College can be really expensive. But it is manageable. You can take the edge off by cutting costs via the following strategies. To find out what you can do, keep reading. If you adopt just a few of these ideas, you will easily be able to save $1,000+ per semester.
Become a Resident Assistant
Better known as an ‘RA’ becoming a resident assistant can be a great way to save money. At most schools, if you become an RA, you get to live on campus for free. Pretty sweet indeed.
The RA is basically a student enforcer of the rules in a dorm. There are usually two RA’s per floor. They take turns watching the floor. They make sure people aren’t doing anything crazy. And if they are, they contact campus police, the city police or take care of the matter themselves. If you’re responsible and don’t mind being the bad guy/girl on occasion, becoming an RA can save you big bucks.
Resident assistants will need to show up to campus a few weeks early each year for training. Keep this in mind as if you have a lucrative summer job, you will lose out on that money. Also, being an RA makes it harder to network and have fun on the weekends. For someone who enjoys blowing off steam and meeting new people, being an RA may be a bit of a challenge. RAs often must spend long hours being quarantined to their floor while they are on call.
Exactly how much money will you make? See how much boarding costs in the dorm you can patrol. $2,000 per semester? $5,000 per semester? Whatever the cost, that’s how much you will save – gross. Then you must take into account how many hours you’ll be working in addition to those two weeks during the summer. For many people, the savings equal a good theoretical hourly rate. Though I would check this. Make sure you’re making/saving good dollars per hour.
Though understand that you’ll often have time as an RA to do your school work. So you won’t always really be working. Keep this into consideration as well. Overall, people make out really well as an RA.
Skip the Meal Plan
When I was in college about five years ago, each meal came out to be $7 with my 3/day meal plan. Talk about expensive! For $7/meal you could get top quality groceries and eat really fresh and healthy food. I can’t advise anyone get the meal plan unless you’re obliged to. Or get a reduced meal plan where you’re only eating about once a day in the cafeteria. This can kind of be nice because you can still have dinners ‘out’ with your friends.
At $7 per meal 3/day, that’s $21 per day. That means each semester you would be spending approximately $2,520. That is a lot of money. Trust me, you can eat much better for far, far less. You don’t even have to cook from scratch to do so. If you want to save money in college, a meal plan is one of the first things to cut.
Ride a Bike
I grew up in the country. That meant if you wanted to go anywhere, you had to take a car. I kind of took that unfortunate habit to college. But what I should have done was got a bicycle. You can cut across campus in no time on a bike and it’s much healthier than sitting in a car as it shuttles you around campus. You can go on Craigslist in nearly any city and get a good bike for as low as $100. Just make sure to also get a good lock. If you’ll be riding at night (probably) get a headlight and taillight to let you seen and be seen.
Most people don’t even need a car in college. That equals big savings as well. You won’t need to pay for fuel, repairs, parking, worry, etc. Use a taxi service or a carshare service. It’s all-around easier and cheaper. If you find you need a car next semester for an internship or the like, bring the car that semester. But when a car isn’t necessary, leave the car at your parents’ house.
Save up for Weddings
This is a weird bit of advice for this article but it’s important to know why you’re saving. A goal without a purpose isn’t likely to be reached.
Towards the end of your college career and the years after, you may be invited to stand at weddings. Weddings aren’t cheap – even for the ushers. Dresses and suits can cost hundreds. It’s a good idea to have a bit of extra in your savings account that you have earmarked for weddings – especially if you know a lot of couples. You don’t want to second-guess going to a wedding just because of money.
Things you may have to pay for include transportation, a dress/tux rental, a gift, lots of time to help out with things.
Only Buy the Books You Need
A lot of professors forget that college students are often on a tight budget. So they recommend many, many books. Instead of buying all of these, wait to see if they are really required. One professor of mine had us buy a book when all that was needed was the epilogue. The book was so old that it was open source and I found the epilogue online in about five seconds.
If a book really is necessary, you have plenty of options. One favorite way of saving money is simply sharing books with friends. Sharing with one or more friends means you’ll save at least 50% on the price of the textbook. Another option is by buying digital textbooks. These are often more convenient than paper books anyway. They are also a fraction of the price. They are better for the environment as well.
Another option with books is to buy an older version. Often, versions differ very, very little. I’m not entirely sure but it does seem just to be a ploy for the publisher to sell more copies. Note: You can ask your professor if the latest edition is necessary. Nine times out of ten though, they won’t know the difference between editions so to get you out of their office they will just say that yes you do need the latest version. Do your homework and see if there’s actually a noticeable difference between editions.
Finally, this is what I did, I bought my books used and then resold them online at the end of each semester, This mean books cost just a few dollars’ worth of depreciation. If you’re good at selling things online (and don’t mind the shipping logistics) this is a very wise option for saving money in college.
Try Not to Get Things Broken or Stolen
College is a dangerous place for possessions. People leave doors open. Cars get hit in the parking lot. People accidentally break things. A few of these things happened to me. I got something stolen and had my car involved in a parking lot hit and run.
Save money from what retailers call shrinkage. Make sure to keep your room locked. Get a lock for your laptop. Don’t keep anything valuable laying around your dorm room. Keep that stuff at your parents’ house or in a safe deposit box. Park in a place on camera that doesn’t get too much traffic and is monitored by a security camera.
Think How Much You’ll Save
By deploying just a few of these tactics, you’ll save a lot of money while in college. Yes, college is generally expensive but it is manageable. Instead of complaining about costs – do something about it. And have a blast at college.
I’m a personal finance freelance writer and webmaster. I welcome you to visit me at www.thefrugalpreneur.com