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  • George H.

Beyond Ramen: How to Cut College Costs Income-Based Loans

Leaving for college is a thrilling milestone — but it can also be a big adjustment. Dorm life is probably your first taste of independent living. While that newfound freedom is refreshing, it can also be financially challenging.

Before you resort to living off instant noodles, consider better ways to make your college budget work for you. In this guide, we'll reveal money-smart moves that go beyond ramen, helping you slash campus living expenses without sacrificing the fun stuff.

Let's dive in!

How to manage your limited income in college

The best way to manage your money while living on campus is to reduce costs and maximize your financial resources. Here are some tips to get you started:

Determine your monthly income

First, you need to know what you're working with. Calculate how much money you regularly bring in each month. Include income or tips from a part-time job, work-study compensation, allowance, and scholarship award money (if designated for living expenses).

If your monthly income fluctuates, base your budget on the average amount you expect to bring in.

Estimate your monthly expenses and create a budget

Next, estimate how much it costs to live at college for a month. Determining an accurate figure may take a semester of living on campus. Still, you can adjust costs month-to-month as needed.

Financial aid covers some expenses, but you'll typically need to pay out of pocket for any:

  • Snacks and food outside your meal plan

  • Mobile phone plan

  • Clothing and accessories

  • Textbooks and supplies

  • Transportation-related expenses

  • Miscellaneous

Once you've identified your expenses, break them into "wants" and "needs." For example, you need a cell phone but not necessarily an upgraded plan with all the bells and whistles.

5 ways to reduce your college living expenses

There are several ways to reduce your expenses while living on campus.

1. Utilize available student resources on campus

Colleges and universities provide various resources and services, many of which can help you reduce your expenses.

One great example is the student health center. In general, you can access medical care that's more affordable than off-campus clinics. Can't afford new textbooks? See if the campus library keeps copies on hand for on-premises use.

2. Choose low-cost food options

Food expenses can add up quickly, but there are ways to keep them in check without compromising nutrition.

The most important thing you can do is to make the most of that meal plan! Keep track of those meal swipes, and don't let any go to waste. Even if you're too rushed to sit down for a meal, you can still swipe your card to grab some fruit or a takeout container to snack on later.

When you stock up on snacks and quick meals (like ramen) for your dorm, shop with a grocery list to avoid overspending. Also, consider pooling resources with roommates to save money.

3. Use campus shuttles and public transportation

Having a car on campus can be more expensive than you might think, especially if you're the only one in your friend group with a vehicle. Think about it: you'll be the go-to chauffeur for all grocery trips and recreational outings. Even if your friends chip in for gas, you're still responsible for insurance and maintenance costs.

The cheapest option is to leave your car at home and use on-campus transportation options. Most large universities have shuttles running from parking lots and dorms to the center of campus. You may also find walking or cycling across campus easier than fighting for a parking spot.

4. Explore free activities and low-cost entertainment

There's always something fun to do on campus. You just need to know where to look.

Keep an eye out for flyers posted around campus or check your school's online event calendar for upcoming activities. Some campuses frequently host art shows, craft markets, festivals, concerts, jam sessions, sporting events, film screenings, and more.

Also, ask your resident advisor for recommendations. The best RAs usually host events for their dorm residents throughout the year, even if it's just a meet-and-greet.

5. Save money with your student discount

You'd be surprised to learn how far your student status can get you in a college town! Many local businesses offer student discounts, helping you save on everything from restaurant meals to movie tickets. Remember to check for student discounts when shopping online, as well. You can save quite a bit on software, electronics, streaming subscriptions, insurance policies, and more.

Boost your bank account: how to make extra money at college

Explore opportunities to earn extra money while living on campus. Work-study positions tend to be flexible, allowing you to work part-time between classes. You could score a position relevant to your major, giving you some much-needed experience before graduation.

Here are some other ways to bring in extra money as a college student:

Find a part-time job near campus

Businesses in college towns rely on students during the academic year. Whether you're interested in working as a barista, server, retail associate, or grocery stocker, you should be able to find a part-time job that fits your schedule.

Start a side hustle or freelance gig

You don't need to commit to a part-time job to earn extra money. Common side hustles for college students include tutoring, food delivery, grocery delivery, content creation, and freelance services like writing, proofreading, and graphic design.

Apply for financial aid or an income-based loan

If you're planning to apply for financial aid, consider all your options. Completing the FAFSA is the first step in applying for federal income-based loans. However, depending on your family's income, you may still owe a portion out of pocket.

See whether you're eligible for any employer tuition assistance, scholarships, grants, or military aid. Consider private student loans if you've exhausted these options. Just remember that private student loans are treated differently than federal student loans. They're not eligible for student loan forgiveness programs, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and generally don't provide any hardship deferments.

Prefer to steer clear of private student loans? Applying for an income-based loan — such as an installment loan — could help supplement your federal aid and help cover essential expenses. Income-based loan applications don't necessarily require a credit check because lenders look at your monthly or annual income to determine whether you can afford the monthly payments.

Ready to live your best college life (on any budget)?

Living on your own for the first time can prove financially overwhelming. But you can manage your finances and make the most of a limited income with simple strategies to reduce college living expenses. When necessary, look for opportunities to earn extra cash and choose financing options that won't saddle you with lifelong debt.

Need an income-based loan with manageable monthly payments? College students with proof of income may qualify for income-based personal loans from Advance America. Compare our income-based loans online or visit your nearest branch to learn more.

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