Author Topic: Budgeting for college?  (Read 6153 times)

TinyLightsBelow

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Budgeting for college?
« on: August 13, 2013, 12:17:34 PM »
Hi there, my husband and I are a young couple who are not quite Mustachian yet but regularly read the blog/forums and agree with the ideology. We feel like the biggest barrier to our fully embracing Mustachianism is the fact that we're both in college and in a pretty sizable chunk of debt (I have 0 debt right now, my husband has about $24k due to some mistakes he made -- he initially was going to a private college. Since I'm no longer in community college I too may begin contributing somewhat to this debt unfortunately).

All whether-or-not-college-is-a-good-idea talk aside (I know well that we could make good money without college degrees, but we're only a few semesters away from finishing and feel like we are benefiting from our studies), I was hoping we could get a Mustachian or two to look at our budgeting plan for this year and see if there is some way we can minimize the amount of loans that we accept - primarily through cutting spending. We planned to each work 15 hrs/week, but I would consider taking side jobs to increase income as well.

Here are all of our estimated costs for the year:
Tuition: $4260 x 2 = $8521
Differential Fee: $1488 x 2 = $2676
Housing: $5000 (this number is set in stone -- we have signed a lease -- and includes utilities)
Food: $5000 (Husband says this is a reasonable estimate for food -- but it amounts to roughly $416/mo. My gut says this is way too much. Am I right? Husband and I eat vegan (minimally processed, lots of produce and organic things) but we do cut the more expensive items with cheap bulk grains like barley, oats, brown rice, etc. Our main vice is eating out and that has been included in this rough estimate. Should we just limit eating out to maybe once a month? Do any people who eat lots of produce, organics, etc. know if their grocery bill compares to this?)
Supplies/Books/Etc: $500 (we buy textbooks through Amazon if necessary and hope to even stay under this number if possible)
Transportation: $600 (we will primarily use free public transit, walking, bikes and very occasionally husband's stick shift that gets 35+ mpg)
Personal: $2000 (this is basically where we tallied in things for security's sake -- it's already useful to account for because my husband's car needs some repairs that would take about $150 of this in parts. Is $2000 for the year too much for emergency or personal expenses?)
Insurance: $3082 (again, number is set in stone)

= Total: $27,379

Aid/Income:
$4995 in Pell Grants
$12,000/yr income for both of us working 15/week at minimum wage, not counting additional hours, increased wage or side jobs possible

Remaining cost: $10,384

$10,000 in loans is a ridiculous amount of money! I know that by next year I could decrease this amount because I am very good at getting scholarships (however, I missed the deadline this year because as a transfer student I did not have access to it until my application had been processed, and it was slowwww), but even still I want to reduce this amount as much as possible. Is my spending reasonable? Is there a way to reasonably increase my income without working excessively (no more than 25 hrs/week during academic semesters)? Is it safe for me to assume I'll just find a way to make it work and take out less loans? Or should I take them out, get the side jobs and immediately pay them off if I have a surplus of money?

Thanks for your help guys!

Lans Holman

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2013, 04:38:36 PM »
barrier to
You misspelled "reason for". 

Seriously, though, your spending seems like you've really pared it down spending wise.  My question would be about your work.  Is there nothing you can do that would earn more than minimum wage?  Alternatively, can you find anything that relates to what you are studying and helps you make connections in those fields?  Those debts will seem a lot less imposing if you feel confident of finding work in your field after graduation.

Gin

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2013, 05:37:15 PM »
How many hours are you taking a semester?  Are you able to increase work hours during your semester breaks? 

mpbaker22

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2013, 05:59:23 PM »
Spending looks good.  You could cut your food to some extent, but it's not going to make a huge difference.

What are your majors and what are your jobs?  As others have suggested, you can probablymaybe find something better.  Some tutoring gigs got well over minimum wage when I was in college.

TinyLightsBelow

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2013, 09:38:12 AM »
barrier to
You misspelled "reason for". 

Seriously, though, your spending seems like you've really pared it down spending wise.  My question would be about your work.  Is there nothing you can do that would earn more than minimum wage?  Alternatively, can you find anything that relates to what you are studying and helps you make connections in those fields?  Those debts will seem a lot less imposing if you feel confident of finding work in your field after graduation.
You're right, of course; a reason is not a justification!

