When I started college in 2014, I was well aware of the investment my family and I were undertaking. A college graduate makes hundreds of thousands more over the course of their career than someone with a high school diploma, according to the Office of Retirement Policy: Men earn $900,000 more, and women make $630,000 more. But that financial advantage comes at a cost.
Total student loan debt in the United States is more than $1.53 trillion, according to Federal Reserve data. A recent survey found that 39 percent of college students with loans would consider dropping out of school before taking on more debt.
Using four tricks, I saved over $10,000 a year — roughly the cost of in-state tuition for a semester at my school, the University of Missouri. Here are some things not to do if you too want to save big:
1. Don’t live on campus
Some people say living in a dorm is an essential experience for first-year college students and, while it’s definitely fun, it’s also expensive. At my school, the cost of living on campus was about $10,000 a year. Living off-campus and renting for $400 a month, I saved about $6,000 a year.
Even if you go to school in a place where rent is more expensive than it is in Missouri, you can still benefit by moving off-campus. Dining plans are usually mandatory with on-campus housing, and you can save money by preparing your own meals.
2. Don’t rely on the dining hall
Once you do move off-campus and are able to cook your own food, make things to eat instead of buying expensive meals and snacks on campus.
Most meals are available on campus and cost about $10, or $50 for an entire week of lunches. By meal prepping over the weekend, I saved about $30 a week without spending time each morning to make my lunch. That’s about $1,000 every school year.
3. Don’t buy brand new books
I started each semester by going to the campus bookstore to find out what texts I needed. Most semesters, I was shocked to see the bookstore’s cost estimate was more than my rent and became one of the things that empty my wallet as fast as thunder.
According to the College Board, most college students spend about $1,200 on books each year. You don’t need to.
Many students are already renting textbooks through services like Chegg and Amazon but, chances are, the books you need are available to borrow. I often found copies at my campus library or local library — probably donated by the students who originally paid sticker price.
If you can’t find what you need, check WorldCat, which is a network that lets you search libraries around the country. Remember the text might also be available as an eBook. PDF versions might be available, especially for literature classes, though you should only use this tip for textbooks that are in the public domain. Search sites like Project Gutenberg or by checking each book’s copyright information.
Take advantage of your network and find out which friends are taking the class, too. You might be able to buy a friend’s textbook at a discount or share books if you’re enrolled the same semester.
Using these tricks, I saved about $700 a year on textbooks.
4. Don’t go Greek
The cost of joining a fraternity or sorority varies but at my school, the average membership dues were $2,095 a year on top of a new member fee of $2,569. In other words, more than I wanted to spend.
Instead of rushing, I looked for free hobbies and clubs on campus to connect with people. Photography clubs, intramural sports teams, and volunteer groups are usually free to join or have only nominal dues.
I estimate I saved about $2,000 a year by participating in free campus clubs. In fact, my job at the student newspaper even paid me to work there — which gave me even more money to put towards tuition.
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