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College Money Matters

This article is part of the Money Matters for All Ages group writing project being conducted by the M-Network and other blogging friends. See the bottom of this article for the full list of participants and links to their articles. Please check back daily as I will update the links as new articles are posted! Also, if you are blogger and would like to join into the discussion, feel free!

I just escaped graduated from college with no debt and a little savings account. So for the Money Matters series, I volunteered to talk a bit about my experiences, my friends’ experiences, and give some recommendations. Everyone’s situation is different, but I hope that what I have to say can apply in some useful ways to yours.

First—Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships

It’s hard for me to stress how much my scholarships helped me stay out of debt. They didn’t cover everything (thanks Mom, Dad, and grandfather!) but they covered over 75% of my expenses.

Not getting into debt is worth working hard for good grades.

Get creative with your scholarship search. Talk to your potential schools’ financial aid offices and see what they have to offer. Talk to your parents employers about any programs they might have. Talk to future employers about scholarships. Look for scholarships from your state–which may or may not require you to go to school in that state. Look for scholarships for your field.

If you don’t have great test scores, try to focus on ones that are looking to reward people who’ve been involved in community service and the like.

And remember that some scholarships can be used for all kinds of stuff–as long as it’s school-related. This laptop, for instance, was paid for with my scholarship. Or my books, or my meal-plan…

Don’t Stop Looking for Scholarships

Once you’re in college, you can still get scholarships. There aren’t as many open, but they’re there. Talk to your financial aid office. Ours had a well-kept secret that people who weren’t already on institutional scholarships could get ones if they had really high grades and in the top X number of students without institutional scholarships.

The Meal Plan is a Rip-Off (So is the C-Store)

There you have it. Your meal plan is almost definitely a rip-off. And buying food on campus is basically asking to be overcharged. Meal plans can still be useful in the first few years when you don’t have a kitchen of your own. Or your school may allow you to “charge” your card with money which you can either spend on food or get back.

Try to find workarounds. But if you have more money on your card than you can use (because some schools require you to buy a $1500 flex dollar plan) or an unlimited meal plan, take advantage of it. Spend every last dollar or eat almost all your meals in the cafeteria.

Once you have your own place, look into cooking in bulk. Be sure to talk to your space-mates about who buys the food, who cooks the food, and whatnot. Food is almost equal to money in the amount of stress it can cause. Learn recipes which make rice fun–or just use rice to stretch normal ones. But don’t be afraid to make cookies sometimes.

Pay Back Your Student Loan Leftovers

If you have money left over from your student loans, pay it back if at all possible. By paying it back, it’s as though you’re automatically earning yourself the money you won’t have to pay back later (including interest).

But if there’s a choice between buying necessities with credit cards or student loan money, use the loan money. Almost always the better choice.

Get an On-Campus Job

For starters, look for jobs on-campus or nearby. This will reduce your need for a car (see below). It’s easiest not to work the first semester, but you may have to. Working can really help reduce the amount of money you need to borrow. But I’d also say not to spend it all on educational stuff–use some for yourself, too. You’ll need sanity breaks and money helps.

Later on, you might want to branch out with paid internships (or unpaid ones). But for starters I’d recommend working on campus. The commute is free and the work can be rewarding. I’ve had great jobs as a research assistant and a bathroom cleaner. At the same time, actually.

Find Ways to Save Money on Clothes

One thing I was shocked to learn in college is that clothing swaps and second hand stores like Salvation Army are actually fairly popular. Great for me, since those have been my primary sources of clothes for a while. It can be really fun taking a trip there with friends to look for gold amid all the duds from the 80’s.

David at My Two Dollars just brought another place to my attention. It’s an online clothing swap called Swango and everything there is $0.99 plus clothing credits.

Consider even making some money by finding a consignment shop to take your lightly-used better quality clothes.

Of course, there’s the normal caveat–don’t buy what you don’t need, even if it’s on sale. But seize on these trips as a fun way to hang out with your friends and improve your wardrobe.

For a free way to get clothes, arrange a clothing swap party with your friends or floormates.

Don’t Buy a Car

Some places, you might…but other times you really don’t need a car. The disadvantage of this is that it may hurt your chances of getting internships. In that case, consider not getting one until your Junior year at least.

Cars are a huge money drain and many campuses are located in towns which make them unnecessary.

If you borrow your friends’ cars, be sure to put in some gas.

