Tips to Save on Unexpected College Costs

Tips to Save on Unexpected College Costs

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Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Daniel Atlas. We would like to thank him for his submission and credit him as the author of this blog post.

College can be overwhelmingly expensive, especially when you add in all of the extra little costs that sneak in above and beyond tuition. Thankfully, some of these extra costs—like textbooks and transportation—can be easily managed with a few preparations and lifestyle changes. In this article, I’ll offer some tips that can save you from overpaying.

1. Rent your textbooks.

The price of textbooks is a common complaint among college students, and rightly so—buying all of your textbooks for the semester can cost upwards of $1,000 that you weren’t planning to spend. While there’s no way to completely get around paying for textbooks, you can drastically cut down on their cost by renting for the semester instead of buying. This allows you to get all of the books you need at a significantly reduced price, but there is a bit of a sacrifice. You can’t highlight or write in rented textbooks or keep them for reference after the semester is over.

2. Consider your major.

This may come as a surprise, but not all majors are going to end up being the same price. Depending on the number of credits you’re required to earn, the number of labs you take (if any), and whether you need any special materials, you could end up paying more than your roommate. Studio art majors, for example, are required to have art supplies, which can cost a pretty penny. Geology majors may need to pay for field trips and excursions. Majors like English may require more textbooks than you’ll need for other majors. If you can choose between multiple majors that lead to the same career, look carefully at the overall cost of each major including courses, labs, and books, before settling on a path forward.

3. Buy used.

One of the biggest upfront costs that many students don’t plan on is the cost of outfitting their new college dorm room or apartment. While college dorms come equipped with beds and dressers, you’ll be responsible for adding lamps, a closet organization system, and decorations to make the room feel like home. If you’re planning to live in an apartment, the costs are even greater. You’ll need to find all of your furniture as well as purchase a set of cooking supplies for the kitchen.

Thankfully, you can save a significant amount of money when moving in by simply buying everything you need used instead of new. In a college environment, students are always moving in and out (and graduates typically don’t want to bring all of their college decorations or dorm items with them into the real world), so there are plenty of dorm- and apartment-friendly items available for cheap. Many colleges even have internal message boards similar to Craigslist that allow you to connect with students who are trying to get rid of furniture and other dorm room supplies. Of course, Craigslist, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and the local secondhand shop are all options too.

4. Bike to class.

Although you might think you need a car to get to class if you live off-campus or can’t get between consecutive classes fast enough just by walking, using a bike can save you a ton of money on gas and car insurance in the long run. There are a number of bikes that make terrific college commuter bikes, some that are built to help you tackle hills (if you attend a school with a hilly campus), and others that are newbie-friendly (if you don’t want to spend any of your study time on bike maintenance). Biking to class also has the added benefit of being a good form of exercise, giving you extra energy, saving you time, and making you more productive.

5. Find a part-time job.

Unexpected costs will come up no matter how much you try to avoid them, so one of the best ways you can save for them is to find a part-time job on or around campus. Most colleges have a huge variety of job openings for students available every semester, and there are also openings available off-campus. An on-campus position has the benefits of flexibility and proximity to dorms and classes, and some campus jobs even have built-in study time (working at the library, swiping IDs at the gym, etc.). Just make sure that taking on a part-time job won’t interfere with your studies. Working 10 to 15 hours a week is usually a safe bet for college students.

These tips aren’t going to make you rich, but they will save you a few dollars here and there—and when you’re in college, a few dollars can mean the difference between ordering takeout or going to the dining hall… again.

How do you save money?

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