Graduating Debt Free

by Julie Pillot


A college degree can be your golden ticket to a successful career and give you the opportunity to make your dreams come true. Unfortunately, this ticket comes at a high price. According to the College Board, students of the class of 2012 paid an average of $64,591 for their four-year education at a public university. Some of my classmates are fortunate enough to have parents who pay their way through college. But, this was not my case.



Like many others, if I wanted to go to college, I would be responsible for paying all of the bills. This can be a very frightening reality. After all, there is a common misconception that all financially independent college students are doomed to empty pockets and Ramen noodles. But, there are actually a large number of us who can budget (making more than we spend). I am proud to say I will be graduating this spring debt free, and you can too.


First there are some truths you need to accept:


  • Yes, mom and dad will no longer be supplying you with a pantry full of food that is consistently being restocked at no cost to you.
  • Yes, you really are being charged thousands and thousands of dollars just to receive a signed piece of paper to hang on the wall.
  • Yes, you even have to pay a monthly bill just to call a tiny apartment home.


Before you get discouraged, there are many ways to save money as a student and here are just a few:


1. Avoid Student Loans– If it is at all feasible to get your degree without taking out a loan, make it happen.  A loan is an excellent example of a short-term gain at the expense of a long-term nightmare. If you need an alternative, explore scholarships that you qualify for. There are tons of scholarships each year that do not receive a single application. There are thousands of companies and wealthy individuals willing to give students money that would NEVER have to be paid back and no one even takes the time to apply for these opportunities. It only takes 5 minutes to quickly submit an application and the opportunities out there are endless. By choosing scholarships over loans, you are saving yourself the future headaches of compounding interest and pay-back plans. Loans might seem like the easiest option, but scholarships are worth the effort. To easily find scholarships, visit the financial aid office at your school or visit websites such as Some scholarships, such as the Nordstrom’s annual scholarship offer amounts up to $10,000!


2. Take Advantage of Student Discounts– Take the extra 15 seconds to ask if the businesses you visit offer a student discount. A lot of times, especially around campus, you can get 10 to 15 percent off on things like oil changes, haircuts, and movie tickets. Also, most restaurants around your school probably give a large discount once a week on a “student night.”  The ticket box office at your school might also offer discounts for concert tickets or attractions in the area. If you are a UCF student, like I am, you can find these discounts by visiting our ticket center online at


3. Be Creative– There are plenty of ways to earn some extra cash or get things for free. For example, just for giving blood, you can get free movie tickets or gift cards to restaurants (while doing a good thing!). A unique way that I make money is as a secret shopper. You can sign up online for free at websites like and get notified whenever a “shop” becomes available in your area. As a secret shopper, you can earn 10 to 50 dollars, or a free meal, just for writing a quick report about your experience somewhere.



4. Use Cash– Many studies have shown that using cash sharply reduces spending. When you are able to physically see and feel money leaving your hands, you are more aware of how much you are spending. If you cannot pull yourself away from using plastic, take advantage of the savings or rewards programs that your bank may offer. Some banks offer an automated system that will take your extra change from each purchase, after rounding up to the nearest dollar, and put it into your savings account. If you have trouble saving, this is a great way to get started without consciously putting money away.


5. Shop Smart– Buy non-perishable items in bulk. You don’t even need a membership to stores like Sam’s or Costco to buy in bulk and you always save money when you buy large quantities at one time. Decisions like purchasing the largest quantity of toilet paper at Target can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Shopping online is also a smart way to save money. Many companies will offer huge discounts that are only available online. By shopping online, you are also able to do extensive price comparison and ensure you get the best deal.


6. Rent Your Textbooks- Textbooks are definitely the biggest rip-off in college. You are forced to pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks you will only use for one semester. Even if you sell them back at the end the year, you usually only receive about 3 percent of what you paid for them. Thankfully, there is a new solution. Websites like allow you to rent your textbooks for the semester and charge you one tenth of the cost. The textbooks are sent to you via UPS and Chegg even pays for your shipping costs when you send them back at the end of the semester.


7. Get a Student Friendly Job– During school, especially your freshman year, it can be pretty hard to balance a job with your studies. But, in order to make it debt free, you must find a job. Look into working on campus at the bookstore, in an on-campus office, or even at a campus cafeteria. If you are able to get a job on campus, they will allow you to make your work schedule based around your classes. If you commute, you can look into a few other flexible job options. For instance, babysitting is a great student job because you can choose when you work, study when the kids go to bed, and make easy money. You can find babysitting or nanny positions in your area by visiting or


College can be the best four years of your life. Don’t let financial stress ruin that. Remember there are plenty of resources available for you, if you are willing to look for them. Be smart about your spending and take advantage of the assistance available for students. Nothing feels better than seeing your hard work pay off and knowing you graduated debt free all on your own.