College Connect: Tackle the high cost of college with parents as partners

By John Messer

Finances in college have been a rollercoaster so far.  Actually, it’s more like juggling dynamite which may or may not be lit while riding a rollercoaster and Iron Maiden is blasting at top volume.  Between housing, food expenses, tuition, considerations for studying abroad, etc, and etc, the only positive emotion I feel is abject amazement that it’s working out as well as it has been so far.

My financial foray began when I first began considering Mizzou.  I’m Missouri born, so even though I’ve lived in Florida for years, the idea of going back north for school appealed to me.  When I brought it up to my parents, I expected them to laugh it off. To my surprise, they actually entertained the idea, and over the next few months I began to put together a plan with them to allow me to attend the oldest Journalism school in the country.  At the end of the day, I decided I wanted a journalism degree, and my parents agreed that Mizzou was the best place to get that.

Here’s the game plan we came up with: Once I was accepted into the school, I also qualified for the $7,000 a year Mark Twain Non-Resident Scholarship.  This largely offset the increased out-of-state tuition (when compared to in-state).  Next, I applied for and got a few other smaller scholarships, which put some decent dents into the price.  Lastly, my FAFSA qualified me for a decent subsidized loan, with the rest in unsubsidized.  Here’s where some creative financing comes into play.  My parents in early 2017 had about $40,000 set aside, in liquid assets, to go towards my college.  Not enough for a solid four years, but enough to invest.  So for now we’ve got loans taken out to pay for school, loans that won’t gain interest until after graduation, and in the meantime, that cool 40k is in diversified investments, quietly growing.  By the time graduation day comes around, we oughta be able to simply pay them off instantly before any interest is gained.   (To get more information on federal loans, go here:

Finances go far beyond the cost of school itself, however.  Behind tuition, the next biggest hurdle was housing.  Mizzou, like many colleges, has a default rule that requires freshmen to live on campus.  In addition, campus dorms are expensive, and despite what brochures advertise, a cramped room with paper thin walls is not the best place to study.  With a little snooping, I found a little known form called “Mizzou Exception from Student Housing”.  Real fast I printed it out, filled it out, then mailed it out, and a few weeks later my parents and I were apartment hunting.  Just like that, housing costs were cut in half.

Next came the other little expenses: Food, gas, textbooks, pencils, paper, and of course the ever important entertainment budget.  Textbooks were honestly not that bad.  I knocked out most of my general education in high school by taking and then transferring classes at Florida Southwest University (A total of 39 credit hours!).  In journalism and film, the textbooks tend to be cheaper and smaller.  With a combo of renting books and buying used when I can’t rent, the price became manageable.

The last stuff — food, gas, and everything else — I reckoned out with my parents.  My debit card gets a fixed transfer at the beginning of every month, a block plan so I can save by eating on campus when I’m here, and I have a Target Redcard for groceries.  My parents handle it well, and often joke that I’m actually saving money for them in the form of tax write offs with me as a dependent!

All in all, money has been a dominating factor for me in college, more so than deciding a major or getting involved in extra-curriculars.  I’m still amazed we made this work, as for most of high school I was resigned to just continuing to go to a local college in Florida to save money for my parents.  It’s honestly a dream come true that I’m at Mizzou, despite the nightmare of managing the money for it.

John Messer is a freshman majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri.

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