Managing Money as a College Student

What are some tips for managing your personal finances as a college or university student? What do we wish we had known about money when we started out in school?

We talk about:

  • How get paid for an internship at a non-profit that doesn’t usually pay their interns
  • How to take full advantage of your student loans and student aid
  • How to qualify for SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid as a student – even without working 20 hours a week
  • Why your student health insurance might be crappy and not ACA-approved
  • Why you should apply for aid with the FAFSA as early as possible – even if you haven’t filed your taxes yet
  • How to deal with FAFSA if you’re not dependent on your parents
  • How to talk to parents about student loans
  • Saving money on textbooks
  • How different types of student loans can be cancelled or forgiven
  • Budgeting tips with student loan refund checks
  • The unexpected free things you can get on campus – like food, tampons, clothing, condoms, even laundry money
  • How to get emergency money if something unexpected happens
  • The websites you should know about if you have student loans (NSLDS and
  • How to calculate your “wage substitution rate” – the amount you pay if you take out student loan
  • What “predatory acceptance” to college is
We’ll continue this discussion on the Oh My Dollar forums – come join us, we’re nice!

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Transcript (provided by our listener supporters on Patreon)

Will Romey: [00:00:00] This show is supported by generous listeners like you through our Patreon.

Will Romey: [00:00:04] This episode was underwritten by the Tamsen G. Association, Warrior Queen and Chris Giddings. To learn more about ways to support Oh My Dollar! and get cool perks like cat stickers and a fancy special cavt icon on our forums,  You can visit

Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:19] Welcome to Oh My Dollar!, a personal finance show with a dash of glitter. Dealing with money can be scary and stressful. Here we give practical, friendly advice about money that helps you tackle the financial overwhelm.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:30] I’m your host, Lilian Karabaic.

Will Romey: [00:00:30] I’m your other host, Will.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:31] Will, The leaves are starting to fall – and depending on where you are in the world, it is time for back to school.

Will Romey: [00:00:40] Back to school. For other people.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:43] For other people. Luckily, not for me anymore. I’m very happy to be past that point in my life.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:00:46] But- we have a lot of listeners who are just starting on a college or they’re going to grad school. And I figured, like, what better time to offer some advice for folks on like what I wish I had known I was in school.  And I think I mentioned this before in the show. But I went to college late. I went to college in my mid-twenties. So I already had some of the, like, “adulting skills” before I went to college. But I think that, in many ways is true of a lot of people –  like it very common to go back to grad school later on or, you know, just take a couple of years off.

Will Romey: [00:01:23] So, yeah, though it does seem pretty comfortable to go to college or school without any adulting skills.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:28] Yeah, it’s all over the map. It’s all over the map.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:30] So I thought I would share some different tips. Some of these are going to apply just generally to like any kind of country or college system. And then some of them will be specific to the states. But the biggest one, which is true for everyone, school or not, American or not, is tracking your expenses. Such a big deal!

Will Romey: [00:01:50] That’s vital. You gotta.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:01:52] I mean, we talked about it all the time in the show. But like, I think it’s really easy to convince yourself when your first starting out that like if you don’t have any money, you shouldn’t bother to track it because you’re like, I know everything that comes in and goes out.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:05] But it is, especially early. If you’re like living in dorms and have a meal plan and really don’t have a lot of expenses, then that is the perfect time to try out different systems, and develop a system that works for you for your money. But the other thing is –

Will Romey: [00:02:19] Man, I sure – I wish I had done that in college,.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:21] I know! I mean, the other thing is, too, is you. It’s hard to know what things cost, right? Unless you were like paying bills for your family as a kid. It turns out that you don’t really know what a lot of things cost.

