Jan 21 2011

How I cut my own college expenses

Note: This is the last in a series on saving for your kid’s college education.

My husband and I were very fortunate to graduate from college without taking out student loans. We had the generous support of many family members and a few other miscellaneous things to lower our expenses:

  • I took a class in high school that earned 3 credit hours that transfered to my university.
  • I earned some English and Spanish credits simply by testing out of lower-level classes. Free college credits!
  • I applied for a dozen or so scholarships, and wish I went at it full-force. I only applied for scholarships the summer before my freshman year (I think?) and I should have sought and applied for more each year. I did win a few thousand worth, yay!
  • My job as a cashier in a drug store during my senior year of high school paid for lots of my start-up expenses…a computer, school supplies, books.
  • I held a part-time job every semester of my schooling, except for the first. I worked each summer as well. Sometimes, I worked two jobs.
  • I ran for office in my on-campus apartment building and was the Vice President of something or other (is it bad that I cannot remember what in the world it was?). But I got $100/month off my rent…making it $275/month. That detail, I do remember!
  • After that, I had a part-time job at the housing office that gave me $200 off my monthly rent (yowza!) AND I earned slightly more than minimum wage in an hourly position there.
  • I earned a $1,000 grant, paid straight to the bursar’s office, doing a public relations internship. The gig also earned me 3 credit hours in a class I never had to actually take.
  • I was a “note-taker” for a student with a disability, so simply by making copies of my own detailed notes, I earned something like $75/semester. It was an extra incentive to just plain take good notes!
  • I volunteered for a few research studies since I had free time and I wanted the extra cash/free food.
  • I took a lot of summer school. Misc. fees were slightly lower during the summer term I think. Can’t remember how much. Plus, taking 2-3 classes at a time was a lot easier than taking 4-5!
  • I held a few positions at my beloved student newspaper, and though I didn’t earn much there, the management positions paid a portion of my tuition which was incredibly helpful!
  • Shane and I found a bunch of discarded textbooks during book buy-back. The bookstores told students that the books were worthless to them, so the kids threw the books in the trash can outside of the book buy-back location. We decided they were free for the taking (right? They were in the trash, after all!) so we took all of them and kept going back for more. We sold them on Amazon and made more than $1,000.
  • When I had to buy my own textbooks, for some classes I bought a previous edition (as in, perhaps 1 year old instead of brand-new). Sometimes that meant I paid $8 for a book instead of $80. This only works for certain types of books in certain types of classes.
  • Shane and I were volunteer ushers at the auditorium and for a little bit of really easy work, we could get into some really great shows for free.

There’s so much I didn’t know about budgeting when I was a college student. If I only knew what I know now, I probably could have graduated without credit card debt. Live n’ learn.

With college tuition increasing the way it is, it looks like we’ll need to start saving for our children’s college educations now, and even then they still might need to borrow money if costs keep on going up faster than inflation (which, come on. There has to be a breaking point, otherwise lenders will stop issuing loans that no one can ever hope to repay, and students and parents will say ENOUGH).

Shane and I think we should help our kids pay for school as much as we are able, but we also expect them to carry some of the weight.

  • We will encourage them to take Advanced Placement classes to try and test out of as many college credits as possible before even setting foot on campus.
  • They need to save a portion of their part-time/summer job earnings while teenagers specifically for college.
  • They should consider taking some classes at a community college, either in the summers or before transferring to a four-year program to save money.
  • They should apply for many scholarships!
  • They should consider being a Resident Assistant or living in a dorm co-op to lower living expenses.
  • They should strive to live like a broke college student and actually live on a budget.
  • We will talk about college and our expectations and financial contributions well in advance of college applications, so little Johnny and Vivienne will know what’s up.

I just think that a student who has to pay for some of their own expenses will truly value their education more than if it was a total handout from their parents. I remember a classmate talking about needing to buy books. I told him to buy them on Amazon instead of at the bookstore since that’s cheaper and you know what the goober said?

“I don’t care, my parents are paying for it anyway.”

If his mama only knew.

How did you cut your college costs?



