Living on a budget is a necessary, unpleasant reality

    With midterms approaching, the last thing most students want to be thinking about is money. With the holidays coming up, however, plane tickets and gifts will put added strain on student finances. UCSD offers various types of financial assistance to students, but it’s still up to each individual to take advantage of them and balance their finances.

    Calling a large financial planning firm such as Equity Planners in Del Mar, it becomes apparent that students are definitely outside the mainstream of financial planning, with the focus usually being on undertakings like investment, mortgage structuring and retirement planning.

    The unique position of the student is that they are the one demographic besides retirees who, even in ideal situations, usually spend a great deal more money than they earn. The main question answered by the financial planning profession is, “”What do I do with all this money?”” — a question not often asked by students. As an extension of this logic, students are less likely to have the cash to fork over to a highly paid planner. On the other hand, the financial aid office can be extremely helpful in arranging the diverse sources of loan, scholarship and grant money that supplement a student’s income.

    The average total student loan for a UCSD graduate is $13,500, which is lower than many universities.

    “”The fees have been relatively steady over the past six or seven years, although housing costs have increased,”” said Vincent De Anda, head of the financial aid office.

    These loans are relatively easy to come by, and there is no credit check since the government ensures the loans if there is a financial need.

    “”Start early,”” De Anda said. “”It’s kind of late by the time they are here to do much besides finding grants and applying for a loan.””

    This advice is perhaps better passed on to a sister in junior high than mulled over regretfully while filling out Stafford loan forms.

    Almost two-thirds of students at UCSD hold jobs while taking classes. Phyllis Walker, an employee of the Career Services Center, says that the pay scale for on-campus student jobs ranges from the minimum wage of $6.75 up to as much as $20 per hour for some Web designers and students with high-level lab skills. Besides driving the shuttle, another job that consistently pays over $10 an hour without many technical skill requirements is tutoring through the “”America Reads/America Counts”” program.

    “”Look for jobs near the beginning of each quarter,”” Walker said. “”All the departments try to fill vacancies at around this time.””

    The financial aid office does offer a link to a Web site, www.webwise.org, where students can calculate their budgets and get tips on living economically. Filling out expenditures on clothes, textbooks, transportation and other expenses can be a sobering and humbling experience, but extremely useful for planning future spending. A loan calculator is offered to show how much students who have borrowed will have to pay monthly after graduation. The advice for cost-cutting ranges from the banal “”buy less on credit”” to “”chlorine bleach is the best disinfectant and bathroom cleaner.”” The site even includes advice a mother might say: “”Entertain at home with friends, have ‘potluck’ dinners.””

    Tips like asking a doctor to prescribe a generic drug instead of a brand name might be useful for uneducated consumers. On the other hand, for a student with a major spending vice like excessive cell phone use, the advice on the page would be a little trite.

    Every student has their own style for managing their money, but there is a lot of common ground.

    “”Of course I have trouble staying within budget,”” Earl Warren College junior Hien Nguyen said. “”I pay too much for this school and I haven’t gotten anything back yet.””

    Nguyen claims that packing her lunch instead of eating at the Price Center is not only healthier, but ends up saving her as much as $40 per week.

    “”I used to have mutual funds, and then I had some car trouble and those went away,”” Revelle College junior Chris Kargel said. He claims that living in San Diego is practically synonymous with paying too much rent.

    All but one of the students interviewed said that they carried a balance from month to month on their credit cards, the nemesis of the financial aid office. The interest accrued from these balances put a serious strain on some students’ monthly budgets. Eating out was mentioned by all students as the single biggest money trap.

    Creative solutions offered by students to save a small nest egg include having school expenses deducted from paychecks and establishing a separate savings account that can only be used in emergencies.

    Student financial management is nowhere near as complicated as investing, much less organic chemistry. With a little foresight, a whole lot of boring self-restraint and perhaps a nice slice of borrowed cash, most students should be able to balance their checkbook without the aid of a professional. Besides, those expensive counseling fees could be better spent on plenty of other things, like a three-pound box of granola bars, a bus pass and a gallon jug of chlorine bleach.

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