Take a Personal Finance Class

Your college probably offers one somewhere. I think I’ve learned more from the blogs, but it helped me master the basics like the difference between a Roth IRA and an IRA. We also did practice budget spreadsheets which we then had to follow. Good experience. Plus mine was a fairly easy A.

Don’t Get Too Stressed About Money

If possible. College is a place where we learn, and learning from our mistakes is a big part of that. Relax, find ways to make frugality fun (or rather just do fun free stuff, don’t even think of it as frugal), hang out with your friends, and learn.

How did you save money during college?

I have so many thoughts on money and college that it’s hard to collect them all. This post could really be a series of posts—4 years leaves me with a lot of to talk about. So I’m sorry if it seems about disjointed.


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There are so many investment opportunities for those interested. The loans are easily available and can be used to start small businesses or even home based business. Students don’t have to worry about paying for their education they can take advantage of student loan and repay when they start their jobs in future. There are so many ways of protecting investor’s investment property. Another means of safeguarding the property from potential damages and insuring that one doesn’t lose his money is by way of insuring the property. The concept of insurance is getting very popular among investors and risk adverse people. The insurance carrier is now common to minimize losses of their customers they issue and assume the risk of an insurance policy. The brokerage company can help the investors in safely investing their money and taking advantage of income generated from that investment. The mortgage refinancing is a dream come true for those who take loans. There are insurance companies which offer buy to let mortgages in order to insure the investment.

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plonkee January 19, 2008 at 8:05 am

Well, I got the cheapest possible Uni accomodation in the first year. I shared houses after that, which was customary at my Uni and they were reasonable prices as well.

I bought as few books as possible. I’ve still got a stack of textbooks, but only a handful were expensive. I should have sold them on to new students but never got round to it – it’s a bit late now.

Not buying a car (which I didn’t need) probably saved me a fortune. As did getting really cheap train tickets whenever I wanted to go back home.

Of course I spent all the money I saved on exciting budget travel, but that was worth it.

FourPillars January 19, 2008 at 9:08 am

I think a personal finance class might be among the more useful courses you can take.

Great advice about cookies…


Emily January 19, 2008 at 9:49 am

Excellent post and advice! Some fabulous ways to cruise into your 20s not buried in debt…

vh January 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

As a university faculty member, I have to say that among the many rips awaiting students, the price of textbooks has got to rank somewhere near first. Sometime in the past decade, textbook publishers realized they have a very lucrative captive audience that can be mined for all it’s worth.

The text I used to order for my courses cost $20, not out of sight. So I kept reordering it as new editions came out–because used book sales cut out publishers, the only way to keep earning profits on a textbook is to put out a slightly revised new edition every couple of years. Then one day a student e-mailed me saying the cost of the book was over $80!

This thing is a paperback and it contains nothing that looks like nuclear physics–I teach upper-division writing courses. Books of its size, layout, and production quality sell for about $9.95 at your local Costco.

Infuriating. I quit ordering texts published through textbook publishers. Instead, I’m having students by Zinsser’s _On Writing Well_ and posting my own how-to material on the course’s website.

I also advise students (discreetly, of course, because this could get me in the doghouse) to buy textbooks online, not through the campus bookstore. Even though texts in subjects such as nursing or chemistry are still astronomically priced, at least online their orbits are a little closer to earth.

Kids need to be armed with personal finance training BEFORE they get to college. University campuses are swarming with folks looking to clip students–some of said folks are associated with the university itself.

Penny Nickel January 19, 2008 at 11:50 am

Absolutely the textbook thing– I both bought and re-sold my books online whenever possible, and ended up doing way better than if I’d bought the books from the school bookstore and sold them back there for pennies.

I stopped trying to find scholarships, though, once I realized that any money you earn in scholarships just gets taken out of the financial aid you’d be getting anyway (at least if you’re at a school that gives need-based financial aid to cover what’s above your expected family contribution.) It was a lot of wasted time researching scholarships, writing extra essays, etc, just to make things cheaper for the university but not for me and my family.

Minimum Wage January 19, 2008 at 2:44 pm

My grades and test scores were in the top 5 percent of my class and the only scholarship I got was a crummy state “scholarship” that was worth $100 a year for books.