Will Romey: [00:02:34] Uh huh.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:02:34] Kind of real life things. And actually figuring out a system by tracking your money, you can get a good idea of like where your money is going and you can see how things change over time and that that really, really helps. And I know as so many folks that are in college that are like, oh, I don’t spend that much money. And then they realize that, like they’re dropping, you know, a couple hundred bucks a month between like snacks at the late night convenience store, beer, coffee and like Sephora runs and their like, well-

Will Romey: [00:03:07] And then like college dining plans and housing are all very inflated.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:11] Right? Totally. And that’s one of those things where I think it’s easy if you have like a meal plan and dorms, because that kind of all gets negotiated and you pay it like in one lump sum generally.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:22] And it might be getting paid by student loans or by someone that’s not you. It’s easy to think like, “oh, I don’t need to worry about because the rest is just so tiny.” And like, “this isn’t part of my essential expenses.”.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:32] But you can – it can make such a huge difference to be tracking those expenses early. And then one of the big things is that you can make sure that like if you get an aid refund or a loan refund check, that you don’t spend it all in two weeks, and then spend the rest of the semester being the broke person, right?

Will Romey: [00:03:47] Just saying you should have a budget.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:03:50] Yeah, I have a budget. I mean, it’s not really that surprising that I said that, but it’s you’re just in such a good playground for trying different things out. And you can, you know, take it quarter by quarter or semester by semester, try a new system, see if it works, see if you’re feeling better and –  it will make a huge difference when you go like, oh, I really do spend that much money on the camp at the campus coffee shop. Right?

Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:13] And there’s a bunch of different things out there. We talk about this all the time, the show. But like you might be able to use an app, you could use a spreadsheet, you could use a bullet journal, if you like to make things look pretty, but just find a system that works for you.

Will Romey: [00:04:28] Yes.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:31] So the next tip is, working a job or having a side hustle can make a huge difference in your finances and your work experience. Right. So it’s one of these big things where like it can actually help you find a job after graduation to have a job when you’re in school.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:04:44] So, it can and it can also help with your studies, like you can get jobs as tutors on campus and then you’re actually like essentially having whatever you’ve learned reinforced as you explain it to someone else.

Will Romey: [00:04:57] Yea, I remember even some even lower key work study jobs when I was in college. Lots of building monitors, which was essentially you got to sit here, do your homework – two hours.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:05:07] Yes, right. I worked computer user services when I was at school. I worked a bunch of different jobs, on and off campus. But one of the jobs that I think was like the most valuable to me was working computer user services, because it turns out the like network administration skills and customer service and like ability to like identify what’s going on with the computer has as paid off.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:05:29] I’ve never like directly worked in I.T. or tech support since then, but those skills have trickled out in so many jobs.

Will Romey: [00:05:35] Oh yea that’s just stuff that’s worth knowing as a person.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:05:38] Right. Totally. And this is one of the big things that I want to emphasize is that really, even if you can only get a couple hours, it can make a huge difference by working just nine point five hours a week at minimum wage, that’s equal to nine thousand five hundred dollars in two years. And that’s only if you work during the school year. And it would cost you one hundred and nine dollars a month over ten years to repay that, if you took that out as a student loan at a six point eight percent interest rate instead.

Will Romey: [00:06:06] Oh, wow. OK. So that’s that’s a good way to look at it.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:08] Yeah. You save over three thousand six hundred dollars in interest by just working nine point five hours a week, during the school year. So, I like to talk about this thing I call the wage substitution rate.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:20] If you’re thinking about taking out student loans versus getting a job, your hourly wage times your interest rate is your “debt substitution rate.”

Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:29] That’s a really, I think a really big deal to understand. And you can you can do really cool things with work study. So like work study, a lot of people think that just means working any job on campus. But if you’re in the states, part of the your financial aid package, if you’re lower income, might actually be what’s called “federal work study.”.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:06:48] And federal work study is super cool because one, it’s it’s part of your aid package is included as part of your aid package. So it calculates towards the amount of aid you receive. So if you don’t work hours when offered federal work study, you’re getting less than the full aid that you’re entitled to. But the other cool thing is that you can set up your own work- study off-campus, and you are not limited to the jobs on offer on your own campus. You can use that funding to work at a 501c3 or a government agency.

Will Romey: [00:07:18] So I was actually in something like topical to maybe what you’re studying. or Yeah-

Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:22] If you’re willing to do the legwork and turn in the paperwork and everything, you can actually set up essentially a paid internship at a bunch of different nonprofits, which everybody knows most nonprofits don’t pay their interns.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:33] So, if you’re looking to getting into a field that has a lot of unpaid internships, but you qualify for federal work study, you can probably get a paid internship using that. I was able to support my work at a local nonprofit that I was already working at 10 hours a week with a federal work study grant, which was awesome.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:49] It didn’t cost the organization any money, other than like they had to sign my time sheets and I was able to get paid for the work that I was already doing.

