College…Ready or Not?–College & Money: Too Much and Never Enough

College is a lot of things but one thing it can never claim to be is cheap.

One of the things that I’ve noticed college students often have issues with is money. We’re living in a time in which the vast majority of students are receiving some type of financial aide whether that be scholarships, grants, work study, and/or the dreaded loans. Room and board, books, student fees, and tuition all have to be paid. Costs vary depending on the institution. Private schools are often more expensive than public and going to school out-of-state will often cost you more than in-state. Community Colleges are a less expensive option and there is a movement of students who are starting out at the CC and then transferring to a four-year institution after completing their first two years of coursework. This helps save money while the student pays cheaper tuition, lives at home, and works to save up for the greater costs of a four-year college/university.

 

college money

A source of stress that is rearing its ugly head on campuses is that many students are able to find ways to be able to afford “going to college”. They get what they need to be a student. What they don’t get covered in their financial package is what I call ” [insert name of college/university] Plus”. This is all of the other “stuff” that college students want in order to take full advantage of the college experience.

This might include:

– Fraternity/sorority membership

– Participation in certain clubs/organizations/teams

– Spring Break/Fall Break trips

-Beach Week

– Study Abroad

– Alternative Spring Break

– apparel

-late night food, coffee runs, frozen yogurt, smoothies

– money to spend on the weekend excursions (cabs, festive beverages, dinners out on the town with friends, movie tickets, concerts)

and anything else that costs extra beyond basic college expenses.

This creates a class bubble and can lead to some destructive financial habits including the dreaded college credit card trap. Stay away! If needed, get one card! Only one! Emergencies ONLY! Pay it off immediately! Money also serves as a determinant of how and if students participate in extracurricular activities and it can dictate who they choose to include in their circle of friends.

Here are some financially healthier ways to figure this out:

1. Get a job! There are always offices on campus looking for student workers. Ask your Career Center about resources on campus to help you find openings. These are also usually in the school newspaper, on flyers around campus, and some schools even have Employment Fairs for on-campus jobs. The great thing about working on-campus is that your employer will make sure that you honor your identity as a student. At many of these jobs you can even do your homework during downtime and still count those hours on your timesheet. It’s convenient and you’ll learn about another aspect of the university as well as basic skills that can help you later in life. You won’t get rich BUT you’ll earn extra pocket change for those “plus” opportunities.

Of course, you can also work off-campus. Studies have shown that it is actually beneficial for a student to work 20 hours a week as it helps establish time management skills. Be upfront with your employer about your schedule as a student. Think about the proximity of your job to campus. Unless you absolutely need to, try not to work to the point that you’re actually missing out on your college experience. If you have to work, I get it, but you don’t want to resent your job and you want to make sure that whatever you’re paying for that you actually have an opportunity to be an active participant. Don’t forget, you’re in college to get your diploma. Make sure that you’re not working to the detriment of your academics.

Babysitting is often a clutch role that many students pick-up as a college student.

Check out the Psychology or Sociology department as they are often holding non-threatening and non-invasive studies in which students can serve as subjects and make a little extra money.

A great deal of students work extremely hard over the summer to bank their income in order to serve as their bucket of funds for the upcoming school year. This isn’t a bad idea and will certainly help you to develop and manage a budget.

Make sure to set up a checking account and develop a basic budget. What are your wants versus your needs? What is your family helping you pay for versus what are you responsible to pay for on your own? Keeping track will help you avoid those pesky overdrawn fees that I became way too familiar with in college.

2. Inquire about scholarships or payment plans. For things like sorority/fraternity membership, study abroad, and even some trips there may exist financial aide opportunities in the form of scholarships or payment plans. Connect with the person in charge of finances for the organization and be upfront about your payment concerns. I know that money can be hard to chat about with a peer but if you’re interested in the opportunity then you’ve got to do the work to figure out how to afford it. Just ask the general question, “Are there opportunities for payment plans or scholarships?” Believe me, this isn’t the first time this has been brought up by a student. Contact staff in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life or the Study Abroad Office for more information. For many trips, you pay for it during a certain period of time and not all at once. If this is the case, figure out if the payment plan is doable for you and your budget.

3. Look for alternatives. Everyone has the ability to class pass these days. If obtaining the latest gear is important to you then it is important that you become adept at obtaining the look for less. TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, Target, Old Navy, H&M, Forever 21, outlet stores, ASOS, Goodwill,  consignment shops, Charming Charlie’s, EBay, and clearance sales are going to become your best friends. Don’t let me loose in a Wal-Mart–I will make that $15.00 dress look like a million bucks. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. All you need is the look and not the label. Learn how to make that $25.00 dress from Target look like that $150.00 Anthropologie dress. There are so many blogs and Pinterest boards that can assist you with getting the look you want for 1/3 of the price. You wear the clothes. Also, become aware of all the discounts stores offer college students. The movie theatre, J.Crew, LOFT, Kate Spade, and many local boutiques over 10-15% off if you have a college ID. Go for the high/low approach to fashion. Splurge on the basics and save money on overly trendy items that will only be “cool” for 5 seconds. My current outfit includes a Target dress, belt that came with a TJ Maxx dress, Anthropologie flats that were 50% off and I used my birthday discount to purchase, Stella & Dot bracelet, Longchamp Tote,  Old Navy Cardigan, and basic pearl studs from Macy’s.  I could throw on another basic Target dress and have a whole new look tomorrow. Rock what you got! Confidence is the essence of style.