I do think I MAY qualify for a higher-than-minimum-wage job. My previous job pulled in $10/hr doing light office work. My main concern is that now that I'm in a college town and plan to work close to where I live (which is an area saturated with young college kids like myself) competition is rough and betting that I'll be the one that gets the job with the more reasonable wage is a bit dangerous.

I also could tutor, but my area of study is English and Spanish so I'd say it's a lot more competitive to find clients than say, tutoring students in calculus. My husband might have better luck with that, since his program is science- and math-heavy? Awww, hell, maybe I should just become a dog walker. XD

Spending looks good.  You could cut your food to some extent, but it's not going to make a huge difference.

What are your majors and what are your jobs?  As others have suggested, you can probablymaybe find something better.  Some tutoring gigs got well over minimum wage when I was in college.
I think I will cut food a bit. Maybe limit us to eating out once every three or four weeks.

Like I said above, my major is a double in English/Spanish. My husband is going for Geology, so he's taken a fair amount of math/physics classes and could probably make it doing some tutoring. Maybe I could make it tutoring in English/Spanish, but I imagine it's a service less people are willing to pay for. I guess it's tough to know until you try though?

How many hours are you taking a semester?  Are you able to increase work hours during your semester breaks? 
We're each taking 13 credit hrs. My husband in particular is NOT willing to go over 15 hrs of work/week during semesters because it will almost certainly jeopardize his academic success. I think that I can juggle it though, at only a slight loss of sanity. We can definitely go over 15/week on academic breaks; I am used to working full time when school is out and will take that opportunity without a second thought if it is offered to me. I just don't want to count on having the chance, if that makes any sense.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2013, 11:44:09 AM »
Apply to be a Resident Advisor next year. Sometimes, RA's leave mid-year and they will take on new RAs to replace them in January.

If you really do want to cut down your food budget, you should absolutely limit your dining out. IDK where you live, but we live in a HCOLA and spend $600/mo on all food/drinks/dining out for 3 people. We eat organic for those items on the dirty dozen list and keep processed foods to a minimum (although, we don't make our own yogurt or pasta and my spouse has a slight addiction to Kraft mac & cheese once a week!) We eat expensive lean meat, though, and without meat I'm sure we could easily cut $60/mo out of the budget. You can see a pic of our typical grocery cart here: http://makinglemonadeblog.com/5-ways-to-save-money-on-groceries/

If you're inclined, I highly recommend couponing -- matching sales with coupons and stocking up when it hits your price point. I regularly get whole grain pasta for $0.25/box, never pay for toothpaste or toothbrushes (in fact, I usually make $1 each time I "buy" them). Check out the "how to" section on www.hotcouponworld.com.

unpolloloco

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2013, 12:11:50 PM »
I'd say your #1 priority should be finding paying internships in your fields.  This will give you a leg up come graduation and also they tend to pay better than other options out there!

Gin

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2013, 03:06:58 PM »
This might help lower food your food bill.  http://www.bountifulbaskets.org/. It is a food coop you can see if they have it in your area.  I did not have a good experince with the organic basket but it could have been because very few people ordered it.  People who order traditional seem to like it.  I only used it once.  Can you tutor high school or freshman college students?  Good luck!

MrsPete

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2013, 04:03:17 PM »
You should be able to cut that food bill. Some specific methods of attack:

- Decide when you're "allowed" to eat out.  Since you're kind of spoiled in that way right now, you might consider every two weeks.  It's still better than you're doing now.  When you go out, minimize the cost by going to places with a coupon (college towns tend to have loads of these), skip drinks and appetizers and dessert. 
- Consider take-out from the deli.  It's much less expensive than eating out (no drinks, no tip), but you get the benefit of not cooking.
- Make your freezer your friend.  When you make a casserole or sauce, make 2-3 of the same recipe and freeze the extras.  On a busy night, you already have dinner ready. 
- Search for non-grocery store food sources.  For example, I shop at a farmer's market, a beef co-op, a super-expensive health food store that has great prices on spices, a salvage store, and online for food. 
- If you're really desperate, consider dumpster diving.  I've been that hungry, yet I lived to tell the tale. 
- Keep your eyes open for college events that serve free food.  My daughter is constantly attending this or that something that offers food:  A welcome-back midnight pancake breakfast in the cafeteria, snacks at a lecture offered at a lecture by the International Students' group, socials in the dorms.  Most of these things welcome all students. 
- If you're going to work at a low-paying job anyway, make it waiting tables.  Often you can bring home unsold food at the end of the evening, which can be a godsend. 
- The worst college job is retail clothing sales; the store expects you to wear "their stuff", and you'll be tempted to buy all the cute things that come into the store.  Worst of the worst is a clothing store at the mall.  If you go to the mall multiple times a week, you can't help seeing stuff that you want, and constantly saying no to yourself is a bummer.
- Cut out most beverages (other than free tap water).  30% of the average grocery bill goes to drinks, most of which offer little to no nutritional value.  Develop the habit of carrying a water bottle with you to class so you're not tempted to buy drinks from vending machines. 


