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Thursday, November 8, 2012

This is going to be expensive!

Yesterday, my daughters had a day off from school (day between 1st and 2nd quarters). We used the day to drive into downtown Seattle, to tour the campus of the university they hope to attend next year.

While the girls were on the official tour, I wandered into the mini mart on campus to get some oj (blood sugar problems, could not wait until lunch). $2.18 for a small container of juice!

I parked myself on a bench in the sunshine and people watched, while I sipped my juice. What I noticed is what was in the hands of the students. Ipods, iphones, Starbuck's drinks, Odwalla juices, Apple laptops, ipads -- since when did university students get rich?

When I began university, my father made sure to point out to me that he was still well-off, but I was now poor. That's just the way it was, we were all poor in university.

After my daughters' campus tour, we decided to get a bite to eat in the student cafeteria. It was a flat charge of $9 and change per person. Yikes! $27 for the 3 of us to have burgers, fries, pizza, fruit and cookies. And the cafeteria was packed with students. How do they afford this, is my question? 

I did the math in my head, and for one year of lunches, for both daughters, it would be about $3500. I do admit, the beverages in the cafeteria were excellent. The coffee was fantastic, they had real half and half creamer, and in the drink machines they had vitamin-enhanced water, something I'd never bought for myself, but was glad to drink this one time. But not for $3500!

So, all these university extras cost money. But they needn't break the bank.

Obviously, the answer is I'll pack lunches and drinks for them every day. They'll have pre-paid, cheapo, no-frills phones, no ipods, and a decent-enough laptop, but skip the ipad. Even so, this is going to be expensive! But this is an expense we're more than willing to take on.

(One other advantage to packing their lunches at home, they'll likely eat better than in the cafeteria. One daughter noticed that a student there, was lunching on fries and ketchup! That makes a nutrition-conscious mother quiver in terror!)


  1. College is expensive enough on its own without all the Computers, internet access, fees, books (outrageously priced), etc. add up quickly.

    Smart move on packing their lunches. For a while son was able to come home for lunch because we were so close to campus. Now that he is married he continues to do so.

    1. Hi Shara,
      That must have been very convenient, not only for your son to come home for lunch, but to be so close that the commute was quick and easy, too. I think continuing to pack lunches will save even more at the university than in high school. It was kind of surprising how expensive lunch was yesterday in the student cafeteria.

  2. I used to feel this sort of shock every day in NYC. Every where you look there is a Starbucks cup, take-out bag and more iPhones that I could previously imagine. I'm now more accustomed to the sights, but it doesn't mean that I have to change my decisions/choices.

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      I imagine the display of spending feels like it's everywhere in NYC. But thankfully there are still sensible people like you in the midst of the city!

  3. Here if you live in the dorms you have to buy a meal ticket for $4,000 per semester. I can't imagine having to pay for that. 16 weeks that's $250 per week!

    1. Hi Lois,
      Wow! That's $35 per day, or almost $12 per meal! I can't see a reason why dorm food would need to be so expensive. We all know that the quality of cafeteria food is not all that great. My guess is universities use the board portion of room and board to subsidize something else.

  4. We were lucky when I went to university in the UK in the late 80s; our fees were paid, we could claim housing benefit and we got a means tested grant for living costs. Never-the-less, stretching that grant as far as it would go was my first lesson in frugality and was a great life lesson. I dread to think what the costs will be for my own kids if they go to university.

    1. Hi Sarah,
      I'd be interested to know how much inflation there has been in the UK with tuition and fees, over the last decade or two. It's been substantial in the US. Where my son graduated from just 2 years ago, the tuition has almost doubled. Public funding to state universities has dwindled, yet the salaries for faculty continue to rise.

  5. I love your father's comment! That's hilarious!

    If I'm not working on a Tuesday, I treat myself to a 94 cent latte special at our local bagel shop (add extra if you want syrup). I seem to arrive when the local community college students get there. I have wondered the same thing--where do they get their money? They are not buying the el cheapo lattes ... no, they are getting uber-expensive and ultra-caloric beverages and pastries. I have nothing against an occasional treat, but I get the sense that this is an almost daily occurrence. Yikes.

    I look forward to hearing more of your "adventures in college costs" and how you handle them. I think you are SO wise to be teaching your daughters good stewardship of money (and making nutritious choices! No "freshman 15" for them!). They will have a more realistic idea of life beyond mom & dad's pocketbook when they graduate in a few years.

    1. Hi Kris,
      You know what seems funny to my daughters and I, yesterday eating lunch in the student cafeteria, was that we three were very aware of the cost of our meal and were trying to make sane choices, and to some extent, get our money's worth, but not waste anything. Meanwhile, the students there seemed to take it all for granted. They left huge piles of food on their plates, or chose things like only fries for lunch. It was as if they had no idea what their meal was costing their parents. I guess, though, that I was like this too, once. I'm just now on the other side of the bills.

      "Adventures in college costs" -- I like that phrase! I'll continue sharing our thoughts and plans on this. We're now discussing the commuting issues and how best to handle them (which may not be the least expensive).

  6. College was a real shocker for me. I went to school on scholarship/work-study at a private university back east. I'd never been around people with that kind of money before. This was WAY before the era of smartphones and gadgets - but the excesses of my classmates was just horrifying to me.

    I particularly remember one fraternity that most of the football players belonged to. At the end of every year they would haul all of their furniture (which, by this time was thoroughly beer-soaked from their endless parties) out onto the balcony and toss it over. When it was all in a big pile on the front lawn they'd soak it in gasoline and set it ablaze. Then their alumni would re-furnish the entire house. It really made me sick.

