You don’t have to be a math major to know that college expenses add up — and those expenses often spawn worry. Fifty-three percent of students felt stressed “very often” over a 30-day period, with money being the leading cause, according to a May 2016 survey by OnCampus Research, a division of the National Association of College Stores.
“Anything that students can do to save money on the cost of their education, which in turn will help to lower their stress levels, is a good thing,” says Jenny Febbo, vice president of marketing and strategic communications at the NACS in Oberlin, Ohio.
Before you participate in paid medical research studies or take other extreme measures to survive your college years, try these sensible money saving strategies.
1. Pounce on financial aid
High school graduates left as much as $2.7 billion in free grant money on the table by not completing the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, during the 2014-2015 application cycle, according to a 2016 NerdWallet analysis. Use your opportunity to claim federal student aid by filling out the FAFSA before each new school year. If you’re eligible to receive funds, you won’t have to reach as deep into your own pockets.
2. Borrow or rent textbooks or buy used
Instead of shelling out big money for brand new textbooks, you can save significantly by borrowing them or buying them secondhand. Visit your library, ask a friend or seek out other students willing to lend books and supplies through campus community groups on sites like Facebook or Reddit.
But don’t count out your campus bookstore. “A number of [stores] will offer different incentives,” Febbo says, like a percentage discount if the student reserves the book in advance, a price matching guarantee or a payment plan. Febbo suggests shopping as soon as course materials are listed, because rentals and used books get snatched up quickly. Before you buy, compare prices between your campus bookstore and sites like Amazon and Chegg, or go paperless — you might find e-books with lower price tags.
3. Score student discounts
Use your student ID or email address to get discounts at stores, restaurants, museums, movie theaters and more. For example, students are eligible for a free six-month trial of Amazon Prime, with perks like free two-day shipping and Prime Video streaming, followed by half-priced membership. Ask retailers about special rates for students.
4. Stick to a maximum four-year plan
Earning a bachelor’s degree in four years as opposed to five or six can save you thousands in tuition, room and board and other costs. Full-time in-state students at public four-year schools paid an estimated $3,770 in net tuition and fees alone in 2016-2017, according to a 2016 report by the College Board. Full-time students at private nonprofit colleges paid an estimated $14,190. Aim to graduate in four years or less, if you can.
5. Compare food and housing options
Campus meal plans tend to cost more than groceries. If you aren’t required to have one, consider scaling back or canceling your meal plan in favor of preparing meals at home. Renting a place off campus or living at home can also put less strain on your wallet. Read your university’s charges closely and see if you can find cheaper alternatives.
6. Skip the car
Thinking about bringing a car to school? You might want to hit the brakes. Many colleges include campus and public transit costs in the tuition and fees bill. Biking, walking or taking the bus will spare you costs like gas, maintenance, parking and tickets. Consider your needs and calculate what it would cost to have a car on campus versus leaving it behind.
7. Use free or cheap campus resources
Besides transportation, your tuition and fees might cover amenities like gym membership, IT services and library borrowing. Other commonly provided resources include tutoring, counseling and career services. Check what your college offers before you pay extra for the same service elsewhere. Look for free events and activities like movie screenings, open-mic nights, concerts and intramural sports.
8. Shop smart
When shopping for groceries, school supplies, household goods or clothing, employ these money saving tactics: Set a budget, make a list, search for coupons and compare prices to avoid overspending. Another prudent strategy is to buy in bulk, then split the items — and the bill — with friends or roommates. Remember to use student discounts where available.
9. Stick with the family
Your family might partially foot the tuition bill or let you bring laundry home during visits. They can help you save in other ways, too. For example, splitting a family cell phone plan can keep more money in everyone’s wallets than having separate plans. Discuss expenses with your relatives to find out what they’ll agree to share or cover.
10. School yourself in financial matters
In addition to basics like budgeting, tracking expenses and cutting back on spending, learning about bank accounts, credit cards and other personal finance topics can help you save money. Shop around before you sign up for anything because some products — especially ones that are marketed toward students — include fees, minimum account balances or heavy interest rates. If your options are limited, at least be aware of the terms and conditions so there aren’t any surprises.
11. Get a job on campus
Score the right gig and you’ll end up saving big time. Universities often compensate students who work as residential advisors with room and board. Working in a dining hall or campus cafe may get you free or discounted meals, on top of a paycheck. Work-study jobs give you the option to apply earnings toward tuition, room and board or fees, or to take your pay directly.