13 credit hours?  Are you on track to graduate on time with so few hours?  I crawled through school a few classes at a time like this (because I had to work so much), but my trade-off was that I didn't borrow anything.  It looks like you're getting the bad end both ways:  You're stuck with debt AND you're moving slowly through your classes. 


Books.  Are any of your books available in the library (perhaps on reserve so that you have to do the reading there) or online?  As an English major, quite a few of your books are going to be widely available.  If you're reading Ivanhoe, for example, you don't have to read THE EDITION that the professor suggests. 


As an English/Spanish major, you might not be in great demand as a tutor, but LOADS of college students (especially the engineers) need help with their writing, which is probably a strength of yours.  I'd suggest advertising yourself on bulletin boards as a proofreader /grammar coach.  Being an English teacher myself, I re-read your initial post, and I'll say this:  With one exception, your commas are good, and that tends to be the hardest concept for most people.  Do brush up on the difference between few and less; if you advertise yourself as a proofreader, you must be flawless.   


Looking for paid internships in your fields is a great idea.  It will "pay you" beyond the paycheck. 


I was an RA, but I don't think that'll be an option for you.  Typically you must currently live on campus to be eligible to apply, and they hire individuals -- not married couples.  Additionally, since you are a transfer student and can't be expected to be quite "up to snuff" on all things campus-related, you wouldn't have a chance.  Put your efforts elsewhere.


seattlecyclone

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2013, 04:52:39 PM »
Don't forget about the American Opportunity Credit on your taxes. For each of you, if you're still working on your first undergraduate degree and haven't claimed this credit four times in the past (including any times your parents may have claimed it for you when you were their dependent), you're probably eligible.

If you're both eligible for this credit, the numbers you gave indicate that you would likely be eligible for a refund of any federal income tax you had withheld from working, as well as an additional $2,000 from the refundable portion of the tax credit.

Also if either of you is at least 25 years old, you may be eligible for some money from the Earned Income Tax Credit.

CDP45

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2013, 06:26:50 PM »
Look for on campus jobs such as TA , lab assistant or paper grader. Usually you can grade papers anywhere on your own time, but do it for a class with fixed answers so there isn't any subjectivity in the marks, like the derivative of e^x is e^x and not a writing class where you have to read every tortured sentence.

1. TA
2. Grounds crew/cafeteria worker
3. Paper grader
4. Library desk checker outer. ( this is a great one because no one reads books anymore and you'll have plenty of time to do homework without nuisance.) 

Summer jobs:
Nanny
Seasonal labor (a buddy of mine sealed cracks in airport runways for about $3000/wk, not monthly, weekly due to 16hr days, per diem, etc while in college.)
Join the military enlisted, then your expected family contribution is $0 on the fasfa. Join the Air Force natl guard, it's like not even being in the military with all the perks. I think you even get a medal if you can avoid injuring yourself during basic training.

Wow we should charge money for all this good advice...see is is the problem with kids these days, no imagination or drive to make it happen!

Last ditch idea, find the gas station with the most expensive prices in town and work there.

rebel100

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2013, 06:45:56 PM »
See if any of these ideas could help reduce your college costs,

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/share-your-badassity/college-education-the-$6000-bachelors-degree/msg120567/#msg120567

kkbmustang

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2013, 07:10:05 PM »
I will leave comments on budget items to the others, but suggest considering the following:

1.  Can you get a job as a research assistant for a professor? I did this in college and also babysat for her kids. Two for one.

