With the end of July quickly approaching, those of us with college-aged children must start switching gears from summer mode to school mode. College is a huge expense that affects not only the parents but their new college-bound kid as well. To help ease some of those costs, here are my top 10 ways on how to save on college:
1. Contact your roommate before moving day.
Not only do you want to get a feel for how you will get along with the person you'll be living with but you will want to find out who's bringing what to save both space and money.
Find out who has the bigger items such as a mini fridge, a TV, DVD player, etc. that you can share and don't need two of. If neither of you have one of these items, consider splitting the costs.
2. Shop yard/garage sales.
Yard/garage sale season is still in full swing and you can score some great deals for your kid's dorm room. Try looking for mini fridges, TV's, TV stands, dvd players, artwork, bookcases, etc. in good condition — you could save as much as 90% or more!!
Of course, don't forget that you can also score some great deals on their back to school wardrobe as well…
3. Buy used textbooks.
As much as I loved the first day of classes (yes, I was that kid!), I dreaded spending the hundreds of dollars on textbooks that I was only going to use for a few months and then never look at again. Most college professors will take notice of this fact and use the same textbook for a few semesters so that students may buy them used — which can save you a ton!!
If you are buying at your college bookstore, the used books are usually marked by a “USED” sticker on the spine and sell out VERY quickly — try to make plans to buy your books the first day of classes to score them.
Another option is to buy your books online at websites such as half.ebay.com and barnesandnoble.com. There are a couple drawbacks to this option — you have to wait for your booksg to ship which could set you behind in your class and you have to be sure to choose the correct book as there are multiple versions of the same textbook often available. Be sure to research this option before making your decision.
Almost every college town has an off-campus bookstore which sells used books. You can also trade in your books from previous semesters for credit towards purchasing your books for the current semester.
A fairly new option includes renting digital textbooks on your computer, tablet or Kindle.
4. Purchase a meal plan.
You don't always have to live off Ramen noodles and bananas! A campus meal plan can be a great option for both on-campus and off-campus students. A meal plan will typically allow you so many meals/week at the campus dining hall and a monetary allowance at other dining places on campus.
The cost of the meal plan can be rolled into your tuition costs so you never have to worry about having money for groceries. Plus, the options you receive at the dining hall are far better options than what you could afford or make in your dorm room! You can also use your monetary allowance at the Campus store to buy snacks and drinks to keep in your room when the dining hall is closed.
5. Bike, bus, or car?
These are all options that every college student should explore on how to get around on/off campus. Depending on the layout of the campus and the city/town around it — you can find a way to save on your travel expenses.
Bike – If you're the active type and are attending college in an area with attractions close by — this can be the most cost effective way to travel around at college. Not only can you avoid gaining the “Freshman 15”, there is no gas to buy and repairs are much cheaper than for a car! Even if you don't have a bike to take with you, it's much less expensive to buy a new bike then buying a used car. Plus, if you're running late for class, this can get you there faster than walking!
Bus – If you are attending college in an area that offers public bus transportation, it can be very cost effective to purchase a bus pass to get you around off campus. Public bus routes take you to all the major attractions in the area — the grocery store, the mall, etc. and back to campus several times a day. It can be a bit tricky to figure out the schedule at first, but once you have it down, you can sit back and relax and not have to worry about car expenses or rising gas prices.
Car – If you are attending college in a rural area where you need a car to get around off campus, consider listing all the possible expenses that come with having a car (insurance, repairs, gas, etc.) and think of how you will cover these while you are away. If this requires help from your parents from time to time, discuss this with them before leaving for college so that it's not a big discussion later.
Another option is to talk with your future roommate or other friends attending the same college and consider carpooling. You could split the cost for gas and still save big!
6. Look for FREE stuff to do!
There are so many different club and campus-sponsored events happening at every college campus, every night of the week. Free movie nights, game nights, music events, ice cream socials, etc. are all free events than can be fun and a great way to meet other friends. These events can also open up interests in areas you may not have thought of otherwise!
Some off-campus hangouts also merge with the college and offer free events to students in the area. Look around at message boards at the Student Center or Dining Hall for things going on in the area.
7. Do NOT get a credit card!
I have to say that I fell victim to this one in my first year of college — and regretted it long after. Credit card companies send their cool-looking sales people out to college campuses everywhere to entice college students to sign up for a credit card. They will often use the line that students can have extra money for eating out, shopping, etc. and not have to worry about paying it all back right away. Even worse, they will often offer a “free” gift for signing up such as a free t-shirt or tickets to a local event.
Credit card debt is an awful, awful thing that can stay with you for years and will soon make those nights out with friends or new jeans not so worth it. Stay smart and only buy what you can afford – it's not worth the free t-shirt!
8. Consider being a Resident Advisor (RA).
If you are going to live on campus, room and board can take up a huge portion of your tuition. One way to save on this is to consider becoming a Resident Advisor (RA) in your dorm. Becoming an RA comes with deeply discounted or even FREE tuition, however, keep in mind that this is a job and comes with several responsibilities. Explore the option carefully before starting the process.
9. Research scholarships.
There are literally thousands of scholarships out there offering free money to students. You don't have to have straight A's or a top athlete to receive a scholarship. Take some time to read the requirements of scholarships and you may find that you qualify for more of them than you think. Even a small $250 scholarship can go a long way towards books. Check out local scholarships being offered where you live or do a search online — a good place to start is https://www.studentscholarships.org/
10. Use your student ID.
Your student ID can literally be your key to the city. You can get discounts on lots of things from movie tickets to plane tickets. If you are going to go off campus to eat out/have fun, check around at what local places offer discounts. If you travel home by bus or plane, you can most likely get a discount by showing your student ID.