My first semester in college (Summer 2013) is almost over, and I’ve decided to take a look at what it cost me, financially. First, I want to show what it could have cost me, and then I want to show what it really cost me. I saved a lot of money… I think. Let’s see.
Note: This semester I took only 3 courses (9 credit hours) instead of the full 4 (12 hours).
My college’s cost of attendance calculator for summer 2013, was as follows:
- Books and Supplies: $550.00
- Personal Expenses: $533.00
- Room and Board: $3110.00
- Tuition and Fees: $1383.00
- Transportation: $509.00
- Total Cost of Attendance: $6085.00
Here are my actual costs:
- Written Communications textbooks purchased from the school: $154.59
- Sold above textbooks back to the school: ($58.00)
- Literature Textbook from Amazon: $15.50
- TI-84 Plus calculator from Craigslist: $40.00
- Writing Textbook: $4.19
- Backpack from Target: $72.75
- Notebooks from Walmart: $7.02
- Poetry textbook: $14.86
- Personal Expenses: $0
- House sit for my aunt for three months: $0
- Transportation: $43
- Tuition and Fees: $549.32
- Total Cost of Attendance: $843.23 (Total Savings: $5241.77)
The first set of textbooks I purchased, I purchased at my college bookstore. Nothing could have prepared me for the sticker shock. $155 for two textbooks! It was utterly absurd. Then and there, I vowed to buy all of my textbooks online, if at all possible. If I would have known the outrageous prices I could have saved an additional hundred bucks by purchasing that first set online.
Instead of paying $90 for the calculator at Walmart (or $130 at the school), I looked on Craigslist. It didn’t take more than five minutes to find one and another three hours to have a perfectly good TI-84 Plus calculator in hand for only $40.
I admit, I splurged a little on the backpack. It took me a good half hour to find one at Target that I deemed suitable. Instead of saving money and going with one that would last for a year or two, I decided to pick a good one and hope it would last eight or ten years.
Here in Florida, rent is ludicrously high (compared to some random place like Ecuador). Here we would pay $500+ per month for a bare studio apartment. Fortunately, I have an aunt that owns a winter home here in Florida, and she needed someone to house-sit over the summer. We pay all utilities and expenses, but hey, we still save thousands of dollars.
I saved on tuition by applying for and receiving $413 from FAFSA. I may have made a grievous error. Keep in mind that I knew nothing about college. I’m the first from my family and the first of my friends to go to college. Keep that in mind before judging too harshly. Before I applied for FAFSA, I researched it a bit and learned that I could get FAFSA for a maximum of six years. Okay, no problem. However, I assumed they used the same definition of “year” as most people do. I had no idea that the current year would be over in several weeks. Well, I received $413 for those several weeks, but I used up one of the six years. If I would have applied several weeks later at the start of the next school year, I would have received closer to $5000. Let’s just hope I don’t need six real years to finish my undergraduate degree.
I live about 15 miles from campus so how could I possibly get through a semester on $43 in gas? Elementary, my dear Watson–I opted for online courses. My college offers most of its course selection online. For both of the writing courses I took, I never had to visit campus. For the algebra course, however, I had to be on campus for orientation, the mid-term, and the final.
I love online courses for several reasons. I suffer from moderate to severe social anxiety which makes it harder for me to learn in a classroom environment. The online courses allow me to study without distraction, and they allow me to revisit lectures again and again–something that is not so easily done with classroom courses. Taking the online courses saves money on gas. Last, but not least, taking them online, allows me to fit them into my random part-time work schedule.
My goal is to complete the first two years of my undergraduate degree at the community college, and do it without incurring debt. This means saving money at every chance I get, and it means working my ass off to make money when I’m not studying. So far, it’s looking good!