10 Tips for Saving Money in College
Though there was a time in the U.S. when getting a college degree was more reasonable, it has always been an expense. In 1934, the average school cost $630 per year, which today would be about $11,300 when adjusted for inflation. Now, college costs range from an average of $9,410 per year for a four-year, in-state public school to $32,410 per year for a private, four-year school. Those costs only cover tuition, not room and board.
Given the high price of getting a degree, many students are doing what they can to pay for school and save money at the same time. Whether you are a freshman about to head off to a college for the first time or a senior entering your final year at a university, these tips will help you save money while in school and help you build a nest egg to set aside for your future.
1. Go After Scholarships
Around 70 percent of college seniors had student loan debt when they graduated in 2015, and the average student has borrowed more than $30,000 to pay for school. While student loans can help you pay for college, you must pay them back when you graduate. Depending on the type of loan you have, you might be responsible for paying the interest while you’re still in school.
Scholarships, on the other hand, offer money for school, room and board along with other college costs. You don’t have to worry about repaying the money while you’re in school or after you graduate. You have some options when it comes to finding scholarships. It might take some research, but if that research results in even $1,000 to help pay for school, it can be worth it.
Make a list of your activities and interests, then search online for each activity, plus the word scholarship. You should get a list of scholarships or information about awards for which you may be eligible. For example, if you are a dancer, a search for dance scholarships brings up dozens of potential results.
Also, check with local institutions, such as a community bank or your parents’ employers. Many companies offer scholarship programs for students in the area.
Visit your school’s financial aid office to learn more about available scholarships. Many schools will automatically award students money based on their GPAs and test scores, but your school might have a few under-the-radar scholarships that require a separate application. It never hurts to ask about your options.
2. Choose Housing Wisely
Is it less expensive to live on-campus or off-campus? The answer depends on the location, your preferred accommodations and your school. The average cost of room and board for college is $10,692 per year, but some schools charge as little as $5,326 per year for a shared dorm and the largest meal plan.
Meanwhile, it costs an average of $1,231 per month to rent an apartment in the U.S. The exact amount you’ll pay in rent varies based on location and size of the apartment, as well as how many people you have living with you. For example, median rent costs around $700 in many cities in the Midwest, but, in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places to live, median rent hovers around $4,000 per month.
Before you decide to move off-campus, look at the cost of living in the area around your school. Ask yourself if you need to live alone or if you can handle living with roommates for a few more years. Life with roommates has its drawbacks, but it also has many benefits, the key one being saving money on rent each month.
There’s more to housing costs than what you pay for rent. In some apartments, you are also responsible for utilities, such as heat and electricity, as well as for amenities like internet or cable. Those features are usually included in the cost of your room and board on-campus.
Think about the cost of commuting to school once you move off campus. Depending on your school’s location and how far your apartment is from campus, the cost of commuting can get expensive. Remember to account for the price of gas and parking if you drive and the cost of a transit pass if you plan on using public transportation.
Another cost of living off-campus students often neglect is the cost of furnishing their apartments. When you live in the dorm, the school provides your bed, a dresser, a desk and other basic furniture. You usually have to bring your own TV, laptop and other gear, but you can make use of communal options if need be to save money.
For example, you can watch TV in the lounge in your dorm or use a computer at the library or in a dorm’s computer lab. Many dorms have fitness centers, so you can exercise without having to pay for a gym membership.
There are also ways to get free room and board if you stay on-campus. For example, you can apply to be a resident advisor, or an RA. RAs often get free housing and meals in exchange for supervising a dormitory floor. It’ll be your job to act as a neutral mediator when roommates are having arguments and your responsibility to ensure students on your floor are following quiet hours and other rules.
3. Use Your Meal Plan
Many schools require students living in the dorms to purchase a meal plan. If you have one and use it, a meal plan can be a great money-saving tool. You’re paying up front for the cost of a certain number of meals, which can lead to lower grocery and food bills overall.
It’s possible to go overboard with your meal plan and to purchase more meals that you end up eating in the dining hall or student center. If you buy the 19 or 21-meals per week plan, but only eat ten meals a week, it’s a waste of resources.
Take a close look at your eating habits before you invest in your school’s meal plan. If you regularly skip breakfast or just eat a granola bar and drink a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, two meals a day might be all you need. If you do eat three full meals daily, the most cost effective option might be the largest plan available.
If you end up buying more meals than you’re using, all isn’t lost. Speak to someone in dining services. They might allow you to switch plans and refund you the cost of the unused meals.
4. Take Advantage of Discounts
When you are a college student, many organizations and businesses understand you don’t have much money, but they still want you to patronize their services or shop at their stores. To keep you as a customer, many businesses offer student discounts.
The only time in your life when you might have more discount offers than in college is when you’re a senior citizen. Since that is a long way away, take advantage of any discounts you get now. Here’s a list of businesses and organizations that typically offer college student discounts:
- Fashion retailers. Many retailers offer a 10-15 percent discount to students who present ID when buying. For example, J. Crew offers a 15 percent discount to students in stores. ASOS.com offers 10 percent off online purchases. Topshop offers 10 percent off online or in-store purchases.
