by John Ferrer
So you’ve picked a school that will give you a lot of “bang for your buck.” You are studying hard to keep all your scholarships. And you have a little bit of cash you are bringing to afford some of college life. Now what? College can still prove way too expensive if you don’t note the leaks in your piggy bank. There are ways to reduce costs and still maximize your college experience. I’m not talking about starving yourself to save money, or avoiding your parents to save on gas. Penny pinching can cost you more money in the long run, such as delaying repairs till your car breaks down. The trick with cutting costs is identifying “expendables” and utilizing what you are already paying for. So before you go apply for student loans, see if you can use the following tips to fit your lifestyle inside your budget.
CC the Pre-reqs
Community college is a godsend. Colleges and universities typically draw a lot of their students from local and in-state schools, such as high schools and community colleges. As such, they often have close partnerships with certain schools for transfer credits. If you are going to an expensive private school, you might be able to knock out your pre-requisites classes entirely in the summer time or in addition to your semester load, and pay a fraction of the cost for the same degree credit. Make sure you talk with your registrars office or student advising office to find out which schools they work with and what credits will transfer. Some students don’t plan for a transfer, and they end up losing a lot of their credits in the transfer since their new school doesn’t accept those classes. In that case, you may find your best bet is to finish a 2-year associates degree and then transfer directly into your school with a degree in hand, with only 60 more credit hours left.
If you are looking for part-time work, and cheap housing one of the most drastic and effective solutions is to offer live-in labor. Some folks never have to pay rent or dorm fees because they spent two years living at home getting an associates degree, and then took on a live-in job nannying kids, or keeping house, managing an estate, or nursing a homebound elderly person. This isn’t for everybody, but it’s a strategic choice for people who are willing to work their way through college.
Cigs and Beer are Pricey!!!
The drinking and party culture in college is notorious for many things, but one of those drawbacks that often goes unnoticed is the price. The party scene can be expensive. Not to mention, this is a major cause of the freshman fifteen and the high drop-out rate for freshman—all of which incur serious costs.
Thrift-stores, Yard Sales, and Craig’s List ™
College is a special time for going ghetto-chic. Your prior sense of “stylish” may not suit the atmosphere of the typical college. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should trash out your room with junk-furniture. There is an art to bargain hunting, and there are a lot of nifty ways you can retool found or used items for a hip dormroom. College students who are skilled in the craft of college life can make a masterpiece out of their room with only thrift-stores, yard sales, and Craig’s list to work with.
Share The Room
I’m an introvert and value my privacy but even with me, some of my fondest memories are about my roommates from college. Colleges will typically charge different rates for how many roommates are in your room. You can often save thousands of dollars per year by having a roommate or two, and, to be honest, that’s a big part of the college experience.
Rent a Book
Your school likely has this wonderful building where you can rent books FOR FREE!!! Sarcasm aside, use your library. If you are proactive, you might be able to find a $120 textbook in the library before anyone else does and you don’t have to buy it. Also, the school bookstore or online sites are liable to have rental programs where you can get a partial refund if you return it in good condition.
Plan Your Meal Plan
Many students will sleep through breakfast, or skip dinner to eat out with friends, yet never adjust their meal-plan. Why pay for those uneaten meals? If you skip meals enough try switching to the 14 per-week mealplan, instead of the 21 per-week plan. Plus it makes sense to eat your cafeteria meals every time, and if you are going out later, then eat lighter in the cafeteria or eat lighter at the restaurant.
Keep It On Campus
Many students indulge in constant entertainments, off-campus and often expensive. But there are likely to be a wide selection of events on campus that you breeze right past without noticing. These are the events posted on flyers, bulletin boards, campus emails, Facebook events, and twitter blasts. Find the key places where event info is posted on campus and stay up to date. Instead of getting into a routine of going off-campus for a bite and a drink, mix it up with the various concerts, talks, shows, and various performances on campus. These are usually free.
Use your Perks
Anytime you are shopping, dining, or paying for something near your college it doesn’t hurt to ask about whether they have student discounts. Some restaurants will routinely deduct 10-20%. Movie theaters may have student pricing. And some shops will have perks to cater to your business.
Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships
It almost goes without saying that you should inquire of your Financial Aid office, your local clubs, your church and community centers, and bark up any money tree you can find. Yes these scholarships often require essays and applications. Yes, you are liable to be turned down sometimes. But think about it this way. Would you write a 2-page essay for $100? I would. Most every scholarship you come across is worth more than a $100, but they are often nothing more than a 2-page application and essay. There is money out there to be found.
You may notice that there’s no “tip” here for student loans. As a general rule, if you can avoid student loans you should avoid them. Contrary to popular opinion student loans are rarely “good debt.” The benefits are usually not enough to justify the burden of five and six figure debt. The average student loan debt in 2016 is about $37,000; and for prestigious schools or for graduate and doctoral programs that can easily reach $100,000. But perhaps the biggest reason student loans aren’t “good debt” is that many students taking out loans don’t yet understand how money works or how the job market operates. Instead of curbing a lavish college lifestyle (concerts, eating out, road trips, technology and games, booze, etc.) students just get a bigger loan and assume they’ll have more than enough earning potential to pay it all off right after college. Needless to say, majoring in 12th century Old English Literature isn’t exactly a high paying career field these days either. These sorts of choices can be very expensive not to mention irresponsible.
There are ways, however, to make a student loan less burdensome and even a “smart” option for you. A good place to start is the “Student Loan Calculator” from TheSimpleDollar.com. Here you can evaluate just how much the student loan will really cost you. Another good source is Robert Farrigan’s Forbes article, “Student Loan Debt: The Best And Worst Debt To Have.” He does a good job identifying the benefits and costs of student loan debt and proposes some ways to reduce risks and maximize the benefits. Student loans don’t have to be a death wish, but neither should we ignore the pointed risks involved with student loans.