On My Own: Figuring Out How to Pay for College After My Parents Cut Me Off

Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California.

Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California.

The only good financial decision I’ve ever made was choosing to go to a state school.

I’m a rising sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which has an approximate yearly price tag of around $24,800. That, along with its good reputation, was why I decided to attend Cal Poly instead of an exotic, $60K-a-year-with-no-aid-package East Coast private school I had envisioned for myself since sixth grade.

But as I’ve mentioned, that’s the only time I’ve ever been wise about money.

To understand what an irresponsible spender I was (past tense—I’ve reformed!), all you need to know is that this summer, while I was working as an unpaid intern in Boston, I spent $36 a week at the grocery store … on kale chips alone.

Before leaving California I had told my parents, who were financing my summer internship, that I planned on spending around $210 a month on food. But with the kale chips and other over-priced impulse buys like dark chocolate goji truffles and vegan butter pecan ice cream, this plan was not put into practice. I had to call my mom at least three times asking her to put more money into my bank account.

Along with yuppie foods, I really adored shopping. You can turn me loose in any store on Earth and I guarantee I can find something I want to buy. Consequently, going to the mall or even walking around a commercial area was an expensive activity.

My parents have always been my only source of money, and apart from helping out at their business, I’ve never had a real job. The past two summers I’ve worked as an unpaid intern, and I’ve always had too much going on during the school year to consider barista-ing or burger-flipping.

Finances were just fine my first year. My parents contributed around $19,000 to tuition, room and board, and other expenses. I put in $1,000 from my savings, $1,400 in scholarships, and took out a $3,500 subsidized federal loan. Thanks to lots of AP credits and a “the more classes the better” attitude, I’m set to graduate in three years. If all went according to plan, I’d be accepting my diploma with a mere $10,500 in debt. Woohoo!

But all did not go according to plan. Last month, my parents told me that this year, they were really sorry, but I was going to have to support myself from now on. I think it’s fair to say I did not see that one coming.

Luckily, before I knew I’d need it, I had cobbled together a regular, albeit tiny, income. My current remote internship comes with a $200 monthly stipend, I get $50 per month as a reporter for the school paper, and I make about $80 a month freelancing. Altogether, I should be able to pay for my food, textbooks, school supplies, and hopefully minimal going out expenses.

To pay for tuition and room and board, I’m planning on taking out a private loan. My other choice would be to accept an unsubsidized federal loan for $7,500. I really don’t see how it would be possible for me to pay the interest on this while in school, seeing as my monthly budget will already be bare bones, so I only plan on taking it out if the terms of the private loan are truly awful.

No matter what happens, my lifestyle is about to change dramatically. No more $100 coats from Anthropologie. Definitely no more kale chips. I’ll have to weigh every invitation from friends super carefully—do I get Mexican with the newspaper group after our staff training, or save my going out money for Sunday morning smoothies with my roommates? I feel so unprepared for this lifestyle change, so inexperienced with living minimally. But I don’t have a choice anymore. If I maintain my old ways, I’ll accumulate a completely unmanageable pile of debt.

So wish me luck … and send some self-control my way.


This is the first column in a multi-part series.

Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who loves writing… and dessert. Follow her on Twitter @ajavuu.

Photo: Daveynin



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