Yes I know college is a lot more expensive today than it was back in the days of covered wagons, when I was attending The University of Virginia. However, in order to better understand the situation, let's first talk about how students get into debt in the first place; there is a fundamental phenomenon for the cause.
How Students Get Into Debt
Think about freedom. There are two sides to every situation. With freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility is something most 18-year-olds haven't quite mastered. Here's a human being living independently for the first time. Lots of freedom, and sometimes that freedom is channeled into the area of retail. As mature adults (and perhaps not-so-mature adults,) we know the lure of the department store.
Students see other students buying things, going out for dinner and drinks and enjoying activitities. Mom and dad were paying for those things (or at least some of them) before college, and mom and dad usually enforced some type of limit.
The First Step To Crushing Debt: Create a Budget
The first step is to never get into debt. The best way to do that is to create a budget.
- Start with income. This may be in the form of grants or scholarships. Another source is savings from birthday gifts or summer jobs. Mom and dad are another source of income.
- Next, start laying out expenses: tuition, books, room and board. Some colleges have meal plans where you pre-pay. This is a great idea. Even in the Dark Ages when I was in school, the meal plan was administered though a card with a magnetic strip and you could purchase various plans. You would run the card through a reader every time you got a meal. I would not suggest having a plan for 21 meals a week as you may wish to go off campus for a meal or two.
- Make sure the total of the first bullet is greater than the total of the second. Otherwise, the only way to make up for the shortfall is to go into debt.
How To Control College Expenses
Chances are your expenses exceed your income. Per my friend David Kimball, here are some suggestions for cutting college expenses:
- Buy used books. Usually they have the owner's notes in them which can be very helpful.
- Take advantage of activities on campus.
- Always keep a balanced checkbook.
- Stay away from credit cards.
- Don't keep a car on campus; leave it at home!
- Grade papers for extra income. I participated in some student psychological studies; and no, I didn't need to go into therapy afterwards.
What are some of your suggestions for college students to stay out of debt? Let me hear from you.