2.  Check your school's newspaper for classified ads. You can both search advertised jobs and also place an ad for your services. Babysitting, personal assistant, mothers helper, house sitting, dog sitting, etc. How big is your college town? Either way, you should have an audience, at a minimum, with professors and administrative staff members. House and pet sitting allow you to get paid while you study. Also babysitting after the kids go to sleep. These opportunities are golden.

3. Tutoring and proofreading: I will second this. Local clients and, potentially, not.

4. Teaching English as a second language.

I worked three jobs in college (research assistant - 15 hours a week, babysitting - 6 or so hours a week and a part time retail job - 10ish hours a week) while taking 15 credit hours per semester. And I did well enough to graduate and attend a top 50 law school. It can be done. But you have to buckle down.

And, preempting any comments about not having a social life, I was also an officer of my sorority and partied quite well, thanks.

TinyLightsBelow

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #13 on: August 15, 2013, 09:44:44 AM »
Thanks so much for all of the comments, everyone!

Apply to be a Resident Advisor next year. Sometimes, RA's leave mid-year and they will take on new RAs to replace them in January.

If you really do want to cut down your food budget, you should absolutely limit your dining out. IDK where you live, but we live in a HCOLA and spend $600/mo on all food/drinks/dining out for 3 people. We eat organic for those items on the dirty dozen list and keep processed foods to a minimum (although, we don't make our own yogurt or pasta and my spouse has a slight addiction to Kraft mac & cheese once a week!) We eat expensive lean meat, though, and without meat I'm sure we could easily cut $60/mo out of the budget. You can see a pic of our typical grocery cart here: http://makinglemonadeblog.com/5-ways-to-save-money-on-groceries/

If you're inclined, I highly recommend couponing -- matching sales with coupons and stocking up when it hits your price point. I regularly get whole grain pasta for $0.25/box, never pay for toothpaste or toothbrushes (in fact, I usually make $1 each time I "buy" them). Check out the "how to" section on www.hotcouponworld.com.
Like someone else mentioned, I don't think I'd be a good candidate for an RA position, but I do think there are other student jobs available that would suit me.

I'm actually impressed with my husband and I's behavior since we got here; as soon as the car problems happened, we decided we were going to go full mustache until we had jobs secured and a means of not blowing through our relatively small savings. We haven't eaten out, or gone to the grocery store to pick up one more thing we "need", since. We've just been eating through what we had in the pantry. It gives me confidence that limiting eating out and being thrifty is something we can actually reasonably do.

The couponing stuff sounds great! For some reason, I always thought that couponing didn't actually save you money; negative portrayals in the media, perhaps? But reading through that site it seems like something we could easily benefit from (I see some printable coupons that would be of use to us right away). Thanks!

I'd say your #1 priority should be finding paying internships in your fields.  This will give you a leg up come graduation and also they tend to pay better than other options out there!
This is a great suggestion. My husband might actually have a good lead on this front; he is a geology major and the head of the geology department tipped him off that the Florida Geological Survey is hiring all of their unpaid interns but still won't have enough people to fill all of the positions they need. Score!

You should be able to cut that food bill. Some specific methods of attack:

- Decide when you're "allowed" to eat out.  Since you're kind of spoiled in that way right now, you might consider every two weeks.  It's still better than you're doing now.  When you go out, minimize the cost by going to places with a coupon (college towns tend to have loads of these), skip drinks and appetizers and dessert. 
- Consider take-out from the deli.  It's much less expensive than eating out (no drinks, no tip), but you get the benefit of not cooking.
- Make your freezer your friend.  When you make a casserole or sauce, make 2-3 of the same recipe and freeze the extras.  On a busy night, you already have dinner ready. 
- Search for non-grocery store food sources.  For example, I shop at a farmer's market, a beef co-op, a super-expensive health food store that has great prices on spices, a salvage store, and online for food. 
- If you're really desperate, consider dumpster diving.  I've been that hungry, yet I lived to tell the tale. 
- Keep your eyes open for college events that serve free food.  My daughter is constantly attending this or that something that offers food:  A welcome-back midnight pancake breakfast in the cafeteria, snacks at a lecture offered at a lecture by the International Students' group, socials in the dorms.  Most of these things welcome all students. 
- If you're going to work at a low-paying job anyway, make it waiting tables.  Often you can bring home unsold food at the end of the evening, which can be a godsend. 
- The worst college job is retail clothing sales; the store expects you to wear "their stuff", and you'll be tempted to buy all the cute things that come into the store.  Worst of the worst is a clothing store at the mall.  If you go to the mall multiple times a week, you can't help seeing stuff that you want, and constantly saying no to yourself is a bummer.
- Cut out most beverages (other than free tap water).  30% of the average grocery bill goes to drinks, most of which offer little to no nutritional value.  Develop the habit of carrying a water bottle with you to class so you're not tempted to buy drinks from vending machines. 


