Tag Archives: poor college students

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps

AprilChallenge

No, I’m not actually living on food stamps or now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I do not qualify for food stamps or assistance nor would I utilize them unless I was in a bad situation and I had no other options. I believe that food stamps and any welfare assistance should be available to those that truly need the help to survive.

When I first began budgeting, I wasn’t sure what my monthly food budget should be. It’s just me (and well, my dog, but she has her own separate budget category although she likes to think I share my food with her). I estimated $300 for grocery, $80 combined for restaurants, coffee shops and bars. That seems like a lot of money for a single person. Now that I have a monthly car payment (you can read about my new car purchase experience HERE), I’m looking to cut back on my food expenses.

I did some research to determine how much the average American spends on food monthly. A 2012 Gallup Poll survey determined that the average American family spends about $151 a week for food. The survey also revealed that the average young adult (cough, cough… Me) spends about $173 a week in food. That means the average young adult spends about $692 in food a month! Yikes! I definitely know people who probably spend this amount or more in food for just themselves in a month.

I rarely eat out for food. I generally spend less than $350 a month in food. I rarely go out to dinner so my restaurant budget is normally $0. However, March was a busy and expensive month this year. My birthday was in March so I went out with a few friends, which obviously killed both my restaurant and bar budget. I also bribed my father with pizza and beer to come to the dealership with me to buy my car. It was $44 well spent I think. I almost always bring my lunch and snacks to work, but usually once a week I get tired of what I bring and grab lunch somewhere. I also stop at Starbucks a few times a month.

All those small purchases add up over a period of time! During my food budget research I discovered the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Official Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels reports. The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion tracks each month what the average person spends on food and reports out the figures to the public. SNAP benefits for individuals and families are calculated using the “thrifty plan.” Although this site indicates how much you might qualify (for a single person you can get up to $189 a month). In January 2014, the average female aged 19-50 spent $37.90 a week on food using the “thrifty plan.”

For the month of April I am challenging myself to live on $37.90 a week on food. This would be the same allotted to me if I were to be on SNAP. I’m not allowed to go out to eat or stop at any coffee shops. The only exception is if I have to travel for work and cannot take food with me, which at this point I don’t think will be much of an issue. I am doing this challenge for two reasons: 1) I am trying to save money and to see if I can truly reduce my monthly food bill, and 2) I want to see what it is like to be on SNAP and if it’s possible to eat healthy. As a public health professional, I’m well aware of the major issue of having healthy food options at a low price. Most of the healthier options are too expensive for a family on SNAP and thus they buy cheap, processed food leading to obesity in the low-socioeconomic population.

I’m giving myself two rules:

  1. I can only spend $37.90 a week on food
  2. I’m allowed to use food that I have in my cupboards and freezer (this could be viewed as cheating but I’m going with it)

Each week I will check in with purchases, what I ate and how things went. I encourage you to try my April Challenge as well!

The True Costs of College: My Student Loan Debt Story

 

thetruecostsofcollege

Welcome to my first post of my new series, The True Costs of College, where I will share my story of student loan debt, ways to tackle debt, and ways to minimize or avoid debt to pay for one of the most important investments you’ll ever make – your college education.

For a large majority of American college graduates, student loans are the storm clouds above our heads. For many of us, those storm clouds will be circling around our heads for many years, possibly decades. Personally, I think student loan debt in the United States has always been a taboo topic until recently. Everyone knew that recent college graduates were thousands of dollars in debt, but no one really wanted to admit there was something wrong with that.

Personally, I believe that:

  1. A college education is becoming way more expensive than it should be making it unattainable for most people without taking on an insurmountable debt,
  2. Incoming college freshmen are extremely uneducated about student loans, and
  3. We need to start talking about it.

I graduated from a state university in December 2008. According to a study conducted by The Project of Student Debt, in 2008 67% of students graduating from a four-year college/university had student loan debt. The average debt level for graduating seniors with student loans was $23,200 in 2008. In 2004 the average was $18,650, an increase of 20% from 2004 to 2008.

The average 2012 student loan debt for someone who graduated from a Maine college/university is $29,352. Maine is ranked 7th in the country for highest student loan debt according to the most recent data at The Project of Student Debt. I attended a small state university where the average student loan debt in 2012 was $26,319. About 87% of students graduated with some debt.