    My senior year I worked as a head resident advisor for the universities's "theme houses" - which were a series of dorms each focusing on a particular theme (Ecology House, French House, Arts House etc.) The job included free housing in a university owned apartment, but no meal plan. But I was supposed to have a presence at each house, so every night I'd have dinner at a different house, which got me one meal per day. The rest of the time I ate oatmeal because, alas, I'd spent most of my salary on guitar lessons!

    Anyhow, here's hoping you can keep them centered throughout this experience!

    1. Hi Cat,
      I can imagine that was a real shock, the display of apparent wealth, and the lack of care for belongings. Maybe I'm just old, but I don't see the fun in destroying things. Part of why we've chosen a frugal lifestyle is our disdain for wastefulness.

      I hope we can keep them focused and realistic throughout their university years as well. I think it helps that we discuss financial decisions regularly with our kids. They're still teens and sometimes forget that money is finite, but for the most part they get it.

  7. What I found with my kids is there is a definite feel to different colleges. Some are full of kids that seem to have a lot of money (or their parents) and others are full of kids that don't have a lot extra. My kids went to a state school where the kids didn't flaunt much. They lived on campus and had a meal plan. There were many options on how many meals you could sign up for per week. On the plans, the cost was much less than the $9.00 you paid.

    I could to on and on, but not all college students have a lot of money or live that way. My sons got scholarships for tuition and basic housing, but everything else was their responsibility from summer jobs--including books (talk about expensive). So if they wanted a treat like a pizza, they had to budget for it.

    No doubt about it,there are a lot of college choices out there. Good luck with this decision.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Yeah, one of the things that we've discussed is the extras like going out to eat, or if having an iphone or ipod really mattered to them, they'd have to come up with the money for those things. They're pursuing scholarships, which will be a big help. I see all this financial discussion as a learning opportunity for them.

  8. Wow, that is a lot of money for food! Sounds like you have a good plan in place, Lili.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I know, isn't it?! Fortunately there are lounge areas where my daughters can eat their lunches, and I'm sure that they will find others who are bringing sandwiches from home.

  9. I started uni nine years ago and lived with my parents for the first two years. I was not very good at packing lunches, so often ended up eating hot chips (fries) for lunch because they were cheap and vegetarian (I've come a long way since then!).

    I also worked part-time as a waitress throughout my whole degree. I was paid below minimum wage but got as much food as I could eat during shifts, which was great! The pay was below minimum wage, so definitely taught me the value of money.

    I also had a pre-paid, basic phone and didn't have a laptop until I got one for my 21st birthday from my parents. There were 24-hour computer labs on campus and I used them for writing assignments.

    Nowadays I teach undergrad students and it seems like every second student has an iphone or ipad (or both). There is a juice bar on campus that sells juices for $6 and it's always busy. A student club that I belong to had a dinner that was $100 a head and people actually went to it (I didn't).

    It sounds like you and your daughters are very sensible and have a great plan. I'm looking forward to hearing more, since I'm still a student and am always looking for more ways to save money :)

    1. Hi Economies,
      Wow! A $100/plate dinner for students. Now that's amazing. You just have to wonder where they're getting their money. Your path sounds like the reasonable one, to me. Interesting that it appears things have changed some just in the few years since you began undergrad work.

  10. My husband met at our local community college, which we both attended for the first 2 years of our studies. We felt and still believe that they present an excellent value, as they often they have smaller class sizes, and most of the students do live locally. It provided an excellent value for obtaining the general prerequisites that most degrees require - i.e. college English, Algebra, History, Foreign Language, etc. We have never regretted our choice, and at the time, this was all our families could afford. Were were surprised as our children their college years at the scarcity of scholarships and the income level needed to qualify for a need-based scholarship, as well as the expected parental contribution. This is where the FAFSA comes in - I could go on and on.... Our childred qualified for merit-based scholarships, specifically, our daughter was a National Merit Scholar. This was an extreme blessing for us, and the merit-based options seem to be extremely limited. Never made sense to us - students who are highly qualified to attend and contribute to a college have the least financial help to do so. I hope you navigate these waters with great success!!

    1. Hi Valarie,
      You have some very good points. I do think community colleges are underrated by many. They're not only affordable, but have the smaller class sizes, as you said, and also the teachers are often there because they genuinely enjoy the interaction with the students.

      Although my daughters have a "first pick", they (and we) are keeping open minds about where they could be next year. There's a lot to take into consideration.

      One thing we found out today, about one of their schools, is at this particular university, if you make the "early decision" deadline for application, they waive the app fee, and you're eligible for more of the scholarship funding than if you wait for the regular deadline.

  11. Hey there, long time no blog :-P

    I think for a lot of college kids it just all goes on the loan tab and isn't thought about until too late. I was lucky and my parents could afford to pay for most of my undergrad... but after seeing the ridiculous monthly minimum loan payments from grad school, sometimes I wish I had thought about it more. In undergrad, costs were totally jacked up because everyone was "required" to live on campus and therefore required to have a meal plan if they didn't have a kitchen. So 70% of the students were required to get a meal plan and it had to be unlimited--no other option if you didn't have a kitchen.

    In grad school I accumulated about $160,000 in 3 years. Woohoo! *sigh* If I had lived off campus, gotten a job earlier, and/or applied to be an RA I probably could have cut 20-30,000 off of that. Can you imagine???? What a difference that is!!! Keep your kids frugal! No need for these expensive undergrads when you can get pre-reqs for half the price, no need to live so expensively when it sucks your budget dry in the future!!

    Just my two cents :-P

    1. Hi Mallory,
      And good two cents, at that!
      At least your degree is in something that will help you pay down that debt quickly. I know a lot of people who graduate with degrees in fields that hardly pay enough to live, let alone pay off student loan debt.
      Thanks for your input. It's appreciated! (They're filling out applications this week, and we're having a lot of serious discussions about what they're willing to do to help financially.)


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