A few ways to cut down on some of the major college expenses

What’s the biggest expense you face as a college student? (Besides tuition – the only thing that helps there is scholarships, scholarships, smart planning and cheaper schools.)

Do you dread textbook-buying season? Shudder at the thought of trying to fly home for break (because it costs so much, not because you’re dreading seeing your family)?

Whatever it is, there are ways to cut down on the cost. Here are some quick tricks I’ve picked up from the college rat race.

Rent

This is probably the biggest cost, next to tuition. Unfortunately, you’re likely to get locked in for a long period with leases. But to keep costs down…

  • Shop around: Apartment complexes aren’t the only places to live. Check out rooms-for-rent, press for deals on signing costs, ask if you can get any discounts.
  • Don’t get too bogged down with who you’re going to live with: I love my roommates, but sometimes wish I’d been less worried about getting to stay with them than I was about my checkbook. Find folks who are budget-conscious to live with, or at least make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Try subleasing: Whether you’re planning to go abroad for a semester or you’re just trying to save money by renting late and for shorter periods, if you’re in a college town there are usually plenty of places open for a semester at a time. Higher risk, but high potential rewards.

Textbooks

On average, a college student will spend about $650 dollars each semester on textbooks. We could go into the ridiculous restrictions that make them so much more expensive than international editions, but that would be too much of a rant.

However, it’s important to note that the cost of textbooks is increasing at a faster pace than tuition, medical services or home prices. As much as 812 percent since 1978. But do not despair. Listen, young grasshoppers.

  • Don’t buy the textbook: It sounds crazy, but it can be done. Instead, sneak into the campus bookstore and read the chapters in store. Or – this is what I usually do – check ahead of time, get it from the campus library and keep it with you for the entire semester (renew periodically if needed). This works particularly well with literature courses or social science courses where the readings are from books or journals anyway.
  • Use the power of the Internet: If you need to hold that textbook and put in sticky notes and all that, at least don’t fall for the rapacious campus bookstore prices (they aren’t that bad, I guess). Amazon and eBay are your friends. Even better? Bigwords. You put in the ISBNs and it comparison-shops, finds discounts and includes shipping costs to find the absolute lowest price. Only caveat is that you should be willing to rent. You can opt out of the option, but it’s often cheaper if you rent.

Flights

If you drive home for breaks, this doesn’t apply – unless you’ve got a vacation, conference or other travel need, of course. Ticket prices can be a hit-or-miss, but there are a few ways to avoid paying too much.

  • Plan ahead. I mean, yeah.
  • Use comparison shopping tools (aka the power of the Internet). The usual suspects (Priceline, Expedia, etc) but also check out Google Flights, which pulls from several major airlines and lets you compare for different departure/arrival dates and add nearby airports.
  • Know your right – to a 24-hour no-fee hold. You have a constitutional (just kidding – legal) right to either reserve a ticket for 24 hours without a fee or to cancel within 24 hours. This is harder to get at some airlines than others, but generally there’s an option at checkout to hold the price for 24 hours. If not, call the airline. Know your other flying-related rights, as well.
  • Be flexible. Sometimes this is tough. But if you don’t need to get home right away, consider letting the cost moderate your flying schedule. It can save you hundreds.

There are obviously lots of big expenses – food, drinks, entertainment – and I definitely think you should look for ways to cut down on those. Browse some personal finance or similar blogs to get some good tips on managing money.

Everything you can save during college is money you have on hand if you run into trouble later.

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