Counsel to the College Bound

by Marianne Giullian

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People come from different backgrounds. Because of this, each person will need to prepare for college a little differently. Figure out your personal situation and don't compare yourself with anyone else. Some people may need money for college; others may need to learn things like money management skills, homemaking skills, or how to clean a house. The most important thing is to sit down with parents or an adult and find out how much it will cost each year for college, how much they are going to contribute, and how much you will need to pay yourself. Once you have that information, you can plan more effectively.

Make a list of the housing and personal expenses you think you will have, such as clothing, household cleaners, make-up, shampoo, laundry soap, phone, food, housing, etc. Make a budget and allocate money for each category. As you go away, you may need to revise the budget as you find out what your actual expenses really are. There are some other things that you should learn how to do and some ways you can cut your expenses. The following list covers some basic things you should know.

  1. Open a checking account and learn how to use checks. Learn how to balance your checkbook when your monthly statement comes. Don't be "penny wise and pound foolish." Saving pennies here or there won't matter much when you are paying large fees for overdrawn checks.

  2. What is the difference between grants and loans? An easy way to remember is that they lend you a loan and they give you a grant. Use loans only as a last resort. Make sure you find out the interest rate. If you don't have support from parents, you will be more likely to qualify for grants. Look into scholarships. You don't have to be a top academic student to get one. Some places offer scholarships for left-handed people or people of a certain nationality or interest.

  3. If you have never had a credit card, look into the Visa Gift cards at Wal-Mart, etc. where there is a set amount on the card. After you think you have the self discipline to use a credit card wisely, then try getting a credit card. Make sure you understand interest rates and don't pay the bill late. There will be a large fee if you do. Stay out of the mall so you won't be tempted. Don't charge what you can't pay in full. The average credit card debt for those graduating with an undergraduate degree is over $2,000. Don't be one of them. Be very careful about using credit.

  4. If you learn to cook, you will enjoy what you eat more and hopefully will spend less if you learn to cook. Talk to roommates about trading nights cooking for the whole apartment. If money is tight, this is one place where you can save money. Before you go to college, ask your parent if you can take over the cooking and shopping for one week with their help. Plan a menu for the week, making sure that meals are balanced. Then, make a grocery list of the items you will need and go shopping and get them. Make the meals you have planned for that week. It is easier to experiment at home before you go away, because there are people there to help and guide you. Your mom might even enjoy the break! When you are beginning college, it is probably not the time in your life to be a serious bargain shopper. The summer before you go to college, make a price book by listing items you think you will use and price them several different stores. This will help you find the store that has the cheapest overall prices and then shop there regularly. Buy store brands instead of name brands. Get a good basic cookbook from home or at a garage sale. Don't waste leftovers. Freeze extras that you aren't using so they won't be wasted. My daughter once had a roommate who filled 2/3 of the fridge with her leftovers. They usually spoiled and were thrown in the trash. Don't use vending machines. Keep snacks, soda or apples in your backpack with you so you won't be tempted to buy things from machines.

  5. Figure out what you are going to need to take with you to school. Some schools have lists on their website to help you. Don't go out and buy new stuff. You should already have most of the clothes that you need. Many things like dishes, a trash can, a shower curtain, towels, etc. can be purchased inexpensively at garage sales if there aren't enough extras around home from mom or grandma. Try to use what you have first. Don't buy new dishes. Roommates may break, ruin, or lose them.

  6. Buy on sale or used items. Would you rather pay $25 or $15 for the same item? Textbooks can be very expensive. Buy a good used book instead of a new one if it is available. At the end of the semester, they will both be considered used, and if the school buys them back, you will get the same amount regardless of the original condition. Buy school supplies when they have back-to-school sales and are drastically reduced.

  7. Work part time if you find you are going to have a hard time making ends meet. Working 10-15 hours per week can help grades by forcing you to be more organized.

  8. Barter for what you need. You could offer to cook for someone if they will pay the groceries or offer to do someone's laundry if they will pay for the soap and machines to wash theirs and yours.

  9. Learn to do your own laundry. You could ruin your clothes if you don't learn to do it right. Learn to separate loads, what temperature of water to use, etc. Try using 1/2 to 1/4 the amount of laundry soap they say to use and tear dryer sheets in half. Hang up your towel after use and don't throw clothes on the floor where they will get wrinkled. This will help reduce laundry. Take good care of your clothing and consider wearing outer clothing more than once if it isn't dirty or doesn't smell.

  10. Finally, I have a few miscellaneous ideas. Use the Internet at school. Don't pay for it yourself. For entertainment, look for free concerts and places that give student discounts. Save your graduation money that you get for college instead of going out and spending it on clothes, etc. Don't take a car to school. Walking is less expensive and provides good exercise. Go through all your possessions and discard things that you don't want or need or don't fit you any more. If you haven't worn clothes in a few years, sell them. Save the money you earn for college.

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