College Planning 101: the ‘B’ word(Budget)

     

“Cost-Saving Strategies For College

That You Can Begin To Implement NOW

We do not rest, however, and if you have followed our blogs in the past for even just a short time, you probably are aware that we believe there is no wrong time for us to introduce and discuss some of the most important cost-saving elements for tomorrow’s college students.

Some of these things involve proper financial planning and a good understanding of the college funding process – but others are skills that can – and should – be mastered by parents and students as early as possible, to make the costs of college more manageable no matter where a child ends up going to school.

Getting through the undergraduate degree is a big undertaking, there is no question about it, and it is also a significant financial challenge with the current cost of higher education.  However, we have become experts in recognizing ways that these costs can be best managed and even minimized in many cases, and we are eager to share these tips with families of future college students.

Strategy 1: Tallying Pooled Resources

If your child will be receiving funds from grandparents, aunts and uncles, employment, or other sources while in college, it is important to create a budget including all of these amounts.  When this is done then everyone is made aware and everyone is on the same page. Include all sources of income from grandma’s birthday money to income from a summer job. These sources should all be included in the budget to get a clearer picture of what there is to work with. Here’s a comprehensive to further assist with what should be included as part of the budget:

  • All income received: This income should include the money that your child will have once at school, any relief given from the financial aid package and any money that comes in regularly to your child.
  • Monthly income: If there are funds that are coming in from a part-time job or other sources on a monthly basis, include these funds.

Strategy 2: Creating a Budget

Yes, we are not afraid to mention the dreaded “B-word” in our newsletters.  Managing college finances can ONLY be effectively done when a budget is created and followed – trust us, we have seen this simple fact played out both ways (for better and for worse) many, many times.  When creating the budget, it’s important to include the following items:

  • Overall Income: All income listed above which includes all income received and any monthly or income that comes in on a regular basis.
  • Discretionary Income: This is ‘fun’ money. It’s important to have fun while in college. The point is often that too many college students have TOO much fun and blow the money they receive while in college, and end up in bad financial circumstances. Students should learn to set some aside just for having fun, manage it well, and be sure to not go beyond it.
  • Necessities: Items that are absolutes while in college. These include books, computer, etc.
  • Wants: There are always nice things that can make college life a bit easier. These items can go in the ‘wants’ category.
  • Fixed Expenses: Include all expenses that occur on a monthly basis.
  • Variable Expenses: Include all expenses that occur but vary from month to month.
  • Savings: Even in college, there should be money set aside that is an emergency fund or simply savings for a rainy day. Include this amount that is done in the beginning or on a regular basis.
 

Strategy 3: Saving Money in Unexpected Ways

There are numerous ways to cut costs while in college. Here are some ways to painlessly cut costs without sacrificing fun or depriving oneself.

  • Purchase used textbooks or, better yet, rent them if possible. This option is available at many universities and can save considerably on costs. College textbook prices have simply gone through the roof in most cases!
  • Set a designated amount aside for fast food or restaurant meals per week, if needed, and cook the rest at home. Alternatively, utilize a dining plan which can also save time and money.
  • Set money aside for needed purchases and/or fun purchases.
  • Avoid late fees on credit cards or other bills by always paying on time.
  • Don’t purchase cable television. Instead watch shows on a computer.
  • Use eBay, craigslist, or other online resources to sell unwanted or unused items.
  • Look for campus activities to socialize, etc. There are often movie nights, campus museums, etc. that can be utilized instead of spending a lot of money going out.
  • Skip Starbucks and make coffee/tea/hot chocolate at home. There will be significant savings!
  • If a loan is necessary, make sure that it’s only related to college expenses.
  • Bike around campus! At most colleges and universities, there is really no need for a car.

 

Strategy 4: Re-think The “Four Year Experience”

I hope there’s no misunderstanding from this heading. This is not to mean AT ALL that one should miss out on college, or not complete a bachelor’s degree. Quite the opposite, in fact. We fully support and base our efforts around students completing a four-year degree in the most successful and expedited manner possible.

 

While the average time spent in college is creeping ever higher (to our chagrin), there are still some motivated and organized students who complete a 4-year degree in as little as three years – and looking at the annual costs of college, that saves families and students a significant amount of money!  It also allows graduates to enter into the workforce earlier, or move on to graduate or professional training earlier, which means that the overall financial benefit from early graduation is magnified even further.

If cutting costs are a priority for your college student then one very effective way to do this is to complete advanced placement credit in high school, complete junior college credits during high school (if that option is offered where you live), take summer classes between academic years, or in some cases even head first to another less expensive institution, and then apply to transfer to the desired four-year university afterwards.

There will always be general classes that are a requirement for most universities. These classes can be taken at a community or junior college for significantly less money, as long as the acceptability of the credits is cleared in advance, of course! It can sometimes be a wise choice, financially, to use community college – or even an associate’s degree, in some cases – as part of the foundation for undergraduate education.  After all, the bachelor’s degree only has the name of one school on it!

Paying for college starts by understanding your budget and planning for the future.