Monday, January 21, 2013

Planning Your Finances for the Bar Exam

An important piece of your bar exam preparation has nothing to do with Torts, Family Law, or Criminal Law.  It has to do with planning ahead to ensure that you have a budget in place to pay for the expense of taking the bar exam.  

A few ideas to get you started with your Bar Study Financial Plan:

  • Create a budget that incorporates your bar review expenses.  Make sure to include your bar review course fee, your bar exam application fees, examsoft fees if applicable, MPRE registration fees, your hotel/transportation during the administration of the bar exam, and living expenses while studying for the bar exam.
  • Save a designated amount of money each month for your bar review.  Put this money in a separate account or a “cookie jar” so that you do not unintentionally (or intentionally) spend it on something else.  Try to make sure that you have scheduled enough months of saving to cover your projected expenses.
  •  Reduce your current spending (forgo that extra latte, brown bag it for lunch, or take the bus instead of paying for parking).  Cutting out the extras can be a bummer but in the end, you will be happy to have saved enough to get through your bar preparation without having to work.  It is unnatural to give up every luxury.  Pick one or two things that help you feel good and that are good for you.  If you enjoy your yoga classes or gym membership, keep those.  If you like to get a smoothie or fill up at the salad bar once a week, you should continue.  These are healthy choices that also make you feel good.  Keep the treats that nourish you and pass on the rest.
  • Discuss bar loans and/or bar scholarships with your law school’s Financial Services Office. If your finances will require you to apply for a bar loan, do not wait to research your options. Scholarships are numbered and due to the economic times there will be a great deal of competition.  Learn about the opportunities in your State or City and apply early.
  • You do not want to hear this but you could move back in with your folks.  I know this may be a bitter pill to swallow.  On one hand, you are an adult and you do not want to move back in with your parents.  However, on the other hand, it is best to think about how you can save money while you are studying.  Check to see if your relatives or friends have an apartment, cabin, or summer home that will be unoccupied or ask around to see if someone you know needs a house sitter for the summer. 
  • Graduation is around the corner.  While you would rather use a gift of cash on a trip to Hawaii for after the bar exam, using graduation money to fund your bar study is a smarter and more fiscally responsible idea.

Although they are a costly endeavor, bar review courses are essential if you want to be successful on the bar exam.  Planning ahead for the costs associated with the exam will lessen your stress and help you cope with the potential financial strain.

Lisa Young

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