You’re no longer a college student so you’ve become accustomed to eating steak for dinner rather than ramen and ordering cocktails at happy hour instead of sipping PBR. You might even have a mortgage, or a child’s future educational expenses to plan for. As we go through life, our budgets become more complex, and often more stretched. This makes determining if you can afford to become a nurse practitioner a difficult calculation.
There are a few things prospective nurse practitioner students must take into account in thinking through the dollars and cents of attending an NP program.
What is your ultimate income differential?
One common reason nurses advance their education is to earn more money. Unfortunately, in some cases, becoming a nurse practitioner may not be quite the salary boost you expect. Nurses with many years of experience working in certain specialties may already have high incomes. For these nurses, becoming an NP may not lead to a significantly higher paycheck, especially considering the cost of education.
However, for most nurses, becoming an NP will lead to a substantial increase in income. Taking your current pay into account, compare your current earnings to the average nurse practitioner salary in your state. Expect to make a little less than average in your first years of practice. How can you expect your paycheck to change? Keep this number in mind as you look at NP program tuition and consider taking out loans to help cover the cost of your education.
Tuition isn’t the only cost of continuing your education
Some students make the catastrophic mistake of considering tuition costs alone in budgeting for an NP program. However, there are many more costs to keep in mind. Schools tack additional line items onto tuition such as activity fees and clinical placement fees. Some academic institutions require that students have health insurance, which can be a significant expense. Ask your NP programs of interest for an exhaustive breakdown of associated fees. Don’t forget to consider the cost of books and possibly a computer as well.
Nurse practitioner students may also run into some unanticipated living expenses throughout their program. Travel to and from clinical sites can rack up quite a gas bill as some placements require a lengthy commute. Extras like new scrubs or a stethoscope can cost a couple hundred dollars here and there. Plan to set aside some cash for needs that crop up as you continue your education.
How will you cover the cost of your education?
Some nurse practitioner students continue working throughout their program offsetting the cost while others quit their jobs focusing 100% on school. What’s your plan? If you will be employed as you work on your NP education, how much of your tuition can you afford to cover concurrently?
If you plan to take out loans to pay for your NP education, don’t forget to include interest into your calculations. Talk with financial aid staff at your programs of interest to get an idea as to what you can expect monthly loan payments to be upon graduating from your program. Compare this to the average NP salary in your state (don’t forget to take federal and state taxes into account!). This will help you determine each program’s affordability.
Take stock of your current spending habits
You won’t know if you can afford to go back to school unless you have an idea of how much you are currently spending. Keep painstaking track of how much you spend on everything, and I mean everything, you purchase for the next few months. Don’t cheat. Gathering data over the course of 3 or 4 months usually gives a more well-rounded view of your monthly budget.
Once you have an idea of how much you throw down on living expenses in an average month, subtract this number from your anticipated monthly earnings as a nurse practitioner (after taxes). Is there enough left to cover the expected cost of your student loans? If not, take a look at your spending habits. Where can you cut back? Try living within these new budget guidelines for a few months to make sure they are feasible. Get your financial situation in order before incurring educational debt. You need to make sure paying off your tuition is a top priority post-graduation.
NPs- do you have any budgeting tips for those about to start a nurse practitioner program?
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