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Paying for College? How to Spend Less this Semester

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A college degree, once considered a golden ticket to career success, has almost become a prerequisite for entry-level employment. A 2012 analysis of want ads found that more and more employers are demanding degrees for positions that once did not require a college education, Catherine Rampell explains in The New York Times.

Students have realized this. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 66% of 2012 high school graduates were enrolled in college or university classes by October of that year.

That doesn’t mean going to college is getting any cheaper. While studies show that published tuition and fees increased by just 2.9% in 2013, the smallest one-year increase in nearly 40 years, the actual net price that students and their families pay out of pocket is still on the rise. This is due to the fact that grant aid has not increased as quickly as the cost of college, The College Board clarifies.

Saving Cents Makes Sense

If you’re paying for college, it’s easy to find yourself drowning in student loan debt and credit card bills. Here are some realistic ways to spend less this semester, regardless of your income:

1. Never, ever buy brand-new textbooks.

Most of us would never pay hundreds of dollars for a book that we’ll barely even read before giving it away a few months from now, yet that scenario is true for college students across the country.

According to this chart published by The Atlantic, textbooks and course materials have increased by a whopping 812% since 1978. Do yourself a favor and buy used textbooks or share books with a friend. Your professors will never tell you this, but in some cases it’s even possible to get through the entire course without ever getting your hands on the book at all.

If you absolutely can’t locate a used copy of a book you need, buy textbooks online instead of on campus, where they are almost always considerably more expensive.

2. Keep your grades up.

Grades aren’t everything, but if you have scholarships and grants, your GPA is kind of a big deal. You could kiss that financial aid good-bye if your grades fall below a certain point, resulting in much higher tuition bills next semester along with some ugly blips on your otherwise beautiful transcript.

3. Search for college scholarships.

Even if you already have scholarships that are helping you pay for college, always keep your eyes peeled for other ones! Legitimate free money for college really is out there if you know where to look. Our financial aid guide is a good place to start.

4. Save on gas money.

Vehicles are expensive, and so is their upkeep. Car insurance, oil changes and other routine maintenance, parking fees, tolls, and gasoline add up quickly! If you live on campus, it’s usually possible to get by without driving anywhere. Walk, bike, or use campus shuttles to get to and from class. If you have to go places on the weekends, consider carpooling with friends.

5. Buy used or borrow.

Buying used textbooks isn’t the only way to save on things you need. Need a fancy outfit for an awards ceremony or big date? Check out a consignment shop or a friend’s closet. Before you make any major purchase, ask yourself if you really need it (whatever it is). If you do, ask yourself if you could buy it used or borrow it from someone else instead! You might save yourself from buyer’s remorse while saving plenty of cash.

6. Student discounts.

Speaking of buying things, always ask if a student discount is available. Many major retailers, local shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and websites offer discounts when you show your student ID. Not sure? It can’t hurt to ask!

7. Say yes to free stuff.

College campuses are great places to get your hands on free stuff. T-shirts and free food are common and almost expected at events on campus. Take advantage while you can!

8. Skip the restaurants.

If you live on campus and were forced to purchase a dining plan as a result, use your dining plan. Ordering pizza and going out for dinner, even just a few times a week, adds up quickly. If you don’t feel like eating in the dining hall, get your meal to go and bring it back to your room or someplace that you’d rather eat. You paid for that food anyway—and most likely paid a lot for it—so you might as well eat it. (Pssst … if you aren’t on a mandatory meal plan, it’s still possible to save money on food by avoiding restaurants and hitting the grocery store.)

If you drink alcohol, as reportedly 80% of college students do, resist the urge to run up a huge bar tab. Drinking away your hard-earned (or borrowed!) money isn’t the best way to spend it.

Read More:

10 Quick Ways to Save Money for College During Winter Break

Sneaky Ways to Save: Have More Money During College


Melissa Rhone+

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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