How Asking Questions Can Save You Money

When I was younger, I would see a book on my dad’s nightstand: I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by renowned author Ramit Sethi. A lot of the content in the book would fly over my head, such as abbreviations and numbers like 401K. However, I liked reading his stories and experiences, and one of them has always stuck with me. 

There was a passage about how he had to call his bank and ask about a fee. He detailed the conversation in the book. At one point, he says something along the lines of “Is there any way you could waive it for me?” Simple as that. He was a long-time customer of the bank, and they agreed to it. 

I read this many years ago, but I found that it has been one of the most helpful pieces of advice. It doesn’t apply to just banks or waiving fees, but the script has an underlying main message: Ask. If he hadn’t asked the bank, then they wouldn’t have offered him this out. Yet, because he did, he was able to save himself some money. 

I’ve found that this advice can apply to many financial aspects of the college world. Simply asking a question can save you many dollars, and below, I’ll give some examples, including my own experiences! 

Books:

We all know the dreaded feeling of when your professor assigns an expensive book for the class. The book? 8th edition, newly published the year you’re taking the course. This makes it near impossible to find the book online. However, you’ll often find that many editions of books contain near-invisible differences, enough to justify getting an older edition (which are easier to find free online, or significantly lesser in cost). If you ask the professor something like “Hi there, I was just wondering if this older edition would suffice for your class?”  you can end up saving money and still have what you need for the class.

Late Fees:

I ran into a situation in my first semester of college, where I paid my tuition late. I called the financial aid office, asking if there was anything they could do for it. The response? Sure, we have a one-time waiving allowance, so it’s off your account for now. Sweet, awesome, thanks! The person on the other side of the phone could probably hear the happiness in my voice. Often times, we can forget that college offices are made up of humans, too. There’s no harm in asking. The worst that could happen? I pay the late fee. At best? I don’t have to pay anything at all! If I hadn’t asked, and simply looked at the charge on my account and accepted it, then I would never have found out that it could be waived. 

Financial Aid:

I recently ran into a situation where I enrolled as a guest student at a nearby community college to get some credits out of the way during the summer. Since guest students don’t receive financial aid, I had to find other means of finding aid so that I wouldn’t have to pay full price out of pocket. However, when I submitted a scholarship application, I found that it said I was ineligible, because I was enrolled as a non-degree program, and it wouldn’t let me change that, because the system saw me as a guest student. I called the office, and the lady on the phone was extremely helpful – telling me I could change my status from guest to a standard student by emailing a transcript, which would help me qualify for other grants and make me eligible for the scholarship I was originally applying for. It was a very productive conversation, and I felt like if I hadn’t picked up the phone and asked, then I wouldn’t have had any idea on how to proceed with paying for the class. The information wasn’t clear on the website, and asking the questions helped me gain a better understanding of what steps I needed to take next. In the midst of the conversation, I also found out that the woman was an alumnus of the same university I attended, which gave us a connecting point and made the conversation less robotic. It also made her more sympathetic to my situation.
A large part of college is independence. For many, this can mean living on your own, on your own schedule and learning how to be more “adult.” However, as I’ve gotten to college, one of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve learned is the power that a question can hold. When you leave your comfort zone and learn to just ask, then you open a world of possibilities for yourself. I know that sometimes, many of us wonder if we’re bothering someone by asking a question, but that’s almost never the case. The worst that could happen in this situation? A “No, sorry, I can’t help you with that.” However, if you look at the bright side, the positives heavily outweigh not asking in the first place. It reminds me of a quote: “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I interpret it as “Even if you get a No, at least you tried all you could and learned for any future situations.”

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