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10 Easy Tips on How to Save on College Costs

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The new college year is quickly approaching and if you’re a student (or a parent), you may be stressed about how to pay for everything.

Tuition is the number one cost of any college attendance and we usually can’t negotiate these except receive scholarships and grants.

The average cost of a 2-year public college (in state) is about $3,440 a year and a 4-year college is about $9,410 a year.

So, if tuition is inflexible, how do we save money then? Not to worry, I’m a mom of a University Sophomore student and I have some great savings tips for you.

1. Rent Your Textbooks

Instead of buying your textbooks at the campus bookstore, look around online for a better price, or rent them online instead.

Use the BookSmart App to rent textbooks and e-textbooks, buy and sell textbooks with other students on campus and sell off your books after you’re done with them.

We used Amazon Textbook rental for almost all of my son’s textbooks. You can save a lot of money this way! For example, the “Writing about Writing, a College Reader” costs $67 to buy and the Kindle version was $48, we rented it for the semester for $18. A $49 savings on ONE book!

2. Take Advantage of your Student Discount

Now that you’re a college student with a brand-new ID card and an .edu email, it’s time to take advantage of the savings.

What kind of discounts can you get with your student ID and email? A lot! Such as:

  • Amazon Prime – Students get 50% off Amazon Prime plus 6 months free
  • Fast Food Places – Many franchises offer 10% off your order, or a free drink
  • Clothing – Many retailers offer 15% off clothing and other deals
  • Computers – Many computer retailers offer student rates, such as Apple giving a student rate plus a $100 Apple Store gift card.
  • Cell Phone Service – Many carriers offer about 10% off your monthly bill
  • Local Attractions & Museums
  • Many more – depending on the school you attend.

3. Drop the Food Plan

It doesn’t matter the size of the college or university; the dining food plans are always expensive.

At Texas A&M University, for example, residential meal plan prices are about $1,190 to $2,305 plus tax a semester. At Duke University, a freshman-year plan with 12 meals a week costs $3,341 per semester (including taxes and fees).

That is a lot!

My son’s meal plan was going to be $3,500 for 10 meals a week. Instead he opted out and bought meals on Amazon Pantry for about $160 and about another $100 at Walmart.

About $260 spent on food for the whole semester, not counting the occasional meal out or care package. $3,350 is a huge savings!

4. Have a Side Hustle

Instead of worrying about saving money, work for it instead. But jobs in a college town are pretty hard to come by because of the large competition, especially on campus.

There are many alternative ways to make a little cash, even from your dorm room. Jobs such as:

5. Leave the Car at Home

I know having a car is very convenient to have as a student, but there are many savings to leaving your car at home.

Depending on what school you attend, many can be walked across from end to end in about 15 minutes or so. If not, then there’s the option of the college public transit or a bicycle.

For off-campus excursions, you can either join another driver, take the bus, a cab, or take a Uber or Lyft.

Let’s compare costs:

  • College Car Parking Permit – Anywhere from $40 to $2,500 a semester
  • Public Transit – Around $2 per ride or $20 a month (2 rides X 5 days a week)
  • RideShare – About $12 to $14 per ride, plus they offer a free $20 for a student’s first ride.

Now, remember I didn’t account for gas, insurance, and repairs which will add up to a lot over the semester. Some colleges don’t allow freshmen to have their cars on campus as well.

6. Dorm Savings

Room and board make up about 42% of the total cost of attendance at four-year college. I already showed you how to save on boarding (food), let’s check out how to save on rooms.

Many colleges require freshmen to live on campus the first year so the only option to save money there is to either live in the cheapest dorm on campus or get a shared room.

Some shared rooms can hold up to 4 students and are considerably cheaper.

I highly suggest that you do have an “in dorm” experience your first year as you’ll learn so much, have support of your peers and have less to worry about.

For the other years, you can either do the same as my freshman suggestions above, get a job working as a Resident Advisor and earn money as well as have your room and board paid for, or live off-campus.

Living off-campus may be cheaper depending where you are and if it is, do look for places that include utilities and other costs in the rent to make things easier.

Also get a roommate (or two or more) to split costs. Do be sure to have written and signed contracts with each roommate agreeing on what they will pay for.

7. Free Money

Do a search online and you will find so many college scholarships available. Even if you received some through your FASFA and other avenues, it’s still possible to get free money.

Scholarships are offered even for the weirdest reasons – duck calling contests, research for the potato industry, or if you are just extra tall.

There are scholarships on about every situation out there – disabilities, single mothers, veterans, nationality, etc.

One last option to get free money is to have a GoFundMe account and just maybe you’ll get lucky and get a  benefactor.

8. School Supplies

Now let’s talk about all the supplies we need for our classes – binders, paper, pens, highlighters, backpacks and what have you.

University students spend as much as $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies, that amount doesn’t cover items like special-size sheets for a dorm-room bed, a computer, or laundry detergent.

A great place to start saving is to re-use the supplies you used in High School. Reuse your binders, pencils and pens and other stuff you have around your own home.

There’s a new trend happening at various stores such as Office Depot and Staples is that they’re starting their back to school sales as early as June.

One way to “save” money is to spread your shopping out a little bit over the summer. This way you’re spending less per trip and this makes it more affordable instead of one large shopping trip to wipe out the budget.

Another savings tip is to shop at the dollar stores for big discounts, or shop at bulk warehouses and buy in bulk to cover the 4 years of college.

9. Work Hard

This savings won’t happen the first year of college but will in subsequent years.

Work hard in your classes and aim for high grades. The simple fact is that the higher your GPA is, the more chance of winning scholarships and grants for the following years will happen.

The simplest scholarship is the Dean’s List – for most colleges, a freshman needs to earn a GPA of at least 3.50 and be taking 12 credits to get an award.

The amount varies by school and region but many are a cash award to apply towards both the fall and winter semesters’ tuitions.

10. Use Campus Amenities

While away at college, the best way to save is to use your campus’s own amenities. Before heading off-campus and spending money, look at your own campus and use either their free service or student discounts.

Most colleges have the following amenities to take advantage of:

  • Health Clinic
  • Gym and Fitness
  • Cable & Internet
  • Performing Arts Center
  • Music Hall
  • Dorm Activities
  • Free classes, workshops, and lectures

Some colleges even have some awesome perks, such as the Michigan Technical University that has an on-site Ski Resort, and the University of Missouri has a beach club and a lazy river to relax on.

There’s always something to do right on campus, so save your money and check out your campus calendar and dorm calendar.

Be ingenious and come up with your own savings ideas. These ten are just a start to a multitude of ways to save money for college.

For other ways to save as a college student check out these posts:

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this list of 10 easy tips on how to save on college costs. See any tips that aren’t on this list and should be? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!

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