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Five Money-Saving Tips for College Students

Emilie has returned to college as an adult, and is successfully applying money saving techniques to her every day life.

There's no denying it. College is one of the most expensive investments that you can make. Unless you're lucky enough to land a full scholarship or have parents who can pay your tuition, you'll be working to pay off that debt for a long time.

One of the benefits of being a non-traditional student having a better understanding of how tough it be to be get work without a degree. Luckily for you, I've had to do just that, and am willing to share a few tricks I've picked up along the way.

1. Be Smart With Textbooks

The biggest sticker shock in schooling is text books.

Even just a few new books can cost several hundred dollars. Used books may not cost as much, but even those can get spendy. School bookstores are generally pretty overpriced, so it's always a good idea to shop around. Of course, there are online resources, but don't forget your local used book stores or student bulletin boards.

Unfortunately, I've found that selling used books back to the bookstore or selling them independently isn't worth the effort. The only caveat to that statement is if I have a lot of books that will sell, or they still bring in more than $40-$50 at the very least. Otherwise, I prefer to donate what I won't be keeping, along with whatever else I'm getting rid of, and claim it on my taxes.

Another great option is book rental. There are several web pages that offer this service. After some shopping around, I found Amazon was still the most affordable option for me. Last semester, for example, if I bought my books new from the bookstore, I would have spent close to $200. By renting them from Amazon, and buying one used there, I saved over $100. Bear in mind, that bill was for only three classes.

The most important thing to remember when doing this is to search by the book's ISBN number, so you can be sure you receive the correct edition. I also double checked the number once the books arrived, just to be sure the shipment was correct. It's also smart to ask your teacher if they're alright with students using ebooks.

Lastly, remember the library. If you put off buying books until your first week of class, you may be able to check books out of the library or do your assigned reading there. This semester, I'm taking a class about novels, which assigned five books. Since these books were all extremely inexpensive, I bought them, but I could have simply checked most of them out of the library, since we only take two weeks to read each one.

Saving on textbooks can make a big impact on your budget.

Saving on textbooks can make a big impact on your budget.

2. Watch for Student Discounts

Even before I went back to school, I loved discounts. I enjoy hunting for coupons, and there's just something invigorating about seeing a low price-point on essentials when combining manufacturer coupons, sales and store coupons. Yes, we adults get our thrills from weird places.

Don't ask about how excited I was when I got a new dryer. Woo! Party time.

Anyway, student discounts are another great way to save money, especially on technology. When you're working and going to school, you're constantly on the go, which means scheduling homework time at home can be difficult. Lightweight laptops are lifesavers in this regard, and they become far more affordable when stores and companies offer discounts for students.

The discounts go beyond technology, though. Museums offer discounts, as do some non-technology stores. Unfortunately, many companies don't advertise their discounts, so it's always worth it to ask.

Your school may have resources to help make attending more affordable, as well. One I use every semester is transportation. The institution has an agreement with our public transit system, which allows students to buy an unlimited bus pass for $98. It's good for the entire semester, and usable regardless of where you're going. That pass paid for itself within the first month and a half. My school also offers a steep discount on parking for students who drive. Those elements alone are worth asking about if they're not included in your orientation literature.

The student life fee in your tuition might also include things at no additional charge like:

  • Healthcare at an on campus clinic
  • Housing assistance
  • Career counseling

Tuition is expensive, but depending on the school you attend, you can get a lot more out of it than only an education. Schools want to keep their students, after all, and the best ones do whatever they can to make attendance possible.

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3. Consider Work Perks, FAFSA, and Scholarships

If you can work while you're in school, I highly encourage you to do so. The more consistent your work history, the better the chances are of getting a decent job after graduation. If you can find an entry position in a company related to your major, that's even better. The fewer student loans you take out, the better.

If you are able to find work, even part time, while attending school, check with your employer to see if they offer tuition reimbursement. Many companies offer their employees this perk as a way to maintain their workforce, while fostering brand loyalty. They may also use it as a way to scout and hire new talent.

Although it's undoubtedly good for the company, it's even better for the student. As we already know, school is expensive, even if you attend community and state colleges. Every little bit helps.

When I filled my FAFSA out this year, I expected to qualify for exactly nothing. Once it went through, however, I discovered I could get a state grant to cover part of my tuition. Regardless of what you think you'll get, it never hurts to apply. The same thing goes for scholarships and grants. Sites like FastWeb and CollegeScholarships provide an impressive number of scholarships for which you might qualify.

It's also worth looking into scholarships through your school and local businesses or charities. While many of these rewards aren't very big, they can add up.

Does the cat on my key make me awesome or just edge me closer to the cat lady stereotype?

Does the cat on my key make me awesome or just edge me closer to the cat lady stereotype?

4. Use Rewards Cards and Store Perks

Even before making the decision to return to school, I've used coupons, rewards cards and other store perks. These money saving tools can apply to everyone, but they're especially useful when money is tight. If you drive, you may also be able to save money on fuel through these programs. With the digital age comes new opportunities, as well. Stores of all kinds have developed apps for smartphones and other mobile devices to deliver coupons and deals.

As I was researching for this hub, I decided to check on our local grocery store to see if they had anything that could help me out. I discovered they have begun a Friday Freebie program, in which they offer one item for free. Even if I don't use the program every week, it's still great to know it exists.

Other retailers, offer gift cards with qualifying purchases. You can save a lot of money by planning your shopping trips ahead of time.

One find from a recent thrift/antique store outing. Who DOESN'T want some Cheese Cutter Lavatory Mist?

One find from a recent thrift/antique store outing. Who DOESN'T want some Cheese Cutter Lavatory Mist?

5. Thrift Away

Thrift shops can be fantastic sources for clothing, home goods, and, sometimes, school supplies.

Granted, most of the stuff for sales comes from independent donors, but some companies donate new merchandise. Those donations are brand new, but had either been sitting in the stock room for too long or had been clearanced out, meaning they'd been marked down to the point of no longer rendering a profit. It takes some hunting, but I've found these types of items on thrift shop shelves and racks. There's no denying it's fun hunting through the offered goods and reveling in some of the weirdness that pops up, either.

College is expensive, but it can be a wise investment. With a little extra work you can attend with minimal debt and still afford to survive while you study.

© 2017 Emilie S Peck


Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on March 23, 2017:

Thank you, Dora! It's been quite the journey, but worth it already. I hope these tips help younger students to get a better start on life after they graduate. The less debt, the better!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 22, 2017:

Emilie, congratulations on being courageous enough to take the back-to-school step as an adult. Your money-saving tips are sensible and helpful. Thank you.

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