God, this brings back memories. When I had to buy lunch on campus, I’d stay near a water fountain to save some money. I’d also go to a lot of random events like “dinner with so and so” and “a reading from so and so’s book” because they typically had free food.
This situation gets worse once you realize that books cost hundreds of dollars each (each!) and aren’t covered by financial aid unless you have a rare surplus like the one you mentioned. Sure, you can get some textbooks in bootleg PDF form, but many schools produce custom readers that you are forced to buy for class. Or you need a $200 access code just to do your homework.
Financial aid will legit do anything to help the government before they help you. In junior year I thought that moving back home would reduce my parents’ contribution and/or my loans so I did, and the school simply adjusted my need-based grants so the school and government’s contribution went down while my personal contribution and that of my parents stayed the same. I ended up just moving back to campus since it made the same difference.
Ahhh, college. Don’t miss it!