WILKES-BARRE — Stories about the insurmountable debt many college graduates acquire are common, but one local college student has learned to cut back on hidden costs of college, as well as develop money-management skills.
A Fidelity survey of 2013 graduates shows they will find themselves owing, on average $26,000 in government loans, $19,000 in private loans, $18,000 in state loans, $13,000 in personal and family loans, and $3,000 in credit-card debt. That means the average debt of the 750 surveyed is $79,000 each.
Debt will vary depended on the college or university chosen, field of interest, scholarships or grants obtained, if the student is involved in a sorority or fraternity, of sports. Lab fees associated with medical, chemistry, and computer programs factor in along with parking fees, laundry, and daily living expenses add up throughout a college career.
Connor Murphy, 21, Mountain Top, has learned ways to reduce some debt.
Preparing early for these hidden costs, Murphy, a senior chemistry major at King’s College, said he remembers sitting down with his parents to figure out the expenses he would face by living on campus. This step was key for him to understand the little fees that can add up so quickly.
“We did pencil in a budget,” Murphy said. “My parents were more accurate than I was.”
Tom Botzman, Misericordia University president, said these conversations are important to have with college bound students. Some university websites will have a net calculator to help budget the costs of room and board fees, dining passes, laundry, parking, lab fees, books and more.
“Decide early about how to pay for school,” Botzman said. “Such as federal subsided loans, grants or 529 programs.”
Knowing he has two young siblings eyeing up a college future — and wanting to keep expenses down to be able to afford to attend graduate school — Murphy took a proactive approach to budgeting.
After his first year of living on campus, Murphy learned if he became a resident adviser, room and board and parking are free.
This moved saved him about $11,000 in room and board fees, excluding meal expenses, and $350 in parking fees for the 2014-2015 school year. Murphy said King’s College is in a region where students can walk to many locations. In addition, the college offers shuttles to Walmart and other stores.
“It really is not necessary to have a car on this campus,” he said. “It is never to hard to find a friend with a car that you could get a ride somewhere.”
Murphy said his biggest expense after tuition is books.
College Board, a not-for-profit organization, reported for the 2013-14 school year that the average cost for books and supplies ranged from $1,207 at public colleges and $1,253 at private colleges.
Murphy said he tries to cut this cost by renting or buying used books. For example, he can rent a calculus book for about $25 versus buying one for $200. Knowing some books he will want to hold on to for future reference, such as chemistry and Spanish, he will buy. He estimates his book expense is about $650 a semester.
“I try to rent books for my core classes,” he said. “I will sometimes use bookrenter.com.”
To help earn money for books, Murphy said he works on-campus as a chemistry lab monitor and, this summer, he worked for his dad’s equestrian-supplies business in Hazleton, HorseLoverz.
Living on campus can create its own challenges in managing personal finances. Murphy advises new students to take advantage of the campus amenities and use their dining program on campus, noting it is less expensive than eating off campus.
“There are always friends looking to go out to eat,” he said. “It can add up quickly.”
The little things
Organizing your dorm room can create its own challenge financially. From the needs of bedding, toiletries, clothing, storage containers, electronics and more. Murphy said he and his mom spent about $1,500 on bed sheets, clothes, a small microwave, and small fridge for his first year of dorm living.
“I was surprised about all the little things I needed,” he said. “My dad found 15 more items I needed, including extra toiletries and clothes for all seasons.”
Laundry, too, is an expense on some campuses. Murphy said at King’s College it is $1 to wash a load and another $1 to dry it. He eliminates this cost by bringing laundry home to mom.
This year, Murphy will be living in a on-campus apartment with three friends. This will present him with a new experience of meal preparation. A task he hopes will prepare him for living on his own when he goes to graduate school. But he experienced sticker shock after his first trip to the grocery store.
“I spent $100 on groceries,” he said. “I did not expect that.”