Ah, college. Some say it’s the best time of your life, and while I wouldn’t necessarily agree or disagree with that, there is one drawback about college: you’re usually on a pretty tight budget. As college becomes more and more expensive, and you have to take out more and more loans, there’s not a lot of extra cash to go around for you, which is why it becomes even more important to watch how you spend your money. Here are seven tips that might help you save a little bit of money:
1. Assess your goals
This one should start even before you get to college. For example, think about what you want to do with your career. Getting a degree is important, but paying the high price of a private college for a degree that has limited earning potential could prove to be a waste. This doesn’t mean that some degrees are bad, but you have to realistically look at the consequences. If you’re spending $30,000 a year on a degree that might only bring in $40,000 a year without a lot of upward potential you could be setting yourself up to be broke or in debt and trying to pay off student loans for the next ten years instead of really getting ahead financially. So, think about your situation and see if maybe attending a local or state university where tuition could be much cheaper might actually be a better financial move.
2. Save money on books
There are a variety of ways to do this. First, you can buy used books. Most times you’ll look to use the book for one semester and then sell it. Since you’re essentially just renting the book does it really matter if it’s new? Unless the class demands a new version that can only be had new there is almost never a reason to buy new over used. Other times you can buy the electronic version of the same book, so inquire to see if this is an option for any of your courses. Textbooks can be a silent budget killer as they add up fast. It’s not uncommon to spend $500 or more each semester on books that you’re only going to use for a few months.
This will depend on whether or not you live on campus or commute to college, but we all know how much money you can save if you’re not using a lot of gas. If you live off campus with some roommates you should try to schedule times to get to and from campus as a group so that everyone isn’t driving to the same place at different times. Understandably, this isn’t always possible, but you should try to cut back on driving when you can to avoid buying gs, paying for parking, and the usual hassle of getting around campus.
4. Live in the dorms for a while
Don’t underestimate the benefits of living on campus. As a young adult there’s nothing more exciting than going out on your own and getting an apartment with some friends, but there are a lot of hidden costs associated with apartment living. You have higher transportation costs, utilities to pay, and your own meals to prepare. Except what usually happens is people get lazy or bogged down with classwork so you end up going out or ordering a lot of delivery food which can get real expensive. So, before making the jump off campus be sure you weigh the true cost compared to living in the dorm for another year.
5. Get a job
Your parents have probably been telling you this for years, but it’s true. Get a job and start making some money while taking classes. Will working eat up some of your free time? Sure. But it also brings in money that can help offset college costs and possibly even give you experience that will help you land a job when you graduate.
I’ve found on-campus jobs to be advantageous for a few reasons. One, since its on-campus it should be close to your classes. In some cases it might be within walking distance of your dorm, apartment, or your next class. Two, a lot of campus jobs are very homework friendly. That means you have a lot of idle time where you can get work done while on the job. Plus, they are very flexible in scheduling. Third, this gives you a chance to network with other students and possibly even faculty. Better connections could mean better job opportunities upon graduation. Finally, depending on what type of financial aid you receive, you might even get Federal Work Study, in which case you don’t have to pay taxes on what you earn. What could be better than that?
6. Use school printers
Unless you have your own laser printer, chances are you’re going to burn through a lot of ink with your InkJet printer. You will be printing off thousands of pages in college and that ink and paper can be really expensive. In many instances colleges already charge you a certain amount for printing in the computer labs so make sure you take advantage of it. When your professor wants you to read some 80 page research paper in a PDF he gave you do you really want to sit on the computer and read the whole thing? And do you want to waste your precious ink and paper to print it off? Use your school’s printers and have it printed for a fraction of the cost.
7. Don’t eat out so much
College students are notorious for eating out and ordering delivery food. Those late study sessions work up a big hunger and it’s easy to just call and order a pizza. Or, maybe you’re someone who likes to get work done in the coffee shop. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re spending five or ten dollars every time you’re in there for a coffee and a snack it can really add up if you’re doing that five days a week. So, cut back on dining out. If you’re in the dorms and have a meal plan just make sure to do the bulk of your eating there. If you’re on your own for food just be sure to keep cost in mind and buy some staples to keep around the apartment so that you can make up a quick meal without spending a fortune.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Another way to save money on college is to get some of the credit hours through credit by exam options like the CLEPs and DSSTs. These exams can also help you finish college sooner, too.
I'm $100K in the hole for my PhD and making $40K, so I really wish I'd thought about that sooner.
I got a really excellent laser printer for under $150, so I'd recommend that over school printers, actually. Unfortunately, most labs now charge for this service (free printing for students is pretty nonexistent).
Living in the dorms was great for me. I also saved money by getting a microwave and mini-fridge and the cheapest meal plan on campus. That way, I was able to do some "cooking" in my room, and I was able to get a lot of food for a small amount of money (unlimited salad bar at the cafeteria!). I was also able to save money my junior and senior years by being a resident adviser. Free room all to myself, plus a small stipend.