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How to Spend a Pell Grant Wisely

written by: Mihir Shah•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 7/6/2011

The Pell Grant is a need-based reward for students pursuing a baccalaureate degree, and does not have to be paid. It is wise, however, to spend the reward on tuition, paying back loans, paying for gas, food, books, and all other school related expenses.

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    Introduction to Pell Grants

    How can you spend a Pell grant? That's a question that has created some confusion and misconceptions of the Pell Grant. Pell Grants are generally one of the cornerstones of a financial aid package that your school provides to you. They are designed to provide relief with miscellaneous costs outside of tuition, such as the cost of books. While Pell Grants are first applied to tuition, the remainder will be sent to you as a direct deposit or check. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, states that the Pell Grant should be spent on school-related expenses. While the use of Pell Grant money is not monitored, it is highly encouraged that the funds be used toward school expenses or saved for a future school expense. Pell Grants should be used for buying books, avoiding starvation, paying for gas (primarily for college commuter), saving up for future tuition-related expenses, and to build capital for paying back loans.

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    Books

    Aside from tuition, food, and housing fees, book fees are the one constant that college students are faced with each quarter or semester. They can run up to several hundred dollars per session, and are an absolute necessity. If there are surplus Pell Grant funds remaining, for the session in progress, it is highly recommended that those funds be allocated to the following session. A positive for spending the Pell Grant on books is that most books can be sold back to the bookstore, on Half.com, or Amazon.com for a respectable amount--thus restoring your Pell Grant balance.

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    Food

    This seems like an obvious one; however, having funds to avoid starvation and keep yourself healthy is crucial. Clearly, a hungry individual will not have the energy necessary to study and succeed in classes. At the same time, college is a time of individuality and finding one's self. In other words, the individual is probably living far from home, and cannot have the family bring him a picnic basket worth of food. In this situation, saving some of the Pell Grant money for food can come in handy.

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    Gas

    For commuters, gas is a precious -- and expensive commodity. At the start of the session, students should designate a small portion of the Pell Grant funds toward paying for gas. Unfortunately, cars don't run on water and gas adds up if the individual is commuting long distances every day.

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    Future Tuition-Related Expenses

    Every session, it seems, tuition prices rocket upward, while financial aid remains the same. For this reason, it is important to save extra funds in a separate account and draw from them in the case of such extenuating circumstances.

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    Paying Back Student Loans

    Most college students don't think this far in advance. From one college student to another: please do. Student loans creep up on you and not having available funds can put you into default, thus accruing more interest on the principal loan amount. However, saving a portion of the Pell Grant money--that's leftover from the sessions--can come in handy when unemployment is a factor and it's time to pay loans.

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    Conclusion

    An individual should no longer have to ask, "How can you spend a Pell Grant?" There are a myriad of ways to spend the Pell grant; however, school-related expenses are the wisest way to spend the Pell Grant.