- Subscriptions. A variety of subscription services provide discounts to students. If you need to subscribe to the “New York Times” or “Wall Street Journal” for school, you can do so at a reduced price. Spotify offers a student rate, as does Amazon Prime, which may help when you need to purchase textbooks.
- Movie theaters and museums. Some movie theaters offer a reduced ticket price to students who have school ID, and many museums will let students in for free or charge a significantly reduced price for admission, as long as you show ID.
- Performing arts. If you love theater, music or dance, find out if the local performing arts organization has a student ticket or young friends program. Some theaters let students “rush” a performance, meaning you can buy unsold seats for little money, usually just a few hours before the show begins.
- Insurance. Many car insurance companies will offer a reduction in the price of insurance to students who earn good grades, usually at least a B average.
- Transportation. Some transportation companies have student rates. Amtrak offers a discount of 15 percent on certain fares, as long as you book at least three days in advance. Local city buses may offer a discount of up to half off.
- Software and laptops. If you need to use the Adobe suite, you might be able to save up to 60 percent as a student. Many laptop and hardware manufacturers, such as Apple, Lenovo and Dell also offer discounts to student shoppers.
If you’re not sure if a company has a student discount, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Even if a business doesn’t currently offer a discount to students, if enough people ask, the company might consider starting one.
5. Take Advantage of Free Things
You not only get some discounts as a student, but you also get access to a considerable number of free things. For example, your school might screen movies for free in a student lounge or outdoors or might put together game nights or ice cream socials. Those events not only help you save money on food and entertainment, they help you fill your social calendar and meet new people.
Many schools charge a student activity fee to all students. That fee often goes to annual events, such as a Spring Fling or a back to school party. Since you can’t get out of paying the student activity fee, you might as well take advantage of the events.
6. Rent, Don’t Buy
The price of college textbooks is often eye-wateringly high, especially since you’ll usually use it for a single semester. Although you do have the option of selling the book back at the end of the term, you only get a few dollars back, especially if the publisher releases a new edition of the book, making the one you bought obsolete.
For many students, renting textbooks is an excellent way to save money. You still pay some amount for the books you rent, but the rental price is usually considerably lower than the cost to buy.
The one downside to renting is that you need to be very careful when handling the book. If you usually write notes in the margins of your books, you may want to consider buying instead or switch to making notes in a separate notepad or on your laptop. Be careful not to damage the book by spilling coffee on it or by having it get wet in the rain.
Pay attention to when the rental is due back to the bookstore to avoid paying any late fees or fines. If you think you’ll need the book for longer than the rental period, it might be more cost-effective to purchase it, then try to resell it, depending on what the store is charging for late fees.
An even more cost-effective option is to check out a book you need for class from the library. While you might not find “Calculus 101” on your library’s shelves, if you’re taking a literature class, odds are very likely that your local or school library will have several copies of the novel or book you need, all for free.
If you know you are buying a textbook, look beyond your college bookstore. Local bookstores may have the same books for a fraction of the costs. A thrift store in a college town may even keep extra copies of high-need books. Amazon may have used copies that are still in good condition, too.
7. Choose the Cheapest Transit Option
Another way to save money as a college student is to plan how you get around carefully. Depending on where you go to school and how far school is from your home, driving your car might be the most cost-effective transportation option for you. If you are going to school in an urban area, you might find that you can get around for free, either by walking everywhere or by riding a bike.
If you do drive, find ways to save money on gas. You might carpool with other students or only drive when necessary. Depending on your location, you might be able to make money with your car by using it to drive for services such as Uber or Lyft.
8. Be Cautious of Credit Cards
About a decade ago, it was common for credit card companies to set up shop on college campuses, giving out gifts and prizes to students who opened a new account. While the Credit CARD Act of 2009 has made it more difficult for students under the age of 21 to get a credit card, many students still have one. If you have a co-signer or proof of income, you are able to get a card.
Getting a credit card in college can help you establish a credit history and develop good credit habits. A credit card also makes it very easy to get into debt. If you have a credit card, give yourself a strict spending limit and always pay off your balance before the due date. Not paying the balance in full leads to interest and fees, meaning you’ll pay more in the long run.
If you do get a credit card, look for one that offers a cash-back or other rewards program, has a low-interest rate and no annual fee. A rewards card lets you earn money when you shop, usually anywhere from one to three percent of your purchases.
9. Get a Part-Time or Work Study Job
Along with finding ways to cut your costs and save money as a college student, it’s also a good idea to find ways to make money while in school. Depending on your financial aid package, you might get a work-study job on campus, which you can use to cover the cost of tuition and room and board.
Even if you don’t have work-study, you can apply for a variety of part-time jobs off-campus. For example, you can find a job at a local clothing store or coffee shop to help pay for your books, cost of living and other expenses. Just make sure that the job doesn’t interfere with your class schedule or keep you from doing your homework or studying.
10. Open a Savings Account
A savings account gives you a place to deposit your income from work or the money dispersed to you from scholarships or loans. The money you deposit into a savings account is federally insured for up to $250,000 and will earn interest, helping it grow over time.
If you’re going to school in Central PA or call Central PA home and have questions about opening a savings account please feel free to Contact us today.