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How to Cut Expenses at University or College

Updated on October 10, 2016
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Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

Learn how to cut back on expenses at college or university so that you don't graduate with a mountain of debt.

Hats off to saving money at school!

A few smart money moves can prevent you from ending up with a lifetime of student loan debt.
A few smart money moves can prevent you from ending up with a lifetime of student loan debt.

Getting a good education can cost thousands of dollars every year. Thankfully, for most people, a college education turns out to be a wise long-term investment. Still, that doesn't mean that you need to waste money on college expenses that can be easily reduced with a bit of planning and money management know-how.

A post-secondary education is always a wise investment. Whether you’re paying your child’s tuition fees and housing costs in full or your child has found a way to pay for a portion of their education costs, here are some money-saving tips to help you and the new college student in your life make smart financial decisions while living away from home. There is nothing cheap about the cost of a college degree these days, but there’s also no reason your child needs to graduate with a mountain of debt either.

1. Buy used textbooks. Students can save hundreds of dollars on the cost of textbooks by buying used books instead of brand new text books. Check to see if there is a used textbook seller on campus or browse through online message boards, craigslist, or other classified ads. If you do choose to buy new books, keep them in good condition throughout the school year so that you can resell them at the end on the semester and at least recoup some of your costs.

2. Live on campus instead of off campus. Dorm rooms, albeit smaller than off-campus apartments, are generally cheaper and more affordable than rental apartments, basement suites, and houses. By living on campus, you’ll also be cutting back on extra transit or car costs since you’ll be living within walking distance of almost everything a student needs.

3. Avoid the credit card sign-up kiosks. Each year major credit card companies set up jazzy booths with giveaways, prizes, and other fun activities in an attempt to get students to sign up for a new credit card. Regardless of your child’s credit history, or lack of, they will most likely be approved for a credit card, even though they may not be financially ready for it. Try to find a way for your children to live on cash only during their first year away from home. There will always be opportunities to apply for a credit card later on in life, especially when students have a secure job and are in a better position to manage payments on their own.

4. Keep valuables safe and secure. Invest in a secure locker, safe, or lock box to store valuable computer equipment, technical gadgets, and other high-priced items in your dorm room. Avoid taking expensive jewelry or designer clothing items with you to school. Except for a few mementos that remind you of your friends and family, leave precious items and valuables at the family home.

5. Participate in social activities that will give you valuable work and life experience and keep you out of the pub. Having a fun social life on campus can be expensive if you don’t know how to keep yourself busy without hitting the pub a few nights a week. Try to find social activities, clubs, and groups that fit in with your academic goals. You’ll not only form a solid base of friends with common goals and aspirations, you’ll be developing valuable career connections and volunteer work experience. When you're taking a full-time course load, your time is already maxed out. Make the most of your college life by finding meaningful social activities that also help you meet your academic or athletic aspirations.

Saving money on groceries and daily living expenses can help students ease the cost of getting a post secondary education. Every little bit of money saved can make a difference!
Saving money on groceries and daily living expenses can help students ease the cost of getting a post secondary education. Every little bit of money saved can make a difference!

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6. Maintain good grades. Getting good grades in school will help you take advantage of as many scholarship and bursary opportunities as you can. Grants, scholarship applications, and bursaries don’t just crop up at the beginning of the school year. Nor are they found just on campus or through traditional granting avenues. Small businesses, community groups, and associations offer grants to qualified students throughout the year so always keep your ear to the ground and your resume updated. By maintaining a transcript of glowing grades you’ll be in a good position to apply for scholarships as frequently as they pop up. As well, many schools have practicum programs that allow students to get paid work with reputable, pre-screened companies while the earn full course credits. The catch with practicum programs, however, is that many of them require students to have a minimum GPA in order to be accepted into the program.

7. Consult with an academic advisor at least once a year. Academic advisors are valuable members of your career planning team. They can work with you to ensure the courses you are taking will help you achieve your academic goals. By staying in touch with an advisor throughout the year, you can avoid signing up for courses that aren’t necessary or won’t be credited towards your degree.

By keeping living expenses under control, avoiding unnecessary debt, and getting good grades in school, first year college students can learn valuable life lessons about money, personal priorities, and academic career planning.

For most people, getting a college degree is a worthwhile investment.
For most people, getting a college degree is a worthwhile investment.
Instead of doing this:
Do this:
Buying new textbooks
Borrow them from the library or buy used books
Buying processed junk foods and snacks
Bake your own cookies, make trail mix, or buy in bulk and portion pack your snacks
Having 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks at the campus pub
Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink
Paying unnecessary bank fees
Find a bank that offers no-fee or low-fee accounts for college students
Borrowing books from the library instead of buying them can shave hundreds of dollars off your yearly college expenses.
Borrowing books from the library instead of buying them can shave hundreds of dollars off your yearly college expenses.

Video inspiration: Budgeting Tips for College Students

How did or do you save money while at college? Share your useful campus life budgeting tips in the comments!

© 2012 Sally Hayes

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