For many college students heading out on their own for the first time, spending money can get wildly out of control.
College may be the first time young men or women have to handle money and they aren't necessarily savvy about it--even though, according to the American Council on Education, 70 percent of the students earned the money themselves at summer or part-time jobs.
"It's one thing to get those dollars," says Ulysses Glee Jr., director of student financial aid at the University of Maryland. "It's another to spend them for maximum effect."
Leila Garrett, 19, of Bethesda, has over the last two summers scraped together the $11,000 for tuition, room and board at William Smith College, Geneva, N.Y.--a $3,900 scholarship, $2,500 guaranteed student loan, $2,500 from her savings account and a $2,100 contribution from her father.
But Garrett, a graduate of Walt Whitman High School, still needed spending money: for books, transportation, entertainment and assorted personal needs.
For the 1982-1983 school year, the American Council on Education estimated spending money expenses at $1,455 for the average U.S. college student. This year, those expenses will be up by about 10 percent--or $1,600--predicts Cathy Henderson, a recently retired council analyst.
Garrett managed to come in under the average last year but above her personal budget: $200 over the $1,000 she thought she could manage on.
College financial aid officers note that food is one of two areas (the other is telephone bills) where kids most often go overboard. A financial aid officer at Pennsylvania State University, for instance, estimates that the average dorm student spends $415 on pizzas and other snacks in one year.
Going to school in a small town where "there aren't many temptations," says Garrett, was one reason she was able to stay close to her budget. She also took full advantage of her meal plan and exercised "a good deal of self-control."
"Kids in my dorm ordered pizzas and subs out a lot, and I tried not to do it too often. As a member of the diving team, I got meal money on the night of a meet, and I used that to break up the routine of eating in."
Glee's experiences at Maryland have convinced him that most students don't know the bare basics of personal budgeting. He is also convinced that if they did, they could stretch their dollars 15 to 30 percent further.
In an effort to assist University of Maryland students, Glee had himself and his staff trained in financial planning and family budgeting. At "budget-trimmer" seminars available to student groups at the school, the financial-aid office looks at overall budgets, shows students how to make the most of their personal spending dollars and often finds ways to free additional spending money by cutting other college costs.
Among some of Glee's budget-trimming suggestions:
* Pick the right meal plan. If you aren't a big eater or you plan to be away most weekends, don't select a meal plan that provides three big meals a day. If you're a strict vegetarian or have other special dietary needs, it may be less expensive to buy your food or cook with like-minded friends.
* Shop carefully. If you live off-campus and will be cooking at your apartment, shop at supermarkets or discount food stores. Avoid convenience stores; they are more expensive.
* Buy used books. Books often cost about $300 a year, but you don't have to stock up with brand new books for all subjects. Many campuses have used book stores, or you often can buy a course book from a previous year's student. Some students compromise and buy new books in their major courses and used books for others.
* If possible, graduate in less time. "If you graduate in 2 1/2 years, you save 1 1/2 years of tuition and other costs and you begin earning income at the same time you would otherwise be in school. You may have to sacrifice your grade point average when you increase your load from 15 to 21 credits, but it will allow you to graduate early."
* Dial direct. Glee says many students don't realize that it's more expensive to call long distance during business hours and that they could save money calling home after 6 p.m. or, better yet, after 11 p.m. or on weekends. Communicating by mail also can save a lot of money.
* Hang up the car keys. If you commute to school, try to car pool. Or, if you live close, ride a bike or walk. "That will keep you in shape and save you money."
* Change your drinking habits. "Tea and lemonade are cheaper and better for you than soda."
* Brown-bag it. If you aren't on a meal plan, make your own lunch and take it to school.
* Break the habit. Smoking is a $200 to $300 a year habit.
* Learn to barter. Find out what friends can do and barter services: Perhaps a friend can cut your hair in exchange for your sewing.
* Be a smart banker. Put spending money in a savings account that pays interest and transfer it to a checking account as money is needed. "Many kids have led a sheltered life at home, and they don't know they can tranfer money back and forth, or that some institutions pay interest on a checking account and others don't pay anything."
When it comes to freeing up tuition dollars for other expenses, Cathy Henderson has this suggestion: If you go to a state school in another state, check on residency requirements. In some states students can, after their freshman year, declare residency and pay in-state tuition, saving several thousand dollars over out-of-state tuition.
"Not all states make it easy for a student to declare residency, so the student has to find out what the specifics are. Sometimes you have to register to vote in the state or be a resident for a year.
"Institutions don't give the information out easily; schools sometimes give the wrong information. But if you investigate the situation," she says, "you can save a bundle."