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