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Long-Term Effects of Short-Term Spending

Stith Keiser, BA, Blue Heron Consulting, Rochester, New York

August 2016|Peer Reviewed|Web-Exclusive

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Long-Term Effects of Short-Term Spending

At a recent veterinary school symposium, one panelist, who had graduated just 2 years ago, described how she had completely paid off her veterinary student debt in just 2 years. In all fairness, her debt was about half the national average, but at nearly $80 000, she still accomplished quite a feat.1

How did she do it?

While she was in school, her savings strategy included ordering only water to drink at restaurants and putting the amount she would have spent on drinks into her savings account. She used the internet at the public library instead of paying an excessive amount for internet at her house, again setting aside the savings.

After she graduated, she picked up as many after-hour emergency shifts as she could and ensured she consistently recommended the best medicine and the best care, so her patients stayed healthy and her production was high. 

No savings strategy I know of allows a student to entirely offset the cost of veterinary school or veterinary technician school, but anyone can start right now to lower his or her debt load and make it more manageable through continued savings and on-the-job production.

Building a Budget

First, knowing where you are is critical to knowing where you are going. The financial world has a tool to help you find starting and ending points—a budget—and the veterinary world has helpful resources for budgets catered to our profession. The following are highly recommended: 

To create an accurate budget, whether using an existing template or your own method, begin with what you know, such as:

  • Income
  • Loans
  • Expenses
    • Fixed (eg, rent or mortgage payments, car payments, utility and phone bills, health insurance, groceries)
    • Variable (eg, entertainment, travel, pet care)
    • Savings—technically not an expense, but should be budgeted every month if you have any income

Reviewing the Budget

Creating an accurate spending and savings plan is the first step, but the best-constructed budget does not help at all if it is saved on an obscure computer drive and never looked at.

Review your personal budget monthly, just as in your professional life you monitor the number of patients you treat as a veterinarian or your profit and loss as a practice owner. Will Rogers once said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” A budget not only keeps you on track but also guides your behavior based on how it is followed. 

Watching Expenses

Two areas of significant expense are part of any budget: rent or mortgage payments and variable expenses.

Most people pay rent or have a mortgage, so the strategy should be about making the right decision rather than avoiding the expense. Making the right decision—whether to rent or buy—depends on your situation. Many people consider renting as throwing money away, and while that may be true, renting does have some advantages.

Table 1, which is only a starting point that covers just the main considerations, can help you make the right decision.

To Rent or Buy?

Note: The 2-year timeframe is based on the author’s experience, but it may be longer depending on the market. In a college town, owning for a couple years and then renting it to other students could make financial sense.
Note: The 2-year timeframe is based on the author’s experience, but it may be longer depending on the market. In a college town, owning for a couple years and then renting it to other students could make financial sense.

Note: The 2-year timeframe is based on the author’s experience, but it may be longer depending on the market. In a college town, owning for a couple years and then renting it to other students could make financial sense.

Once the decision to rent or buy has been made, look at your variable expenses, considered the low-hanging fruit that offer additional savings. The panelist decided to forego some of the variable expenses most people enjoy every day, and while that worked for her, abstinence is not the only option.

A recent US News & World Report2 found the average graduate student spends $10,000 over 4 years at Starbucks. Weigh the cost of purchasing coffee every day vs buying a high-end coffee machine for about $150 plus the cost of coffee and you can see you can still have your cake and eat it, too. Other simple strategies, which many overlook, include foregoing bottled water for a reusable water bottle and filter, or choosing a streaming option (eg, Apple TV, Netflix) rather than television cable bills that can cost more than $100 per month.

Dealing with Debt

Debt is inevitable, especially for many veterinary students and recent graduates, but spending can be controlled and debt used wisely. Living beyond one’s means, adding to student debt with unnecessary purchases, or high, overdue credit card balances sabotage careers and personal financial wellbeing.


It is hard to resist the instant gratification of buying something now vs going without to attain a benefit such as buying a home or practice that seems so far in the future. As a student, you want what your peers are doing or buying now.

But are they financing their lifestyle now using credit cards or student loans and going into debt that they will have to pay back? Once they graduate and their student loan grace period ends or their credit card debt is sky high, paying off that debt (plus interest) each month becomes increasingly demoralizing. You are paying for the pizza you and your buddies ate in your senior year 3 years after graduation. And there is more than credit card or student loan debt—there is interest to pay, as well.

No doubt you would prefer to be choosing whether to buy a home and/or a practice, building a savings fund, growing a retirement account, and reaping the rewards of your hard work in veterinary school. So, ask yourself if spending now and drowning in debt later is really worth it. Then, create that budget, stick to it by watching your expenses and making wise decisions, and look forward to a solid financial future.

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