Money Management for College Students

10 Strategies for Containing College Costs

Overspending for new college students is as predictable as the "freshman 15" — the weight new students notoriously gain after all those dining hall buffets and junk food binges.

Staying fiscally fit all four years starts before you even set foot on campus. When you arrive with a strategy for smart spending, you can pace your expenses with your income and maintain financial equilibrium as you learn. Use these tips to get started.

1. Start at community college

Take prerequisite courses at a community college, and then switch to a four-year school for the specialty courses your major requires. Community colleges typically charge lower tuition. Once you've determined the courses to take, and in what order, you have a plan to follow.

2. Take advantage of campus amenities

Many schools have their own fitness centers and offer free activities like movie nights and other social events. Skip paying for a gym membership or those movie tickets and use the amenities and events your university offers — your tuition is already covering them.

3. Find free reading materials

Some innovative schools are pioneering programs that share materials under Creative Commons copyright permissions, which allow students to access just what they need for each class. Ask your professors in advance about Creative Commons versions of materials, even if they've listed traditional purchased materials on the syllabus. As an alternative, ask the school library to use digital versions of the materials that you can check out for the duration of the class.

4. Rent your textbooks

If you're unable to find a course's reading material under Creative Commons licensing or at the library, consider borrowing digital or hard copies of your textbooks from an online rental company. You can simply mail the textbook back when you're done with the course.

5. Use your student ID

Many businesses near universities show their appreciation for local student populations by offering discounts when you show your student identification card. Make a habit of visiting these businesses for special occasion meals, haircuts, school supplies or other essentials they may offer to get discounts on services and items you're already planning to purchase.

6. Be smart with loan money

With some helpful budgeting habits in place, you might find yourself with leftover student loan funds at the end of a quarter or semester. Ask your school's financial aid office to return the remainder of the money instead of spending it yourself. If the loans are federal, you can return the extra funds without paying interest on the full amount, but some private lenders may still charge interest. Make sure to understand how this works when you apply for the student loan.

7. Return your textbooks

When you do end up purchasing course materials for your classes, you can recoup the costs later by selling the books back to your campus bookstore at a buyback event. You might also earn more by advertising online and selling privately to another student.

8. Pool resources

Lab fees, presentation materials, art supplies, equipment rentals and required tools, such as specialty calculators, can all drain your resources. In such situations, the sharing economy can come to the rescue. Set up a study group with other students who agree to swap expensive purchases and pool resources for bulk buys. Friends in the dorm, sorority sisters, fellow fraternity members and others with the same major are naturals for sharing groups.

9. Get with the (software) program

As an alternative to buying individual versions of software you need for a class, see if the school has purchased software licenses that include you. If so, you've already paid for that software. Ask the computer lab staff how to access the programs you need for specific courses. 

10. Avoid fees whenever possible

From banking to parking, fees can add up over time. Open a checking or savings account, and learn how to avoid bank fees for activities like paying bills online, transferring funds and making unlimited ATM withdrawals. And try taking public transportation to class if you live off campus.


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