College Confessions: How College Students Save

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The cost of attending college has skyrocketed since the early 1980s. For both public and private not-for-profit institutions, tuition has escalated more than 2.5x from the year 1980. Where the average cost of a public university in 1980 was $5,938 annually, it is now more than $14,000 annually. This spike has far exceeded the rate of inflation.

Out of 15 developed countries indexed by a global higher education study, the US came in second as the country with the highest cost of higher education relative to median income. Students are graduating with record debt at an average of $35,200. At SaveUp, we were curious how individual college students are tackling this burden daily. These undergrads discuss ways to save money; from when to not attend college at all to where to get your school supplies and which majors to choose. All undergrads interviewed admitted that saving on food is a priority. Here are the highlights.

Kyle

Which school do you attend?

Private university in California

What’s your major?

Business administration

Cost of tuition per semester:

$ 23,000.00

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

Outrageously high.

Why?

I just think it’s overpriced. I wanted to go to school inCaliforniabecause my home state doesn’t have great public schools, but because I’m not aCaliforniaresident, attending a public school would be just as expensive for me as to attend a private school so I would’ve paid a high price tag either way.

How are you paying for college?

My parents really wanted me to go to college and they are paying for it—but honestly, if it were up to me and I had to finance my own college education, I wouldn’t go to college. This was actually my original plan. I tried the non-college route first, but not in the right industry for me. College bought me more time to figure out what I wanted to do.

Why and what else would you do?

Because I don’t think that $240,000 of debt is worth a piece of paper. I think that there are much cheaper alternatives to learn more important skills—either through self-teaching or on-the-job work experience.

Don’t they say that a college education gets your foot in the door?

There’s no denying that college opens a lot of doors; it offers connections to an alumni network, and a degree of respect from graduating from that college. But for me, the question becomes: Is all this worth a quarter million dollars? Or could that quarter million be allocated elsewhere with me ending up just as successful as I otherwise would have been as a college graduate?

College is most important for entry-level jobs and employment when you’re first starting out, but if you’re talented enough and you are able to get in the door somewhere, then I think you can have a very successful career without ever having gone to college. That’s a much more difficult route, but it is doable if you have the drive, talent and it definitely takes a certain personality to do that.

How would you otherwise get your foot in the door if you had not gone to college?

Whatever you want to do within entrepreneurship, whether it’s marketing, sales, or coding, just learn it well and approach a company you want to work at. Explain how you can add value to them and go from there. Without a degree, you would have to hustle your way up—meet people aggressively, be a good communicator and a go-getter—but it is much cheaper.

College is your credibility stamp, but I think there are ways around it. I think if you really take the time to connect with people and build relationships, you’ll find someone smart who’s willing to take you under their wing and help you. But I want to stress that you have to be very talented and even more ambitious.

Success Stories

I’ve met two different successful people that dropped out of my university. One of them left as a freshman to design a major mobile app and now he has started his own company. The other guy was financing his own college education but 2 years in he realized that the cost-benefit was not paying off so he left his private college and is now a successful design consultant.

There’s a difference between dropping out of a competitive college vs. never going. If someone drops out, then at least it shows that he was smart enough to get in, which adds credibility to his name. There’s no penalty to dropping out and trying out something else. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back and at least have some stories to tell. But it’s a risky route if you never attend college at all because you don’t have much to fall back on. 

How are you saving money?

Save up by sandwich.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches net 75 cents a pop as opposed to store sandwiches at $6 and up.

Any tips for future college students?
Graduate early; get out of there as fast as you can. While in high school, do lots of AP and community college classes. Take as many credits as possible outside the expensive college you plan to graduate from.

Benjamin 

Which school do you attend?

UC Berkeley

What’s your major?

Computer Science

Cost of tuition per semester not including room and board (for State Residents):
$7,610.75

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

College in general is really expensive. I think for a public college UCB is pretty expensive. It puts a lot of strain on families to send their kids to college. If my tuition wasn’t covered by the GI Bill, I would be spending a lot more time searching for scholarships and making sure I graduate early.

How are you paying for college?

The G.I. bill

How are you saving money?

On Books

I don’t really buy much from the bookstore. I order most course material from Amazon.com, but only if the book is required. I avoid splurging on books that I won’t need by waiting a few weeks into the class and seeing how essential it is. I’ve definitely waited past the midterm exam to buy a book before.

On Food

My main expense is food. I try not to eat out during weekdays by cooking for myself a lot. I buy a bunch of ground beef and on Sundays I make enough dishes to last me a whole week. Also, cereal and sandwiches are my go-to’s for quick snacks, rather than going to a store or eating out.

On Entertainment

I buy used video games that decrease dramatically in price just months after releasing, and don’t go to the movies much. It helps to hang with a group of friends that don’t go out and spend excessively on movies.

On Clothing

I go to startup fairs, career fairs and tech conferences to supplement my current wardrobe with the t-shirts they hand out I don’t mind wearing tech shirts to class because no one really cares what I wear.

Do you work during the school year?

I do work for the school paper and get paid, but it’s mainly for the experience. I’m more involved with clubs and classes, as opposed to work. If I worked for pay but wasn’t gaining relevant experience, it would detract from my studies and I wouldn’t be able to graduate early, thereby costing more money and time.

Amir

Which school do you attend?

UC Berkeley

What’s your major?

Political Science

Cost of tuition per semester not including room and board (for State Residents):
$7,610.75

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

Tuition has gone up 30% since I started college, and it had nearly doubled at my community college. At UC’s (University of California) the bill is a lot higher, and there continues to be uncertainty as to what students can expect the total cost of their education to be; with Stafford student loan interest rates tied to T-bills, they are likely to fluctuate with markets, which leaves students guessing at what a college education will cost them. I personally do feel the pinch and I don’t like increased tuition, especially when it limits public accessibility to education by shutting out a portion of young Americans that cannot afford the tuition—which no one should be forced to do in this country.

