Get used to hearing this one—college is expensive. You’re either feeling the effects now (oh hey, double shifts at the library and attending lots of irrelevant events for free pizza), or you’ll be feeling them later, you know, when the loans go into repayment. Either way, we could all use some help keeping our expenses low and our balances high(er). Here are some tried-and-true money-saving tips that can keep college costs in check.
1. Buying new books is a rookie move
Who knew books could be so expensive? Oh, wait—we did. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy into the idea that new is better. In most cases, new is unnecessary. Go for used or even rentals, which you can get from your library for free or online at a lower cost. And don’t count out e-books. These are often more affordable and have the added bonus of being environmentally friendly. Just make sure the e-book includes all the pieces you’ll need, such as a digital access code for supplemental online content.
Before you shell out $500 for a new bio book, check out the best sites for book deals, recommended by students like you:
2. Decorating your space is an interpretive art
That picturesque collection of extra-long sheets and coordinating lampshades is lying to you. You can get just as much use out of a Craigslist desk and Grandma’s throw pillows—and you might even get more friends because of it. The point here is that your ideal room or apartment décor might be better suited for your first paycheck after graduation. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your space feel like home; you just need to be a little flexible doing it.
Shop around on sites like Craigslist and OfferUp (but make sure you’re putting safety before a good deal here because this can get weird—try to meet in a neutral, public location and take a roommate, friend, or bodyguard with you). And don’t discount Facebook Marketplace or other social media groups where students can buy, sell, and trade old stuff. Your school might have one just for students looking for the futon of their dreams. Check it out.
“My first couch was threadbare and hideous, but it was free, and a neutral slipcover made it work in my apartment.”
—Emily, fourth-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Canada
3. Stick it out for sales
If you can swing it, hold off on buying supplies—sans the essentials, of course—for the first few weeks of the semester. A lot of stores put office, desk, and room supplies on sale after the big rush, and that means you can get a lot more goods for your green. So treat yourself to that extra-plush body pillow; your patience paid off.
4. Move beyond the microwave—or learn to cook with it
Those double XL coffees from the café add up fast, and those meal plans can be expensive. We’re talking $1,000 to $3,500 per semester expensive depending on your school, according to a 2015 NBC News report. Ouch. Many schools offer a range of meal plan options, and choosing a smaller one might save you some money. You still have to eat, though, so shrinking your meal plan goes along with expanding your kitchen skills.
Before we lose you completely, this is an awesome time in your life to learn to make some basics, like pasta, tacos, roasted vegetables, and killer quiches. You don’t even need to make peace with the oven to get going here. Check out our article on five recipes you can make in a microwave to get started.
5. Where you live matters
First year on campus? You’re probably hanging out with some roommates in a res hall. But that might not be the most financially savvy option for all four years. “Depending on where you go to school, living off campus with a few roommates could be less expensive than living in a [residence hall]. At other campuses, [residence halls] are the best value,” says Amy Marty Conrad, director of the CashCourse program, part of the National Endowment for Financial Education that helps students plan how to pay for college.
Bottom line: Do your research. The default option isn’t always the most affordable option, and you owe it to yourself to figure that out. Check with your school too—some colleges require students to live on campus for a certain amount of time. And don’t forget about the live-at-home option. It may not be your fav now, but the financial freedom you’ll have after graduation could get you closer to the life you want. It’s all about those goals.
“Bulletin boards on the school campus always offer different options for housing like renting a room, needing a roommate, [and] cheaper apartments or studios.”
—Alexander, fourth-year undergraduate, College of the Desert, California
6. Your student ID is a magical, money-saving thing
Your student ID is so much more than a close-up of your face on your first day on campus. It’s essentially gold—and it can save you some too. Businesses want your business any way they can get it, and that usually means that they’ll cut you some slack in your student years. But you have to know what it gets you, and you have to be willing to ask. Some retailers might not advertise discounts, and others might only grant them to the brave few willing to ask the question. It’s worth it to do so, even if they say no.
And remember, this applies to way more than just clothes and food. Car insurance, flights back home, and an evening at the museum are all things you can save on with proof of your student status. Use it before you graduate and take a moment of silence for all the money you save. Or don’t.
What can a student discount do for you? Check out some of the deals here.
Bonus tip: Build (and stick to) a budget
While we’re here, be sure you’re sticking to your budget by having one in the first place. It’s OK if you’re new to tracking your finances; in fact, that’s the best place to start. Try a budgeting app like Mint and see where you can make adjustments. Remember, small tweaks can mean big savings. You got this.
Amy Marty Conrad, director, CashCourse, Denver, Colorado.
Borges, A. (2016, August 23). The 6 best sites for scoring cheap textbooks. Her Campus. Retrieved from https://www.hercampus.com/life/academics/6-best-sites-scoring-cheap-textbooks
Durand, F. (2016, September 14). 11 things we wish we had known about cooking in college. The Kitchn. Retrieved from https://www.thekitchn.com/11-things-we-wish-we-had-known-about-cooking-in-college-208283=
Jhaveri, A. (2016, August 2). 22 healthy college recipes you can make in your dorm room. Greatist. Retrieved from https://greatist.com/eat/healthy-dorm-room-recipes
Krrb. (n.d.). 37 money saving college life hacks. Blog.krrb.com. Retrieved from https://blog.krrb.com/37-money-saving-college-life-hacks/
National Endowment for Financial Education. (n.d.). CashCourse. Retrieved from https://info.cashcourse.org/#
Pack, R. (2016, July 19). 25 essential dorm room cooking hacks. Daily Meal. Retrieved from https://www.thedailymeal.com/25-essential-dorm-room-cooking-hacks
White, M. C. (2015, August 25). School meal plans convenient, costly…and sometimes required. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/freshman-year/school-meal-plans-convenient-costly-sometimes-required-n415676