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The True Costs of Going Greek

by J. Money on Thursday, August 23, 2012

naked sorority chicks

(Article today by L Bee, who left her sorority with a lot more than fun times ;))

Social life at my small, private university revolved around the Greek system – which isn’t abnormal for a school of its size. Now that I am older, I see the Greek system was just a yard-stick of status we measured each other with, and we were all too happy to play the game because it meant instant friends and oceans of booze.

Greek life definitely had its well-known advantages; a set social calendar, a pre-ordained group of friends, and a priceless sense of belonging. Having those letters on your chest freaking meant something back in those days, because back then you were eighteen and didn’t know much about anything else. It all seems so trivial now, but as a young adult venturing out into the world for the first time-the safety net of the sorority had the appeal of dating Jake Gyllenhaal. If Jake Gyllenhaal comes up at a bar and asks you to bone – YOU FREAKIN’ BONE JAKE GYLLENHAAL.

I recently saw an article about an item you purchase you think is a great deal, but in reality it only spawns more and more purchases. Being in a sorority is a lot like that. You think it is just about dues and initiation fees, but there are so many other compounded expenses too:

  • The t-shirts for the mixers (which incidentally aren’t free)
  • Costumes for the parties that have themes (spoiler alert – they ALL have themes)
  • Tickets for formals
  • Dresses for cocktail parties
  • Presents for your little sister
  • And of course, the snacks they ask you to bring for almost weekly sisterhood events.

More than that I would say I spent the most money trying to compete. Not necessarily with my sisters, but with girls in other sororities. I also spent a good amount of money accepting every invitation that was thrown my way. If someone wanted to go out to eat – I went. I partied five of the seven night of the week that first year and it definitely added up.

I did some “research” for this post and went back through all my credit card statements from this period in my life. All the expenses broke down as follows:

  • $1,680.00: Monthly dues @ $70 a pop for 24 months (I was only in the sorority for two years before I transferred schools)
  • $150.00: One time “initiation fee”
  • $306.00: Gifts for Big/Little Sisters
  • $140.00: 10 different t-shirts @ $10 a pop for 14 different events
  • $170.00: 1 year of outfits for recruitment
  • $70.00: Fines. Not including the $100.00 I donated to an Alcohol Awareness speaker because I got caught drinking on the bus…

Grand Total= $2516.00 over two years

And that’s just what I spent on Greek related expenses alone. This doesn’t include the many outfits for all of the cocktail mixers/formals that required special attire, or the money spent socializing outside of the sorority either. It adds up.

I had friends who rushed at bigger state universities and dues were even triple that. Per Year. This means at a bigger school only the truly wealthy can afford to go Greek. Which I think is awesome… if you can afford it. At my school the dues were so low practically everyone was doing it. So you either sucked it up or chain smoked behind the dumpsters near the dorm with the girls who refused to rush for financial/political/religious reasons.

Financial pressures for guys in fraternities can often be greater than for women as well. In addition to the normal dues, the men spend a lot of money out-of-pocket recruiting new guys each fall on things like steak dinners, tickets to sporting events, the works. National Panhellenic Boards have pretty stringent rules on what sororities can and cannot do (spend) for rush, so  it can often end up costing young men even more for the privilege of having Greek letters.

greek letters t-shirts

A lot of new freshman often use the small fortune they amassed in grad gifts to bankroll going Greek. I did this and personally feel it was a mistake.  When the grad cash ran out I put those expenses on a credit card, which compounded and compounded, and after college I found myself in nearly $10,000.00 worth of debt. Which I didn’t pay off until I was 24.

You can do what you want – but you will thank me when you use that hard earned cash/graduation money to study abroad, take a cool trip, or use it to fund your internship in NYC for a summer. Those are all purchases that (most likely) won’t spawn further spending AND will enrich your life.

There are some people who make the argument sororities/fraternities are HUGE networking tools once you are out in the “real world,” and in theory they will one day pay for themselves. They won’t. The only money’s worth I ever got out of it was my money’s worth in liquor.

