Get Ready, Get Set...

You have an acceptance letter; you're in. All right!

The simplest way to put yourself at the back of the class is to spend from now until August (when most schools start) celebrating, calling your friends and [gloating] sharing the news, and going apartment- and housemate-hunting. There's a lot more to getting ready than paying a seat deposit. I'm going to list as many chores as I can think of here, then link them as I move items over from my facebook page to my own archives.

Financial Resources

Is your financial aid in order? Have you notified FAFSA of your final (or at least most recent) school selection? Have you arranged with a bank for any money you might need beyond the school's financial aid award? Do you know what these words mean?

If you have any doubts about the above, start by reading my brief review of financial aid (which includes some info from LSAC). Next, look at Georgetown's web page. Their financial aid info is the most comprehensive and up-to-date I've ever seen. It has been for as long as I've been in business, and you can tell them I said so.


Budgeting is an ancient form of accounting called "double-entry bookkeeping." For every credit (dollar coming in), there has to be a debit (dollar going out). In the business world, if you have more credits than debits, you have profit. In the law school loan world, if your credits exceed your debits you've borrowed too much, and will pay extra interest after you graduate. In either instance, if your debits exceed your credits you're in trouble. :)

Even though over-borrowing is bad in the long run, I advise it for your first year. You're way better off reaching April with money in the bank than running out of cash a few weeks before finals; that's a really, really bad time to have to start scrambling. You can adjust your second-year budget to compensate if needed.

The School Budget

When your school approved a certain amount of financial aid, it included a sum for housing. It did not tell you whether that number is for nine months, ten, or twelve. My understanding is that it's never 12, and you may well get stuck paying for two or three months of summer rent. Therefore, you should try to spend less than is budgeted — 25% less if you're going to turn nine months' rent into twelve.

The Food Budget

The food budget makes the really foolish assumption that you'll have time to cook and eat at home, bring a bag lunch, and never, ever get a latte from Starbucks. Trust the math: it's cheaper to buy your own latte machine than to buy a daily drink. A latte venti (20 oz.) plus a biscotti (we are Italian, after all) costs about $5 a day. In one semester, 70 days of classes (14 weeks x 5 days), that's $350. At Amazon you can get a fake-latte gadget for $15, a decent machine for $50, and a top-of-the-line brag for $250. Q.E.D. (or in English, the math speaks for itself).

Not only will the latte machine save you money, it will make friends and influence people. You'll have a study group, the law-school equivalent of an apple for the teacher, trade-offs for outlines or notes for a class you missed — and all while saving money!

By our 27th anniversary, May 1, 2014, we'll have linked here a nifty list of budget-saving meals and snack ideas, as well as quick-cooking ideas.

Other Fairy Tales

After the food budget, the two most unrealistic numbers are the transportation budget and the book budget.

Transportation assumes that you'll ride the bus or subway, have no car or auto insurance payments, and will fly home once a term. Tell that to your mom, dad, grandparents and the love of your life!

Book budgets assume you'll buy only required texts — no E&Es, Nutshells, Casenotes, or Legalines. These are four different kinds of supplements. Some are geared to your textbook (Case Book), while others are generic to the subject. All of them are not included in your budget and not necessary. Many of them are at your library's reference desk. Many of them have large portions posted on the internet page of someone-or-other.

Cooperation is Cheap!

You're afraid to proceed without Legalines? You can't cook every week? You can't cook at all? Cooperate! Whether it's the actual members of your study group (which saves time and complicates relationships) or another group of friends, divide the chores. That person who can't cook can buy the E&E's, then drop by your house for dinner while leaving you the book for the weekend. The person who treats the table to cappuccinos at the 11:00 break gets treated to lunch. That way you can be a mere mortal and still stay more-or-less on budget.



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