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Saving Money As A College Student

Few things are more exciting that knowing that you are seeking a brighter future with a college degree.  However, it can also consume a great deal of your time, limiting the hours that you can spend working and making money every week.  Even worse, your expenses on tuition, books, supplies, and personal needs are sure to pile up quickly.  Therefore, it’s essential to learn how to save money as a college student.  Many college graduates have learned the hard way, including yours truly, that their post-secondary education provides the perfect storm for racking up more debt than their new career can handle.         

The first rule learned was to never buy anything at your school unless you have absolutely sure that it cannot be found anywhere else.  This includes those visitors that will try to convince you to set up a bank account or credit card with their company.  The most common essentials, including pens and paper, can always be found at department stores at lower prices than your school will offer.  However, some of the more specific items can be harder to find and cost more money.  This is especially true with text book, where even the most ruggedly used selections typically drained my checking account.  I knew that I wouldn’t last very long in college this way, and began seeking an alternative source.  I was referred to several online stores like chegg.com and ecampus that offered significant discounts on college textbooks.  Many of these stores allowed college students to trade either rent books, buy used books at discounted prices, or sell your own used books for money.  You won’t get rich from it, but it’s better than spending hundreds every semester on books that will sit around your room once you’re finished with them.  I was a biology major with a chemistry minor in college and I remember those textbooks costing anywhere between $200 and $400.  Not cool.

But buying from online book stores isn’t always easy.  On the one hand, you need to be absolutely sure that you are purchasing the correct edition of a textbook. I did this by checking both the ISBN number and publication year for the textbooks that I found online and matching them to the description in the course syllabus.  There is also a slight exception to this rule.  Many international books – those that aren’t technically supposed to be sold in the United States but carry no penalty for doing so (wink-wink) – are offered at even better prices.  You can typically ignore the warnings about the content possibly being different, but should still perform the same checks with the ISBN and publication year checks.  I never allowed these warnings to deter me, and every book that I purchased featured the exact same content as the instructor’s book (with the exception of the warning label).

Beyond the actual costs of schooling itself, your next biggest cost is probably going to be housing.  This is where you really have to make some sacrifices.  You either need to stay home and live with mom and dad, or get a roommate whether it’s on campus or off campus.  And actually, I think that living off campus can save you even more money than living on campus in a dorm.  I have a friend that rents a two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for $1,300.  He brought in two roommates and now they split the rent at a cost of $433 per person per month.  I distinctly remember my dorm room costing more than that and I had no choice but to be on the campus meal plan which didn’t make sense because I didn’t eat the food.  Ever.  It was kind of gross.

If you need specific software for a particular class, you are in luck.  From Microsoft to Adobe, you will find incredible college student discounts for nearly every software vendor.  I typically saved in the range of 80% on these software packages.  I was able to purchase the Ultimate Edition of Microsoft Office for less than $100 and purchased the Adobe Web Premium software suite for about 75% of the regular price for Photoshop (which was included along with several other programs).  Even better, I was able to download the full versions of AutoCAD, AutoDesk design, and Inventor Fusion from AutoDesk completely free of charge.  The licenses for these educational discounts were the same as those offered to regular customers and I have continued to use the programs after completing college.  In order to get these discounts though, you usually have to have a college based e-mail address that ends in .edu.

But your college discounts won’t stop at college necessities.  Be sure to get a student ID as soon as possible, because plenty of businesses, including movie theaters, restaurants, and clothing stores understand the lack of funds that college students struggle with and are more than happy to help.  This was a problem for me, since my school’s ID machine was typically broken and the IDs didn’t take long to expire, but I found plenty of stores that were willing to offer me a discount when I had it.  In fact, it’s very rare that you should have to pay full price for most of the things you need if you simply take the time to shop around.

If you have enough time on your hands, try to get a part-time job.  Lots of places are willing to be flexible with college students because they understand that you are in school.  I found my first 4 jobs while studying and all were understanding of my schedule.  Working while going to school can allow you to pay some of your tuition or school costs in cash without having to rely on student loans or credit cards.  Everything that you can pay up front right now can save you much more money years from now when you have to repay student loans.

Most importantly, you need to fight the overwhelming urge to go into debt.  Credit cards may seem like your best friend in college, but they will turn into a hellish nightmare upon graduation (for me, the nightmare began long before graduation).  Your finances are already going to be strained with student loans and the struggles of supporting yourself after your college discounts are no longer available.  If you have maxed out even one credit card, the interest rates that young people typically get hit with will come back to haunt you every month until you have paid it off .

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6 thoughts on “Saving Money As A College Student

  • Regarding part-time jobs: every campus has a collection of nearby pizza joints. If you have wheels, you should get a job delivering pizzas. Flexible schedules, getting paid partially in cash (tips), free food, and proximity to your dorm or off-campus apartment makes the pizza delivery game a no-brainer if you need the bucks. If you don’t have a car – do you really need one while going to college? Buy a mountain bike (and heavy duty lock) instead.

  • You can change your staple diet to Ramen noodles because:
    a) It’s cheap and has infinite shelf life so buy in bulk for greater savings.
    b) No cooking required and you can have a hot meal in under 2 mins, so you save on cafeteria and restaurant costs.
    c) It’s got at least 6 different flavors to provide variety.

    Yeah, it’s not healthy but when you’re still young you can take the abuse ;).

    • I basically LIVED on ramen and packaged foods my first year of college. Definitely not healthy at all but I had no money. I think that I’ve learned some better strategies now including visiting the farmer’s market at the end of the day right before they leave to get the things that they don’t want to go back home with for a better price, couponing, but not to extremes and what I learned to do in college, trading/bartering things with other college students. Plus, hitting up the parents for a care package every now and then was always awesome!

  • I started my own moving company with a friend and stayed at home till I found my first job out of college. It saved me a lot of financial grief. I would recommend this path to anyone who is able. I graduated debt free and was able to move out and provide just fine.

  • Sent this page to my brother and sister. I never bought books unless I really really needed them. The librarian knew me by name, which was great since my school has 35000 students in it.

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