College can be an enjoyable time for many students, and it can also be accompanied by financial stress. So, keeping track of your finances should be a priority early on.
Don’t worry; it is entirely possible to have a great college experience without breaking the bank. You might even be able to build up some savings to help you repay your student loans after college. It’s all about having a plan and sticking to it.
Here’s what you can do to help ease the financial burden associated with higher education.
1. Rent your Textbooks, Don’t Buy
Textbook rental is becoming a popular option for students who want to pay less. By renting, you can save money and easily discard the book after the semester is over. Services like Amazon and Chegg offer textbook rental services, which can save you as much as 90% of the cost of books. At the end of each semester, you simply ship your books back with a prepaid shipping label.
In addition, buying used textbooks are drastically cheaper than their new counterparts and, depending on the habits of their previous owners, they can still be in mint condition when you get them.
2. Create and Budget a Meal Plan
Many college campuses are within proximity to restaurants and cafes. It may be tempting to rely on ready-made food to get you through your loaded schedule, but these costs can add up very quickly. Meal plans also may seem convenient due to the sheer volume of meals and snacks they include. However, even meal plans can be exorbitantly priced when you do the math. Each of these options probably costs more than your budget can handle.
Instead, create your own meal plan. Buy groceries for specific, pre-planned meals. Eat breakfast in your room instead of at the cafeteria. There are plenty of foods that don’t require much preparation, and it’s amazing what even microwave recipes can accomplish.
Additionally, a big plus is that you have more control over the food you are preparing yourself. Restaurant and cafeteria food may not always be the healthiest, and preparing your own can allow you to make healthier choices.
3. Opt for Public Transportation
Yes, having a car on campus is convenient. Unfortunately, it’s also expensive. A parking pass may cost hundreds of dollars per semester, and parking tickets can only add to that. Especially if you don’t travel far from campus too often, you probably won’t need your car. If you want to go somewhere, carpool with your friends or use a ridesharing service. Many colleges also offer free or discounted public transit, like shuttle buses, to all their students. Learn what options your college provides and what modes of transport are the most affordable in your area.
4. Be Aware of your College’s Tuition Policy
Registering for classes may look very different, depending on if your university offers full-semester or per-credit pricing. Most students don’t know the difference. At some schools, registering for 18 credits (6 classes) in one semester costs the same as 12 credits (4 classes) for flat-rate pricing, but 33% more at colleges with per-credit pricing. Your financial aid office can help you make those calculations before you register. It’s also worth checking how many credits you need per semester to graduate and seeing if you could graduate a bit early. One semester or one year could make a world of difference in your financial situation.
5. Focus Less on Media and More on Class
Yes, college can be fun. You can meet friends, explore new hobbies and even travel abroad. Spending your time enveloped in media, video games, social or watching television, increases your costs and decreases your time. Cutting the cord on cable can save as much as $85 per month. Try picking a streaming service of your choice and sticking with it. If you want to watch a show on a service you don’t have a subscription to, a watch party at your friend’s house can be just as (if not more) fun.
Limiting media can help you keep track of the fact that you’re there for the degree. Most importantly, you should make sure that you graduate on time. A 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics actually showed that students who graduated in four years saved an average of $20,000 in future loan debt compared to those who took longer.
6. Pay your Loan Interest Now
Realistically, you probably won’t have the money to make full loan payments. The good news is that they don’t technically start until six months after you graduate, and even small payments before that can make a big difference. Paying interest on your loans while in college is a good way to keep your payments lower after graduation.
Although, there is one caveat. If you have a subsidized federal loan, the government pays your interest while you are enrolled as a student.
7. Stick to a Budget – and Build Savings!
In a simple spreadsheet, outline your budget each month. Then, contrast that with your expected expenses. As the month goes on, track how much you’re spending. That way, you can make sure that you never spend money you don’t have on something you don’t need. To make things easier, apps like Mint allow you to track everything on your phone.
In addition, if you already follow a budget, you can easily build a plan for savings. Simply make a small addition to your savings account (even as little as $20 a month) a part of your expenses. That way, you plan with it rather than hoping that some money will be left over at the end.
8. Never Stop Looking for Scholarships
Scholarships are essentially free money that you can use to pay for college. The hunt for scholarships shouldn’t be over by the time you get in. Some of your financial aid might be renewable, if you re-apply; you just need to know when and how to do that. In addition, thousands of scholarships are available to new and continuing students every year. Scholarships are essentially free money that you can use to pay for college. This U.S. Department of Education Guide can help you in the process of finding them, applying, and adding to your money.
9. Use your Resources – The Library!
Some of your classes might have their textbooks available at the school’s library. You may also find digital and physical subscriptions to journals and magazines in your major, which means you won’t need to pay for them yourself. Finally, you can save a large sum of money by using the library’s printer, rather than investing in one of your own. If it’s easy to access, the library might just become your favorite spot on campus.
10. Plan Beyond Graduation
Finally, think about starting your post-graduation plan early. Understand how much you will have to pay back in loans once you graduate. Once you start paying back your student loans, you will also be responsible for interest that has accumulated on them. A high-interest rate means that you’re responsible for a higher balance. Refinancing can help you land better interest rates and save money on your student loans.
College is more expensive than ever. Today’s students must use every tool available in order to reduce the cost of college in the long run.