Before I start out on my topic for today I have to first and foremost thank my parents for helping me pay for college. I know it is a privilege, and an opportunity that many do not get to have. That being said, I still was able to help by cutting over $50,000 out of the final cost.

Start Saving Early

When I was 2 years old my parents decided to move from Russia to America wanting greater opportunities for success. After years of saving, working multiple jobs and eventually opening a jewelry shop, my parents were able to buy a house in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Their financial plans were going well until they found out how expensive college is.

In Russia, college was basically viewed as a trade school where you go to learn the skill of the job you will eventually be working. This means that going to college in Russia is much less of a financial burden on individuals and their families.

When I was 15 my parents sat me down and explained how much they could comfortably cover for college. If I went to a four-year school they could cover two years with no problems, but they could cover all the expenses if I went to two years at a community college first. Wanting to spend all four years at one school, I got a job.

Many parents don’t expect their children to work in high school so that they can balance school and extracurricular activities. I’ll admit there were times when I was stressed, but being a 15-year-old girl it could have easily been my whacked-out hormones. By working all through high school I learned independence, discipline and I was able to build a healthy relationship with money.

My parents had an open and honest conversation with me about college expenses and therefore I was able to set high expectations and goals for myself empowering me to save and become financially literate at a young age.

Savings Total: After three years as a weekend waitress, and two years as a camp counselor, I was able to save around $8,000 which easily covered my books and supplies throughout college.

Get In-state Tuition

I really lucked out when it came to getting in-state tuition. Some universities have much more difficult requirements on what needs to be done to become a resident of the state.  If you have not yet started the college search process, I highly suggest you take the in-state residency requirements into consideration when you search for the perfect school.

Being an Illinois resident, my college costs were much higher at the University of Missouri. Currently, the expected undergraduate tuition costs break down as follows:

  • $21,280: For in-state residents
  • $32,470: For out-of-state residents

So, for the same education and experiences as in-state students, students who do not fall within state lines pay a whopping $11,190 more.

When it came to gaining in-state, I did not start the process until after my sophomore year due to a bad case of homesickness after my freshman year. Regardless, after gaining in-state I was able to save my parents over $20,000 for the last two years.

To give you an idea of how easy it was to gain in-state, I just had to stay a full calendar year in Missouri, earn at least $2,000 at a summer job, apply for a Missouri license and file as an independent from my parents.

Savings Total: Two years of being an in-state resident ended up saving my parents a total of $22,000+

Read: How to Cut College Costs in 4 Steps

Get a (College) Job!

When looking at the total cost of college it’s hard to imagine that getting a part-time job can make a dent in any way, but working in college not only helps, but it opens the door for other opportunities down the road.

Once again, when it came to working in college I also feel incredibly lucky for the opportunities I was given. I believe that a big part of the reason I was able to land such good jobs in school was because I had garnered a lot of experiences in high school that could be applied in college.

For three years of college I worked as a Resident Advisor which covered my room and board; approximately $8,000 a year. Being an RA was challenging and extremely stressful at times, but the connections I made and things I learned were invaluable.

Being an RA connected me to faculty and staff  helping me get other jobs down the line; including the summer job gaining me in-state residency, a desk job I was able to keep for two years and a job with the University Advertising Department my senior  year.

The desk job helped me earn spending money, and I was able to study while I was working. My advertising job with the school helped strengthen my resume and ultimately land a job out of school.

Although working multiple jobs while trying to stay on top of school work sounds daunting, university employers understand that students have busy schedules and try their best to work around the busy schedule of a student.

Total Savings: Three years of having my room and board covered along with my jobs as an Advertising assistant and desk attendant saved a total of $27,000+

Check Out: The Top Money Making Degrees

Grand Total

I do want to say, that I wasn’t always an angel when it came to saving. Like any college student, I was prone to my spending splurges and not all the saved money went directly towards college costs.

Becoming an in-state resident, having room and board paid for and working side jobs I was able to save a total of: $57,000.

When you are a teenager it’s hard to imagine there is anything you can do to even begin to cover the cost of college. Hard work, disciplined savings and planning ahead can be the winning combination for any person trying to offset some of those stressful college costs.


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  • Robert Ronstadt

    Working part time during college can be a positive,  which appears to be the case for the author.  But it can be a negative if not properly managed, particularly when the job is off-campus.  Also, I’d like to hear an honest assessment by the author regarding her grades and what she feels she missed by minimizing her college costs.  Overall I thought this was a good article.

    • Marina

       Hi Robert,

      First off I want to thank your complements on the article, it’s always encouraging to hear when I reader like a story we post.

      As for a response to your questions on my grades and my honest assessment:

      I kept above a 3.75 GPA mostly through strict scheduling, and taking difficult classes early on in my college career when I did not have as many extra-curricular activities.

      I was able to study at my desk job which really helped me focus (mainly because it was so boring-HA). I always tried to attend study groups with friends of mine in the class because I knew it would force me to learn the materials.

      What I missed:
      Truly? Sleep–Although I think that’s pretty typical of any college student. Yes, my sophomore and junior years were stressful as I tried to balance everything, work, school, friends and sometimes I didn’t think I could do it. BUT, which college kid isn’t under stress? Whether it’s due to loans, finals or forgotten term papers. 

      I did have a break eventually. My senior year, due to smart scheduling and summer school classes, I ended up taking only three classes, one of which was an art elective.

      Everyone goes into college with different motives. Mine were to get a strong education to become a desirable employee after graduation. 

      I ended up with that and even more. The people I worked with became my best friends, friends I continue to keep in touch with even though I moved across the country. My employers became my mentors who still give me advice today, and my experiences continue to teach me and follow me into my adult life.

      What I did was not easy, and honestly I may have fallen victim to some rosy-retrospection in terms of how simple I made all of this sound. I do think however, the harder you work when you are younger, more ambitious and energetic, the more it will payoff in the long run.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Nicktammaro

    Smart woman! I like your style!

  • Nicktammaro

    Smart woman! I like your style!