Five Tips for Keeping Debt Low During Optometry School

Optometry school is an exciting time.  You begin a rigorous and in depth education that will directly impact your future.  You meet lifelong colleagues and friends. You learn skills that you will use to improve the lives of countless patients, and in turn, these skills will in turn help you make a living.

However your time in optometry school is unfortunately a four year span that is a hotbed for accumulating massive amounts of debt.  Why? Simple: you’re in a cycle of negative cash flow. Expenses for your education, living, food, vehicle and entertainment pile up.  If they are in the form of loans, they begin to accumulate interest. Many of these loans can even accumulate interest while you are in school!

A life burdened with debt can be detrimental to future goals and can hinder future financial endeavors.  Here are five tips you can use while in optometry school and even before school to ensure that your debt overhead is as low as possible when you graduate:

1) Pay Off What You Can Up Front

This concept is brutally simple.  Have some extra cash from your last summer job in your savings account?  Did you receive a few monetary gifts from graduating undergrad? Did you sell some stuff that was gathering dust in your garage on eBay?  Well, use that money towards your education!

Having a large sum of money stored in a savings or checking account while going through school simply makes no sense, especially when that money could be applied to the loan principal.

Pro-tip: Remember to keep some cash on hand in an account for your emergency fund.

2) Limit loans for equipment purchases

In optometry school, you will be inundated with clinical knowledge and seek to develop your skills to the best of your abilities.  When you go through this process you’ll want the best equipment possible and extraneous equipment will look tempting. Ophthalmic instrument companies realize this too and will be constantly marketing to your impressionable clinical spirit.

Don’t give in! Stick with the basics.

The simplest, corded BIO will do.  Corporate marketing will push you to try on different BIOs with unneeded upgrades.  They’ll convince you that you need the top of the line to score better on practical exams.  This is simply untrue. Your skill will develop regardless of the cost and “features” of your instruments.

As for lenses?  A 90D and 20D lens are really all you need to perform a full retinal exam.  Superpupils and Hi Mags while nice, are completely unnecessary.

Peds kits, MIOs, Panoptics and VT kits are also extraneous at this stage.  They’re wants, not needs. Get them later when you are an established practitioner.

Pro-tip: Ophthalmic equipment companies exist to make money first and foremost.  Always remember this when dealing with an equipment dealer.

3) Obtain Scholarships

Scholarships are a fantastic way to preemptively lower your impending student debt.  Available from a variety of sources, scholarships give you a monetary gift in exchange for recognition of an exemplary characteristic that you possess.  High scores, volunteer work, moving essays and simply being from a certain region are all reasons to win a scholarship. Search far and wide to find scholarships and apply for as many as you can.

Pro-tip:Got a scholarship that gives you a material prize such as one of the equipment items we discussed in #2?  Sell the prize and apply the cash towards your future loan!

4) Work Part Time

Working while in school is a great way to make a little extra cash to put towards your expenses.  The key here is to make sure you have the proper work/study balance. Don’t bog yourself down with so many work hours that your studies suffer, however if you find yourself having free time, try putting that time towards monetary gain.

Working for that little extra can take the form of a work-study with your respective school of optometry or with an outside employer.  Try weekend hours first. If you can handle these, consider adding some hours to the weekdays.

Pro-tip: Try to find work-study programs that enable you to get classwork/studying done while on the job.  This includes: proctoring and librarian duties.

5) Live Poor

You’ve probably heard this one many times.  You might hate the idea of becoming a frugal plebian for four years, but it’s time to throw that luxurious entitlement out the window.  You’re in school to learn and get an education that you will use for your career.

Your goal is to obtain life-long skills that will help others and put food on the table.  Vacations, fancy meals, excess partying (Note how I said excess - you need to take a break every once in a while!) and new automobiles can wait.  You don’t need any of that to get through school.

Pro-tip: Start planning your budget now if you have not already.  Check out article to learn more: Creating a Budget

So do your part to prevent disaster and set yourself up for a lifetime of financial freedom.

Establish a budget. Live well below your means. Sure, you’ll be able to buy other people bottle service one day, and it will feel far better when it isn’t on rented money.

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About Dr. Aaron Neufeld

Dr. Aaron Neufeld is a Co-Founder and editor for ODs on Finance. He owns a group private practice in Los Altos, CA and values a debt-free lifestyle as well as serial investing in real estate and index funds. Contact him:

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