From tuition to room and board to incidentals, college is an expensive endeavor. While some costs are inevitable, there are also numerous ways to pocket as much of your money as possible while pursuing your degree. Below are the top 10 ways college students can save money.
1. Don’t Borrow More in Student Loans than You Need
The average U.S. student owes $29,000 in student loans, according to a recent USA Today article. However, the average college student who graduated in the Class of 2014 earned $45,478, reports the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Unless you’re earning significantly more – and/or borrowing significant less – than the average student, paying back your student loan is going to put a major dent in your post-graduate budget and lifestyle. While it may be tempting to accept the highest loan amount you can get, remember that this is borrowed money that you must repay – with interest.
2. Intensify Your Search for Scholarships
Contrary to popular belief, all scholarships are not based on academic achievement, and they’re not all just for incoming freshmen. The types of various scholarships available are limitless. You may be able to obtain a scholarship based on your family’s heritage, your gender, your particular major, or several other factors. Also, even if you have a high GPA, don’t assume that you don’t have to search for scholarships. While some organizations may seek you out, if you want enough money to cover all of your expenses, it will require some research on your part. (See also: Unclaimed Scholarships: Get Your Share and Students: There May Be A Tailor-Made Scholarship Out There For You.)
3. Cut the Cord
The cost of cable TV is one expense that you can do without. These are the best years of your life, and you shouldn’t spend them in your room staring at a TV screen. Get out and explore your campus – and the world. For those shows you feel that you must see, consider Netflix and other types of on-demand services. Also, consider going over a friend’s house to watch TV.
4. Exercise Your Textbook Options
Textbook prices are soaring, but unfortunately, when you return those books at the end of the semester, you’ll receive only a fraction of the price you paid for them. Consider renting books from your campus bookstore, or buying or renting them from cheaper sources such as Amazon, Chegg, or CampusBooks. Also consider purchasing digital versions that you can download, which are much cheaper and also are environmentally friendly.
5. Use Your Credit Card Wisely
Credit card companies are eager for you to get their credit cards, and they don’t mind if you can’t pay off the entire balance at the end of the month: it keeps you in debt longer and allows them to charge you interest. Also, if you’re late, you may be charged a late fee of up to $30, and your 7% interest rate may skyrocket to 24%. So let’s say you have a $1,500 balance, and you pay $42 a month on it. It will take you 10 years to pay off the card – and you will have paid close to $3,000. Try to pay off your card every month, and make payments far enough in advance that you’re never close to being late.
6. Choose a College Close to Home
You can save a substantial amount of money by choosing to attend a college close enough to live at home. Typically, living at home also generally allows you to take advantage of free laundry and free meals – although the downside is that it usually also includes free, unsolicited advice.
7. Take Summer Courses at a Community College
Community colleges are much cheaper than 4-year universities. Taking one class each summer at a community college can save you thousands of dollars over the course of your college career. However, before you take a class, make sure that it will transfer to your regular institution.
8. Learn to Make Your Favorite Meals
If you’re the type of person who loves lattes and other specialty coffees and you purchase them on a daily basis, it would be well worth the effort to learn how to make these expensive flavors at home. Also, eating at most deli shops is a complete waste of money. We’re not talking about baking hams or smoking turkeys – we’re talking about putting sandwich meat on bread and adding mayonnaise, lettuce, and slices of tomatoes. It doesn’t take a culinary chef to do that.
9. Avoid Scams
The Federal Trade Commission cautions students not to fall for scholarship scams. According to the FTC, companies that offer a money-back guarantee that they will find you a scholarship, require processing fees, or credit card or bank account numbers are all tell-tale signs of a scam organization. Also, don’t fall for tuition scams, in which someone calls to say that your tuition is late, and demands payment over the phone with a credit or debit card. If you have questions about the status of your tuition, hang up the phone and then contact the school yourself.
10. Take a Financial Literacy Class
If you didn’t do so in high school, take a financial literacy class. Your college should offer some type of financial literacy or budgeting class. These classes help you understand the importance of making wise financial decisions that can impact the rest of your life.
The Bottom Line
Although college is expensive, fortunately there are numerous practical ways to cut expenses that don’t involve eating Ramen noodles every night. (See also: 4 Tips For Cutting Your College Costs.)