Will Romey: [00:07:58] That’s a neat concept.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:07:59] Which is really cool and a lot of people don’t realize that. And if you qualify for federal work study, as long as you work five hours a semester, which is not that much.

Will Romey: [00:08:08] No. What, half an hour a week?

Lillian Karabaic: [00:08:11] Right. You will qualify for Medicaid usually, which is a low income health insurance. And you will also qualify for SNAP, which is food stamps, even if you don’t work the 20 required hours a week. This isn’t universal across the board, but usually in most states to get food stamps, you need to work 20 hours a week if you are a full time enrolled student. However, if you qualify for federal work study, if you work any number of work study hours in a semester, you then qualify for food stamps.

Will Romey: [00:08:40] That’s cool!

Lillian Karabaic: [00:08:42] So it’s really it’s like a thing people don’t really know and don’t really appreciate. But if you have federal work study as part of your aid package, it’s super awesome to take advantage of it.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:08:54] Ohhh… the next advice we’re kind of kind of transition into the do your research part of the advice,.

Will Romey: [00:09:01] knew it was coming.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:01] If you’ve got loans, understand the loans that you are taking out. This is one of those things where it sucks that we make 18 year olds sign pieces of paper that can get them for 20 plus years. A lot of people do not understand the loans that they are taking out, and they also feel like, oh, I’ll just accept hit the accept button on whatever is offered to me.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:24] If you want to try to understand the loans you’re taking out, which I highly recommend. Go to the financial aid office, talk to them, ask about what the different loans are like, or log on to the student loan data services, you should have a log in. It’s usually the same as your FAFSA log in and figure out what the repayment options.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:09:41] I actually highly recommend the website It is like the only government website I think is like functional or helpful. But it will walk you through the different types of loans. Understand that not all student loans are the same. For example, Perkins loans have much better repayment options, and they pay the interest while you are in school on them – and they even have a cancellation program.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:01] If you’re going into teaching in K-12. So which is different than the public service loan forgiveness, which is a nightmare we’ve talked about before.

Will Romey: [00:10:09] Yea.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:11] But Perkins loan cancellation will cancel your debt over five years by a percentage each year. If you work in as a teacher. So this is one of those things where like you might not realize, like if you turned down your Perkins loan and accept your Stafford loan, you’re actually doing yourself harm in the future because they have less repayment options.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:29] And really important is that private student loans have the least amount of repayment options. You can’t consolidate them or refinance private loans into federal loans. There is a lot of options in which you cannot discharge or turn them into – You know, you can’t use public service loan forgiveness on private loans.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:10:47] You often can’t use different kinds of ways of repaying them back. And they usually have the least flexible repayment options, like income based repayment or income contingent repayment. Some people will have to take out private student loans. That being said –  usually you want them to be your option of last resort. So make sure that you max out all of the federal loans that you have available to you.

Will Romey: [00:11:09] Right. You want a minimal ratio of the private loans.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:12] Exactly.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:13] And the other thing is make sure you have an honest conversation with your parents about whether or not they are taking out loans for you.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:19] A lot of people have parents who take out loans for their kids, and don’t tell them. So your parents will be offered what’s called a plus loan, usually as long as your parents are U.S. – legal U.S. residents or citizens. They will be offered what’s called a plus loan, a plus loan. It does not affect your credit. However, a lot of people feel kind of like they need to help their parents repay them after. But also, your parents will can often take out loans kind of in your name, right? A cosigned student loan, quite often your parents will co-sign on loans in your name  – that will affect both your credit.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:11:58] So that’s important to know, because if you default on the loan, if they default on the loan, you’re hurting each other’s credit. So it’s just important to know that they can affect more than you.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:07] Another thing about student loans, you can pay your student loans back while you’re in school. I know some people who’ve managed pay off all their student loans while they’re in school -.