What would you like to see happen to stem this trend? 

1. Re-prioritize

I think first there needs to be a re-prioritization on what elected officials deal with. If instead of building up defense, that money were injected back into education, I think the result would be more stable and sustainable tuition prices. I encourage a political re-focusing back on education. In the long-term something regarding student debt needs to be done. Millennial student loan debt exceeds over three trillion dollars—that’s more than the total credit card debt in this country! And that’s scary. People are speculating that this could be the next bubble. There is a correlation between tuition costs and the amount of student debt people carry. Let’s shift the balance back to education.

2. Accessible federal loans

The second step would be to offer lower subsidized loans to students. The federal government lends money to banks at a lower interest rate than to students and the Fed is making more on students than on banks. The Stafford student loan interest rate deal reached this week is a short-term solution.

3.  More grants

There also needs to be greater access to Pell grants to help students afford the high cost of education. The president put it well in his speech on Wednesday, “If you think the cost of education is high, wait ‘til you see the cost of ignorance.”

How are you paying for college?

Because I went to a community college for two years, I managed to save a lot of money on tuition and housing at home and was also able to work 20+ hrs a week. So now I’m only paying for two years of university education.

I’m a Pell grant recipient and I depend on that to avoid getting into college loan debt. I also got scholarship support from Berkeley, and I feel they’re ahead of the game in helping students afford college. Luckily I do not have any loans yet, but it is definitely an option on the table if tuition, the cost of living, food, and rent keep rising. Those costs are far greater than what students anticipate when starting out.

How are you saving money?

The first thing I save on is accessory items such as clothing. Next is food. I try to pay the smartest price, which unfortunately sometimes correlates with unhealthy options. I don’t eat out often and avoid frequent bar hopping. If it came down to it, I would not hang out with friends as much because that equals spending more money. My social life would take a hit as a result.

Any saving tips for college students?

I would look at going to the library and reading from the class textbook that’s on reserve instead of buying a separate copy. Also, it recently hit me to ask the professors for the PDF version of the course reader (anthology of different readings). Why not get it for free and read it conveniently on your mobile device?

What are your financial goals for the next 5 years?

I want to be able to sustain myself and live on my own without help from parents or loans. So I hope to work for a couple of years before continuing on to grad school.

Amanda

What university do you attend?

Undergrad at Northwestern

Major:

Journalism

Cost of tuition per quarter not including room and board:

$15,040

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

I think it’s ridiculous. It’s definitely a burden for most people I know, and unfortunately it just keeps getting increased. I would be all for more tax money going towards educational grants and away from defense.

How she plans to tackle it?

I’m taking out federal student loans and working part time jobs to cover extra costs. My parents did have savings for me but they’re seeing the bottom of the bag. I’m also graduating with a bachelor’s a year early which will save me more than $50,000 a year.

What’s your major? How did you decide on it in light of the economic downturn and increasing tuition costs?

I don’t think I made the most economically-sound decision at the time that I decided on my major. When I started college, journalism wasn’t doing well, but I thought that if you love something and you’re good at it then you can make a living at it. Luckily, journalism has made a comeback surprise comeback since then and a wide range of jobs are coming back. Journalism has evolved, with multiple platforms for storytelling, video journalism and online magazines. We thought the internet was gonna be the death of journalism, but it instead it has blossomed.

What are you doing daily to save on:

Food & Housing

I don’t eat when I don’t need to, unless it’s free food from school events. Whenever they’re handing out free pizza, I’m there. I drink water because it’s free and one of the least health-costly beverages.

I’m also saving in my living situation; my roommates and I have squeezed an extra person into the living room so we have four people in a three bedroom apartment which has helped us save money on rent.

School

I will generally try to buy used textbooks on Amazon.com, otherwise I rent them from Chegg.com. I’ve sold back books online as well and ended up making back 70% of the price I paid. I usually steer clear of textbook stores because they will slay you with fees.

Discounts

I buy a lot of second hand clothing and layer my clothes from forever. I also take advantage of student discounts whenever possible, such as at local movie theatres. Oh! Here’s a gem: the campus library has every movie you could ask for—we literally have every season of The Sopranos available for rent and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they’ll order it! You’d be surprised. From what I’ve seen, colleges are usually really good about their multimedia centers. I don’t save money on shows and concerts because I feel that there are places where you should spend money while you’re young, like on experiences. I’d rather spend my money on a great concert than on a dress I’d wear once.

How can students make the most of college while there and get the most for what they’re paying?

Take advantage of all the free resources your school provides such as gyms and gamerooms. We have a game room that has arcade games, a foosball and pool table. Do some research on what your school offers. Go to all the free events that are put on by the school, often there are really cool speakers and great musical acts to attend for free.

Words of wisdom for future college students:

I recommend choosing a major that truly interests you and aligns with your passions. For me, it’s more of a priority to do something you enjoy; You’ll be doing it for the rest of your life, and if you don’t like it you’ll just be miserable no matter how much money you make. Take classes at community college while in high school because they’re free while you’re a registered high school student, (at least inCalifornia). I’m shocked I got credit, saved $9,000 and a whole class-worth of time.

What are your financial goals for the next 5 years?

I want to be able to live comfortably, yet be financially independent. I’m gonna try to find a steady job somewhere in the world in my industry. Oh yea, and pay back those loans.

 

Written by Katarina at SaveUp.com.  

Photo by:  Flickr

Carnivals:

Finance Carn. for Young Adults at Mom and Dad Money
Yakezie Carnival at Debt Roundup
Carnival of Tortoise Banker at Carnival of Tortoise Banker
Carnival of MoneyPros at Money Life and More

 

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