Piggy bank marked college resting on coins

Paying for College While on a Budget

Don’t let the stress of paying for college ruin your summer fun. A college education can be a significant financial burden. The Education Data Initiative (EDI) says the average college tuition and fees cost at public four-year institutions has risen 179.2% over the last 20 years! 

You’ve got this! With these costs rising, you will need careful planning and resourcefulness to avoid a mountain of debt when you graduate. Here are some practical strategies to help you prepare and pay for college on a budget. 

Create a Budget

You have to have a starting point to know what you’re tackling. EDI also shared that the average cost of tuition at a four-year institution is $19,806. Develop a budget that includes all your expenses for the following year. Remember, your costs include more than just tuition. 

Include these items in your budget: 

  • Room and board/rent
  • Transportation (e.g., gas, bus pass, parking) 
  • Books/supplies
  • Entertainment
  • Travel (check the school calendar to ensure you factor in travel back home if you are going to college away from your family.) 

Need more tips on creating a budget? Check out this Beyond Finance blog post

Calculate Your Income Sources 

Several sources of funding exist to help you afford college. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in securing financial aid. It determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans and work-study programs. Many states and colleges also use FAFSA information to award their aid. 

Make sure you look at scholarship and grant opportunities. There are thousands of scholarships available. The Department of Education put together a cheat sheet for finding scholarships. Before you understand how you’re paying for college, you must know where to apply and what can help you.

Are you doing a work-study, or do you have a job? On-campus jobs, including work-study positions, are convenient and often have flexible hours that accommodate your class schedule. These jobs can also help you build skills and gain experience relevant to your future career.

However, part-time jobs off-campus might offer higher pay. Balancing work and studies can be challenging, so prioritize jobs with flexible hours and near your campus.

Find Savings Where You Can

Living frugally during college will be vital if you are trying to stay on budget. Start by choosing affordable housing. Living at home or off-campus housing can be less expensive than on-campus dorms. If you live off-campus, share an apartment with roommates to split costs.

Textbooks can be a significant expense. Save money by buying used books, renting textbooks or using digital versions. Websites like Chegg, Amazon, and your college bookstore offer these options. Additionally, check if your library has copies of the required texts.

Meal plans can be costly. Save money by cooking your own meals and packing lunches. Plan your meals and shop for groceries in bulk to reduce food expenses.

Paying for college on a budget requires a multifaceted approach, combining financial aid, scholarships, part-time work, and smart spending. Being proactive and resourceful can minimize debt and make your college education more affordable. Remember, the effort you put into managing your finances now will pay off in the long run, setting you up for a more secure financial future.