Your college years are supposed to be about gaining independence, making new friends and learning a thing or two - not digging yourself into a deep hole of debt. But many students, often those who are living on their own for the first time, see credit and loans as free money rather than the dangerous, interest-generating funds that they are. Making a few budget-conscious decisions won't prevent you from making the most of your post-secondary education. Take these tips to heart and you'll see how saving money during college pays off in the long run.
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- Get Along with Others: Save $4,200
Maybe you just escaped dorm living and you can't wait to be weird roommate-free, or maybe you're finally going to get out of your parents' place in the suburbs. Either way, don't take independence too far: sharing a living space with roommates will save you big bucks. A one-bedroom apartment for a UC Berkeley student is about $750 at the low end of the spectrum. However, a four-bedroom apartment nearby runs about $1,595, which would be about $400 per month for each tenant. Plus, with roomies you'll share the electric and water bills if they're not included in your rent. While utilities bills will be higher in larger homes with more people, you'll still save some coin - not to mention the $4,200 in rent you've saved yourself by moving in with some buddies. (For more on a related topic, see College Dorms: Good Value Or Ripoff?)
- Learn to Cook: Save $5,300
When you're stressed about mid-terms, the last thing you may want to do is cook. But before you pick up the phone to order in, think about the stress you're putting on your bank account (and your body) by ordering a pizza. Buying groceries each week, bringing lunch to school, avoiding spending money in coffee shops and sticking to a budget will save you a good chunk of change. If you budget $50 for groceries each week, plus two lattes per week for those late study sessions at the library and one pizza night out, you'll spend around $3,700 on food for one year. Compare that to spending about $20 each week on groceries, but about $15 on pizza every other night, buying a latte and a scone every morning, and a $5 sub every day: you'll spend approximately $9,000 in one year on food. (For more tips on how to save on your grocery bill, read 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices and A Map To Grocery Store Savings.) The same goes for drinking alcohol. If you're of legal drinking age, buy as few drinks in bars as you can. Spending an evening tipping a bartender to fix you a cocktail with an inflated price tag will add up.
- Don't Drive: Save $1,705
Depending on where you go to college, you may have to drive to get anywhere. But many colleges offer discounted public transit passes or are easy to navigate by biking or even walking. Students at Penn State ride the bus anywhere on campus for free with the Center Area Transportation Authority, and 20 tickets for trips outside of campus cost $28. That's just $1,456 each year if you use 20 tickets each week for one year. But with a parking permit at the university ($640 for two semesters), insurance (on average, about $1,756 each year) and even the most fuel efficient car out there (a 2000 Honda Insight, which uses on average $765 worth of gasoline each year), you'll be spending $3,161 each year getting yourself around - more than double what you'd spend on the bus.
- Buy Used: Save $400
You paid tuition, you're paying rent, you're paying bills and now you've got to buy books. It's tempting to hit the school bookstore and buy everything all at once, brand new. But tracking down used versions of books can be really easy with help from the internet and will save you more than a few dollars. For example, Notre Dame's reading list for a second year English literature course called Point of View in the Novel lists 10 popular books, from Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" to William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" A quick search of the titles from this list on Amazon.com with price comparisons between new and used books (both of which can be ordered from the site), shows that buying new books for this course will cost $99.27 before tax and shipping. Used? Just $41.31. Those savings, spread over five different courses for two semesters, would put more than $400 back in your pocket. (For more on college finances, take a look at 6 Sources Of Free Cash For Student Loans and Student Loans: What Can You Afford To Borrow?)
- Don't Watch TV: Save $595
You'll need internet access if you're going to do anything school-related at home, but before you sign up for cable television, ask yourself if you really need it. More and more television series can be streamed online at network websites, and you can watch sports at campus bars or at a less money-conscious friend's place. The FCC reports that the average cost for expanded cable service is approximately $49.65 per month - that's $595.80 each year before tax. Buy a hook-up at an electronics store that will connect your computer to your television screen if you crave big-screen viewing. It will look just as good as regular television, and you'll likely watch fewer commercials.
The Bottom Line
With these simple tips, your total savings amount to approximately $12,200, and without sacrificing any element of your precious college years. You'd be surprised what kinds of things you thought were must-haves that you don't actually need - without missing out on any of the fun ... or learning experiences.
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: The Ups And Downs Of A Double-Dip Recession.