According to the U.S. Department of Education’s annual look at college affordability, the average cost of attending a four-year public university has risen 15 percent over a two-year period thanks to state budget cuts and tuition increases.
Some students are cutting costs by going to community college before they transfer to a four-year university. Others are living at home with their parents and commuting rather than moving into a dorm.
Whatever your situation looks like, it wouldn’t hurt to have some frugal tricks up your sleeve.
In no particular order, here are nine easy ways to save money in college:
People who aren’t even in college know that brand new college text books are a small fortune. Paying two hundred bucks for a book you’ll probably never open again after you take your final exam is a painful experience. Whenever possible, buy used—at the school bookstore, online, via flyers hanging on campus—or borrow a friend’s book. Professors don’t recommend it, but in some cases, you might even be able to get by without the book.
You shouldn’t have to eat Ramen noodles for every single meal, but most people spend way too much money on food. In fact, a lot of college students pay several hundred dollars per semester for a meal plan but never eat in the cafeteria. If you have a meal plan, use it whenever possible. Otherwise, cook your own food. Make dining out a fun reward, not an everyday occurrence.
If you’re addicted to coffee, start making your own and go green with a cute reusable travel mug. At three or four bucks per day, your morning latte addiction is costing you a pretty penny over the course of the school year. Starbucks will miss you, but your wallet will thank you.
If you drink, you know that it’s also possible to spend a small fortune on alcohol. Avoiding alcohol is a good idea, especially if you’re under the legal drinking age, but if you’re going to drink, limit your spending. Bring cash to the bar so you aren’t tempted to start a tab on your credit card.
If you carry cash, toss your coins into a jar every evening. All that change adds up quickly and you’ll have a mini savings account for a rainy day. You can cash it in at a supermarket that has a coin sorting machine, or roll it and take it to the bank yourself to save the convenience fee.
If your phone isn’t on Mom and Dad’s family plan, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. You might be paying way too much for services you don’t even need or use.
In most college towns, local shops offer discounts when you flash your valid student ID. Some big-name retailers also offer student discounts. If you have the chance to save ten percent on things you need to buy anyway just because you’re in college, be sure to take advantage of the discount, but make sure you don’t overspend. Buying things that you don’t need just because they’re discounted isn’t the same thing as saving money.
Bored on the weekend? Clubbing, movies and going out to restaurants is expensive. But don’t worry! Chances are good that there’s plenty of free stuff to do on campus, even if you go to a small school. Concerts, art shows, movie showings and other organized events can be a lot of fun and save you money. You probably also have access to student lounges, gyms, activity centers and the like.
Need furniture for your new off-campus apartment? Want some new clothes but short on cash? Check out Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other thrift stores or go garage sale-ing with a pal who has a car. You can find some great stuff—often barely used or brand new—at a fraction of the cost. Shopping itself will seem like an adventure.
There you have it—a few easy ways to save money in college. Many of these tips are common sense, but actually implementing them can help you cut spending and start saving!
Scholarships are also a great way to save money when paying for college. Search for scholarships and financial aid by state at StateUniversity.com.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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