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shopping math

Dave Ramsey doesn't understand college

I've been reading Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover this past week. For the most part, I think what he writes makes a lot of sense - he's motivating people to get out of debt as quickly as possible, and giving them the tools to do so.

He is seriously misinformed about (at least) one thing, though, for which I and my husband have intimate experience: the cost of living expenses while in college.

On page 171, Ramsey writes:
A couple of years ago... the average college student graduated with about $15,000 in student-loan debt


So far, so good. The average at my alma mater is higher than that, but it's in the same ballpark. But what he says next just boggles my mind:
... after spending three of four years in an apartment, not the dorm, and eating off-campus, not on the meal plan. The average student paid $5,000 more per year to live and eat off-campus than to live in the dorm and eat cafeteria food.


How does he conclude that living off-campus costs an extra $5,000 per year? Maybe this is true of the University of Tennesse, Mr. Ramsey's alma mater, but it couldn't be farther from the truth at WPI, and, I suspect, most New England schools.

Perhaps if a student lived alone in a one-bedroom or studio apartment and ate every meal at a restaurant, they would spend more than living in the dorm on the meal plan. Students in the dorm paid about $800 per month (9 months) for their room and utilities and $8-15 per meal on the meal plan.

But with roommates and home-cooked food, the price drops dramatically. Most of my friends who lived off-campus at the time were spending $500 or less for rent and utilities, and probably $4-6 per meal. You could cut down the price even further if you were willing to lower your standard of living compared to the dorms. My husband shared an apartment with 4 and 5 other guys; they turned every room into a bedroom (other than the bath and the kitchen). They had no cable TV and the lowest-priced option for always-on internet. Rent and utilities divided among five guys came out to less than $300 per month for each of them. They even pooled their efforts to make a "family-style" meal once or twice a week, since making and buying food in bulk is more cost-effective than always making meals for one.


I do agree with the rest of what Dave Ramsey says on this topic - pick a school you can afford, even if it's less prestigious, work while in school if necessary; live within your means. Why? Because "student loans are a cancer. Once you have them, you can't get rid of them." Amen to that!
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aleksandyr October 22nd, 2007
I saved an ungodly amount of money and maintained a significantly higher standard of living, especially food-wise.

His advice is extremely accurate for urban centers (not fake urban centers like Worcester :), though.

anitra October 22nd, 2007
Yeah, that's why I don't get why he harps on this issue. Maybe he's just misinformed, but I get the feeling he should be saying "research the prices of room and board both on-campus and off."

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