In truth, the biggest argument I can make FOR going Greek is the friendship itself – which you can’t put a dollar value on. The laughter and warmth of those memories are the ones that will keep you warm at night in your mid-twenties when you can’t go out anymore because you have to be at your desk job at 8 a.m. I know it’s hard, but if you are reading this and contemplating going Greek, please make sure to look at it from a financial standpoint as well.

——
Article by Lauren (known to her friends as L Bee) – Authoress of the personal finance site “L Bee and the Money Tree“. On her blog she details daily struggles with the ever elusive “tree of wealth”, snarky thoughts on fashion and pop- culture, and gross/funny stories about her dog, Murray. A freelance writer based out of the Atlanta area, L Bee spends her free time enjoying theater, drinking wine, and annoying her boyfriend.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you can believe it, I, too, was once in a frat ;) I don’t remember how much I paid overall back then (I should go back through my credit card statements too!) but I’m sure it was at least $1,000ish. Though we also only had 1/2 of the events that normal fraternities did cuz I was in an “honors” one which only partially counts. Even though I much preferred it because we had women in our mix too! Woop woop! I’d totally spend the money all over again, I had a blast… and it def. looked good on the resume.

(Top photo by SigEp NV Alpha ’03, bottom photo by Murray State)


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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lance @ Money Life and More August 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

I personally avoided fraternities but was in a huge social organization myself that was mostly free. The Marching Band. Laugh all you want but at the college I went to the Marching Band was highly regarded and honestly before our football team won a national championship a lot of people went to the football games to watch the band, not to watch the football team.

It was a blast and it was almost like its own fraternity with none of the costs. All I had to do was sign up for a 2 credit hour class each fall semester. It was a blast as well.

If you really want to do greek I say go for it, just know what you’re getting into financially and make sure you can afford it.

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2 DC @ Young Adult Money August 23, 2012 at 7:40 am

I was never in a frat, but I can imagine it would be expensive. I did talk to someone in a frat at the U and he was saying you can live for really cheap at the frat house (a room could be as little as $100/month???). That could be some huge $$$$ savings!!!

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3 Emily @ evolvingPF August 23, 2012 at 7:51 am

Wow, that sounds awful. Sororities were actually banned in our consortium and there was only 1 tiny fraternity on another campus, so there was zero Greek life at my college. I spent almost no money during college over and above my room and board and a few groceries, yet had lots of friends and plenty of parties to choose from. It’s not that the Greek system gives anyone a social life – it creates an insiders/outsiders atmosphere that I think colleges would be better off without. Of couse you would still have a social life in the absence of that system – in fact, you would have more people to choose to be friends with.

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4 Lauren @ LBee and the Money Tree August 23, 2012 at 7:55 am

@Emily-point well made, I agree!

@DC Yes, sometimes you can live in the house cheaper than you can anywhere else. It just depends on how much money your organization has. A lot of orgs require you to live in the house in order to help pay the mortgages on them!

@Lance-I would never dissuade anyone from going Greek. I just wanted to paint a clearer picture of the costs!

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5 MakintheBacon$ August 23, 2012 at 8:23 am

Joining a sorority would have been a good thing for me, especially in first year, since I am a self- confessed introvert. I never realized how much members spend. I honestly thought it was just a monthly or yearly fee that covered all expenses. I don’t think I would have been able to afford it though.

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6 Michelle August 23, 2012 at 8:30 am

Wow that’s a lot of money! I have friends who were in sororities and eventually left because the costs were too much.

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7 TB at BlueCollarWorkman August 23, 2012 at 8:30 am

I hope my girls don’t do the sorority thing— I hadn’t even considered the cost before now— I just never liked the idea of “buying” friends. My sister went to a small school where I guess half the school was sorority/frat, and she didn’t do that, and she was pretty darn happy with her experience. So…? I think it’d be nice if my girls made their own social calendars instead of ones made for them. Although, if they decide to go sorority, I won’t stop them, I’d support them in whatever they decide to do after highschool.

