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Ask Ken: Spending plan keeps students on budget

3:22 PM, Jul. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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What I remember most about college: Money was tight.

As the students get ready to leave for school, it is easy to overlook the unexpected "out of pocket" expenses of college.

Having gone through this a couple of times with our college students, we realized we needed to discuss how we were going to deal with these expenses. With a little planning, students don't have to feel like they are broke all of the time. They just have to find ways to spend carefully and still enjoy the benefits of what higher education has to offer.

As with our personal lives, the backbone of college money management is a simple budget. Knowing where your money goes is key to taking control of your finances. After you figure out how much you have each month from student loans, scholarships, part-time jobs, etc. and the known expenses such as tuition and room and board, you know what you have left for the extras.

You also need to consider one of the unknowns -the cost of textbooks. The national average a student pays for textbooks is $655, but you might be able to control those costs significantly if you check to see if the college offers second- hand textbooks. Some schools even rent the textbooks. You might check Amazon.com or see if the textbook is available in a digital version. If you purchase your books, you might also consider reselling them at the end of the semester for cash.

Also there are two other expenses to consider budgeting for: daily spending and weekends. Consider such things as non-meal plan spending, dining out, movie tickets, beer and pizza.

Do the math on daily charges. For example, if you have a meal plan, make the most of it. Have coffee in the cafeteria vs. spending $2-$5 a day on a coffee or soda purchase not as part of the meal plan. And watch out for those late night fast food meal runs. At just $5 a day that could easily amount to $400 a semester. Instead, consider the local grocery store for soda and snacks.

Also check your weekend expenses. Socializing has its cost and going out on the weekend could easily cost $30, which would add another $400-$500 per semester. You need to have something in your budget for fun, but control it.

After a couple of weeks, you need to assess your spending. Know where the money goes. This will help you adjust for future semesters and years.

Make sure you understand all of the benefits of using your student ID. It may give you access to entertainment and programs of little or no cost and it is also a good way of controlling expenses.

Last but not least. Keep your eyes open for financial aid opportunities and scholarships. Some colleges and schools in the colleges offer scholarships to students that excel in their studies. Check with the financial aid departments for all of the opportunities that might be available.

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