A Few Lessons Before Class Starts
What better way to help incoming students get a handle on their finances than to give them advice from peers who have been there and done that -- as in missed deadlines for college aid, racked up credit card debt or wasted money on pizza and clothes long forgotten by the time they really needed the cash.
"There is no better expert than a student who is currently dealing with or has dealt with the issues relating to money," Popowski said in an interview. "I think that college students know what's going on right now in college. They know how to talk to other students in a reasonable way. If you read a book written by an 'expert,' they have unreasonable expectations of what students are really going to be spending money on."
Throughout the book there are budget sheets, templates for keeping track of financial aid, and comments from current students and recent college graduates offering good, practical financial tips. Here's a sampling:
• A junior at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., said: "I would have saved more of my paychecks from my campus job. I also would have stopped ordering out sooner. Late-night pizza and Chinese food thinned out my wallet and had the reverse effect on my waistline."
• A sophomore from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany said: "Don't necessarily depend on your parents to do everything for you." (As a parent, can I get an "Amen" on that?) "I had a friend who got no aid [one] semester because he thought his dad had filled out all the papers, but his dad had completely forgotten." (Just a note from the authors: Every student needs to re-file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, every year that they are in school in order to be considered for federal student aid, including grants, loans and work study programs.)
• A recent grad of the University of Wisconsin at Madison said: "The most challenging part about financial aid was understanding what my dad was talking about with fixed rates and subsidized loans and the economics of loans. If I had known those words meant thousands of dollars back then, I would have read a bit more on what I was getting myself into."
• A junior at Orange County Community College in Middletown, N.Y.: "Going to a two-year community college is a lot cheaper than most four-year schools, but many of the experiences are still the same. I think if you're not 100 percent sure what you want to do with your life [then] you should save your money and go to a community college. You can always transfer to a four-year school later."
Chances are your children may roll their eyes if you give them this book. But don't let that deter you, because the alternative -- financial ignorance -- is too costly.
I usually give away copies of the book selection -- donated by the publisher -- to randomly selected members of the book club. But this month I'm changing that rule, because I want to make sure the books are received by college-bound students. So, if your high school student is heading off to college, have him or her send me an e-mail that finishes this statement: "I plan to get through college without going broke by . . . " (No helping, parents!) Only e-mail entries will be accepted. Responses should be sent to email@example.com should include the student's name, age, telephone number, address and accepted college.
Researcher Lorraine Denis-Cooper contributed to this column.
Join Michelle Singletary at 6:40 p.m. tomorrow on "Insight" with Stephanie Gaines-Bryant on WHUR, 96.3 FM. Singletary also talks about money Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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