Will Romey: [00:12:15] That’s a lot of work study.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:17] Which is really cool. Yeah. That essentially summer jobs is what caused them to do that. But what a lot of people choose to do is they’ll try to choose to pay the interest on their student loans while they’re in school.

Will Romey: [00:12:26] That makes sense. they’re not growing.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:28] Yeah. Then you don’t have that compounding interest working against you. Some student loans don’t accrue interest while you’re in school. Which is why I say –  make sure you know what loans you have. But that can be a really good way. Just know that you you there’s nothing that says you have to wait until after graduation.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:44] So that’s one of the really big deals. All right.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:12:49] In the similar category of financial aid, even if you think you won’t qualify. So if your parents make good money or something like that and you feel like you probably don’t qualify, you may be surprised.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:02] So fill in the FAFSA – the Free Application for Finding Financial Student Aid. It’s a beautiful name.

Will Romey: [00:13:08] A nice acronym.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:10] With estimated information as close to January 1st as possible. So it opens in January 1st for the next school year. Every year, most every year, sometimes there-  *ahem* sometimes they’re not great about it. Yeah, but you will have to use the previous year’s tax information, which you probably won’t have filed your taxes by January 2nd.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:28] But you can use estimated information.

Will Romey: [00:13:29] I’m thrilled I don’t have to deal with the FAFSA anymore,.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:31] I know!

Will Romey: [00:13:32] That’s one of the worst documents ever encountered.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:34] And if you go to a private school, quite often they’ll have this additional thing called the compass, which is like I had a new-

Will Romey: [00:13:41] I don’t think I had that.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:41] It’s essentially like it’s a different way to try to make you not qualify for more aid. And it cost money. It’s CSS profile is one of the ones that a lot of people have to fill out.

Will Romey: [00:13:54] Anyway, I was like 17 filling that and I didn’t know anything about taxes and like hadn’t -yea, it was ugly –

Lillian Karabaic: [00:13:58] It’s really, really complicated. The other thing is like if you are confused by the fossa and you’re having trouble filling it out because it’s a really confusing form or your parents are dragging their feet on it and you need your parents to fill it out.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:10] If you’re under the age of 24 and enrolled as an undergraduate, you usually need your parents to fill it out even if you like, Don’t really talk to your parents.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:19] They still have to put in their information. And unfortunately, a lot of parents will try to like hold that information hostage in order to control their kids. So one thing you can do is if your parents like if you’re no contact with your parents, if you have parents that maybe are *ahem* not great, you one thing you can do is ask for a waiver from your school to prove that you’re independent and emancipated from your parents or that they’ve gone now no contact or that they’re incarcerated.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:45] One of those things where you can ask for a waiver. They can be really hard to get, but it is worth it if you are not filling in FAFSA, even though you should qualify for aid because your parents are holding that over your head.

Will Romey: [00:14:58] Yeah, oh yea, that seems important.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:14:59] Or you just can’t get in touch with them, which is like another thing that happens.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:04] And the thing is that filling in and close to January 1st with estimated information, the reason this is important is because the FAFSA work study hours are limited by campus. So a lot of the aid is a first come, first serve basis.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:20] So if you go to a school like a community college that has a lot of students that will qualify for federal work study. You might not get all the hours that you are entitled to based on your income, because you applied late.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:33] So that’s why it’s important to apply early, because in a lot of schools it is first come, first serve.

Will Romey: [00:15:37] OK. I understand.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:38] Yes, it’s stupid. But I know. And annoying. But it’s true. All right.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:43] Next piece of advice which applies whether or not you live in the states is – figure out the resources on campus. In some places where school is less expensive, they have less resources on campus, like in Germany, where school is free.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:15:55] But there is a lot of resources on campus that can really help your finances. Health centers often have free tampons, pads, condoms, even sometimes like cold medicine. Many campuses have free or very cheap child care on campus, if you have kids. Many groups offer free food like – they’re like the vegetarian society or like themed dorms or groups for specific countries like, you know, the German society will like have a sausage roast or whatever.

