Very often I come across articles and bloggers writing about saving money in college. It’s beating a dead horse. It’s the same “tried-and-true” advice time after time. It’s written by people on the outside, looking in. Former students. Graduated professionals.
What? Things have never changed? The same rules apply?
I’m sorry to break it to everyone, but people love to generalize the college experience. They want to trivialize the details – so let’s try and break it out for you:
Rule #1 – Scholarships aren’t a sure thing.
Yes, you can apply until your fingers are numb. But you can’t rely on this type of cash to sustain you, or fulfill your “life-long college dream” choice. I’m not saying don’t apply, I’m saying don’t listen to all the hub-bub about Loans are the devil, you’ll be in debt forever, etc…
Rule #2 – Loans are an excellent tool.
People will moan about paying off their student loans (even more so when they drop out without finishing). Education that is worth money, will cost money. But my question to you is – do you need to take your first two years of classes at the expensive place? My suggestion to you is to research community colleges – some offer “transfer” degrees to institutions – you take the general education classes at community college, save yourself a few grand, and then go drop the big bucks on your Bachelor’s Degree. You’ll save money in more than one way.
Rule #3 – Diversify your food.
Ramen seems to be called the staple of the college diet. Yes, it’s cheap. Yes, it’s not necessarily the healthiest option. My suggestion to any kid in college that lives in or around the campus – find out where the deals are. Dollar tacos? Half-off specials? These places are prime for cheap, good eats (often rivaling the price of making it yourself) – plus they come with the added bonus that you get to hang around your class-folk. People under estimate the value of networking at any stage of college.
It’s equally important to recognize that while you are in college, brand name foods may not be worth their price tag. Generic vegetables all taste the same. Some things you may not want to skimp on – peanut butter, perhaps. Maybe you like a specific kind fo salad-dressing. The point is – don’t splurge on everything except the few items you’ve grown to love (or no generic has been able to match – yet).
Rule #4 – Drink – in moderation.
This is another key networking tool – when used wisely. Boys and girls, know your limits. No one likes the excessively drunk kid. No one likes taking care of the drunk. If you choose to drink in college – pace yourself, don’t give in to peer pressure, and when you call it quits – mean it. I’ve had to help too many people out when they “couldn’t say no” to one more drink. Leaving the party “too sober” is never followed by a story involving drunken accidents, bad one-nighters, or illness.
Rule #5 – Put off new purchases.
I love following this one after the drinking issue. I’ve met a few guys who would buy a brand new outfit (occasionally on credit, occasionally on the allowance their parents give them) and then go out drinking, get too drunk, or are too uptight about “getting dirty” that they come off very stand-offish to everyone. You can get good clothes on sale (or at Good Will, or thrift stores). You really do not need the hottest fashions unless that’s your major (but if you’re a fashion designer, you should be MAKING the hot new things, not buying someone else’s). Guys – seriously, do you need designer jeans? That impresses only people who are concerned if you can buy them expensive things.
You won’t always win.
Just as a quick wrap-up, sometimes, you’re going to lose. You may get an F for the first time ever. You may have a teacher or a class that you just can’t conquer – but that’s reason to talk out, to discuss, to speak up. Break old bad habits – being shy never helps, and in a room full of people that aren’t talking, chances are they’re as shy as you. I’m still trying to crack this shell in myself.
The point is – you can spend cash. you can work part-time. You can work full-time and go to school full-time – I’m doing it for almost a year straight. I’m on the Dean’s list. think about the short-term (community college) along with the long-term (where you’re going afterwards).
Actually, perhaps that’s a better point. Just think. Think about yourself, your education, your money, your future. Think about how you’d want to tell your kids about the kind of life you *really* lead in college – the person that had a few beers, was a regular on $1 taco night, and still pulled a B average, or the locked in the dorm room, stressed straight-A student? When you graduate, it could be the people you made friends with that land you your job (or a future one). They’re not going to care tha tyou didn’t carry a 4.0. They’re going to care you took the time to get to know them.
Good luck, college kiddos, I’m in the grind with you and I know it’s not getting easier – but I know it’s definitely worth it.