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Friday, June 21, 2013 |

How to Afford College Without Living Like a Pauper

In a special guest post from Money Crashers contributor David Bakke, 6 simple methods to reduce the cost of college are outlined. David has great experience in practical money management and regularly shares his knowledge on effective student loan debt elimination and advice for saving money and building wealth.

The cost of attending college is through the roof these days, and it’s only going to get more expensive. Short of running for office, there’s not much you can do to change the current trend. Instead of simply giving up and signing away your financial future, though, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce your costs and get the most out of that essential four-year degree.

1. Use Your Financial Aid Office as a Starting Point
One of the first places to go to reduce the overall cost of college is your financial aid office. You can get guidance and information on the many forms of assistance available. Next, research the Internet for scholarships, grants, and any other financial aid options that might apply to you based on your gender, ethnicity, race, professional aspirations, religion, and more. This may take a little investigating, but it’s definitely time well spent. Additionally, be aware that your eligibility for financial aid can change year to year based on personal and household income. If your family has been hit by unemployment, make sure to review the facts with your financial aid office to determine if you are eligible for increased funding.

2. Be Careful What You Sign Up For
Whenever you sign a document—whether it’s with your adviser or just during orientation—be sure to pay attention to exactly what you’re committing yourself to. Colleges and universities have become very adept at sneaking in unneeded and costly items like extra large meal plans and campus health insurance, which you have to actually opt-out of or you’re automatically signed up, and you may also find some outrageous fees for extra-curricular activities, such as joining a fraternity. These costs are significant, so it’s worth it to be circumspect.

3. Piggyback Your Parents’ Health Insurance
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, students up to age 26 are eligible to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan. This negates your need for separate campus health insurance and allows you to save a bundle on premiums. Just make sure you’ve got a good selection of in-network doctors on or around campus and you’re good to go.

4. Skip the Extras
Besides the unnecessary extras already discussed, you’re going to be inundated with programs and services you may think you need, but that more than likely aren’t worth the expense. Laundry pickup, errand services, and campus bookstore supplies are expensive and can all be found nearby for less money. Manage your time so you can do your own laundry and run your own errands, and buy supplies and books from off-campus retailers and Internet outlets like Amazon.

5. Scale Back the Partying
Put simply, every dollar you spend on a keg party is one dollar less you can put toward your debts. By no means should you eliminate entertainment from your college years, just do your celebrating in moderation. You can have just as much fun attending an on-campus sporting event, concert, or free movie screening as you can polishing off a six-pack in your dorm room. You can have fun in college without going broke!

6. Get a Job and Start Paying Back Loans Now
It’s a common misconception that you have to wait until you graduate to start paying back your student loans. Find a part-time job on campus and begin the payback process immediately. Even if you work only 10 hours per week at a job paying $12 per hour, after four years you’d have more than $15,000 to devote to your student loan balance. That’s going to take a lot of pressure off you once you graduate and assume the additional expenses of financial independence.

Final Thoughts
The average college student graduates with $25,000 in student loan debt. That responsibility is going to pose a challenge to paying your monthly bills, saving for retirement, and establishing an emergency fund—and this is all assuming you can actually find a job quickly after graduation. It’s never too early to start saving, so take the reins on your financial independence today and reduce the impact of the high cost of college.

What ways can you think of to reduce college costs?

***

Ken O’Connor is a financial aid expert and the director of student advocacy at cuStudentLoans.org. Learn more about credit union private student loans and college planning by visiting his blog.

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