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8 Lauren @ LBee and the Money Tree August 23, 2012 at 8:46 am

@Michelle- When I transferred schools I had the option of joining the sorority there. The girls of that chapter were super nice to me, but it didn’t feel like MY place anymore. Plus I was doing theater and all the events were at night so I was getting fines out the wazoo!

@TB-Going Greek is really glamorous and attractive: all the matching shirts, songs and whatnot. Just be sure to let them know (as my parents did) that the financial burden will be on them.

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9 graduate.living August 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

I was in a sorority, and yes it was very expensive. But like you, I went to a small university where being Greek was more than just a social experience. Greeks were more likely to be leaders and involved on campus, more likely to have better grades, and more likely to stay in school (and graduate on time!). In addition to meeting some of my best friends (who were in separate academic programs and would have not crossed paths with under other circumstances), I served on my sororities executive board for almost my entire time in the chapter and learned invaluable experience in leadership, organization, time management, and working with diverse groups (my chapter, Panhellenic, other Greek and non-Greek organizations on campus, alums, Nationals, etc.). Like involvement in anything else, the Greek experience is what you make it, and in terms of cost-effectiveness, I think what I gained from in was definitely worth my dues.

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10 Brian August 23, 2012 at 9:03 am

My wife loved her time in a sorority and plans to encourage our children to go greek. I on the other hand avoided the greek system like a plague. I can see the merits of joining a greek organization, but since I was at a large state univeristy (which also has the third largest greek community) there were plenty of other ways to get invovled in clubs and groups to make friends.

Time will tell if my little one wants to go greek or not (of course he has 18 years before that is even an option). Thanks for the article I really enjoyed reading it!

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11 Jason @ WSL August 23, 2012 at 9:09 am

Great post LBee. I didn’t belong to a frat because at KU (Kansas) the football players did not get along with the frat boys, so the football players made it very clear to us freshman that we were not allowed to be in a frat. We did have one player that went to a frat, and that was the punter…go figure.

Frankly, I thought all of the frat boys were a bunch of douche bags. Them and their popped collars. lol. Why in the world did people do that?

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12 Andrea @ Single & Saving August 23, 2012 at 9:19 am

I have to agree with graduate.living about the Greek experience being what you make it. There are several ways that sorority spending can be kept into check including making the costumes, snacks or big/little gifts the you mentioned, not geting a t-shirt for every mixer, and not doing things that will get you fined. The also sorority gave me a scholarship that covered one of my semesters in grad school and a great network that I often tap into for professional and social reasons as an alumna. I spent wisely on Greek life and I’m so glad that I did.

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13 Jen August 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

I went greek as well (so did my husband), and yes, it was expensive (though part of the cost was room and board in my sorority house which was equivalent to living in the dorms and got rolled into my student loans). I paid for all eating out/drinking/tshirts/etc out of my part time jobs during college. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I was a female engineer, and most of my classmates were guys who stayed in on the weekend to almost finish a group project that wasn’t due for 2 months. While they were great classmates, I needed a social activity outside of my classes and the greek system was pretty big at our school (30% of students). My best friends from college were in other majors and I would never have met them if not for the sorority – and I would never have met my husband either.

Besides the social aspect, there was also the leadership/planning aspect – when you have to plan and run a 5 day event for 700 women who were comparing your sorority to every other sorority on campus, or an event for 50 of your sorority sisters plus their families, or things like that, planning a wedding or hosting Thanksgiving was a piece of cake. Presenting in front of 20 people is nothing when you had to do it in front of 50+ on a regular basis – it’s all about life skills!

Despite the cost, I think my husband and I would both encourage our future kids to consider the greek system. Yes, many frat boys are a bunch of douche bags, per a previous comment, but learning to deal with them when you know they are just unnecessarily full of themselves is helpful for when you have to deal with them in real life.

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14 Kyle August 23, 2012 at 9:35 am

Wait, why cant you go out anymore in your mid-twenties just because you have to be at work at 8am? :)

But yeah, that sounds like greek life at a southern university, alright. I suspect the greek thing is much less of a big deal, say, in New England. Also, I’ve often wondered: do actual greek people from Greece get pissed off that all these drunk kids go around calling themselves greek?