7 Responses to “How I cut my own college expenses”

  1. Another aspect to think about is hands on/hands off parents in college. I had friends whose parents made sure tuition was paid, classes were registered for, even found out what books were needed and bought them! It made it really easy to not act like an adult or be responsible for their own education. I’m not saying that you’d be like this, but I can understand what urges parents to do so! Besides finances, it’s a great first experience of living on your own.
    Abby B´s last post ..Athens- Day 3 Part 2

  2. That’s pretty ridiculous! I think it cripples kids when you do that. I want to teach my kids how to live on their own well before they actually move out, cuz I’m not doing them any favors otherwise.

  3. I went to PU for a semester and my dad helped pay–I had only a small $900 loan since I was the granddaughter of an alumni.

    When I went to IU my second semester I was 100% on my own. I resold textbooks on amazon, bought used or even shared a reader (Kacie do you remember those readers? SO expensive and silly!) with another classmate.

    My second year at IU I lived on a co-op floor for the first semester. I paid something like $2,000 less per year and had ONE 30 minute chore to do ONCE a week! There was only 1 floor of women and 1 floor of men in the co-op–crazy that our floor wasn’t full! Then I became a resident assitant for two years–I got paid $1200 for the year and I got a full meal plan and my room for free, so I only had to pay tuition and fees. I also worked part-time as an hourly employee at the student desk.

    During summers I worked 20+ hours a week there and got to live for free with a small meal plan. In hindsight I wish I’d been an RA for my last year there and not moved into an expensive apartment!

    I had for one semester 3 jobs–part-time at the desk in the dorm, bank teller on weekends, and a leasing agent at a real estate office.

    I got a few government grants, but didn’t get any scholarships–had I known about budgeting and how many unclaimed scholarships there were–I probably wouldn’t have $24,000 in student loan debt hanging over me right now!

  4. I’m from Florida, so we have the Bright Futures scholarship program. I had good grades, good SAT, and 75 hours community service, so it paid my tuition. My parents had also done the pre-paid plan (back when it was a good deal…this past year, the rates shot up insanely), so I had money for 2 years CC and 2 years university tuition (so my scholarship was disbursed to me for housing). I also took a lot of AP and Dual Enrollment (I had 45 hours that counted…but a lot more that didn’t). I went summers and could have graduated in 2.5 years, but I wanted my undergraduate scholarship to pay as much as possible, so I put off a class for a semester and started on my master’s as an undergrad. Because I saved all of my excess aid and money from working, I was able to pay for most of master’s. While doing that, I taught and worked as a tutor, which paid for the rest. My parents usually gave me a stipend each semester of my masters (around $500-$1000–usually as my Christmas present or birthday present). I got my specialist while working and paid for it with savings bonds my grandparents gave me and by cutting costs at home. I really recommend dual enrollment/AP and community college. I teach at a CC and I know it is a great deal…especially if you go to a public 4 year in the same state and finish that AA before transfering.

  5. We have what I consider to be a pretty unusual plan of attack when it comes to handling this beast with our kiddos.

    We plan to have them believe they have to do it alone. They will take out the same sort of student loans we took out (low interest to begin after graduation). And we will rejoice silently as they struggle with finances and worry about how to make ends meet.

    Then, after graduation, we will have some sort of culminating “life lessons learned from student poverty” discussion, promptly followed by, “Surprise! We’re paying it off (or at least down a huge deal) for you!”

    Unfortunately, our lessons, some of which were learned the hard way, definiltey weren’t magically erased upon graduation!

  6. That is pretty cool, Lauren!

  7. Ha! Love it that I wasn’t the only one scooping up discarded books to sell online! It’s really a great trick. And not buying books at all! I can’t tell you how many books were “required” for courses that I simply refused to buy until it was demonstrated that we would actually need them and ended up never buying at all.

    The “look really hard for scholarships” thing is really big. It can take a lot of time and effort, but it can also pay off handsomely.

    I was so adamant about that and ended up getting lots of really random ones (one from a golf writers association — what!?) and getting enough to pay my last two years for tuition, books, my rent AND my car payments! (Of course, if I could go back, I would’ve not bought a car and would’ve put that money instead toward paying off loans from the previous two years that I’m now working on…sigh. but you live, you learn!)

    I’d also stress bunking up. You can seriously lower your costs by splitting off-campus housing with 2, 3, 4 others (can be cheaper than on-campus, depends on situation though of course).

    Great post. Lots of ways to get creative!

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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