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Make the Most of Your College Dollars

Financial Planning

June 2006

Make the Most of Your College Dollars

Whether you are an incoming college freshman, a returning student, or just the First National Bank of Mom and Dad, now is the time to start preparing for the upcoming college year. At this point, you have probably already received lots of advice on where to get the money to support a college career, so this article won’t rehash all of that. Instead, this is a month to talk about practicalities and about making the most of the money you do have.

Tuition and Fees

This is a short suggestion - pay the fees and tuition as they are charged. That may seem a little flippant, but the fact is tuition and fees are generally set amounts. The only real way to reduce them is through scholarships, grants, and other reductions that you may have already discussed with the school. No more really needs to be said on this point.

Textbooks and Software

If you have already been through the ringer at the college bookstore, you know just exactly how expensive textbooks can be. If you think the description "they cost an arm and a leg" is a little much, just try and buy those books new - after you make sure your health insurance is paid up! The good news is that most college bookstores can sell you either new or used textbooks. The used books are generally in good condition and can be purchased at much less than the cost of new ones. Go for the used whenever you can. You can also look online for better deals. Take the time to search the Internet for bargains that could help your college dollar go further (and be sure to factor in the cost of shipping and handling when evaluating your alternatives).

Many software companies, including Microsoft, offer student/teacher editions of their software at greatly reduced costs. Some of the features you may get with the "full" version of software may not be available in the student-teacher edition, but you may get what you need at a much lower cost. Before purchasing any software, ask if there is a less expensive student-teacher edition. The only drawback to these is that they must, by licensing agreement, be replaced by full versions once your college career ends (unless you are a teacher).

Computer Hardware

In the good old days, we would probably be talking about the best place to find a calculator, mechanical pencil, or other equally mundane item. Today, of course, such things are just low tech and low cost commodities. Most of us now contemplate the cost of a laptop, printer and/or ink in lieu of paper and calculators that perform simple mathematical functions.

So, how do you get the best bang for your computer buck? As long as you are not going for a feature-rich, name brand custom system, you can look in a number of places to find your best bet for computer equipment and supplies. In some cases, you can purchase everything you need from an online auction site. There are, of course, sales going on at the big chains, especially those whose business is based on computer systems. Finally, most major, and not so major, hardware manufacturers have websites that offer competitively priced goods.

When choosing a system for your college needs, think first of what those needs really are. For example, unless you will be in engineering or another graphics- intensive major, don’t pay a ton of money for the "best graphics in the business." You will probably want to purchase a computer that is both Internet and network ready. Many institutions these days offer students access to a computer network that will allow connection to the Internet - and Internet access is often required for coursework and other research. Ask other students or recruiters for suggestions on the hardware and peripherals you will need.

Communications

Most business people think that cellular telephones were invented to keep them in contact with their customers. While that may be true, there are relatively fewer of them than ordinary citizens, which convinced cellular companies that their real purpose was to keep families in touch. You may have a teenager who carries a telephone around with them 24/7. You may have rigged your service to limit those pesky airtime charges. You’ve probably saved a fortune by setting limits on the kids’ cell phone usage. Now, however, you are entering the world of the college kid.

College students tend to spend as much or more time away from their living quarters than other students. Mom and Dad might have a harder time keeping up with their student’s whereabouts. Perhaps that’s by design, but Mom and Dad will probably want to get in touch with their student when necessary and, more to the point, the student may want to get in touch with their parents - especially near the end of the month when the allowance money is getting low.

This is where family plans and home coverage areas come in handy. Make sure to choose a plan (if available) where any calls from the student to the bank…errr…the parents are considered as local airtime and/or free. This will help both parties keep in touch and maximize the parents’ ability to stay involved in their student’s life.

Home Sweet Home

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like a dorm room to introduce a college freshman to the joys of autonomy. While some students may like the spartan life of white sheets and flimsy covers without any décor, they probably are not reading this article. Those who do read this article either are, or know someone, heading to college who will need bedding and other personal items to make the dorm feel like home. This is one place where you can shop till you drop, so we only mention this as a reminder. Keep in mind that all the "stuff" you bring into your ‘home away from home’ at the beginning of the semester will also leave that dorm room at the end of the semester or year. Therefore, don’t buy the store out. Also, where possible, limit your costs by using any spare items sitting around your own home.

Cash

Cash is a wonderful thing, especially when it is available to spend on what you want or need. If you are giving or receiving an allowance, make life easy on yourself and set up an automatic transfer on a periodic basis. That way, the person giving the allowance doesn’t have to remember to write the check and the receiver is spared the hassle of having to call and ask for it.

When possible, use a debit card for ease of access to the checking account and to limit the cash available to be lost or stolen. While many students would love to have a credit card during their stint as students, too many college graduates leave school heavily in debt because of them. Therefore, be extremely cautious in the use of credit cards, if they are to be used at all. Make sure any limits are low enough to help keep both student and parents from ending college deep in debt.

Conclusion

College is an expensive proposition, no matter where you plan to attend. Too often, we think about the tuition, fees, books, and room & board, but forget about other costs college will entail. This article has covered only a few items that you will need to consider in the coming months and years. Whether you are preparing for a college career for yourself or your child, give us a call and let’s discuss what type expenses you will incur and how best to budget for those expenses.

Happy June!
 

These articles are intended to provide general resources for the tax and accounting needs of small businesses and individuals. Service2Client LLC is the author, but is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting, financial or professional advice. Service2Client LLC makes no representation that the recommendations of Service2Client LLC will achieve any result. The NSAD has not reviewed any of the Service2Client LLC content. Readers are encouraged to contact their CPA regarding the topics in these articles.

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