confidence

For anything that people are buying that is exorbitant in price, you can certainly find a lower-cost option including the needed textbooks. Check out AMAZON or local booksellers before you settle on the bookstore prices. There are often previous students who also will cut you a great deal on their used textbooks. Don’t forget, you can make money on those at the end of the semester. The University will often hold a Buy Back OR you can sell to fellow students. Sometimes, I would get up to $250.00 back at the end of the semester. Granted that was certainly not anywhere near the amount I spent on them but I wasn’t mad at $250.00 to help celebrate the end of the semester.

Switch up your social plan so that you can still go out, but do it differently than your peers. Perhaps you engage in festive beverages before you go out, maybe you eat dinner on your already paid for meal plan as opposed to splurging on an expensive dinner, take the free student bus and not a cab, keep coffee or chai in your room so as not to make Starbucks runs that quickly add up. Have a stash of snacks for those late night urges.

4. Scour your campus for FREE opportunities. You’re in college and there is free fun happening EVERYWHERE! Make it a game and see how many free things you can attend, eat, and take home each week. Shows, lectures, t-shirts, movies, food, sporting events, and lessons, etc. can all be found underneath your nose. Take advantage of it and take a group of friends on low budget adventures.  Perhaps create a FREE STUFF resource through twitter, Facebook, or a blog to disseminate to your peers. I don’t care how much money you have, everyone loves free stuff.

5. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t do all the things. I accepted that I’d never be off to Cancun for Spring Break or Italy in the summer. I accepted that I could not afford sorority membership or full-price items from J.Crew. I learned to be happy with what I had and to fill in any perceived “gaps” with all of the free or inexpensive stuff I could find. I had an amazing college experience. I’m eternally grateful that I even was able to attend college. When it gets rough, think about the bigger picture. You’re one of the privileged few that has the opportunity to receive a college education. Praise Him!

enough gratitude

The biggest obstacle is often communicating to your friend group about your finances.

What do you say when everyone wants to call a cab to go downtown to grab dinner and festive beverages at the new swanky speakeasy? 

What do you say when your girls have invited you to Vegas for Fall Break? 

I would encourage you to do this, TELL THE TRUTH.

If peeps walk away from you because of your financial situation then you might want to find new friends. College is hard enough without hiding your economic situation from people and lying your way through the day by making excuse after excuse about why you can’t do things with the group. The truth also trumps unsurmountable credit card debt that could haunt you long after you graduate.

“Y’all, that’s just a bit too steep for my budget. Would you consider [insert option here]?” 

“The old bank account doesn’t feel good about this one, y’all go ahead and I’ll see you in the morning for brunch at the caf.” 

“You know, this event is happening on campus tonight and that makes more sense for me financially right now.” 

“I’ll meet y’all there. It’ll be best for me to take the bus.” 

“Thanks for inviting me along for the trip. I’m all about it and can’t wait to celebrate with y’all, but I’m going to look into making my own travel plans.” 

“I’m going to eat dinner here and then I’ll be able to take the cab and grab a celebratory beverage.” 

“I’m planning next Thursday night. We’ll have a fun and low-key game night with my home cooking.” 

Once again living your truth invites others to do the same and it creates a learning opportunity for those that are completely oblivious to financial struggles of other students. Unfortunately, when money is not an issue for students they often assume that those around them –especially when you attend a prestigious institution that has a reputation of attracting economically privileged students–come from the same economic background and that money is not an issue for anyone and certainly not those they call their friends.

Don’t expect your friends to change their lives entirely for you but instead make the adjustments that will allow you to participate at whatever level makes you comfortable. A good friend will get it and will support you in your practices.

Money is something that we’ve been taught in the South to not speak about at the dinner table, but I think it demonstrates a great deal of maturity for a student to authentically address this matter with those who are important in shaping their collegiate experience.

Developing this practice now will also help you to not become an adult who struggles to “keep up with the Jones'”. This family has caused us all so many issues. The goal isn’t to keep up with anyone but yourself. Remember, money and stuff, will never bring you lasting happiness.

enough money

Class has to become a topic that college students become more able to discuss. College is the place to strengthen the skills to have what have been deemed “awkward conversations”. The more students can relate across class lines the better.

How are you managing your finances in college?

Hope the first year is going well. Thanks for reading.

Lata Y’all.

 

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