Let’s Plot Out Your School Expenses | 03.23.10

As a recent college graduate, if I can share one piece of advice with all of you that are just starting college, or currently working on your degree, it’s this: plan and budget where your financial aid is coming from.

There is nothing worse than being a month out from the start of your semester with a huge tuition bill on your kitchen table and no idea how you are going to cover the few thousand dollars left behind after federal loans and scholarships are taken out. (Believe me, I’ve gone through this more than once in small panics.) So, the best way to make sure you are organized and 100% ready to start your semester with a clean, low-stress slate is to plot it all out.

1) How much do your tuition / fees amount to?

Lots of pieces to this. Look at student activity fees, tuition, lab fees if you are taking any science classes, studio fees for art classes, etc. They are small in the grand scheme of your tuition, but can throw a wrench into how much money you have budgeted if they end up being more than you had anticipated.

2) Are you living on or off-campus?

9 times out of 10, off-campus living is much cheaper than on-campus. If you are going to live on-campus, check how much meal plans, housing deposit, and room and board will cost for the year. Also, check and see if there are fees for staying in the dorms during holidays or during breaks; some schools expect you to head home during breaks and will actually charge you for staying in the dorms (such as Winter break.)

If you are living off-campus, go on Craigslist.org and see what the average cost of an apartment is in your area. Tack on roughly $50-80/week for food, leverage in about $150-200 a year for renter’s insurance, and then try and guesstimate utilities.

3) Books

Books cost anywhere between $100 and $500 a semester, depending on how sadistic your professors feel like being. I’ve had semesters where I literally spent $500 on 3 textbooks, because they chose the biggest, most content filled ones that were new within the year. One way to save money on expenses like this is to use Half.com to buy books or use a textbook rental service like Chegg.

4) Transportation

If you live in the city, do you use a subway or bus? If not, what about a car? That’s gas, parking, insurance — lots of extra expenses you don’t think about immediately. Try to figure out as much of that in advance as possible. If you do use public transportation, most schools offer some sort of discount program that saves you money on monthly or weekly unlimited passes.

5) Shopping

You may or may not be able to do much of this, but it’s good to put some money aside for incidentals at least. Maybe you accidentally rip your favorite pair of jeans or your shoes will get ruined from rain or something… chances are you’ll be glad you put some money aside just in case. A student credit card with an intentionally low limit is a good way to have emergency funds available while making sure you can’t go overboard and charge yourself into a hole.

Ok, all written out. Now what?

Look at your financial aid award letter from school. What did you receive in federal aid? In scholarships from school? Subtract this total (minus work-study if you got any, because you have to earn that) from your grand total of expenses and see if anything is left over.

If there’s a healthy amount left, a private student loan can help close the gap. In addition, you can use websites like ScholarshipPoints and StudentScholarshipSearch to look for free aid to help supplement what you received already. If you’re interested in learning more, check out my blog on private student loans.

ScholarshipPoints Code: EXPENSES2010

Image Credit to giveawayboy on Flickr

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8 Responses to “Let’s Plot Out Your School Expenses”

  1. Clarence Hutchinson says on April 11, 2010 at 3:37 am:

    That definitely works too. I've borrowed books and lent out books to friends a few times over the years, and it was a good system.

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  2. winnie says on March 28, 2010 at 10:43 pm:

    Oh man, I wish I saw this in the beginning of the year. This is really helpful. I try to split books with friends.

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  3. maira says on March 24, 2010 at 9:01 pm:

    thanks for the information the bvooks i usually by are expensive and this is a way to save money

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  4. Brittany says on March 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm:

    i hate not being organized and this seems super helpful! i always buy my books used….so much cheaper!!

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  5. wendy says on March 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm:

    buying book online or borrowing it from a friend or buying it from someone who just takes that class is the fastest way to save money

    Reply To This Comment
    • Evan Jacobs says on March 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm:

      That definitely works too. I've borrowed books and lent out books to friends a few times over the years, and it was a good system.

      Reply To This Comment
  6. Betty says on March 23, 2010 at 7:48 pm:

    Very useful information. And I've 'rented' a book from Chegg – worked out great!! And the price was right!!

    Reply To This Comment

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