Marie January 19, 2008 at 2:46 pm

I wouldn’t necessarily advocate paying back the excess on a student loan. When I consolidated my loans through the state’s guarantee agency they gave me back the 3% guarantee/origination fees. If I had waited to pay back the one loan till after I consolidated I wouldn’t have been hit with the automatic 3% fee. If you go through one of the consolidation companies that promise gift cards or TVs though, they don’t give you back your origination fee and so this isn’t an issue, but I would never consolidate from a mailer anyway, they don’t have as many perks and they are definetly out to make money off you.

Minimum Wage January 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm

I couldn’t even get financial aid because of my dysfunctional family, so I had to do it the hard way with minimum wage jobs.

Frugal Babe January 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Graduating from college without debt was a huge head start for me. I was able to join the Peace Corps and leave the country for two years, without having to worry about credit card debts or student loans (the latter are deferred during PC service, but you still have to look forward to them when you come back). I got scholarships to cover all my tuition with a little extra to go towards room and board. And for the first two years, my parents kicked in money as well. I started working in my dorm cafeteria when I was a sophomore. Junior year I still worked there and also worked as a tutor in the math department. Senior year, I worked 24 hours a week at a grocery store. I didn’t have a car, and I shopped in thrift stores. When I lived in the dorms, I ate 99% of my meals there, since I was paying for them anyway (lots of people had the meal plan and still went out to eat every few days). When I graduated from college, I had $3000 in a Vanguard fund, and no debt. It was well worth the work.

Amanda January 19, 2008 at 6:36 pm

I was going to take Personal Finance, but the book was so stinking expensive – I think $95 for one book and it was an 100 level class. 🙂

What was also great for me in college was an internship that paid. So, I not only got college credit, but I got paid for it as well. 🙂 That was cheerful.

deepali January 20, 2008 at 10:43 am

Ideally, personal finance should be taught in high school, so you can get the habit set before the stress of college. 🙂

My parents made too much money for me to qualify for grants or scholarships. I could have gone in-state, but I grew up in the midwest, and was studying foreign policy. I could have taken out loans, but my mom is dead set against debt… and she saved $ for our educations anyway. So, luckily my parents paid for college for me. So it was nice not to have that debt. The downside is that I proceeded to ring up my own after college. 🙂

Marilyn January 20, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Mrs. Micah

I would love to hear what you have to say about graduating with no debt. Please, write those other articles. My hubby will probably get through undergrad with no debt. On the other hand, I’m in professional school and boy is it expensive.

Any tips you have on FAFSA, getting more aid from your school, scholarships, saving money, health insurance, car insurance, anything! As crazy of an idea as it to my classmates, I really want to graduate with no debt.

My Dollar Plan January 20, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Great ideas. I can’t stress scholarships enough. I was able to go to undergrad and grad school on a full ride, my reward for working hard in high school.

Mrs Micah's Mom January 20, 2008 at 8:42 pm

We are very grateful that MrsMicah worked so hard at finding scholarships, had jobs on campus, and did not demand a car, which we could not have afforded. We really didn’t want her to finish with a load of debt, partly because we imagine that MrMicah will support their family someday and we didn’t want to add to his burden. We are very grateful to God for MrsMicah’s Dad’s job and to MrsMicah’s grandfather and to MrsMicah and very thankful for scholarships from the college, the state, and MrsMicah’s Dad’s company.

SavingDiva January 21, 2008 at 9:32 am

A break down of how SD made it through undergrad without student loans (and no, my parents didn’t pay anything)

I totally agree about scholarships. I graduated without paying any money for school (except for book, which I always bought used on or amazon). After my freshman year, I was given a scholarship that paid for a new computer and my books…nice!

I loved the meal plan and lived in the dorms all 4 years (but it was covered by above scholarships).

Get an on-campus job–I totally agree! I didn’t need the money, but I was guilted into working on campus. Even though I only worked a few hours a week (at about $6/hour), it provided me with a little money for going out, etc every other week.

Clothes–I didn’t really buy any during college! I just wore t-shirts, jeans and sweatshirts every daym.

Don’t Buy a Car–Couldn’t afford one, but I’m sure I saved a lot of money on gas not being able to drive…and I probably saved money on shopping because I couldn’t get to a mall. I had my bike and it worked out well for me.

Take a personal finance class–never did that. I wouldn’t want to pay tuition for a class that doesn’t really help with my degree. I would prefer to read books on my own.

Don’t get too stressed about money–I TOTALLY agree!