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15 AverageJoe August 23, 2012 at 9:53 am

Ha! Love Kyle’s question. Beat me to it, dude. I was a disc jockey in college, so I loved the fraternity system. It paid my way through college. I was the one guy I knew who got paid to attend all the big parties on campus. Often I got the tee shirt for free, too. A couple of times I played music on the parade floats for fraternities during Homecoming week. Wow! Maybe I should write a piece about how being a DJ gives you all the fun of the frat WHILE you get paid.

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16 J. Money August 23, 2012 at 10:31 am

Thanks again for spilling the beans, L Bee! While I still think it can be worth it, this was SUPER eye-opening to say the least… I love all kinds of inside scoops on things, so really glad you wrote this up (and even more so on my site!).

I have some of my own responses too:

@Lance @ Money Life and More – I won’t laugh because I was in the marching band myself, but only in high school. Oddly enough I got a few ladies that way! haha… flute players are usually pretty hot ;)
@DC @ Young Adult Money – Ooooh that’s pretty cool! That could totally wipe out most of the expenses, I didn’t know about that.
@TB at BlueCollarWorkman – You’re a good dad :) I’m not against my future kids joining a fraternity/sorority, but I do want to support them no matter what other crazy things they get into in life too, just like you. My parents put up with all kinds of strange things I got into, but because they were so supportive and open w/ communication, I kept motivated and stayed out of a lot of trouble. So yay for smart parents!
@graduate.living – That’s awesome :)
@Jason @ WSL – Haha…. so then you REALLY weren’t impressed with the double or even triple popped collar action then, huh? ;)
@Jen – TRUE! haha… “Yes, many frat boys are a bunch of douche bags, per a previous comment, but learning to deal with them when you know they are just unnecessarily full of themselves is helpful for when you have to deal with them in real life.”
@Kyle – HAH! Now that is pretty funny :)
@AverageJoe – *Ahem* future side hustle post!

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17 Nick August 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

After seeing how much it costed to join a frat and since I was planning on working through school anyhow, I got a job as a bouncer and then bartender at some really cool places in Boston and LA. So I got the party and MADE money. :)

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18 LB August 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

Maybe it’s because I am finishing up at a community college before I transfer to a 4-year or maybe it’s because I am older than most students (but no one thinks that lol), but I don’t see the point of a sorority. I joined some really cool clubs already and don’t see the point of belonging to one big club that I have to pay too much for. Maybe if I was 18 and didn’t know better, but instead I was struggling to have a roof over my head and food on my plate from the 1st day I turned 18. I guess paying for T-shirts and booze doesn’t matter if you can’t pay for your own food.

I do love my clubs I joined and am loving the people I get to see already (and the frienemies I might have already made*), but don’t see a point of putting that much money into one club/social gathering/same people every day.

*I think their business idea is a waste of money, because the same merchandise is already saturating the market, but am totally trying to be nice about and find a different way of making it our own. I really just want to scream “I owned a business, this is not how you sell stuff”, but hey maybe you could still sell this crap to college kids that don’t know it’s out there hehe.

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19 Lauren @ LBee and the Money Tree August 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm

@BudgetsareSexy- THANK YOU for allowing me to guest post. I love how heated this topic is getting.

@SingleandSaving I in no way want to diminish the true things I got out of sisterhood. It was a hell of fun ride. I was just really irresponsible (as I would venture most 18 year olds are). It is what you make of it. For a girl who wasn’t popular in high school and had such a small group of friends then-to having ten-to-twelve sisters who I regularly keep in touch with now has made all the difference. Just watch the pennies!!

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20 Georgie August 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I am sure I spent a lot more than that during the 4 years I was Greek, but I graduated with a 4.0 and no debt – I paid for everything with scholarship money. I had a great time! And it never interfered with school.

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21 Mr. Everyday Dollar August 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I was in a fraternity and like someone else mentioned, living in the fraternity house was in fact ridiculously inexpensive. Much less than an apartment, dorms or a shared house.

