If you're in college or about to be, there's more than just your education to consider. You also need to think about your finances, college costs, and savings. Money is an area that can all too quickly get you into trouble, especially when you're a college student on a tight budget. Statistics on student debt are significant, and show that in 2019 student debt reached an all-time high of $1.41 trillion. That's concerning, but the biggest problem is that the numbers continue to rise.
The expenses of getting an education in the United States today aren't slowing down, and it's costing students more to attend school and earn a degree every year. Fortunately, there are ways you can reduce the amount of money you borrow, and help ensure that you can pay back any loans you have to take out. We'll help you navigate through some of the biggest areas of finance in college, so you can have a better idea of your options and how you'd like to wisely fund your educational opportunities.
There are a number of ways to get money for college, and some of them involve money that doesn't have to be paid back. That's great news, since the average cost of attendance at a public, four-year university has tripled and more over the last 30 years. Grants and scholarships, for example, are two great ways of getting money to pay for your education. But don't assume those are your only options. You can also borrow money to go to school, as long as you do it wisely and think it through before borrowing. Here are some specific options to consider, and how they might work (or not) for your situation and needs.
Financial Aid/Grants -- These are by far the best options, because they don't have to be paid back. Grants and other types of financial aid that don't have to be repaid are generally need-based. In other words, if you don't have a lot of money you may be able to get free money so you can get an education. In some cases these grants can be nearly enough to pay your schooling, but that depends on the college of university you choose to attend. If you're offered grants, take them. Even if they only pay for a portion of your schooling, it's that much less money you'll have to borrow or spend out of pocket.
Scholarships -- Apply to as many as possible, as there are literally thousands of scholarships available at all different amounts. There are some that might not be open to you, because you don't meet specific criteria, but you'll want to apply to any that you qualify for. There's a lot of competition for scholarships, and you can't expect to get all or even most of the ones you apply for. That's why sending in applications for a large number of scholarships can be the right choice. Even if you get just a few, it can make a big difference in the money you have available for your education.
Student Loans -- The most common types of student loans are the federal loans, commonly called Stafford Loans. These are both subsidized and unsubsidized. A subsidized loan is interest free, while an unsubsidized loan accrues interest. But you don't have to start paying these loans back until six months after you graduate or leave school for other reasons (such as dropping out). There are other types of loans you can get, through banks and other lenders. These are typically at a higher interest rate and have more strict conditions, so it's better to avoid them in favor of federal loans if possible.
Create a Budget -- If you make a realistic budget and stick to it, you'll be much better able to handle and manage your finances. That way you can avoid going into further debt, and keep your money for the things you really need to buy. Understanding how much college or university will cost you, and the best ways to pay for it, will go a long way toward financial success. Most people take on some debt when they attend school, but a good budget means your debt will be lower and your spending won't be frivolous and unnecessary.
Don't Open Student Credit Cards -- Student credit cards seem like a great idea. You can sign up for one right there on campus, and you'll probably get approved. These kinds of cards cater to students who don't have much (or any) established credit yet. But beware the high interest rates and hidden fees that often come with these cards. They're designed to trap students into thinking they can just use their card for all the things they want, and they're marketed as an easy way to get extra money. But all that money has to be paid back with interest, and these cards can create big problems with debt.
When you use your college money wisely, you'll have a lot better chance of being successful in only taking on the level of debt necessary to get through school. Sure, it's tempting to borrow as much as you can and just enjoy it, but that's not the responsible way to get through school. When you only borrow what you have to and you're careful with how you manage your money, you'll get through your college or university experience in a way that sets you up for a better financial future. That's worth a few sacrifices during your college years. Here are some of the most important things to consider.
Use the Free Money First -- Make sure you take advantage of any grants you're offered, and you accept all the scholarships you receive. That way you can make the most of the free money you get for your education. The goal is to use absolutely every penny of the free money first, so you have to borrow less. No point in borrowing what you can get for free.
Borrow the Least Amount -- You'll have to pay back your student loans whether you graduate or not, so only borrow what you have to. If you can live at home instead of on campus, for example, you can borrow a lot less money. You may also want to look at any overage you get from your student loans as money to pay on those loans while you're still in school. Don't just spend that extra money, because it's not free. Every penny you borrow on your student loans starts to accumulate interest from the time it's dispersed, even though you don't have to make payments yet.