I saved money by having a campus job that didn’t pay very much, having the campus meal plan so I never went out to eat, not having a car (no gas, insurance, etc), walking/riding my bike every where, buying used books ( & amazon–not the bookstore), and not buying new clothes or make-up.

Adfecto January 22, 2008 at 5:28 pm

I got through college debt free. I picked up a few scholarships which covered about 10% of my total. I worked on campus jobs and paid summer internships to cover books, car expenses, and fun money. My parents were very generous and paid what was left for my State U education. I am very thankful that they were willing to do this. They made too much money for me to qualify for any assistance where “need based” entered into the equation.

Costs have spiraled out of control and it is no longer reasonable to expect a student to pay for college entirely by themselves. I take the view that all students ‘need’ tuition assistance and it is ridiculous that being lucky (to have parents that are both willing and able to pay) determines who is able to get a degree and not be tens of thousands in debt. I see that too often parents lack the will or the means. All good students (up for debate about how this is defined) should have a public college education paid for (not loans!) regardless of the situation of their parents.

War Gold January 24, 2008 at 12:28 pm

With the state of play today, I say start teaching financial planning at grade school!

A January 29, 2008 at 2:24 pm

I did not make it though college debt free (I graduate in May).

There are various reason why I didn’t including going to school out of state (more tuition, car, and lack of state financial aid). My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 days after I left to start college and therefore the support from them I had been “promised” was no longer available. (FAFSA hates me bacuse my dad owns his own company so “on paper” my parents are loaded- not true) Funny how I thought the school would actually care! I went and explained my situation to the financial aid department and they just looked at me like- stinks for you, how about applying for a private loan from one of our 10 approved banks! I have received several scholarships that mainly pay the part of books but hardly make a dent in my $20,000+ out of state tuition bill. I really do believe that Universities are out to make money, the even talk more about the “Business Concerns” or the school than anything academic.

One day, this will all come back to bite these greedy lenders back- hopefully sooner than later!

Randall January 31, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Nice article, Knowledge is power, but it also comes at a price.

Thanks for the link.

Rachael October 24, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I realize this is a little late, but you never know who’s going to look. I didn’t (or haven’t yet, I should say) graduate college but managed to get by on very little my first year. Firstly, I continued working through the first year so I did have an income. Instead of all of my other options available, I went to my home town university. Instead of living in the dorms like a lot of my friends and classmates, I lived at my parents house so I had no need to pay for the board or meal plans. Although this required that I have a car, it still beat the extra price of living on campus and I needed the car to get work anyways. I never ate on campus unless I was super hungry, and then I’d only buy a bag of popcorn out of the store. I almost always ate at home, and a lot of the time I spent the night at my sisters, whose apartment was within a 2 mile radius of both my work and school, as opposed to the 8 miles back to my parents house. I very rarely ate out or bought snacks/drinks at places like the gas station. I’m proud to say I completed one year without the aid of grants, scholarships, or student loans, but entirely with a part time, $7/hour job.
.-= Rachael ´s last blog ..Money Banks =-.

Rachael October 24, 2009 at 11:04 pm

I forgot to add – one of the reasons I didn’t get any scholarships or grants is because 1) I was mostly homeschooled and dropped out of highschool to my GED so I could attend college earlier, so I didn’t have all of the help highschool provides in getting scholarships, my grades weren’t outstanding although I was very easily able to start college at 16 (what does that say about the level of education in this country?) and I wasn’t involved in any sports or school activities that might have warranted a scholarship and I’m not a minority, 2) my parents aren’t rich, my mother is a stay at home mom and my dad makes about $50k a year with four children still at home including me, however my parents are very, very responsible financially. They paid for their house completely in cash and have a reasonable retirement fund, because of all of their assets I wasn’t able to get any other funding from the state because, for some stupid reason, they expect all parents to pay for their children’s education. My parents taught me the importance of earning things yourself instead of just having it paid for you, and I was expected to pay for my college education. However, my father did cut some deals for me: while I was in school he paid for my car insurance (I bought my own car) and he paid for my books both semesters on the requirement that I get A’s and B’s in all my classes. My second semester when I didn’t have enough money saved for all the fees, he made me an interest free loan to make up the difference and as a wedding present he only asked that I pay back about half of what I owed him.
.-= Rachael´s last blog ..Money Banks =-.

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