Beyond Tuition: Helping Out With College Expenses
My sister starts college this spring and I've been thinking about options for helping her out with her expenses beyond trying to help her pay tuition. While I'd love to be able to just cover all her costs, the cost of attending college these days prevents that. Those of us who want to help out a family member when it comes to college aren't out of luck, though. There are some practical ways to help out a college student that don't involve writing a check to the university.
Housing and Transportation
I happen to live about 30 minutes away from the school my sister is attending and I'm able to offer her housing. It doesn't change my mortgage at all by putting her in the spare bedroom but it makes a major difference in the amount of money she has to come up with for school. Sometimes, I can even give her a ride to school. It took a lot of consideration to decide that I wanted to make the offer of living with me to my sister: not only did we have to be sure that everyone involved was comfortable with the arrangement, but my sister and I had to come to an agreement of what we expected of one another if she was going to get a place to stay for free.
Pick Up A Bill
One of my friends simply added her niece to her cell phone contract. She could get a better deal for a second line than her niece could get on her own and by paying for a cell phone, my friend has eliminated one of her niece's expenses while she's in college. There are plenty of other bills that a college student has, on top of tuition and board, and students generally can't get the best deals. If you've already established yourself with a company, like a cell phone provider or an insurance company, you can often get a better deal adding a relative to your account than that relative can get on his or her own (especially when you consider the minimal credit history most college students have).
If you've got a younger relative that you want to be able to help with college costs down the road, putting aside some money now can be useful. Even better, you don't have to be the parent of the student in question to use some of the tax-advantaged college savings account. With a 529 College Savings Plan, for instance, you can open a savings account for just about anyone. All you need is a Social Security number. Even a small monthly deposit can make a big difference if you've got some time to let it grow — maybe a much bigger difference than the amount you'll be able to write a check for when college actually rolls around.
See What Works For You
Every family is different. If you want to help a relative or a friend with college expenses, there are many options for doing so. It's a matter of seeing what's practical for you and the student in question. If you have any suggestions for other ways to help out a college student, please share them in the comments.