How to Manage the Costs of College Life

By College PlanningFOXBusiness

As tuition prices climb and wages remain stagnate, the costs of college start to add up, making it hard for students to make ends meet.

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To help manage the costs of their education, students are taking on jobs and being more careful with their spending, according to the 2013 College Student Pulse survey from Citi and Seventeen Magazine.

The survey shows nearly 4 in 5 students are working their way through school, with the average student working 19 hours per week during the school year, and the majority are using their own money for a number of college expenses. What’s more, 62% of students have set a budget to keep track of their expenses, and 77% say they pay their own credit card bills.

After years of economic recession and a tough labor market, students’ heightened sense of fiscal responsibility may have a lot to do with how their own family situation has been affected, says Linda Descano, president and CEO of Citi’s Women & Co.

“Many families have less discretionary income than they might have had pre-recession to support some of these expenses, so students are footing the bill so to speak on many of these [costs],” she says.  “Students are stepping up and not being daunted by this, but really see the value in a college education  and are willing to put their time and money [towards] getting that education and they’re looking at it from a long term perspective.”

How Families Can Share College Costs

After factoring in tuition, room and board, textbooks and discretionary spending, the cost of a college education can be overwhelming.

The survey shows that 61% of students say that college is more expensive than they thought it would be, 77% say that money played an important role in where they decided to apply to/attend college, and one-third said that money was the single most important factor in determining where they enrolled.

Depending on their financial situation, Descano recommends parents and students examine different scenarios and examples for how to split up the costs that can make the price tag bearable for both parties.

“Parents can say, ‘we’ll double, triple or somehow match whatever you save for college through your own work,’ and there are limitless [possibilities] of those combinations,” says Descano. “Make some plans on how you’re going to bundle together, how much you’re going to depend on financial aid or scholarships or loans, so you’re making smart choices.”

Students taking on some or all financial responsibilities for college costs will be more likely to appreciate their education and be discouraged from wasting time and money, according to Steven Smith,  CEO of Finicity.

“Boundaries are healthy and provide lots of freedom to both the student and the parents, so sit down with your child, write down what financial responsibilities will be covered by you, and under what conditions,” he says. “Talk through possible ‘what if’ scenarios in case life throws you or your child an unexpected curveball.”

Ways to Cut College Costs

It’s vital for students and parents to research solid college choices that are also within their family’s budget, says Descano.

And she suggests starting at evaluating the cost of community and in-state colleges. “Getting that overall sense of that’s what tuition is, you can use tools to help anticipate what books and living expenses and other things cost and begin to say, what are the different saving strategies that we have?”

As for current students, the survey shows that the majority are using or planning to use a variety of avenues to cut costs by using student discounts (95%), buying used books (94%), grocery shopping instead of eating out (88%), using online coupons/discounts (81%), sharing housing (76%), walking/biking vs. using a car (72%), renting textbooks (72%), and working longer hours to make ends meet (71%).

Creating a budget for daily expenses can provide students clarity about their financial situation and lifestyle decisions, says Rita Cheng, a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial.

“Actually seeing the breakdown of expenses can help students – and anyone – more closely recognize and manage their daily expenses,” she says. “It can also help students make financial trade-offs if they’re on a tight budget. This sense of financial clarity is important not only in college, but throughout life.”

While college is expensive, it can be even more costly the longer students attend and it’s important that students stay on track to avoid tacking on extra time and money, says Cheng.

“Meet with an academic advisor and make a realistic plan for your education that allows you to finish your degree in four years or less,” she says. “During that time, make the most of your education by participating in organizations, internships and other positions that can help build your resume and land a job after graduation.”

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