By Ivory M. Jones
In high school, Logan Williams dreamed of pledging the same college sorority as her Aunt Trinity—but she knew that it would cost upwards of $1,000.
So Logan set to work stashing away money during her senior year for her sorority fund. And once she reached college, she used her free time to earn extra cash by braiding hair in her dorm room. By the time fall rush rolled around, she had reached her goal.
For students like Logan, college is a whirlwind four years, marked by iconic moments that complete your experience. However, the reality is that many of those moments require serious cash, and with textbooks, meals and other expenses, it can be difficult to budget and save.
While you're working out your list of college plans and dreams, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of the next few years—without breaking the bank.
1. Creating your first living space
Living in a dormitory is a traditional part of the college experience, but it can also be costly. In addition to the base charge for a room, you'll probably want to pick up a few necessities, like a mini-fridge, rug or TV. These costs can add up. According to the National Retail Federation, American families spent a combined $5.9 billion dollars furnishing college dorm rooms and apartments in 2017.
To soften the blow, join forces with your roommate. One can buy the refrigerator, while the other can buy the television. Thrifting or purchasing gently-used items can cut costs even further, and there are several low-cost buying sites or wholesale retailers that can help you check a few items off your list.
One last tip: to avoid paying top dollar, try buying your furnishings during the early summer, when graduating students are emptying out their dorm rooms. Closer to the start of the fall semester, prices will go up as your fellow students rush to get their rooms ready.
2. Pledging a sorority or fraternity
Sorority and fraternity fees for room and board, intake, and chapter dues can add up, but — as Logan's hair braiding business shows — your skills can help you earn money for your big expenses. Hair braiding or cutting, tutoring, babysitting, and selling things on eBay can all be good ways to earn money.
Using your creative skills or talents to make money puts you in control of your finances and can also help you build a network. In Logan's case, not only was she able to earn extra money, but she also developed a reputation around campus for her hair braiding abilities. In fact, several members of the sorority became her clients. When she pledged her sorority during fall rush, a few weeks after school started, she felt confident, because she already had relationships with many of her future sorority sisters.
3. Spring break
Spring break is another big expense, and trips to the classic hot spots can cost thousands of dollars. But with some foresight and planning, you can find ways to stick to your budget goals while still enjoying a fun-filled break. One method is finding an equally fun, but less expensive option. For example, during spring break in Palm Beach, the average hotel room fetches $271 per night. At Virginia Beach, on the other hand, the average daily lodging rates for one person clocks in at under $50.
You also might want to look into alternative or service-oriented spring breaks. These trips, often sponsored by charitable organizations, allow students to travel to other countries or regions while also giving back to communities in need. Colleges or universities often offer sponsored or subsidized opportunities. So your spring break trip would not only serve a greater good, but could potentially be covered by your financial aid package.
Putting your own talent and skills to use ensures that control over your finances and time remain in your hands.
4. Study abroad
Spending a semester abroad is another memorable college experience, giving you the opportunity to immerse yourself into a new culture while also earning college credits. It can also be pricey: according to the International Institute of Education, the all-encompassing average cost of studying abroad can total $18,000 per semester or $36,000 per full academic year.
To help save, consider a part-time job to bring in extra cash or apply for scholarships for students hoping to study abroad, such as the Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship or the David L Boren Scholarship. Another option is crowd-sourcing to collect donations from supportive family and friends. You can ask your extended social circle to donate to your study abroad fund in lieu of graduation gifts. To garner support, commit to volunteer work while you are abroad or document your adventurous travels and share your experience with those who donate.
Your college or university also might be able to help: many schools also offer scholarships based on interests in certain fields (STEM remains a popular area), civic involvement, or financial need. The application criteria can range from a required essay to submissions via faculty recommendation only.
Whatever your college plans—studying abroad or living on campus, joining a sorority or doing volunteer work in another country—building a savings plan is the best way to take control of your finances and make your college experience unforgettable.
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