Go to Community College First -- One of the biggest ways to keep your education costs down is to go to a community college first. If you attend two years there and get an associate's degree, you'll spend far less than you would for two years at a university. You can transfer that degree and its credits to a four-year university at that point, and you'll only be paying the higher tuition costs and expenses for two years instead of four. At the end, you'll have two degrees (associate's and bachelor's), and you'll have far less debt to show for it.
Attend a More Prestigious School Later -- A lot of people don't like the idea of spending their first two college years in a community college. They want to go to a “good” school (i.e. a prestigious one) instead. That's understandable, but it's not financially sound. By going to a community college first, you'll save enough money that going to a prestigious school for your last two years of a four-year education will be easier. You may even get more scholarship opportunities for that more prestigious school, because you'll already have a two-year degree. Good grades there could make a big difference.
There are a number of excellent ways to save money while you're in school. It might seem like a time where money's just being spent all the time, but there are savings opportunities in the midst of all that if you know where to look for them. That way you'll keep a lot of the money you get, borrow, or work for, and can put it to good use instead of spending it frivolously. Some of the options for saving big while you're attending school include:
Rent Your Books -- Many colleges and universities have book rental programs, and you'll pay a lot less to rent a book than you will to buy it. If it's a book you really want to have a copy of, you can put it on your list to buy later.
Buy Used Books -- They may have a stray wrinkle or two, but used books are a great choice. Some of them even come with extra notes in the margins and all the important points already highlighted by a previous student. That's like getting extra help with your class, and paying less at the same time.
Buy From Thrift Stores -- To furnish and decorate your dorm room, don't buy new. There are plenty of excellent thrift store finds that will give you all kinds of good options. You can find bookcases, chairs, paintings, knickknacks, and all sorts of things when you shop at second hand places.
Use Coupons for Food -- When you shop, go to discount grocery stores to get everything you can. If you need to go to a more expensive store, make sure you look for print and online coupons. A lot of stores have apps where you can add coupons right to your phone for big savings, as well.
Cook Whenever Possible -- Buying fast food or eating on campus seems like an easy way to do things, but it's going to cost you a lot of money. Instead of doing that, consider cooking simple meals in your dorm room or apartment. You'll learn a new skill and save a whole lot of money in the process.
Consider Your School's Meal Plan -- Depending on the cost of the meal plan, your class and work schedules, and other factors, the meal plan at your school's cafeteria may be a great choice. It could also be far more expensive than making your own meals. Weigh the pros and cons carefully.
Don't Throw Things Away -- After every semester you'll have books, notes, and items you just don't want to keep. Rather than toss all that stuff, store or sell them instead. If you might need them later they should be stored. If not, then selling them can get you some extra money to buy new things.
Getting to and from school can really get costly if you're not careful. But there are ways you can spend less and still get around without too much trouble. It's important to consider where your school is located compared to other things around you, so you can make the wisest transportation choices. You want to save money, but you also want to be safe. Here are a couple of points you should consider.
Use Public Transportation -- A lot of towns offer free public transportation for college students, where your school ID acts as your bus pass. That's worth asking about, because you can save big when you don't have to pay for a vehicle, a ride service like Uber or Lyft, or a taxi to get to places.
Walk or Ride a Bike -- Bicycles are far less expensive than cars, and they're good for exercise, too. If you can safely walk or bicycle to the places you need to go, that's the right choice when you're in school. Having a car is just one more unneeded expense, for a lot of college students.
You have the power to get and spend your college and university money wisely. There are going to be some areas of finance that are out of your control, but keep a good handle on everything you can. That will reduce your overall costs, and make it easier for you to get through college and university with a quality education and as little debt as possible. Then you can start your career without the burden of excessive student debt or credit problems hanging over your head. That will give you peace of mind, and also make it easier to pay back any money you do owe from your educational endeavors.
By: Lee Preston
Lee is the Director of Marketing and Promotion for EZstorit.com. When she is not working with our storage facilities partners, she is writing about topics that affect our daily lives.