern graduate student

The benefits of a graduate degree cannot be ignored. Successfully completing a master’s program can open you up to promotions, leadership positions, entrepreneurship, and recognition from your professional peers. Nevertheless, obtaining a master's in business administration is a weighty investment—one that might temporarily impose some financial adversity. If finances has you reluctant to apply for grad school, use the following tips that can help you pay for your advanced degree, boost your savings, and remain monetarily stable throughout your studies:

1. Seek out student aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which you may have utilized during your undergraduate experience, is a great place to start when seeking out financial aid. This support is still available for graduate students, regardless of your age. So, FAFSA should be your first stop when seeking ways to help finance your online MBA.

Most likely, the FAFSA has experienced a few adjustments since your prior time at school. Most notable is the new submission date: Students were able to file a 2017-18 FAFSA beginning Oct. 1, 2016, instead of Jan. 1 of this year. This means for the 2017-18 school year, your application will use income and tax information from 2015. Similarly, your 2018-19 FAFSA will use information from 2016. In addition, your state and school may have adjusted their individual FAFSA deadlines. Be sure to consult with your academic or financial advisor about these dates and any other form of student aid.

2. Know your tax options

Both state and local governments understand the cost of higher education can act as a barrier to earning an advanced degree. As a result, there are many tax incentives designed to help ease the burden of paying for college. Read below to learn about two of these tax incentives:

The Lifetime Learning Credit

This offer from the Internal Revenue Service is available to graduate students and undergraduates alike. If you're eligible for the LLC, you can claim a credit of $2,000 for qualified educational expenses. This credit then reduces the amount of income tax you pay, rather than reducing the amount of income you have that is subject to taxes.

The Lifetime Learning Credit can reduce your income tax.

A 529 plan

This term describes two types of savings plans: prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. Based on details outlined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a college savings plan is likely the more beneficial of the two. This plan permits you to create an account designed to strictly pay for eligible college expenses. Unlike most prepaid plans, a college savings plan has no age or grade restrictions for the beneficiary in question. In addition, a college savings plan lets you pay for more than just tuition and specific fees. The money in your account can go to other necessary education materials like books and computers.

Furthermore, there are no residency limits with a college savings plan, meaning you can enroll in a college or university located in another state. This is incredibly beneficial as an online student, as you may find the MBA program that suits your particular needs is located outside your local area.

3. Research employer contributions

Many businesses recognize that higher education can translate into a better skilled, efficient workforce, and that offering tuition assistance to employees can result in financial benefits for the company. According to the 2016 Application Trends Survey report from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which studied 872 graduate programs, 99 percent of MBA programs said at least some of their students receive tuition funding from their employer.

One example of tuition assistance shows just how beneficial this offering can be. The Cigna Corporation saw a 129 percent return on investment for every dollar it spent on its employee's tuition. According to the Lumina Foundation, the entity that conducted the study, one of the reasons Cigna's ERP was fiscally beneficial was that it reduced employee turnover. This concept aligns with research from Gallup, which found employees tend to be more engaged—and thus, more productive—when working for a company that offers learning and development opportunities.

While a higher-educated staff is beneficial to a company, employees can also experience returns. Cigna employees who used the company's Educational Reimbursement Program saw wage increases of 43 percent on average over a three-year period. If your company provides tuition assistance, you could see similar returns after obtaining your degree online.

To help provide education to as many hardworking students as possible , Washington State University’s online MBA and Executive MBA programs have partnered with various organizations to offer tuition assistance to their staff and immediate family members.

4. Buy or rent used textbooks

Textbooks can be expensive. According to the American Enterprise Institute, the consumer price index for textbooks increased 181 percent between January 1998 and July 2016, meaning prices themselves increased 90 percent. To adjust for these rising prices, nearly 30 percent of students pay for books with their financial aid, usually spending over $300 per semester, according to research from the Student PIRGs.

Another way to make your textbook costs more manageable is to search for used options or rentals. As an online student, accessing the campus bookstore for used books may be a bit cumbersome. Luckily, you might be able to rent your textbook from online services like Amazon or Chegg. You can also see if your required reading is available for rent in eBook format. Not only are eBooks often less expensive than buying books, but they're also more portable than their physical counterparts.

If you have no option but to purchase a new book—perhaps your class is using the newest edition, for example—make sure you keep it in good condition. This will increase your chance of being able to sell it at the end of the semester, which will help offset the cost of the book.

5. Scale back before classes start

You might find that even with capitalizing on all of the aforementioned opportunities, returning to school still requires further financial changes on your behalf. So, analyzing your expenses before enrollment can shine a light on your habitual spending. After reviewing your money habits, slowly scale back your purchases week by week until you reach a budget that you can maintain during the school semester.

It could also be beneficial to create a budget a few months before classes begin - allowing you to work with your expenses and create a financial plan that is feasible, with some flexible income.

6. Search for student discounts

Undergraduates are often offered student discounts, and as a graduate student, you may find yourself eligible for these cost-saving benefits once more. These discounts might not seem like much, but a few dollars saved sporadically can add up to help manage your finances.

While these savings are often granted to enrolled students, not prospective ones, it is still beneficial to determine your opportunities before enrolling. Many of these discounts can apply directly to your academic or professional experience, offering deals on things like computers, newspapers, and clothing.
Below are some industry discounts that can greatly benefit MBA students:

Technology: Apple offers various discounts on its computers and other electronics. To access, head to your nearest Apple store or search for Washington State University through the company’s online Apple Store for Education tool.

Amazon, meanwhile, provides six free months of Amazon Prime Student to individuals with a valid .edu email address. So, head to the Prime Student sign-up portal, submit the form, and then click the verification link from your school email address.

News: Staying on top of the latest business developments can help you put your studies in context and prepare for the state of the corporate world upon graduation. The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times each offer various student discounts based on their different packages.

Wardrobe: Discounts from clothing retailers can help you give your wardrobe a professional boost. J.Crew and Banana Republic offer 15 percent off the purchase of full-priced items with a valid student I.D.

Communications: Enter your .edu email address on the AT&T or Sprint discount pages to see if you're eligible for a discounted service plan. Alternatively, you may be able to secure discount on a T-Mobile smartphone by calling 1-888-501-2544.

7. Request a flexible work environment

Getting an MBA online provides many benefits in terms of flexibility. For example, with WSU’s 100 percent online program, you can complete your coursework from almost anywhere - your home, café or military base.

Working from home can save money and boost productivity.

A flexible work environment can offer similar benefits, helping you save money by reducing transportation costs and letting you study from a more convenient setting than an unoccupied conference room. So, see if your employer will let you work from home a few days a week. This can drastically reduce both the time and money you spend commuting to work, which can, in turn, help finance your education.

According to the Citi ThankYou Premier Commuter Index, Americans spend an average of $12 round trip per day on their commutes. It might not seem like much, but eliminating these trips can save commuters about $2,600 per year. So, even if you still need to go into the office a few days per week, the savings can help offset the costs of books or other materials.

The Citi Index also found Americans spend an average of 45 minutes commuting per day. According to research published in Regional Science and Urban Economics, the longer an employee's commute, the greater chance that person's productivity will fall due to absenteeism. So, the ability to work from home could improve your productivity, which is another point that can be referenced when requesting work from home privileges.

Studying to be a leader or executive is a laudable goal, and thankfully, there are many ways to remain financially stable during your time at school. Use these tips to help manage funding your graduate program when pursuing your online MBA with Washington State University.