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Advice on Staying Afloat Financially in College

Have you ever heard the old saying, “College was the best time of my life?” This may be the case for many college students. But sadly, college often comes with a suitcase full of surprises that may seem determined to ruin your life.

These issues can come in many forms – scheduling classes, the amount of studying expected or even handling new relationships. But one of the more common problems college students tend to face are financial issues.

Advice on Staying Financially Afloat in College | College with Caitlyn guest post by Lexi Carr

When I started college, I was ready to take the world by storm. I had a full academic scholarship and was living at home. I had no idea about the struggles I was soon to face, first hand and up close.

For others, especially students without scholarships, college can become a financial nightmare. If you fall into this category, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Everyone struggles in college, but here’s some advice on how to stay on top of it all.

Where will you live?

Despite a recent increase in the number of college students living at home, many students experience living on their own for the first time during their college years. This could mean moving closer to campus, moving states, or even moving countries.

Living on your own can be expensive. And for students who are only working part-time, or not at all, paying rent can become a major concern.  

When I returned home from a summer vacation, I discovered that living at home was no longer an option. At 19, I had never lived on my own before and was overwhelmed with the idea of taking on my own financial responsibilities.

Before moving out, do your research. Is it cheaper to live on campus or off? Staying in on-campus housing may cut down your overall cost of living on a month to month basis, especially if the rent for the semester can be paid with tuition.

white cube shelf with decor and gallery wall above in college dorm

Related: Should You Live in the Dorms or in an Apartment in College?

Another option is to find a roommate. There are tons of websites like RoomSurf to find local students like yourself looking for a place to live during the school year. Keep your eye out for “roommate wanted” flyers around campus – as old school as it may seem, it’s a great way to meet students from your own school.

If renting is your only option, consider moving into an apartment or house further from the campus. Rent tends to run higher for housing conveniently located near schools. The thirty extra minutes may be worth the potentially hundreds of dollars saved in rent.   

How will you get there?

Transportation is the biggest financial struggle while living on your own. If you choose to go the “live far from campus” route, getting to and from classes can be a huge stress factor. It may also be an issue caused by having to travel to an additional destination: work.

Related: Should You Bring a Car to College?

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to combat this struggle. Take the classic broke college kid approach and invest in a bike or longboard – great for traveling long distances extra fast.

Embrace local buses, trains, trolleys, and shuttles as your newest best friends. Many towns with major universities structure the public transportation system specifically to get students to class. Don’t underestimate the power of a monthly fare pass!

In community college, I was lucky enough to live walking distance from a light rail stop. The campus was a mile away, and my job had a stop directly in front of it. Without the train getting to both places on time would have been impossible.

The most ideal situation for many college students would be to have their own car. Consider buying a fuel efficient car to get the most bang for your buck. Buying used can save you thousands, and be sure to shop around for the cheapest car insurance available.

How will you eat?

A roof over your head isn’t the only necessity in life. Food is just as important for staying healthy as it is for succeeding in college. And food is easily one of the biggest portions of any students budget.

If possible, consider investing in the meal program your school may offer. This will guarantee at least two hearty meals a day and will cut down on your worries about finding food at home.

easy cinnamon sugar doughnuts beginning bakers | College with Caitlyn

Another great option is to get a job at a restaurant. Some places give each employee a free meal a day, while others provide extreme employee discounts. Plus, you may even pick up some great cooking skills you may never have had before.

This is the route I took. Even though I had no cooking experience, I began to work in kitchens. “Family meals,” or meals that the back-of-house staff cooks for each other before each shift, have become the best cooked meals I eat a week.

Despite working in a kitchen that prided themselves on healthy meals, I ate like every other college student. Cups of noodles and bags of chips were often the only thing I ate on my days off. It has taken a few years to learn that there are better ways to eat, even on a budget.

Making cheap but delicious meals isn’t as hard as you might think. When you go grocery shopping, look up simple recipes and make a list. Pick foods that you can easily match with others, foods that are cheap and ubiquitous (like rice or beans), and foods that can be cooked in a microwave.

How do you pay?

Hands down, the most frightening aspect of going to college is having to pay for it. With the average college tuition price now 2.5x higher than it was in 1986, a college degree is now one of the most expensive purchases many young adults will ever have to face.

For those who do not receive scholarships or substantial help from family members, students loans may be the only choice. And yet the idea of becoming tens of thousands of dollars in debt before the age of 21 can make anyone sick to their stomach.

This idea terrified me. When I transferred to a university, my scholarships no longer covered my entire tuition. I began to take out loans to cover the remainder, feeling sick to my stomach every time I clicked “Accept.”

However, federal students loans – as well as many personal loans – require hours of loan training and courses before the acceptance of any aide. Before you agree to accept a loan, do your mandatory and personal research. These training courses explain all of the different aspects, requirements, benefits, and repercussions of taking out loans. And each of these loan courses will be valuable for any other loan types, like a car or home loan, you may need to take out when you’re older.

college math classes homework

Know the Worth of your Investment

And, of course, the most important thing to remember is the true value of going to college. The money you take out for your education will pay for itself in professional and life experience. Never let a big jump make you afraid of the fall – some jumps are necessary.

It’s taken years to accept that I will be in debt for a considerable amount of time. But looking back on all the skills I’ve learned, the friends I’ve made, and the pride I feel knowing that my hard work will make my life better, the weight on my conscious disappears.

The struggles are real, I know. College can be overwhelming, can be expensive, and can be confusing. But there are tons of ways to navigate these new and trying times. Just remember to keep your chin up, and do you best! 


Lexi is a writer and Communications major with a passion for sharing knowledge with everyone. When she’s not reading, writing, or working, she’s spending time with her Queensland heeler Bruno or eating out at her favorite foodie places. 

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