Plus, I found that sororities are way into the gift culture and having t-shirts made for every event. Basically spending money on things the fraternities didn’t. We had one t-shirt made per year for rush, which our dues paid for.

My experience was much different and I think was cheaper than not being in a fraternity. YMMV!

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22 Squeezer @Personal Finance Success August 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Nice picture, lol. Sex definitely sells.

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23 Nivene@Cashnet August 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I was also in a sorority for 2 years. I decided to rush during my junior year and I wouldn’t change my choice at all. Since I was at a private university in the city, we didn’t have Greek houses on campus, so we didn’t have to live in a sorority house. Not having a house to pay was significantly cheaper on our dues (I knew some schools who charged almost triple what I paid). We also had the choice to purchase shirts and included our formal tickets or any event tickets in our semester dues. Almost everyone I knew was on a payment plan with the treasurer, and they did their best to help girls who could not cover all the costs. They had always tried to make it affordable for everyone by making almost everything optional. Obviously, I think it is a lot easier to be frugal if your organization is willing to help. :)

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24 Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager August 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Yet another reason why I’m glad I didn’t join a sorority at my small school…

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25 Jacob @ iheartbudgets August 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

+10 for the Marching Band! I was a drummer (center snare) and we were pretty damn good (won most every competition on the west coast) so it wasn’t too bad. But that was in high school. I never did the whole “university” thing because I was stupid. But I did live with 4 guys who went to UW (Washington) and went to my share of parties. I don’t think I spent too much, but almost $3,0000 just for being in the Greek is pretty steep. Back then, though, most all of your income was disposable, so it probably felt 100% worth it.

Also, Jake G. isn’t really THAT good looking, c’mon. Everyone knows I’m the best looking Jake on the internet.

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26 SavvyFinancialLatina August 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I never joined a sorority. First of all, sororities were not huge in our university. The school didn’t want them to get big because well my university is a research institution. Seriously, I went to a nerd school and I’m proud of it.

A lot of people say (not pointing fingers) sororities/fraternities give you the chance to socialize, make friends, present in front of people, build a network. Umm..these are ALL things that you can do/learn in other organizations were you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars.
To name a few: Golden Key Honor Society, Management Honors Program, Religious club, sports club, Toastmasters, community service organizations, women in business, dean’s council…..or you can make up your own club!

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27 SavvyFinancialLatina August 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I was in Marching Band in high school too! I still have my flute LOL Thanks for the compliment J. Money! :P

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28 Bridget August 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Interesting.

I was never part of a sorority and had no interest in one, but a few of my good friends were (are? they are seriously active alums)

I’m not surprised by the cost.. but hey isn’t it a good time? Experiences over stuff, right? haha

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29 Jon B August 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

That’s awful…Total costs of everything included for my fraternity was $1,800 for 4 years and we were involved with a lot of philanthropy, events, and recruitment.

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30 Erin85 August 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Wow, this post is ignorant… I hate the conclusion of this post: “In truth, the biggest argument I can make FOR going Greek is the friendship itself – which you can’t put a dollar value on.”

It somehow implies if you don’t go Greek, you’re going to be a lonely (rich) jealous loser. And I just *LOVE* this statement: “chain smoked behind the dumpsters near the dorm with the girls who refused to rush for financial/political/religious reason”. If you didn’t go Greek, clearly you are a crazy person. Going Greek is not a big deal at some schools. Believe it or not, I had friends (both Greek and not), despite being a regular college student without letters on a little pin affixed to my chest!

Anyway, I agree that everyone should take into account the considerable financial obligations of going Greek, but I don’t like the undertone of this article that you will be inferior if you decide not to…

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31 Debtkiller August 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Wow. I had no idea “Going Greek” had so many hidden costs. After reading this, I’m thankful that my college didn’t have any frats. It was expensive enough without these added expenses.

$100 for the public awareness speaker? haha! That’s great!!

