How To Manage Your Finances As A Student Veteran

DoD photo by Sgt. Maj. Michael Pintagro

Veterans who choose to pursue higher education have access to a number of benefits to help them along the way, but managing finances can be tricky. Though the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill works to cover tuition and living expenses, there are still things you should consider when applying for and attending college.

In order to gain a better understanding of what service members considering education options can do to maintain their finances while attending college, Task & Purpose sat down with three student veterans ambassadors from Service 2 School, an organization that helps transitioning service members find success in education.

“Before you get scared off by the price tag of tuition, do some research into the financial support the school offers,” said Reagan Odhner, a Stanford student who served in the Marine Corps. “Make sure you are applying to schools which provide adequate financial aid.”

According to her, colleges will try to help proactive student veterans with money as much as they can. Some school will offer special veteran scholarships, and others participate in programs like Yellow Ribbon — where colleges provide funds to offset the difference between what the G.I. Bill covers and the total cost of tuition.

Related: How to choose the right college as a student veteran »

She added, “Apply for scholarships and grants, and check to see whether your school offers Yellow Ribbon, and, if so, how much they offer.”

Financing college tuition and maintaining your finances can be two different things, however. While you may have adequately planned out how to pay for courses, living expenses should also be considered.

For student veterans with families, like former special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman Anthony Bunkley, who is now a Columbia student, this can be hard.

“Budgeting is a little more difficult for me because I have a family — a wife and a kid,” he said.

However, regardless of the situation, all veterans seeking higher education should start by making a financial roadment. Bunkley suggested working out a way to live just off the basic allowance for housing before enrolling.

Baseline, “just look at what the BAH is because ... most of us … live off the BAH,” he said. “If you get a job it’s just added income.”

In addition, it’s important to set aside savings, just in case.

According to Jared Smith, a Yale student who served with the 75th Ranger Battalion, “Keep a safety net, save money at first to make sure you have at least a month or two of expenses.”

He cited several reasons for this, but mainly mentioned the shortcomings of the Department of Veterans Affairs when it comes to providing financial certifications on time.

“Nothing is worse than not having your BAH check come in the mail,” he added.

Overall, all three Service 2 School ambassadors agreed that planning is really the key to maintaining your finances as a student veteran.

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