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College is often touted as being “the best four years” of a person’s life. Sure, it can be tons of fun, but massive debt of an education afterwards isn’t! The cost of a college degree in the U.S. has risen 1,120% in the past 30 years, so saving money in college has never been more important. Here are some penny-pinching tips for your four years so you can stress less, and enjoy more!
Banking and Finances
1. Make a budget and stick to it. Allocate a certain amount of money for food, going out, etc. per month and don’t go over it. I like Mint.com because they keep track of where your money goes each month, and email you when you have unusual spending in a specific category. And they have a smartphone app so you can keep your spending in check from anywhere.
2. Take a deep breath before you do, but check your account early and often. It’s much easier to say ‘Another time!’ to fancy dinner if you already know that you can’t afford it, than having your card denied when you’re already there. And overdraft fees just add insult to injury.
3. Keep a change jar or piggy bank. If you have roommates, pool your change together and use it for a house dinner, groceries, or a fun outing. Or, take it to Coinstar and get cash. If you get a gift card, they don’t charge any fees and you can keep every penny for yourself.
4. Once you have a handle on how much you’re spending every month and feel financially responsible, consider getting a credit card. There are several student cards available that make it easy to build your credit score, which you’ll need in the near future (like when you sign your first lease!)
5. Keep some money for emergencies. Your parents will be much more impressed if you can handle a sticky money situation on your own.
6. Make sure that you’ll actually need the books that the professor requires. Talk to someone who has taken the class before, and see if there were any that were not used.
7. Wait a few weeks before you buy books, just in case you end up dropping the class. Then use your .edu email to sign up for Amazon student, and sign up for free 2-day shipping for 6 months. Your professor won’t get mad if you don’t have every book on the first day of class, and you’ll save up to 90% of bookstore prices.
8. For gen eds that you’re sure you’ll have to take (so you can buy them over the summer), Amazon is still usually the best option. But check bigwords.com, a textbook price aggregator, to make sure that you’re getting the best deal.
9. For many popular classes, or classes that require a lot of novels, make sure to check your school’s library before you buy anything. You could potentially check out your textbooks for free! Many schools also have partnerships with other college libraries, so make sure to check out their databases as well.
11. Tablets are expensive, but you can download the Kindle software onto your laptop for free. Kindle and online book versions are often at least 30% cheaper than a hard copy, if you don’t mind reading on a screen.
12. If you’re living on campus and will be on the meal plan, you will not need a car. They are a tremendous money pit, especially when combining gas, inspections, and parking.
13. Instead, your school probably offers some kind of shuttle service to the grocery store or mall. These are often free so take advantage!
14. The city bus and public transportation are also great options for exploring when you’re getting cabin fever from campus.
15. Your campus might have a Zipcar hub, which is great and fairly inexpensive for occasional trips if you already have a driver’s license and a clean driving record.
16. Find a friend with a car! Just make sure to offer to pay for gas.
17. The Freshman 15 is a very real thing. You can save money and those extra pounds by avoiding late-night eats and fast food.
18. Instead, buy a ton of healthy non-perishables from a big-box store (like Costco) before you move in and bring them with you. That way you’ll always have granola bars, crackers, dried fruit, mac and cheese, popcorn, etc. when the munchies strike.
19. You can usually steal a piece or two of fruit from the dining hall on your way out. Save those bananas and eat them on your way to class later.
20. Keep boxed cake or brownie mix and sprinkles on hand, for birthdays and for just because. A night in spent baking is surprisingly fun and way cheaper than going to a bar!
22. Your fashion sense (and possibly your size) is going to change while in college. Don’t take up precious closet space with clothes that you don’t wear.
23. Put everything in your closet on hangers facing one direction, and switch the direction of the hanger once you’ve worn an item. At the end of the semester, get rid of anything you haven’t worn.
24.Sell stuff you don’t wear on Krrb! List each item individually or set up an event listing for a dorm/yard sale.
25. Have a clothing swap: invite several friends over and tell them to bring clothes they don’t wear anymore (this works best with friends who are of similar height/size). Then barter and trade for new clothes!
26. Your school might have a campus-wide swap at the beginning and end of the school year, use those events to find cheap deals on clothes and stuff for your dorm.
27. Donate it! Goodwill and Salvation Army are always accepting donations and there’s probably one in your neighborhood!
28. Take advantage of student discounts. Show your Student ID at check out for 10-15% your order at tons of stores.
29. Don’t allow yourself to go out three nights a week just because. Use going out as a reward instead. Stayed in Friday to finish a huge paper? Celebrate on Saturday!
30. Bars are really expensive (and so are fake IDs). Take advantage of free events offered by the college and surrounding areas instead.
32. If your college is located in a larger city, sign up for focus groups to test out products and get paid for it. They’re great for college students who have random free time during the day.
33. E-rewards.com is an online surveys site where you can get rewards in the form of gift cards.
35. Instead of lazing around all summer, work as much as you can and save up. Don’t worry, you’ll still have time for the pool and beach!
36. See if you qualify for work study through your college. You can work an on-campus job for 8-20 hours a week, and save up spending money.
37. Professors also often need paid research assistants during the school year. Ask your favorite professor if anything is available!
Most of all, don’t stress too much! College is fun, enjoy it!