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Surviving as a Broke College Student

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Most college students are broke. It’s no big secret. For most students, getting enough financial aid to pay for tuition and books alone can be hard. Then there’s housing costs, food costs, and transportation.

The 2013-2014 school year cost $8,893 on average for public universities. Financial aid awards vary based on student need and how soon the application is submitted, but an average award without grants is $10,000.

There are a few ways to survive as a broke college student that I learned by experience.

Loans: Broke students are often tempted by the max loans they can get each year, but there are two different loans offered and it’s important to understand the difference.

  • Subsidized: This loan is ideal. Subsidized means that the loan doesn’t being to bear interest until after graduation.
  • Unsubsidized: Avoid this loan. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest from the time the loan is disbursed.

By taking out only what I needed, it left me scraping for money each semester, but I wasn’t worried about high loan payments after graduation. Be smart about loans and try not to dip into the unsubsidized ones.

Budget: I hate that word. I hate the idea of being restricted because things happen in college that temp me to spend. I want to be social and get the most out of the college experience, but it’s hard to do with a tight budget. What I learned the hard way was that, without a tight budget, it is very easy to lose track of spending. Before I knew it, I was three weeks from the end of the semester with no money left. Be smart about expenses, make a list, and budget properly. It also helps you better understand just how much money you will need to get by during the year. Most importantly, be firm with yourself and stick to the budget!

Campus Life: There are so many ways to save on costs of campus life.

  • Use meal plans. In many cases, universities set up meal plans which greatly reduce the cost of food (as well as the need to drive off-campus for it). Find out what is available and take advantage of it. Don’t eat out if it isn’t in your budget!
  • Shop smart for books. Many universities have book rental included in the cost of tuition; however, not all books I needed were part of the rental library. I had to buy out of pocket. Save money on books by shopping smart. Amazon has great deals on used books. Ebooks can be rented instead of purchased. Find out how much the school charges and shop around before buying.
  • Don’t abuse transportation. Many students have to drive their car to the campus, but that doesn’t mean they have to drive it much during the semester. Save money on gas by driving as little as possible. The less miles you put on during the average day, the lower your insurance premiums are too. And don’t forget to keep current on insurance! Remember, no matter how broke you are, insurance is a necessity… even if you’re high risk. Find an SR22 insurance policy for high risk drivers that’s affordable, pay it all off, and be done with insurance.
  • Find on-campus entertainment. It’s everywhere. My campus had free pool, cheap bowling, gaming stations, movie nights (with nearly-new films), and a slew of other exciting events. Instead of spending money going out, save gas and money by finding things to do on campus.

Debt: This was different than student loans for me. Instead of signing up for credit cards, I stashed a little bit of money away as soon as my financial aid came in as an emergency fund. Without credit cards, I wasn’t tempted to spend money when I didn’t have it. I also saved myself a ton of money by making sure that my old car was well-maintained, instead of buying new. Keep driving that old jalopy for as long as possible. Maintenance on an old car is a lot cheaper than monthly payments for a new one.

There are more great ways to save money while your broke-ass is in college. The most important of all is to keep control of yourself and your spending.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.