The estimates that appear on the Form I-20/DS-2019 are usually accurate, and international students are expected to have funds to cover the full amount shown. It is usually not possible to arrange for more financial aid once you arrive at school. If you receive a scholarship or fellowship, determine ahead of time what portion is taxable and calculate the necessary taxes in your budget. Some scholarships ARE taxable! If you have questions about taxable income or taxable scholarships, you can contact the Business Office at St. Olaf.
Let’s get real… being a student isn’t cheap – and international students usually won’t have a significant flow of income to cover expenses. In order to reduce stress and better ensure time for focusing on your studies and your health, it is strongly recommended to plan out a financial budget. I’ll do my best to outline budgeting the largest and most common expenses, but for a more detailed explanation on budgeting, check out this online webinar by the International Student Loan Company.
Use this list to help you think about all the possible expenses you may have:
- Meals (board);
- Health insurance (St. Olaf has a specific health insurance system that lowers health costs, read about that more on the article of health insurance or on the there website);
- Books/technology fees;
- Communication (phones, mobile plans etc.);
- Clothing/personal items;
- Family expenses;
- Personal expenses;
- Recreation and travel.
Tips for Budget Plans:
- List all of your expenses. Next, list all of your potential categories and amounts of expenses. If you are not sure what your expenses are, you might try tracking them for a week, a month, or more. Saving receipts and recording everything you spend can be a great way to determine areas to cut out.
- Separate wants from needs. Is $30 a week for shopping a “need” or “want”? How much should you budget for non-meal plan food? Is ordering a LeBron James jersey from Foot Locker or frequently ordering ramen from Amazon something you should be doing? Should you treat yourself every now and then by going to Tokyo Grill or Perkins? After a few months on campus, it becomes easier to distinguish wants from needs for specific stuff. However stuff like shopping, dining out, etc can be planned ahead.
- Save up for big expenses. If you’re planning to go back home to visit family during a break, you’ll need to start saving up for that expense as soon as you know about it. You can consider reworking your budget to attempt to increase the amount you save every month.
- Make sure your budget balances. Finally, total your income and your expenses, and make sure your budget “balances.” This means that you’re not spending more than you’re earning. You want to either break even or (preferably) have some money left over. If your budget doesn’t balance, you’ll need to reduce your expenses and/or figure out a way to bring in more income.
- Plan for emergencies. Expect the unexpected. Life can never be completely planned. For example, your laptop may have unexpectedly stopped working and you have to take it to the shop to fix it or order a new laptop altogether. Or you need to get medicine at the clinic since you ran out. Always have a certain amount of money set aside for such unexpected situations
- Create and Organize. Create a system you are going to use to track and organize your financial information. There are apps, computer-based software, or even a simple chart with a pencil and paper that work well. Be consistent and organized. Store your financial information in a secure spot.
Making a detailed budget is really important as a student. There may be opportunities that come up to take a trip or do something fun with friends — or you might be required to purchase an expensive book or equipment for a class. Budgeting your money can help you plan out your finances and be prepared for an emergency situation.
Remember: Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.
There are several things you can do to cut back on your expenses. Try following these tips to help keep you within your budget each month:
- Take advantage of free or discounted events and goods for students. As a student, you will have plenty of access to free or discounted food, shows, and entertainment. Whether it’s a student discount at a movie theatre or a school event that provides free pizza, there are plenty of “freebies” that you can take advantage of if you just keep your eyes open. Here are a few examples of places where you can get a discount, just for being a student. Also, Unidays is a website that offers discount codes for students-all you need to sign up is a valid school email!
- Split expenses with your roommate. Talk before you move in about who will be bringing what, and come to an agreement regarding food and shopping.
- Plan meals around what coupons you can find. You don’t want to miss out on a fantastic deal just because the item didn’t happen to be on this week’s grocery list. You can easily find coupons for the local grocery stores Cub and Econo Foods online.
- Consider a more basic phone plan. With St. Olaf wifi available all across campus, you probably don’t need the most expensive cell phone package. Another suggestion is to find a group of friends you trust and subscribe to a family plan. You will pay half of what is the average cost for a phone bill which is a great way to save money.
- Sell what you no longer need or want on Stolaf-extra.
- Sell old textbooks from previous semesters that you don’t need on the St. Olaf Textbook Exchange Page on Facebook (more on that below)
- Take advantage of free activities on campus instead of going out all the time.
- When planning travel, affordable transportation can be found on MegaBus.com for shorter distances and on Student Universe for longer distances. Many a time you find people offering rides on Stolafextra as well and this can be a great means to save money on trips.
All textbooks are sold in the ST. OLAF BOOKSTORE (Buntrock Common, Level 1, near the main entrance). The textbooks at the St. Olaf Bookstore may be more expensive than the other options, but it is very convenient. The St. Olaf Bookstore also offers a 100% refund should you purchase the wrong book or drop the class. You can search for textbooks here: http://www.stolafbookstore.com/SelectTermDept.aspx.
Alternative Buying/Renting Options
One cheaper way to obtain textbooks is through purchasing or renting online. There are many online bookstores that offer different prices, however, do not wait for the last minute to find your textbooks, the longer you wait the more expensive it gets. Also, remember to compare prices and check everywhere you can, it might be time-consuming but in the end, it’s worth it.
One of the most popular websites is www.amazon.com. Amazon sells and rents new and used textbooks. With Amazon, you can also sign up for Amazon Student using your St. Olaf email address and receive free 2-day shipping on eligible books.
Chegg is another online network that allows you to buy and rent books. Sometimes Amazon will not have the book you are looking for and Chegg will, so remember this when looking for books online.
You can also use online search engines (such as www.bookprice.com or abebooks.com). Just type in the title or author or the ISBN of the books you need for your class and the engine will give you a list of online stores that sell them. Earlier editions are usually much cheaper than the current edition; however, there may be differences in the text so make sure to check with your instructor before you make your purchase! It is also important to bear in mind that when ordering online you will need to pay for shipping.
Many students will also sell their books to their friends when they are done using them. Just make sure to check the list of books you need for a specific class has not changed, as some professors change books each semester. You could also talk to your professors–some professors might have an extra copy they could lend you for the course.
A lot of people also advertise books for sale on St. Olaf Extra, a mailing list for alumni, parents, current students and professors. You can sell or buy things on this email alias. This is a great place to either request a book or buy it used from someone. You can send a message here if you are looking for certain books, or sign up to receive messages to see if anyone is selling a book you need. In addition to this, for those who use Facebook, join the St. Olaf Textbook Exchange Page and see how much students are willing to sell you the textbooks for the class you need it for.
The St. Olaf Library: Rolvaag Memorial Library: Search for textbooks in the library. Mostly books that are for writing, plays, novels, etc. can be found in the library and can be checked out for free. This is another way to save money.
Note of Caution:
Another way students believe they can save costs from textbook purchases is by downloading them online. Just like pirated movies and music, textbooks are protected by copyright law in the U.S., so downloading them for free is considered illegal. Failure to comply can lead to serious repercussions and for International Students, that usually means that you will have your F-1 visa canceled and will be sent home. Borrow, rent, or buy, but please, by any means, do not fall into the trap of illegally downloading content online.