College is expensive. The cost of tuition is skyrocketing at a pace greater than wage growth, but also the cost of living is going up, and books are almost as expensive as tuition. These days the average student graduates $38,000 in debt. That’s a luxury automobile for those of you playing along at home, or a hefty down payment for a home of your own where the rent won’t be raised year after year. If you’re just starting out in college, how do you minimize the amount of debt you have to take on to get a four year college degree?
Planning ahead is key. Start saving when you are in high school. You know that summer job? Don’t spend all that money going to the mall- put some of it away for college. Look for scholarship opportunities in unconventional places. Leave no stone unturned- you will thank yourself later.
Another major way to pay for college that is often overlooked is a work study program. Oftentimes you can work on campus in exchange for tuition or room and board, making that one less major expense you have to go in debt for. These are typically programs that are better suited to students than jobs in the community that pay your tuition because they are designed to meet the needs of students.
Being frugal with your spending when you are in college is another crucial element of the puzzle. Students who spend money on things like entertainment and clothing instead of tuition and books are going to go further into debt and take longer to work their way out of it. A $40 dinner at a nice restaurant today could cost you hundreds of dollars well into your future. It’s better to cook at home and save your money so you don’t literally pay for it for the rest of your life.
Once you do graduate with student loan debt, paying it off immediately is crucial. You may feel like you need to defer your payments to do things like buy a new car or move into a bigger apartment, but don’t. Keep living like a broke college student so you can make those payments, and make extra principal payments whenever you can to pay them off faster and spend less money on interest.
Learn more about hacking your student loans from this infographic. Your future self will thank you!