How To Afford College: The Young Married Couple
Because money doesn't grow on trees.
As a young married student myself, I know that between everything you have going, paying for college can be tough. It isn't the same as for single students, or students whose parents pay for them. You get to do a lot of this on your own. Every penny counts, and that's why in my guide I not include the basics of paying for college, but also for paying for day-to-day living. I also hope this will help you start saving for later purchases as well: my husband and I are currently saving for a car, and following these exact principles has really helped!
Here is my general guide for affording college as a married student:
- Decide to.
This is the first step in a lot of things. If you don't decide to follow the other steps of this process, it will not happen. Willpower isn't always a fun thing to utilize, but you will much happier in the long run if you do.
- FAFSA is your friend.
My husband and I both received Pell grants for this upcoming semester worth $5,500. That's a combined $11,000! Do NOT pass that up. Once it pays for your tuition, textbooks, and other needed materials, put the rest into savings so you have a fallback (because, yes, the rest of that money goes to you). FAFSA is also easier than ever now: as soon as you get your Federal tax return, the information from the IRS can be uploaded straight to your online application, cutting the time it takes to apply to only a few minutes. Apply as early as possible for the bigger grants; after that, you may get Stafford loans, but I recommend staying out of debt as much as possible.
(And here's the link to the FAFSA website: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ ...you have no excuse not to now!)
- Look into what resources your school has available.
This includes a many different things.
The first is residency at public colleges. I went to an out-of-state college, and it was pretty expensive. Taking the necessary steps towards residency saved me about $6,000 per semester...a huge help!
Secondly, many schools offer need-based scholarships and grants. Take advantage of them! Why ask twice about free money?
Third, look into married housing. At my college, married housing is $535 for a one bedroom, one bath apartment right on campus, including utilities besides internet. Compared to some prices I've seen (that don't even include utilities!) it's really not too bad.
- Work if you're able to.
I am coming up on my last semester, but it will be a 21-24 credit-hour semester, so I'm quitting my retail salesperson job to focus on school full-time, just to get it done. It happens. I know it. But if you can, and most of us can manage to somehow, then work. Even minimum wage will help. There are often student job available on campus which allow for flexible hours (a MUST for most of us) and decent pay.
Also, pick up odd jobs on the side: babysitting, tutoring, mowing lawns. The hours are as flexible as you need, and we could all use the extra cash. I am getting involved in a student research project at my school that I can do between classes; it pays me $10 an hour. Not kidding you! There's also plasma donations, which often pay about $50 a visit, and you can do it twice a week. Not everyone is comfortable with that (including my husband) but if you are, and you could use the extra income, why not? There are a lot of good ways to pick up extra cash when you need it. Besides, sometimes opportunity only comes knocking when you invite it over.
- Avoid extra costs.
This means car payments, clothes and toys you don't need, gym memberships, fast food, anything superfluous and not truly necessary. I could probably write an entire article entirely on this, but I'll try to stick to some of the basics here:
Cars: There are these great things attached to the bottom half of you called legs. These are amazing tools! They can do all sorts of thing, including, but not limited to, walking you to the bus station or pedaling a bicycle. Obviously, if you live far away from campus, you may actually need a car. And sure, taking the bus or riding a bike takes longer than just driving places. But the savings are worth it. Not only are car payments an unneeded stress on an already tight budget, but with gas prices and parking costs, it becomes an even greater stress! Bus passes are often provided at a discounted rate for students, and biked can be found on Craigslist or local thrift stores.
Gym memberships: Remember that bike we were just talking about? Yeah. Gym memberships cost money you just don't have, and you can seriously work out anywhere. Unless you're on a sports team (in which case, I think you have free access) you simply don't need it. Go for a run outside, ride a bike, take the dog for a walk (although, I recommend against pets as a poor married college student...again, lack of funds), anything! If you must have one, check with your school's gym to see if their rates are better. For example, I go Tuesdays and Thursdays to my college's swimming pool, which is free to the public between certain hours.
Fast food: This is something that my husband and I are horrible at. We LOVE fast food. We are lazy, and making our own food (especially after a long day of work and school) is just tedious, so we like to eat out. But it costs a ton! We've taken a few measures to help us with our problem...obviously, the first step we took was to decide to find a cheaper way to eat (and not be so lazy). Coupons are a pretty good, though time consuming, way to pay for groceries. I'm not an amazing coupon clipper, but my sisters-in-law are, and you would be amazed at how little they pay...in fact, the other day one of them had to add things to her cart because the store wouldn't hand her the cash they owed her from all the coupons she used! I'm honestly a bigger fan of crockpots, which allow me to dump everything into a pot, run out the door and do whatever I need to that day, and come back to a ready meal. Well, as long as I remembered to turn on the crockpot.
There are obviously many other extra costs, but these are some of the ones that weigh most heavily on my mind. The other is "don't have a baby"...but that's basically another article in and of itself.
- Speaking of all those extra costs: Make a budget and stick to it.
Making a budget is easy. Watch your spending for a month or two, then sit down with your spouse and write out where every penny should be going. Things may not be exact, but it should be a good outline.
Sticking to it is the hardest part. For me and my husband, it was easier to say: "Pay the utilities, pay the rent, then stick all but $100 into savings". We live far below our means (which is pretty far down there anyway) but we certainly don't overspend when all that's in our account is $100. But do what works best for you.
- Small things count.
Some random advice in no particular order: Take shorter showers: it saves you on water and heating costs. Use the internet at your school if possible, and avoid paying high cable bills at home. Recycle your soda cans. Pick up pennies in the street. Every bit will help.
So this is a general outline of how to do it. Some of it requires more effort than other parts, and you will definitely be tired by the time you finish up with that degree, but you will certainly be glad you did it the smart way.
I also should add that this does NOT mean to work work work and never play. Play is an important part of life, especially within a marriage. Remember to budget for date nights, or find free events to attend together. Strengthen your marriage through teamwork and unified goals, don't tear it apart by focusing too much on the money and who's not doing what. My husband and I could both definitely use the money from working on weekends, but we've decided that it's worth losing that bit of money to have our time together: we sleep in, go to church, go on walks, get the chores done, and sometimes we just watch movies all day long. But we get that time together, two days a week.
Please feel free to comment and let me know of things I may have forgotten, what parts you don't agree with, and helpful hints you may have for all us married students trying to make it by.