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5 Ways to Save Money in College

June 26, 2008

College students (and their parents) are some of the most cash-strapped people in this country. You almost have to have a degree in order to get a decent job these days, but the costs of college rise dramatically every year. Here are some easy ways, from personal experience, that college students can save money.

1. Live off campus – As far as getting involved in your school and making friends is concerned, living on campus is the way to go. However, if money is an issue, you might try living off-campus. When I was living on campus, I paid about $440 a month for my room (I had to pay a year’s housing at once, so I took out a loan). When I moved off-campus, I was paying about $215 a month, which I was able to pay myself, without needing a loan. Not only did I save the money in the rent difference, but I’ve saved the interest that I would have paid on a loan. I’ve also saved money because I am no longer forced to be on the University’s expensive meal plan.

2. Buy store-brand groceries– I’m assuming, here, that you’re already buying groceries. Eating out (even at McDonald’s) is incredibly expensive. My sophomore year, I would spend about $40 a week on “groceries” which usually consisted of cream soda, fruit cups, pudding, canned ravioli, cookies, crackers, and anything else that caught my eye while I was at the store. This would have been fine, I suppose, except that my meal plan with the University only provided one meal a day, and so I would come home in the evenings and eat half a box of cookies. Not only was this unhealthy, it was expensive. After a while, I began to revise my shopping habits and was able to spent $20 a week and have actual meals.

My first suggestion (treat it like a command) is not to shop at on-campus convenience stores. The prices are often double or triple those off-campus. I suggest buying things like cereal and sandwich items if you don’t want to cook or don’t have access to a kitchen. Also, a lot of money is wasted on soft drinks that are also bad for your health or on needlessly expensive bottled water. I suggest buying a pitcher and powered or frozen drink mixes, or buying a filtered water pitcher (available from Brita) for tap water. You can also get a gallon of tea at Kroger for $1 (less than a vending-machine-size Coke!). If you can cook, buy lots of pasta and try frozen pizzas (Kroger brand frozen pizzas are usually less than a dollar) or pot pies. Whatever you buy, even if you are cooking real meals with vegetables and the like, buy store brand. When I first started college, I bought all name-brand items because they were what my mother had used and they seemed familiar. However, the name-brand items are more expensive and do not necessarily taste better. The only time that I buy name-brand anymore is when it comes to cereal, as I’ve had a hard time finding store-brand cereal that I like. I also allow myself to buy one “luxury” item a week at the grocery store, such as a box of Swiss Cake Rolls, ice cream, or a case of IBC Cream Soda. 

3. Don’t buy your books at the bookstore – College bookstores almost always charge ridiculous prices. There are several ways around this. If you are in literature courses, check local libraries for the books that you need. Most libraries will let you check books out for about a month, so you will have plenty of time to read the book and even to use it for writing papers if you need. Also, if you need it later in the course, you can always check it back out. Most novels are about $10 at college bookstores, and I (as an English Major) read at least 10 novels a semester and sometimes as many as twenty. By checking out these books at a library, I have saved $800-$1600 over the course of my college career.  I suggest checking your school library for ANY book for a course, with the exception of textbooks. My boyfriend, who is a history and politics major, checks out a lot of non-fiction books for his classes.

Try online bookstores. Check Amazon, Half.com, and other online bookstores for your books if you don’t need them in the first few days of class. Not only will these websites have novels and non-fiction books, they will also likely carry many of your textbooks at discounted prices. Every university is plastered with signs for locally-run online bookstores at the beginning of each semester. Try these websites, but be cautious, as they may not be as legitimate as someplace like Amazon.

Another suggestion is to ask your professor if you could use an earlier edition of a textbook. New editions of textbooks come out every couple of years, and often there are very few changes. The new editions are printed just to make more money for textbook companies. In the case of political science textbooks, along with other fast-changing fields such as some of the sciences, buying an old edition may not work, as the information does change frequently. However, an older edition of a literature or mathematics textbook will probably not affect your learning, and these textbooks are often much cheaper as they are no longer in use. You can usually find these books on Amazon.

4. Carpool home– especially your freshman year, your parents may want you to come home frequently. Unless you live very far away from the college that you plan on attending, car-pooling to and from home may be very useful, especially considering gas prices. I go to college in Lexington, KY, and I have a list of people that I know who live in Louisville, KY and a list for Elizabethtown, KY. Whenever I want to visit either of these places for the weekend, I call the people on my list first to see if any of them are also planning on going. Sometimes we combine our trips and we manage to save quite a bit of money on gas. This can be a bit annoying as you have to conform to someone elses schedule, but the money you save makes it worth it.

5. Get a AAA membership– When you leave for college, odds are that you’re taking a car with you. The odds are also pretty decent that in the course of your college career, you WILL run out of gas, lock your keys in your car, get a flat tire, or need to be towed. I think my father pays about $75 a year for AAA membership for both of us. AAA allows 4 emergency roadside assistance calls per year. I have been towed twice and let into my locked vehicle 3 times in the past four years, and all of these services were free because of my membership. AAA also gets you a 10% discount at many events and hotels, and they have many services available to you if you wish to travel. The membership costs are definitely worth it. Also, while we’re discussing discounts, remember that many places, especially in college towns, offer a student discount. Make sure that you ask for it.
If you’re looking for more ways to save money, check out my post 25 Easy Ways to Save Money.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2008 8:45 pm

    just use coupons…i cant tell you how much i saved at school using food coupons. I printed all my stuff from this site SmartSource.com…check it out if your interested ed…sometimes they have good restaurant coupons too

  2. June 26, 2008 9:05 pm

    I agree with stacy about coupons…I personally use AllPrintableCoupons.com, but either way you cant go wrong, you just print them out and go shoppping

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