Need to Cut Expenses

Marissa Delman a 25-year-old intensive-care-unit nurse in New York City, wants to take her career to the next level. She wants to be a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

“I’ve wanted to specialize in anesthesiology since high school,” says Ms. Delman. Keeping the patient alive as certain functions are shut down in order to perform surgery, she says, is an “art form.”

It will cost Ms. Delman a lot of money to achieve that dream. A 27-month master’s program at Columbia University, one of the few available in the area, she says, costs about $51,000 annually. That would not include the cost of living in New York City. She would also have to quit her job. “There is no part-time option and they do not allow you to work while you’re in school,” she says.

Ms. Delman says she has saved about $70,000, enough for the first year of school and living expenses. She plans to borrow to fill in the gap, though she would like to have as little student debt as possible. The $70,000 is currently in a savings account.

Through her work at a nonprofit hospital, she has a 403b retirement savings account to which she contributes $350 from each biweekly paycheck. Her employer matches 6%. So far, she has socked away $36,000.

Ms. Delman and her boyfriend currently split monthly expenses of their apartment in New York’s Astoria neighborhood. She pays $1,100 in rent; about $40 for gas and electricity; her share for car insurance and parking is $110; and a subway pass costs $116. She spends $100 a month on groceries, and about $700 on eating out and leisure activities. She deposits about $500 per paycheck, or $1,000 a month, in her savings account.

Her boyfriend has offered to help with the rent while she is in graduate school, though Ms. Delman says her financial plan is “not yet concrete” and is likely to depend on whether she takes out a loan for both years or just the second of the two-year program.

Advice from a pro: Ken Mahoney, CEO of Mahoney Asset Management in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., says Ms. Delman’s goal seems well within reach. To start, he advises saving more and creating a better budget.

There is about $17,000 after taxes unaccounted for and not reflected in her monthly expenses or savings. Mr. Mahoney urges her to figure out where that money is being spent. A single credit card could help her keep track of expenses, or a budgeting app, like Mint.com, that will aggregate her spending into different categories. She should then set spending goals for each of those categories. She should do this with her boyfriend, as it will encourage them to save more together.