With the fall semester rapidly approaching, I am looking forward to financial aid refund checks so I can be well prepared for classes, have my school supplies, clothes, shoes and all the necessities.
Returning to college after several years of sitting out gives me some financial insight that I didn’t have during my first attempt at higher academia. As a nontraditional student with a family, it became immediately apparent that a lot of what is offered to us, as far as student loans go, is excess.
Refund checks can be incredibly useful, but in my opinion, they are only increasing your chances of ending up in crippling debt after graduation. The loan amounts students are offered every semester factor into housing, school supplies, commuting costs and other things that you don’t necessarily need to account for.
Books can often be found for a fraction of the price if they are purchased from Half Price Books or Amazon saving literally hundreds of dollars. School supplies can be purchased at the dollar tree or dollar general for a fraction of what you would spend on campus. The trick is not to go without necessities but to be strategic about when, how and where you get them.
If you live on campus, the funds sent to you for commuting aren’t necessary. Also, most student housing has an option that comes with a meal plan so you don’t need to account for groceries. If you live near campus, walking can be a great way to combat the stress eating and weight gain that naturally come with college life, as well as save gas money.
If you live off campus, you may actually save money by not purchasing a meal plan. Create a budget and track how much you spend on groceries, toiletries and cleaning supplies a month then buy enough gift cards for the stores you usually shop at to last you the semester. Money spent on fast food adds up quickly. Although convenient, crippling debt is not a good tradeoff for convenience.
Some of the unsubsidized loans will begin to accrue interest from the moment you’re approved and the quicker you can get the balance down, the lower the interest charges will be.
Outside of school, housing and the essentials, it’s easy to find things to spend your refund checks on.
Student loan debts are the highest they’ve ever been in the history of student loans at $1.5 trillion according to Forbes.com. Although credit scores may seem largely irrelevant now, their time to shine is coming quicker than you know.
In my experience, if I don’t need my refund check to pay my rent, I would avoid using it for that. If I don’t need it to buy groceries, I would avoid doing that as well. Everything will seem like a necessity when you can afford it.
The more I retain and can immediately give back to the lender, the better off I’ll be by the time graduation rolls around.
I do realize money doesn’t grow on trees, and school is hard enough even without a job, but it’s a much more financially sound decision than living off your refund checks. Work study and on-campus employment are going to be some of the better options depending on your needs.
Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon