Saturday, November 10, 2012 12:23 PM jstone

Deck the Halls and Pay Your Rent

As we approach the holiday season, I wanted to throw a very blunt reminder out there that holiday shopping and gift giving were never a part of your student budget. 

There is no denying that those Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving or even cyber Monday sales are incredibly tempting.  But the reality is that if you are living off your financial aid refund, you are on a “fixed income” (you didn’t even have to wait for social security to achieve that status).   You have a set amount of money meant to last you from September 5, 2012 all the way to January 23, 2013 (the earliest date that your spring funds can disburse to your student account).   To make it even more challenging…the Fall term is about 23 days longer that the Spring term so you have to stretch those Fall funds even further than you will have to in the Spring. 

And what is the biggest challenge you are going to face in making those funds last…most likely January rent.  I received many, many  emails last year (particularly during the week between Christmas and New Years) from students who had little or no funds for their January rent payments and turned to our office for help.  The reality is that our office is limited by federal financial aid regulations under which we cannot disburse your spring funds any earlier than three business days before the start of the term and in doing so, the earliest you can receive a refund on the SIS system is the first day of term.

So if you do find yourself in this January rent situation during that final week in December (or foresee even now that this may happen to you), my advice first and foremost will always be to talk to your landlord as soon as possible and explain the situation.  Let him know you are fully supported by financial aid, that the next disbursement will be transferred to your own personal account most likely on the first day of the spring term (give them an actual date) and how much you are expecting  to receive (if you have difficulty estimating that please ask our office to help).  If the landlord requires additional documentation, the Financial Aid office can always write a letter confirming what you have told him about the amount of your spring disbursement and when it should be in your account and for your disposal.  Contact our office as early as possible before your rent is actually due to get this letter (keeping in mind that Yale as a whole and our office is closed the week between Christmas and New Years).  In the majority of cases, we have found that with the right information and assurances of payments, the landlords seem willing to work with you.  Chances are if your landlord has rented to students before he may already be aware of this challenging cash flow issue that all students face. 

But rent may only be part of the battle if you return to campus after break with little funds available.  (There is always that small issue of actually needing money  to eat as well- unless you have strategically hoarded enough holiday gingerbread men to get you through mid January).  That’s why it’s critical to budget right now- not come the end of December when you may be in crisis mode.  And despite rumors to the contrary “budgeting” doesn’t have to be a complicated spreadsheet involved process.  Just take a few minutes to review what funds you have left in your personal account(s) at this very moment in time, then project what funds you will need (through January 23rd!!) to pay both primary living expenses (i.e. those fixed costs you must pay like rent, utilities, phone, etc.) and secondary expenses (i.e. those expenses you can control to a degree…like food, transportation, etc.).   Any excess funds you have not allocated to pay the primary and secondary expenses are available to you to make whatever holiday cheer you choose. 

And if you don’t have a lot to spare – don’t despair… just be a little more “creative” in your gift giving approach this year.  Remember those “ coupon books” you probably made for your parents in grammar school (i.e. “This coupon good for 1 take out the trash”,  “This coupon good for 1 wash the dishes” ) can easily be updated (i.e. “This coupon good for 1 hour of future  legal services”).   Use your talents to make gifts yourself or support some of our great local crafters (did you know that YLS even has its own craft fair on November 30th?). 

I fully acknowledge that celebrating the holidays with limited funds will be a challenge, but if you need a reminder, just watch any of those classic holiday specials that will begin running shortly on a continual TV loop … Charlie Brown, Scrooge or (personal bias) The Grinch, to get the morale of each and every story…that it’s not the gift but the thought that counts (and will help your budget).  

Trust me, your family and friends will completely understand that today you are living like a student and making some tough  financial sacrifices so that tomorrow  (or in the not too distant future) , you can  graduate from Yale Law School and that will probably be the best gift (holiday or otherwise) that you could ever give them.

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