It’s no secret that a college education is expensive, and many students have no idea how to cope with the expense. Tuition and fees aren’t the only considerations: there are overlooked costs that can add up quickly and become long-term debt.
Graduating with mortgage-sized loans will affect your credit score, which in turn will affect how you take out additional lines of credit in the future. (You can see how your student loans are affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.)
Consider your goals and how you can trim excess spending from your budget. Here are seven areas you may want to start.
1. Meal Plans
Food represents a significant cost of college living, and you may be spending too much. While some consider the expense of a college meal plan perfectly acceptable, others may cringe at the thought of spending that much on food. You could consider a different approach by opting for less dining hall fare and more cost-effective options (like this 16-cent breakfast). There are plenty of nutritional meals that require no cooking.
According to The College Board, a student attending a four-year public university will pay $1,298 per year on supplies and books. You may be able to cut costs on books by:
- Renting: Textbooks are exorbitantly priced and the resale value is low. Consider renting your course materials for the semester. Sites like Amazon and TextbookRentals.com provide lots of options.
- Talking to Your Professor: Instructors often assign course material without considering the cost, but that doesn’t mean they are indifferent to your needs. Ask them if you can buy an older version of the text, borrow a book the professor may own or gain access in another frugal way. Your professor may consider changing the curriculum or providing a more affordable way to learn the material.
- Applying for a Scholarship: Some academic and athletic scholarships cover supplies in addition to tuition. Talk to your academic adviser about the options available.
3. Data Plans
Wi-Fi access is one of the few complimentary services offered on most college campuses, eliminating the need for expensive cell phone data plans. Consider scaling back your service and monthly bill. Why pay for data you won’t use?
4. A Printer
Dorm rooms are notoriously small, and this choice saves space and valuable funds. Printers are available in nearly every building on a college campus, and most students are given access as part of their tuition fees. Save a few hundred bucks by printing your assignments in the library or elsewhere on campus.
5. Dorm Room Decor
My roommate and I coordinated our dorm room décor choices down to the color of our pillowcases. We also bought luxurious white carpets to place over the cold concrete floor. Cut to three months later when the rugs were stained with shoe prints and I had traded my comforter in for a throw blanket. Investing your money into temporary décor isn’t a wise move, especially on items (like carpet) that are easily ruined by wear and tear. Keep it simple during your college years and save for the future. Furnishing a post-grad apartment is easier without the burden of debt.
6. A Car
According to AAA’s 2015 Your Driving Costs study, the annual cost of owning a car is $8,698. This figure includes 15,000 miles per year, insurance coverage, gasoline, maintenance and so on. Owning a car can get expensive and is unnecessary for most co-eds. Most college campuses are designed with walkability in mind and, if not, university buses might be available for off-campus students. Save some money each month by stretching your legs or utilizing public transportation.
7. University-Sold Swag
University clothing and bookstores are notorious for price-gouging, and while you may want a poster or t-shirt, there are better ways to display your school spirit. Look for online discounts or even sales at your local chain store, like Target or Wal-Mart. Don’t allow upcharges to threaten your budget.