College is SO expensive these days! How many families or students can pay for their college experience from one personal checking account? No, far more common is pulling together funds from an alphabet soup of government agencies, private foundations , the piggy bank, Aunt Sophie, Grandmom, and plan for a part-time job. How, given all the challenges of paying for them, can you reduce you’re your expenses to a dull roar? Some things may seem like boring good sense, but it would be less than complete not to mention them.
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The major college expense is tuition. Word is – the finer state institutions offer you the best value for the money. You can consider transferring after two years to a private institution, often blessed with lusher scholarship programs. Successful alumni like to endow scholarships – try it yourself after you make your first million!
Make sure that you have applied for every bit of federal, state, or private entity aid for which you qualify. Your high school college/guidance counselor, and then your financial aid officer, should become your new best friend.
Know what you have and what you have spent. This can be really depressing but it is crucial. To keep track of all the sources of funds and your expenditures, consider a site such as Mint.com. This will allow you to organize your expenditures as well as your various pots of money.
Since some payments may arrive at different times, having a schedule of incoming funds is as important as knowing what is going out. You can plan purchases, or other outflows based on when and how much of an infusion you are getting. Other sites, such as SmartyPig, help you track savings towards a goal, and then converts those savings into a gift card. ManageMe helps you by alerting you when you approach a spending limit you’ve set.
Dispense with a car at school if at all possible. Apart from the deadly distraction that a vehicle represents, (think of the seductive appeal of a road trip or a visit home mid-semester), a car is a massive money waster. Consider, instead, a car-sharing service such as ZipCar, Enterprise’s new initiative, or other car-sharing firm.
You pay mainly for the car usage you incur, not for the carrying costs of a car all the time. Usual annual fees are likely to be less than even the cost of auto insurance. Additionally, check the student directory or college Facebook page for schoolmates from your hometown, check for a “ride board”, and reach out to other students who might be traveling in the same direction to get home.
If you are a commuter student, this option is even more useful. Some sites match drivers with those needing rides – GoLoco, and Rideshareonline are examples. Others, such as RelayRides, connect you with car owners prepared to rent you their own vehicle. Be careful, of course, and let someone know before you travel, even if you are driving your own car.
Be very careful, as well, about having and using a credit card. This can be your downfall. Credit card companies are in the business of making money. If they offer you a 1 percent rebate or the chance to earn points or something similar, they will be profiting more than that some other way.
Perhaps they count on your keeping a balance on the card with as much as a 25 percent annual rate of interest. Perhaps they count on taking it out of you in fees for late payments. Maybe they charge an extraordinary amount for a replacement bill, or talking to a real person on the phone. All these things have been tried by banks and other credit card issuers. Know your credit score, if you must have a credit card, to get the best rate.
One of the biggest elements in many budgets, whether college or not, can be telecommunication and internet access. Find out before heading off to campus what the Wi-Fi situation is going to be. Use it whenever possible, in preference to your own data plan, if you have one.
Know when during the day or week your phone or long distance charges are lowest, and use those windows of opportunity, or Skype, to talk to family back home. Don’t be seduced by the promise of cool or style; just go for practicality in your phone! You might be able to use Magic Jack to get basic phone service for yourself if you have wireless access in the dorm. Just watch out for double billing.
Use the resources of your college for entertainment as much as you can. Almost any college is going to have visiting artists performing, and movie nights, perhaps sponsored by the school, or a campus club. This is not the time to be vegging out in front of the TV, or dreaming your way through one movie after another. RedBox and Netflix are cheap enough for an occasional treat, but your college or local library will probably also have DVDs for free to borrow.
If you are allowed to cook in your residence, you can certainly cut down on costs by signing up for the leanest food service plan on offer. Then fill in with simple cooking or meal assembly on your own; most practically your breakfast and lunch. Be sure to include fruits, vegetables, and enough protein, to maintain your effectiveness as a student. This issue is a hot one, and any online discussion of it is likely to get heated.
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This scrimping is only for a few years, and if you can keep your college expenses down, you will be free of debt sooner. That is worth a great deal.