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32 Veronica August 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

The top image makes me sad. That’s not what sorority girls do at all. :( You can get kicked out of your house for stuff like that!

I was in a sorority and we had a house on campus so I had room and board expenses on top of everything else mentioned here. It wasn’t a bad experience, but I don’t know that it was worth the thousands my parents spent on it. My dad always thought it was good for me and I it probably was. Sometimes I felt like I was being groomed to be a wife or a “Lady of Society” but there are some good lessons in there! HA! I do find myself compelled to help the collegiate chapters in my area with their recruitment, though! :) I like seeing young women doing something positive!

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33 Eric August 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I was in a fraternity, and it did not cost that much for me. Our dues were less, and they were all inclusive outside of formals. And, J, it wasn’t a fake honors fraternity, it was an actual fraternity :)

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34 Lauren @ LBee and the Money Tree August 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm

@Eric-epic burn!

@Veronica- yes, sororities do promote positive self esteem for young ladies. or at least mine did. I was very lucky in that respect.

@Debtkiller-100 dollars was only my contribution. I think we had to raise between 11-1400 total!

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35 Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance August 23, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Back in college, I received several invitations to join sororities but I was too busy studying, maintaining my grades and working to p[ay my bills such that I did not have the time for them. I also realized that joining them will mean additional expenses on my budget and I do not have the money! LOL.

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36 Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey August 23, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I never thought there are a lot of hidden financial obligations when you join a fraternity/sorority. I was glad I did not heed to their invitation.

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37 J. Money August 24, 2012 at 10:33 am

I agree that there’s a ton of awesome giving back sororities and fraternities do for their communities too – something many people overlook because of that first image of partying/socializing. You can really get a lot out of them if you can handle the fees!

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38 Mister Stress August 24, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Fraternity/Sorority fees are a lot less than dorm fees. At my fraternity, I spent only a few grand a year for room, board, social budget, etc.

That is over 4 semesters, not 2 terms.

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39 Budget & the Beach August 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Wow how do you even remember the cost?? I was in a sorority too, but that was so long ago. I don’t remember dues being that bad, but I do remember all those extra costs that went with being in a sorority. I really liked it at the time, but once I left I left. I don’t donate to the alumni or anything. I will say though, that at 41 I’m still in touch with just about 1/2 of the girls in my sorority, so it was worth something!

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40 J. Money August 27, 2012 at 9:10 am

Very cool! Some of my best friends I still talk to came from our frat too – you def. bond with them :)

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41 Chris September 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I was at a small state university with 2 fraternities and 2 sororities. Our dues were $42/month and it was well worth it. I gained so much resume experience (organized a ton of charity events which included dealing with local and state officials), met my best friends, and had fun. It was really expensive after it was all said and done but I got a job (from what my boss said) primarily because of my fraternity experience listed on my resume. I think our fraternity was a little weird though. We weren’t your “animal house” type of fraternity. We partied but had strict rules on drinking (no underagers allowed to drink at any function). I would pay double to do it all again.

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42 J. Money September 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

Haha, I would probably pay double myself too – wouldn’t change it for the world :) Glad you got so much out of it! I’m sure you will going forward for the rest of your life too.

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43 G May 3, 2013 at 3:00 am

Sororities and frats are there to make you connect with those on your financial level; good way to meet a significant other from your class as well. It’s just very much a class thing. I’m not a liberal hipster, but that’s the reality of the situation. I don’t blame them; it’s a good way to pick out the bad apples on your campus, so to speak…

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44 J. Money May 3, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I can’t tell if you mean that as a compliment or not ;)

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45 Elsia November 18, 2013 at 12:47 am

Hi, I’m trying to see if there are spending differences between northern and southern sororities. Can you guys help me? How much on average does a northern sorority member spend on clothes/accessories/gifts compared with a southern sorority member? What about for fraternities?

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46 J. Money November 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm

That would be an interesting study indeed. My guess would be the northern ones are more expensive, but I have no idea… never being in a sorority myself, of course ;) (I’m a guy)

Maybe others here will chime in as time goes on?

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