Sunday, August 17, 2014

College Hacks to Save Money

Froogal College Hacks to Save Money

Did your jaw drop when you looked at your bill for the semester? Have you wondered how you can save money on college expenses? Stressing over how you're going to pay for college?

Don't let this be you! 
Image courtesy blogs.cornell.edu
It can be a difficult problem. Fortunately, there are some creative ways to minimize your expenses every semester! Depending on the circumstances of your situation, you can save hundreds, or even thousands, every semester by taking advantage of these college hacks!

I've tackled the subject of student loans before (link here). If you've read that, you should have an idea of how student loan debt can pile up sneakily, and you don't even realize the magnitude until you've graduated--at which point you may end up living with your parents while you make payments of several hundred dollars a month. It goes without saying (though I'm saying it anyway) that you should be doing everything you can to minimize the cost of your higher education. 

Here are a few of the major costs, aside from tuition. Do what you can to save on these areas, and you can save thousands of dollars over the course of your education!
  • Save on Textbooks: Textbooks can be a killer! You're expected to buy all these books for your different classes, and they can really add up--especially if you have to buy more than one book per class. And as heavy as textbooks can be, you'd need a wheelbarrow to cart them all from the bookstore to your dorm!

    Fortunately for our muscles (and our wallets!), there are several alternatives to making the expensive trek to the price-gouging bookstore on campus. Amazon, as always, offers many options (link here: http://amzn.to/1oDuyWE). Amazon sometimes has discounts on expensive textbooks, and if you can get away with it, you can get a previous edition for much, MUCH less than a new textbook. E-mail your professor to check before you buy a previous edition, because the professor may assign work directly from the text. Occasionally, textbook authors may also make significant and important changes between editions, particularly in rapidly changing fields like computer science.

    Be sure to check around before buying, however, because you can occasionally find the book you need for less than Amazon's price (it's not common, but it happens). A good comparison engine is bookfinder.com. Sites that have specialized niches in textbooks include Abebooks, book.ly, Cengagebrain, Chegg, Ecampus, Half.com, Skyo, and TextbookRush. Be aware, however, that International editions frequently differ from the standard English version of a text, so only buy an International version if you already know that it won't hurt you in your schoolwork.

    Another option that I like is textbook rental, particularly for courses that aren't part of your major. This method has grown in popularity lately, and the only site listed above that does NOT participate in textbook rental is Abebooks. Bookrenter.com and textbookrentals.com are sites that cater particularly to students who want to rent textbooks. I've done this with courses unimportant to my major, and the procedure was pretty easy--they ship your book with a preprinted return label, you save the return label, and at the end of the semester, you pack the book in an envelope, stick the return label onto the envelope, and send it via U.S. Mail. Easy, relatively cheap, and convenient!

    For some professors and some courses, textbooks are not required! There may be one or more textbooks listed on the syllabus as "recommended" or "optional." This is up to you, but I never bought a single "recommended" textbook for any of my courses, only the "required" ones. You know your program better than I do, though, so such a judgment call is up to your discretion!

    If you're taking a course with a friend, you may agree to share a textbook. Split the cost, or if there are two required texts, you could each get one and swap as necessary. This could be a tricky endeavor, if one person buys the book and you chip in--be sure that your agreement is outlined VERY clearly, to avoid hurt feelings or broken agreements at the end of the semester. Tread cautiously if you take this advice, but it can save you a bunch of money if you do it right!

    Along similar lines, you could see if the school library (or department library, if there is one in your department) has a copy. If the professor agrees that you don't need to have your text in class--you can borrow the book for free! This works best if you're the only person in class with this idea, though. If you end up needing the book for an assignment and someone else has it, you're out of luck.

    Finally, if you need a literary classic for an English or Philosophy class, for example, you may be able to find it for free on Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org). This site houses classics whose copyrights have not been renewed, so you won't find Harry Potter on there (sorry!), but you will find works by Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Niccolo Machiavelli, Martin Luther, John Locke, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aristotle, and many others. If it's old and intellectual, chances are good that it's on Project Gutenberg. Save it on your computer or your tablet, and you're good to go--for free!
  • Save on Housing: Let's not play around here: on-campus student housing is expensive, cramped, and you may not even get to choose your roommate! That would never fly outside of college (unless you're in a hideously expensive city like New York). So, do you want to pay $5000-8000 per year to share a tiny room with another person for 9 months, when you could pay less than that for an off-campus apartment that you can have to yourself? Didn't think so.

    Since costs vary widely by area, as well as by distance from campus, you're on your own here. Do a little research to see what the going rates are, and then sit down and work out whether you want to live on-campus or off-campus. If you would like to share an off-campus apartment with a friend (or several friends), ask around! Rallying a coalition of responsible people to share the cost can save everybody money! It has also ruined friendships, so choose wisely. Or dodge the issue by finding a studio apartment (sometimes called an "efficiency apartment") for yourself.
     
  • Save on Your Meal Plan: College food probably isn't the finest cuisine that you'll ever have. In fact, you'll probably eat both healthier and cheaper by taking a trip to the grocery store. Even if you only eat one meal a day at your own place, you can cut down significantly on the massive upfront cost of your meal plan.

    Every school's policy is different. Some insist that if you live on campus, then you have to get some sort of meal plan. Others let you do what you want. Similarly, the variety varies by school--my alma mater had one company on a contract to provide the meals for all the students on campus (hey, it was a small school). Other schools have different companies that serve different kinds of food.

    So, figure out what plan works best for your needs--but remember that a plan for 3 meals every day will probably result in missed meals, and thus, wasted money. And waste makes Froogal people sad :( 
Some combination of the methods above should yield significant savings, in the thousands of dollars over the course of a four-year stint in higher education! And that's a reason to jump for joy!

Cue obligatory cliché graduation photo.
Photo courtesy mommasaid.net
If you liked this article, I have some other relevant content that may interest you, like the original Tips for College Students, Value Laptops 2015, and the Best Value Headphones.