Will Romey: [00:16:23] I feel like college is a great place to really hone your –  your free food skills.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:27] Yes. Yes. And there’s like a lot of schools will have –

Will Romey: [00:16:31] Important if you enter the nonprofit field.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:34] Very important and a lot of schools would even have like mailing lists or like group chats for free food on campus.  At Reed, it was called the Vulture’s Group. And essentially, whenever a department like had a party or something in, there was like leftover catering food, an alert would go out on that list to like run to the psych building or whatever and go get the free pizza that’s leftover.

Will Romey: [00:16:55] That’s great.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:16:58] A lot of schools will offer what’s called emergency aid, which is essentially like if you have something crop up – an emergency in your family, you might be able to apply for additional emergency aid or an emergency grant.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:09] And a lot of schools have mutual aid, clothing closets or food banks. Always check the Queer Society for a clothing closet. They almost always have them if you have a group on campus.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:17] The bookstore at my school offered book scholarships. Textbooks are one of those things that can cost way too much.

Will Romey: [00:17:25] Oh yea.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:26] So if you need to buy them, you can try to like apply for book scholarship otherwise. One thing I did is I pretty much use the library all the time because there will be a reserve book for you-  for whatever your course is.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:39] And you could you check it out for two hours, and I would just try to always get my homework done in two hours and my reading done in two hours on the reserve copies.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:47] And, you know, often you can find like a buddy to share the textbooks with. So there’s a lot of ways to reduce textbook costs.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:17:53] At my school, the computer services department allowed you, if you were low income, to borrow a laptop for the whole semester.

Will Romey: [00:18:00] Oh that’s neat.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:00] Which is really cool.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:02] A lot of schools offer free trips and outings to things like the opera or sports games like, you know, you can go do things for free.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:12] And many schools offer free tutoring. So I was lucky to go to a school where tutoring didn’t have like a stigma around it. Like it was expected that at some point you need tutoring for some class. But I got two hours of private tutoring a week at my college.

Will Romey: [00:18:25] That sounds useful.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:26] Super helpful. And almost all American colleges and most UK colleges will have a free gym. So don’t pay for a gym membership if you’re.

Will Romey: [00:18:35] At school!  Yeah.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:36] Yeah.  You’re paying for it with your student fees.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:40] And then that segues into you if you’re in the states. Make sure you understand your health insurance.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:18:47] Not all college health insurance plans are what are called ACA approved. So all of the things that we’ve talked about with ACA plans, you need to understand that colleges are often an exception to that and they have what are called catastrophic plans.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:00] So they may just cover you in a catastrophic circumstance. And if you’re on if you’re under 26 and you’re able to be on your parents plan and they live in another state, you may not have in-network providers in your city.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:13] That is an important thing to know.

Will Romey: [00:19:14] I was something I never thought about while I was on my parent’s health care.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:17] Yeah. So do a search on in network providers for your parents health insurance. Make sure you just have your card! This is one of those things where people will be like, oh yeah, “I know I’m covered under my parent’s plan” – and I don’t even know what their health insurance plan is. So like make sure you have your card. Make sure you know where the nearest in-network providers are.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:35] Especially if you have regular health needs like you’re gonna need to go get medication refilled or something like that.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:41] And if you have an on campus health center. Find out if they can help you with getting things fulfilled, because sometimes you can go have a free appointment at the on campus health center if you need to like get a medication refilled or something instead of going to possibly an out of network provider or something like that.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:19:58] This is my advice for everyone, whether or not you’re in the states or not and stuck on our terrible health insurance. Start a goal from the time you go into college to save a nest egg for after school. So whether or not you’re in grad school or an undergrad, do give yourself some buffer after graduation to, you know, start a new job, move to a new city, get a new apartment if you have to move out of the dorms, whatever it is.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:20] So if you make two thousand dollars, your savings goal, all you need to do is save $9.50 a week over four years to have that two thousand by the end. If you start early-

Will Romey: [00:20:29] It’s nice having like    you have your four years.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:32] Yeah. Yeah. If you’ve got four years or two years, whatever it is like, figure out what that nest egg is. If you want to move cross-country and move to New York City immediately after graduation, that nest egg is going to have to be larger than if you plan on staying in the same cheap low cost of living city and, you know, moving into an apartment across from campus or whatever. Right?