13 credit hours?  Are you on track to graduate on time with so few hours?  I crawled through school a few classes at a time like this (because I had to work so much), but my trade-off was that I didn't borrow anything.  It looks like you're getting the bad end both ways:  You're stuck with debt AND you're moving slowly through your classes. 


Books.  Are any of your books available in the library (perhaps on reserve so that you have to do the reading there) or online?  As an English major, quite a few of your books are going to be widely available.  If you're reading Ivanhoe, for example, you don't have to read THE EDITION that the professor suggests. 


As an English/Spanish major, you might not be in great demand as a tutor, but LOADS of college students (especially the engineers) need help with their writing, which is probably a strength of yours.  I'd suggest advertising yourself on bulletin boards as a proofreader /grammar coach.  Being an English teacher myself, I re-read your initial post, and I'll say this:  With one exception, your commas are good, and that tends to be the hardest concept for most people.  Do brush up on the difference between few and less; if you advertise yourself as a proofreader, you must be flawless.   


Looking for paid internships in your fields is a great idea.  It will "pay you" beyond the paycheck. 


I was an RA, but I don't think that'll be an option for you.  Typically you must currently live on campus to be eligible to apply, and they hire individuals -- not married couples.  Additionally, since you are a transfer student and can't be expected to be quite "up to snuff" on all things campus-related, you wouldn't have a chance.  Put your efforts elsewhere.
Thanks so much for the suggestions; they're all incredibly helpful. I feel confident I can cut down on my grocery bill!

Yeah, I'm on track to graduate in time. I always take full-time summers so that's how I balance it out. We would increase the credits (I am very eager to graduate) but I have untreated depression that gets way worse when I assign myself the very limit of what I can do (I took 16 credits last spring and it was a terrible, terrible idea in combination with all of my other responsibilities). My husband also has been known to take a GPA hit when he goes over 14ish credits/semester. It is frustrating because I know a lot of people who take minimum 15 credits a semester and I wish I could go faster, but it's the sort of thing that would probably set me up to fail.

Fortunately, all of my literature classes this semester are about books from the 1800's or earlier, so they should all be in the public domain and definitely at the library, if not available in downloadable Kindle editions. I'll get to be quite frugal this semester!

I took your advice and posted a Craigslist ad for a proofreader and Spanish tutor. I went with a slightly lower rate than the other ads, so hopefully I'll get some hits as the semester begins. I plan to make some flyers and post them around campus, too. :)

Don't forget about the American Opportunity Credit on your taxes. For each of you, if you're still working on your first undergraduate degree and haven't claimed this credit four times in the past (including any times your parents may have claimed it for you when you were their dependent), you're probably eligible.

If you're both eligible for this credit, the numbers you gave indicate that you would likely be eligible for a refund of any federal income tax you had withheld from working, as well as an additional $2,000 from the refundable portion of the tax credit.

Also if either of you is at least 25 years old, you may be eligible for some money from the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Thanks, I had totally forgotten about this! My husband is 24 but next year he should be able to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. ^^

kh

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #14 on: August 15, 2013, 03:58:25 PM »
Project Gutenberg is a great resource for out-of-copyright books, available in formats that work great on a Kindle. Google it, they have everything!

TinyLightsBelow

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Re: Budgeting for college?
« Reply #15 on: August 15, 2013, 04:14:00 PM »
Project Gutenberg is a great resource for out-of-copyright books, available in formats that work great on a Kindle. Google it, they have everything!
I use them all the time! :) LibriVox is great for audio books, too, though I am not a big audio book person.