A lot of this is directed towards freshman in college who don't know the first place to look to save money until it's too late. Often, it's pretty easy to save money; you've just got to know where to start. Plenty of Web sites and articles cover this, but the articles are from people out of touch with what living in college is like. Instead, I've got a list for you that should help you really save money and will be extremely useful. Below are my 17 easiest (and best) ways to save money in college. Ready?
Rent a room off campus
Although rent is extremely expensive (even in big cities), it still is almost always cheaper than living on campus. It's astronomical what you pay for room and board at college; but it does sometimes make things a bit easier when you're not used to living at home. And although you feel like you don't know anyone and need to live on campus your freshman year, you pay much more than renting an apartment. Trust me, you'll meet plenty of people; this is an easy way to save at least $600 a year.
Don't get a meal plan, buy your own groceries
Again, easy way to save money. Or, better yet, grow your own groceries -- which is a pretty simple process! If you buy in bulk at places like Costco, Walmart, and Price Rite you'll find that you spend maybe $40 a week as opposed to $100 or more through the school! Now why wouldn't you want to go for this?
Get a monthly bus pass
This will only save you money if you commute to class five days a week. Many students get a bus/T pass their first semester through the school and realize they only used it 20 times. If it's just to go see your friends every weekend, chances are you aren't saving any money at all. A lot of times it seems like you'll use it much more than you do, but you aren't. Keep track of how many times you go on the bus the first month; chances are, afterwords you'll ride it about half as much. If that still validates the bus pass, go for it; if not, save your money.
Get a free checking + savings account
A free checking or savings/MoneyMarket account is a great way to save yourself from being slammed with fees. Many banks hit you for fees for using other company's ATMs, having too low of a balance, having too many withdraws in one month, among all sorts of other ridiculous fees. Most kids' banks accounts that are on the brink of emptiness can afford to lose any money unnecessarily, and a $5-25 fee isn't going to help. Most banks give no-minimum accounts to college students, which is great when your bank account is floating around $7.35 as mine often was. If you can, shop around in August and all the college student deals will be on flyers everywhere.
Don't get a credit card
So many people I know got credit cards for emergencies; the only emergencies I ever saw them use it for was a new skirt they "needed" for work that was 50% off. The other emergency is pizza at 3 AM when no one has money on them, but you've got your credit card and get to foot the bill. This is just money waiting to be wasted. Don't bother with it.
Compare prices for books
Don't just buy your books from the school, there are plenty of places to check out for books. Abebooks.com, half.com, amazon.com -- usually I'll end up buying books from all of these places, not just one. Compare each book's price to each Web site, I often saved about $100 a semester this way. I'll often write down the price of the book at each Web site, and buy where ever each book was cheapest. Don't forget to add shipping costs with it, because certain places charge more than others.
Ramen Noodles are a God-send. At $.12 a package, how can you beat them? Of course, they aren't really good for you per se, but they fill you up when money is tight. They're also extremely easy to make. In fact, sometimes you don't even want to make them and you don't have to -- you can eat them raw (and they're not too bad). Always keep a pack or two with you -- these are great for binge-eating at night, especially at parties when people want to order food. The funny thing is, you might be jealous of the big pizza they're ordering, but they'll be begging you for the Ramen.
Become a Vegetarian
This is the hardest one for most people -- and something only for the ones who are diehard into saving money (or animals, I guess). Meat is one of the most expensive things that people buy; especially when barbecue season comes around. Veggie burgers are often cheaper than meat and healthier. Cutting out meat altogether can put money back in your pocket, and can also help you lose a few pounds if you are a bit overweight.
Stay away from expensive electronics
Say it with me, "Unless my Major is involved in technology, I do not need a Macbook Pro." Everyone and their mother has a MacBook, and all they do is go on Facebook and Myspace. Some kids will maybe get wild and try Photoshop for a week. Laptops that cost $500 are good enough for me, so they're good enough for you (and I do webzine design for a literary magazine as well as various other small projects). Save yourself $1,500 by buying a cheap laptop. Also, stay away from new iPods, they WILL break. Just keep on truckin' with your older iPod. The same for iPhones or any other expensive new phone. The free ones always last forever, and when someone spills beer on it, so what? If you want to save money, you need to get your brain in the mindset of someone without any.
Stay away from Monthly/Seasonal Payments
Get rid of your cable subscription, Netflix, home phone, Sports Illustrated, porn subscriptions, etc. These aren't necessary. Get the cheapest cell phone plan and Internet (if you need it like I do); these will suffice. After the first month or two, you'll often forget to watch the movies you ordered.
You don't need new clothes
Every month girls need new clothes. Although their wardrobe is spilling out of their closet, they've got nothing to wear. However, once you get to college, guys are no different. You don't need new clothes, you need an iron and an ironing board. And if you need clothes, go to the thrift store. This cuts your costs in half at the least, and you'll find some unique clothes.
Want to cut out your expensive lengthy cell phone costs to your parents or significant other? Check out Skype; it's free, you can have video chats with people, and you can just talk like you're on the phone. Most newer computers have a built in microphone (and many have cameras as well), which makes this completely free to keep in touch with everyone if college is far away.
Find alternatives to the gym
Sell yourself as a dog-walker if you need exercise. Ride a bike to class. Go jogging. Use the school's gym. Do NOT get a membership, it is a waste of $40 a month. I've heard so many excuses for why people need a personal gym membership it's disgusting. If the basketball team can use your school gym, so can you.
Apply for one-time and online jobs
Sell your body to medicine for a day; write reviews for products on line; there are many ways to make money online. I haven't gotten it figured out yet, but so I hear...
Take community college classes for your gen-eds
I know, you chose your school because it's the best in your field. Well, during the summer, take some community college courses. These run usually around a couple hundred bucks a course (which beats the $2,000 a course at private colleges), and can cut off a semester (or in my case, it was a year -- yep, $30,000 saved by spending $2,000 for two summers) from your college tuition.
Go to state school
I didn't do it, but I wish I had. Save huge amounts of money by going to state school. Save your money for Graduate.
Keep track of your spending
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, save your receipts. Calculate your monthly expenses. Which of those don't you need? Cut them out for next month. Do this every month to keep track of where your money is running off to.
This is a clear-cut list that provides ways to cut down on your loans and overall to saving money through simple research and knowledge. These 17 ways should help you save money this upcoming year in school. There are plenty of ways to make college work without walking away with over $100k of debt like so many people I know did, so start being smart about your money and you'll save more than you'd ever expect.
Andy Cerrone is an editor and a columnist for various companies and Web sites, his newest being one to saving money. For more tips, check out http://savemoneydiyforcollegestudents.blogspot.com© 2009 Andy Cerrone
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