Lillian Karabaic: [00:20:52] So figure out with that that amount is but, you know, 9.50 a week to save two thousand dollars. That’s less than one hour of work study work per week.

Will Romey: [00:21:00] Yes, that’s a good goal.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:03] And if you’re looking to build that up and you know, you don’t you don’t make a regular income, you might get a tax refund in the states. If you’re not international student, you might very well get a tax refund, if you have like any earned income from the previous year through the Hope Credit and things like that. And tax refunds are an excellent option for helping build up that nest egg.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:24] All right.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:25] Understanding your meal plan, if you have one.

Will Romey: [00:21:27] It’s important.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:28] This is so important. So I was lucky enough that I lived off campus and so I didn’t have to deal with this. But a lot of American schools were require you to live on campus and they also require you to have a meal plan. But there’s usually different options for the meal plans.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:42] Sometimes they’re closed meal plans where like you just you can go in and it’s all you can eat. But it’s, you know, one meal at a time. Some of them are like more like debit cards where there’s a certain amount put on it per semester.

Will Romey: [00:21:55] And you get a certain amount of meals per cycle.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:21:56] Yeah. It just feels like sometimes you just buy things for a price, right? Yeah. That’s how my college was. Which is great because you can like take it out.

Will Romey: [00:22:05] You have some more variables you can control.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:22:06] Right. So make sure you understand it. If you go to a really big campus, there might be cheaper dining halls. I know at my first school, if I walked across campus, I could spend like two dollars less per meal. On the other side of campus, then on in the like close dining hall.

Will Romey: [00:22:24] Yeah.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:22:24] So if I was willing to, you know, go for a walk or like planned my schedule around it, I could I could spend less money.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:22:30] That’s also just good for figuring out where the good food is.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:22:32] The other thing to know is that sometimes you can like if you have extra leftover at the end of the semester, sometimes you you have to like opt-in, but you can carry it over to the next semester.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:22:42] But you have to know! Like what the status is around that and if you like, hate the on-campus food and you’re like never able to like you have special dietary needs and you’re like diabetic or something and you have a lot of trouble finding food at the meal plan.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:22:55] And you’re like cooking all of this and you hate that you’re spending money on it. You can ask for a waiver to opt out of the meal plan if they require it.

Will Romey: [00:23:03] So you to pay a bunch for something you can’t even eat.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:23:04] I know this is less true these days, but like, if there’s no vegan options and you’re vegan, you might be able to apply for a waiver and just be like, there’s nothing for me to eat. So like, I don’t want to pay you guys two thousand dollars a semester for food. I’m not going to eat. The other thing is change it up or down, if that makes sense.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:23:22] So if you’re always going over your meal plans and you’re paying more than, you know, opt up the next semester. Do the math, figure out if it makes sense for you to go down or –  if you’re never eating on campus because you like working off campus job and you never can make it to the dining hall. See if you can change your meal plan to a less like a less amount meal plan.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:23:40] So just be aware, they obviously vary by campus, but like be aware of what your meal plan is because they’re usually like way more than making your own food. So it’s one of these areas where you can really make a huge difference in both your daily life and and your budget overall, if you understand it.

Will Romey: [00:23:59] Gotta make the most out of those things.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:24:01] My German university, we didn’t have a meal plan, but we there was like a cool place in the basement that was like a student run co-op and meals were like two euros there – which was included a beer, of course, because Germany.

Will Romey: [00:24:13] Natch.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:24:13] OK. Do your research on on campus fellowships and programs. I know a lot of this has just been doing your research and it can feel really overwhelming because I just told you to research like 10 things.

Will Romey: [00:24:25] Research. You’re going to college. What do you think you’re going to do that?

Lillian Karabaic: [00:24:27] Yeah. And there are a ton of on campus fellowships and programs in a lot of places. You may have – if even if you weren’t great in high school and you didn’t get any scholarships for college, you have turned over a new leaf.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:24:41] You might have more scholarships available to you, than you know. I was able to get my college to pay for me to do a different thing every summer, including like they paid for me to live in Germany and to attend university there. They paid for me to live in India and work with a women’s seed saving collective in the national forest. That was like with an on-campus fellowship. They paid for me to be interim executive director of a lobbying non-profit for a summer. They like literally just paid my salary to be able to do that.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:25:13] And they paid for me to do research with a professor over the summer, which meant I got to do research with International Monetary Fund datasets.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:25:20] So, I got a lot of really cool opportunities and that was simply because I tracked heavily every single fellowship that I could.

