5 deadly sins of college spending
There are some expenses at college that you know you’ll have to deal with, such as college tuition and student fees. If you are an incoming freshman, you should also expect to pay for a meal plan. Unfortunately, there’s not much room for bargaining when it comes to these costs. Sure, you can save some money by attending a public in-state college instead of an out-of-state college, or you may even be able to find one of those remote tuition-free campuses, but in general, you’ll be footing the bill for these items no matter where you enroll. There are, however, some college expenditures you can reduce or even eliminate; it just takes a little creativity and will power. If you don’t want to be eating Ramen noodles for the next four years, be sure to avoid these five deadly sins of college spending.
1. Buying Textbooks from the Campus Bookstore
If you have an endless cash flow, by all means, head to your campus bookstore and shell out a bundle for your textbooks. You can expect to spend in the neighborhood of $1,200 a year going this route, or you could save yourself some money by buying your books online. It’s a good idea to wait until the first week of class before purchasing, just in case your professor has changed the syllabus or removed a book from the list. Purchasing used books, eBooks, or renting your textbooks can net you even bigger savings. Don’t forget to check Facebook and other social forums for potential barter opportunities, too.
2. Bringing Your Car to College
Just a few months ago, the American Automobile Association (AAA) released its annual “Your Driving Costs” study, revealing that the most people now spend an average of $9,122 to own and operate a vehicle. Even those with smaller cars can expect to spend close to $7,000 each year. That’s a lot of money! Ditch your car, or better yet, sell it before you head to college. Use the proceeds to buy a reliable bicycle and to help pay your tuition fees. Most campuses have ample public transportation and you won’t have the headache of trying to find a parking space. Over four years, you could save yourself nearly $20,000 by taking the bus or hoofing it.
3. Eating Out
In 2012, the average student spent over $765 each year eating off-campus. Even those who had a meal plan still ventured out for McDonald’s and other tasty treats. You may think you are being frugal by hitting the dollar menu daily, but at $5 a day, your expenses could easily hit $1, 825 for one year! If you drink Starbucks or other premium coffee, kick in another $100 a month. I don’t know about you, but I could do a lot more with that $3,000 than expanding my waistline. To trim some of the fat from your food budget, get friendly with coupon websites and purchase items in bulk when they are on sale. You can also attend free food events on campus and pool your resources with other students. If you can’t live without coffee each morning, purchase a coffee machine and make your own. Your bathroom scale and wallet will thank you.
4. Taking Classes You Don’t Need
Nothing stings more than finding out you just spent some serious cash for a class that won’t count toward your degree. To avoid this situation, check in with your academic adviser at least once a year to review your degree requirements and identify courses that will fill the gaps. Don’t wait until the last minute to register for classes, as you may find yourself having to pick up a class to satisfy your minimum credit hour requirement for scholarships and other financial aid. Another good tip - make a copy of the course requirements for your degree when you declare a major. It’s not uncommon for degree requirements to change with different graduating classes, but if you don’t know what your specific requirements were, you could find yourself taking some additional classes down the line. That’s why it’s wise to check your transcript after each semester to make sure you are on track to graduate as expected.
5. Buying Anything New
College is not the time to completely make over your wardrobe or play trading spaces with your dorm room, unless you know how to do it without going broke. Shopping for new clothes and furniture can be quite pricey, so now is the time to learn the fine art of popping tags. Check out thrift stores for some great bargains on clothing, dishes, organizers and even electronics. You can also save some cash by making your own dorm decorations and hitting up local yard sales. The best time to score some deals is the last few weeks of the semester when graduating seniors are putting their items on the curb or selling them dirt cheap. I acquired a mini-fridge for $5 because an international student didn’t want to pay to have it shipped back to Germany; timing is everything!
If you don’t want to leave college drowning in student loan debt, get comfortable with the word frugal; it will be your best friend and help keep your wallet from running on empty. You will be amazed at how much you can do with so little, and the money you save can be used to pay down your tuition or finance a study abroad trip. With a little luck, you might even graduate debt-free.
Have any tips on saving money in college? Be sure to post them in the comment section.