University of California, Berkeley holds high tuition prices for students to study in the infamous Bay Area, making general living seem nearly impossible to pay for. To find an affordable place to live that isn’t on-campus housing, a college student budget means having to double up on a single room in order to afford rent. With students surrounded by every type of cuisine available and baited to go to San Francisco every free chance, Berkeley living means a tight grasp on your money. Combine our responsibilities from university and extracurriculars in order for us to stand out from the competitive pool of our peers and high-profile companies, and you’ll find that we’re quickly going into debt.
Here’s a peek at the budget of a Berkeley student—who does not have the financial support of parents— trying to balance the Bay Area lifestyle.
College: UC Berkeley
How Do You Pay Tuition and Fees?
Financial aid and scholarships truly saved my life. If it wasn’t for this, I probably would have gone to a community or state college and that was not an option that I wanted. I didn’t really have a relationship with my parents growing up and circumstances led me to dream about college quickly to escape my living situation. My dream for life after high school started when I moved from LA to Fresno at age eight, and I knew that college would be the only way to go back home.
UCLA was my dream school from the start and although I hyperventilated when I got accepted, it didn’t quite align with what I wanted. Since I picked Berkeley over UCLA, I had to move even farther away from my family. Throughout this time, I worked tirelessly to gain experience and income in order to let my dream of college come true. My freshman year on a college student budget revolved around me working about 40 hours a week (plus overtime) combined with being a full-time student. If my mother taught me anything, it was that I needed to work restless nights and twice as hard as most people to succeed in life.
What Are Your Monthly Expenses?
This past April, I finally moved into my own apartment after living my first two years of college in dorms. I moved in with my boyfriend in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment through a discounted program that makes paying rent much easier. We essentially live in the heart of downtown, with my college about a block away. Surroundings range from three movie theaters in close proximity to each other, a mini Target, a couple of bookstores and a variety of food places. The rent combined goes for around 1,408 (including insurance and a convenience fee) excluding utilities, which is an absolute steal compared to our neighbors. Utilities are about $60 a month, including WiFi, which isn’t bad at all.
Other than those expenses, my phone bill costs around $50 a month and I really should see if I can get a better plan than that. I doubt it, though, because I have a hotspot. We mostly cook at home and we do our shopping on Amazon Fresh, Target and Trader Joe’s every two to three weeks, usually spending around $150. We use CalFresh and get around $374 a month. Everything falls pretty close together, so we tend to walk everywhere or occasionally ride the city bus, included with “class pass” expenses for my college. Personally, I pay $5 a month for Hulu and Spotify. I also have a monthly book subscription box for $40 a month.
How Do You Pay for Expenses?
If students register eligible for financial aid, they can find many opportunities to apply to on-campus jobs called work-study jobs. I am an undergraduate fellow for Berkeley Law School, where I mainly focus on web design and maintenance for specific Berkeley Law programs. There, I also do social media, alumni outreach and bounce work for mailing lists and occasional event photography. I usually work four days a week to keep me from overworking myself like I did freshman year, and ask for more hours when the vacation days roll around.
How Did You Spend Your Money Last Week?
While in the middle of a pandemic, the only real expenses I make are my monthly ones. My boyfriend and I occasionally buy a book or grab some tea to keep ourselves sane from feeling tight with money on a college student budget.
Monthly Spending Breakdown:
Phone Bill: $50
School Supplies: $0
How Does This Spending Breakdown Influence Your Spending Habits?
Most of my expenses are set in stone, leaving me with an itch to work more hours and never buy a coffee drink again. I definitely need to be aware of spending anything that’s not necessary, while also allowing myself to buy a coffee every once in a while. I’m hoping that the $2,000 stimulus checks are in full swing. $2,000 would allow me to stop stressing about finances all the time. I would put that money towards my college loan, saving up to buy my first car and saving to move away when I graduate in 2022.