Don't forget about spending money when planning for college costs. This advice comes from Alabama's Birmingham News, which spoke with some students, parents, and financial aid administrators in the state about dealing with expenses that fall outside of paying tuition and room and board. However, Alabama students and families are by no means the only ones not sure how to deal with how much living at college will cost.
Financial aid offices typically figure a few thousand dollars into a student's cost of attendance estimate to cover such expenses as gas, car maintenance, toiletries, clothes, entertainment, and food and drinks not from the dining center, but actual experiences vary widely among students. Some college students certainly choose the spartan lifestyle of staying in the dorm, using their meal plan, and biking around campus to attend free school-sponsored activities. Others fail to resist the urge to splurge, doing their studying at the all night diner just a short drive from campus or swinging by the mall for some retail therapy and a movie after a particularly grueling week of class. I was certainly in the latter category, despite my best intentions of being thrifty and only spending what I earned working at my work-study job (work-study, for those unfamiliar, is a campus-based aid program that is more easily used to cover living expenses than tuition).
But don't assume the worst and rush out to borrow an extra $10,000 to cover unforseen expenses. Instead, practice some basic money management. Take an honest look at your spending habits and how much you'll realistically want to scale them back to save money. Then look at how much you can earn while in school without getting off-track for graduation, and start figuring out how to make up any differences between the two. A summer job or an extra scholarship award or two could give you enough money to survive the next 9 months without having to resort to student loans to fix your car, get you home for Christmas, or feed you until you land a new job. As a recent grad who looked to borrowing as the easy way out of tight financial situations, believe me, those little loan amounts add up.
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