According to the Institute of Higher Education Policy, about 14% of the 37 million borrowers with outstanding loan balances have at least one past due loan account. Two out of every 5 borrowers are delinquent at some point in the first five years of repayment. Now, these figures don’t even include the average student credit card debt of about $3000.

Of course, if you go on to graduate school you are most likely going to fund your entire education through loans adding on tens of thousands of dollars if not more. Education in America is becoming ever more expensive by the year. I think that the cost is becoming ridiculous, but I do believe that we should pay for some of our higher education. Yes, I hate my student loans and I believe that the cost of my education was probably higher than it should cost, but I believe that I should pay for it. A college education is a choice not a right. I made the choice to attend college and graduate school because I believe in the power of education and furthering my knowledge.

I think one of the problems we have in America with the ever-increasing student loan debt is that we are not freely talking about it and not educating our high school students who will enroll in college soon. There are so many things I know now that I wish I knew as an 18-year-old college freshmen.

I have decided to be candid and open about my student loan debt and share my learnings in hopes of educating our future college students.

Source - Huff Post (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Source – Huff Post (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Source: Huff Post <— Article includes a great infographic about student loan debt

My Student Loan Debt Story

I began college in the Fall of 2005. I first went to a small private liberal arts college in NH for my first semester. I was lucky that I had a lot of grants and scholarships that paid for about 90% of my costs. I didn’t like the college and transferred to a small liberal arts state university where I finished out my degree. Again, my first two years at the school were low in student loans because I had grants and scholarships. I quickly discovered that as you move up in years in college you begin to lose those grants and scholarships and gain more loans. I finished college a semester early, although I could have finished an entire year early has I known (that’s another story for another time). I graduated undergrad just as the economy tanked in 2008 and struggled finding a job for several months.

I worked as a temp at a large biotech company until I found my first “real” job in January 2010. I worked at that company for almost 4 years. In 2010 I decided I wanted to go back to graduate school to earn my Masters in Public Health degree. I attended another Maine university (a private school) as an online student and I was able to work full-time as well. I finished my MPH in December 2012 after 2.5 years of full-time school and work.

I personally funded about 95% of my entire education. My parents paid very little of my education. My mom paid the 1.5 years I lived in an apartment during my undergrad years, and that’s about it. During my junior year of college I took out a $5000 private loan to paid for living expenses and also the costs of applying to medical school (although I chose not to apply later that summer). Here is the breakdown of my entire student loan debt as of March 3, 2014:

Undergrad Loans

Year Original Amount Current Amount – 3/3/14 Interest Type
Year 1 – 1st Semester  $          1,312.00  $                        745.88 Variable/Subsidized
Year 1 – 2nd Semester  $          1,312.00  $                        745.37 Variable/Subsidized
Year 2 – Full Year  $          3,500.00  $                     2,854.02 Fixed/Subsidized
Year 3 – Full Year  $          5,500.00  $                     4,825.22 Fixed/Subsidized
Year 4 – 1st Semester  $          2,750.00  $                     2,480.00 Fixed/Subsidized
Year 1 – Gate Loan  $          1,300.00  $                               –   Variable
Year 3 – Private Loan  $          5,000.00  $                               –   Variable
Year 1 – Perkins  $          2,000.00  $                               –   Fixed
Total  $        22,674.00  $                    11,650.49

Grad Loans

Semester Original Amount Current Amount – 3/3/14 Interest Type
Summer 2010  $          1,714.00  $                     1,716.06 Fixed/Subsidized
Fall 2010  $          3,351.00  $                     3,354.83 Fixed/Subsidized
Spring 2011  $          3,435.00  $                     3,438.93 Fixed/Subsidized
Summer 2011  $             368.00  $                               –   Fixed/Subsidized
Fall 2011  $          4,004.00  $                     4,008.63 Fixed/Subsidized
Spring 2012  $          4,128.00  $                     4,132.98 Fixed/Subsidized
Fall 2012  $          4,429.00  $                     4,669.01 Fixed/Unsubsidized
Total  $        21,429.00  $                    21,320.44

Total Debt

$      44,103.00

Remaining Balance

$      32,970.93

Of course, the above figures do not take into account interest over the life of the loan, which will most likely add an additional $6000-$7000 to the total.

Next time I plan to discuss different repayment options for student loans and my plan of attack to pay off my debt.

Do you have student loan debt? How much? Do you think as Americans we should be responsible for paying for our college education?