Will Romey: [00:25:28] Yeah, yeah. I mean, you get to know about these opportunities, take advantage of them.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:25:33] And one of those things was that I heavily researched on campus jobs before I came and I was lucky. Like, obviously, I had a lot more work experience going into school than most people at my liberal arts school. So I pretty much got any job I applied for.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:25:46] But the advantage of this was that I was very strategic with the kind of jobs I wanted. So I worked at the library, which means I didn’t have to pay library fines. I worked at the computer user services, which mean I didn’t have to pay for printing, which made a huge difference. And I got an on campus locker and office from that job.

Will Romey: [00:26:03] Oh that’s good!

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:04] It wasn’t a private office, but I had access to an office, which was really great because I commuted an hour each way to school. So having that locker on campus made a huge difference. And that office meant that, you know, *cough* occasionally I slept there.

Will Romey: [00:26:17] Yeah. Yeah. Game gamed the system, make the most out of it.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:19] Exactly. And I also worked at the Career Services Department. And because I worked at career services, I knew about every fellowship that came down the pipeline in school.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:29] And I also knew what alumni were well-connected in the field I went to work in. And so I managed to meet all the alumni by working at career services.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:37] So think. Think bigger than just money when it comes to on campus jobs.

Will Romey: [00:26:41] Yeah,  the benefits.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:43] Yeah. And then last but not least. I tried to coined the phrase “predatory acceptance”, but remember that college is a business.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:54] Being accepted in a college or a grad program does not necessarily guarantee higher earnings or even a job.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:26:59] Do your research. Remember, they make money on you being there. So make sure that this program in college is actually a good choice for you. Make sure if you’re accepted into a grad program and they claim that they have, you know, fellowships that will help you pay your expenses. Make sure that you actually have a chance of getting those.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:27:17] If there’s one T.A. position for, you know, 35 grad students in a program. Well, you don’t have super great odds for that one TAship and they make money off you being there otherwise.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:27:28] So just make sure that the program and college is actually a good choice for you. And you’re not just sinking money into something because you know, you don’t want to go get a real job and you wanna go to grad school or whatever.

Will Romey: [00:27:40] Do your research game. Game the system, I think is –

Lillian Karabaic: [00:27:43] Yeah, that’s it. That’s it. And budget..

Lillian Karabaic: [00:27:47] Track your expenses, game the system, do your research. There we go.

Will Romey: [00:27:50] Love it.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:27:52] I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming. And you actually found those good tips. I wish I had known all of this. The other thing is like if you do none of these except one, I would say it would be tracking your expenses, because the power that information will give you will make everything a lot easier.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:28:06] But I also hope that maybe you don’t just take out every student loan offered to you and you do your research. That’s the other thing, I hope.

Will Romey: [00:28:13] Yep! Let us know how it went. Let us know what mistakes you made. There’s lots of interesting things we can ask listeners here. Yeah. Are you in college? Did you get out of college?

Lillian Karabaic: [00:28:21] Yeah. I would love to hear if you if you have a tip for college success that I didn’t mention. Please give it to me. I haven’t lived in dorms for like 17 years, so I don’t have any dorm tips.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:28:34] So, yeah, I would love. I would love to hear. Do you have any cool tips or if you’re just now in college, like props to you for listening to a personal finance show!

Will Romey: [00:28:42] I wasn’t in college.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:28:45] That wraps our show for today and we love hearing from you.

Will Romey: [00:28:50] So e-mail all the stuff we asked for. Plus any additional financial worries or successes at Or you can tweet us at @anomalily or @ohmydollar

Lillian Karabaic: [00:29:02] Our producer is Will Romey, Our intero music is by Aaron Parecki and your host and personal finance educator is me, Lillian Karabaic.

Lillian Karabaic: [00:29:08] Thank you for listening. Until next time, remember to manage your money so it doesn’t manage you.