Monday, January 28, 2013 2:17 PM
The Means To Live Within Your Means
I could give a million and one euphemistic quotes on saving money. My personal favorite: “if saving money is wrong, I don’t want to be right” from that wise sage William Shatner (presumably as the Priceline Negotiator and not Captain Kirk).
The bottom line is that as a YLS student we expect you to live within a budget and,as such, assume that you will need to modify spending and make financial sacrifices along the way. The same budget or Cost of Attendance must be applied to all students within the same degree program. Why do we do this? Because the Department of Education Title IV federal regulations which allow us to disburse federal loans dictate that we must do this… “students must be awarded on the basis of a Cost of Attendance comprised of allowable costs assessed all students carrying the same academic workload”.
What the regulations do allow is that every school can develop their own budgets based on estimate “allowable” costs specific to their institution and their student populations. In the case of YLS we do something that not every school does... each year we survey our current students on their primary “living” costs to ensure that what we are allotting for this expense is (again as defined by the federal regulations) “reasonable”.
This year 44% of our current enrollment (including both JD and Graduate students) responded to the "Cost of Living" survey (up from 38% last year). That’s a very good response rate and as such probably gives us a pretty accurate sampling. Aside from the obvious data on “rent” or housing we individually poll on a variety of other expense types including utilities, phone, cable/internet, food and local transportation. We average those individual expenses by type and then add them together to determine a typical inclusive “monthly” expense which we can then project for the nine month academic year to determine an average “cost of living" . The result for 2012-2013 is:
The survey also yields other interesting facts on how YLS students live which we factor into our decision on the cost of living allotment:
- The majority of our students (35.6%) make the decision to live alone and, as such, are most likely incurring higher monthly costs (Although we did see a slight increase (18% to 22%) in the number of students living with two or more roommates from last year to this year’s survey).
- Most students are paying rents in either the $600-$800 range (31%) or $800-$1000 range (25%) Though we did see an increase (from last year) in the number of students at the extreme low end $400-$600 of the rent scale. Again in the survey rent was defined as the portion of the monthly payment that you personally are responsible for.
- Surprising (to me at least) …our 1L students have the lowest total living costs per academic year ($14,031) while our 3Ls have the highest ($16,074). I would welcome feedback on the blog from 3Ls as to why that occurs.
The survey also monitors some additional expenses including books/class supplies where the average of $849 per year is within the $1,000 allotment already included in the student budget as a separate allowance. Average childcare costs in the survey were $10,377 per year and YLS presently allows an additional $17,500 in childcare costs to be covered by non COAP eligible loans.
Finally, the survey asks an open ended question regarding “what other ongoing expenses do you have not captured elsewhere on the survey”? There is always a great diversity in the answers to this question – my personal favorites this year being the response of “Gym, Tan, Laundry” (did you seriously think you could slip a Jersey Shore reference in there and I would not get it?) .
Of these “ongoing expenses” the most common response was Travel- particularly as cited for the holidays and to visit significant others. YLS specifically budgets an equitable travel allowance into all student budgets based on home state (as reported on the Need Access application or FAFSA.) The allotment is based on making two roundtrips- getting to YLS in the Fall, going home for the holiday break in December, returning to YLS in January and going home at the end of the academic year in May. Any other travel beyond that schedule is a personal budget choice. However always be aware that if emergency travel or if a personal crisis arises which necessitates travel, we can exercise professional judgment based on a justifiable expense to increase the travel allotment. As much of a romantic as I am, visiting a love sick significant other does not constitute “emergency” travel.
I also want to address a survey comment that YLS cost of living is less than other Yale Graduate and Professional Schools. The reality is that we have one of the highest cost of living allowances because on top of the basic living expense we build travel and books/supplies as separate budget items. Most of the other G&P schools are incorporating those costs in their general living allowance.
So… the reality is that the current $17,000 allowance well surpasses the average costs of $15,003 per academic year as documented in survey and provides a buffer of almost $2,000 to support those other “ongoing expenses”- however you may prioritize them. As such, we feel the $17,000 living allotment, in addition to the travel allowance by state and with the book/supplies allowance of $1,000, meets the federal guidelines as “reasonable” expenses for the 2013-2014 student budget.
Does it meet your own personal needs? Maybe not. Does it allow you to maintain a standard of living to which you are accustomed? Maybe not. But it’s still an equitable allowance to live “like a student” for the short time that you are here in New Haven. Will you need to make some sacrifices or make priorities? Probably. Is it going to be a challenge to live on what is essentially “fixed income”? Most likely yes. It is going to be a difficult to receive an influx of funds at the start of a term (no more weekly paychecks) that then has to stretch for several months? Of course. Ultimately will you need to carefully budget your funds? Absolutely yes.
And that’s also where the Financial Aid Office comes in... to support you as you face the potential challenge of living within that allowance and to assist you in that budgeting process. Our office has many budgeting tools and web resources that we can share with you. We can also sit down with you through one on one counseling to actually develop a personal budget based on your own financial aid, your expected refund and your monthly expenses. We also offer workshops throughout the year which provide basic budgeting how tos, manageable spending tips and credit dos and don’ts .
Because despite the preconceived notion that the budget in some way “hinders” you, the reality is that the budget parameters actually "help" you minimize your overall loan borrowing and , ultimately, ensures that 25-30 years from now you are still not paying off the lifestyle “choices” you made in law school .
Filed under: grad students, funds, money, law, financial aid, graduate, budget