5 Ways to Cut Costs While in College

College is usually very expensive. According to the College Board, the average published yearly tuition and fees for a public four-year college (for in-state students) is $9,410 and $23,890 for a public four-year college for out-of-state students; the average for a private four-year college is $32,405. In addition to tuition and fees, students have to pay for housing and food, as well as all the other expenses that come with daily living.

While there is often a lot of focus on cutting the cost of college — either by scholarships, grants, or choosing a less expensive school — students and parents face a lot of additional fees once kids are actually attending college. There are also fees for transportation, books, and other regular expenses. Here are five ways to cut costs on those fees.

1. Cut down on living expenses

A student doing work at desk

College student | Source: Thinkstock

Some colleges require students to live on campus during the first year or two, so if your school requires that, you may not be able to do much to save money. However, there are differences even in on-campus housing: If you want to save money, don’t chose a luxury apartment for one person. If you have the ability to live off-campus, look into alternative living arrangements. Obviously, if you can live at home, you will probably save the most money.

However, if you compare prices, you may find that living in an off-campus apartment might be much cheaper than the price of on-campus living. This is particularly true if you can find roommates to share the cost. Lastly, you can also consider being a residential adviser, or RA, to hopefully earn free housing.

2. Save on food prices

grocery cart with food

grocery cart | Source: Thinkstock

Some colleges have a big markup on food prices. This isn’t always true, but especially with a buffet option, in which you pay a set fee to eat at the cafeteria for every meal, you may be spending a lot more than you should be. If a college meal costs $12 per meal and you only eat $5 worth of food, you are losing a lot of money.

Some colleges do require students to have a meal plan, but many schools are now making this optional. If you can have a very basic meal plan or you can pay as you go, you will save money. Making meals at home will also save you money, but you have to have time for it. Even if you enjoy eating with your friends at dinner, considering only purchasing enough meals to eat dinner at the cafeteria — try to make breakfast, lunch, and snacks at home.

You can also save by avoiding restaurants as often as possible. Eating out with friends is a fun part of college, but unless you have the money to regularly fund these excursions, they may really stress your budget.

3. Buy used

stack of used books

used books | Source: Thinkstock

College is often the first time that many people have their own apartment, and it can be tempting to purchase a lot of new furniture. However, you should try to buy used when possible. Even after you start college, try to purchase used whenever you can. You should be able to find used furniture, clothes, and even a refurbished computer if you want to. It’s also a good idea to purchase text books used, or even rent them.

Renting textbooks can save a lot of money on your total college expenses. You also may be able to find cheaper – or free – online versions of certain books. Lastly, when appropriate, check with your professor to make sure that all the books are necessary. Sometimes college book stores list recommended and required books together, which can mislead you.

4. Watch your spending

Customer handing plastic to cashier

Spending money | Source: Thinkstock

In addition to avoiding eating out whenever possible, you should also watch your other expenses. College is a great time to come up with a budget if you’ve never had one before. Even if your parents are paying for your tuition and board, you will need to figure out how to pay for other expenses yourself. If your parents are covering everything, great, but if not, you may want to consider a part-time job. Next, establish a budget.

Consider using a college student budget sheet. Determine how much money you will have each month, and then write down all of your expenses. Knowing how much you need versus how much you have will help you stay on track.

Once you have a set budget, try to follow it as closely as you can. Make sure that you include money for entertainment and special events, as well. Consider attending free events, such as guest speakers or concerts, in order to spend time with friends without spending a lot of your entertainment money.

5. Cut transportation costs


Riding bus to save money | Source: Thinkstock

Most college campuses are close to grocery stores, malls, and other necessary locations, and you often don’t need a car. Transportation can be a huge expense, especially if you are paying a car payment, paying for insurance, and paying for gas. Try to walk to stores or take the bus when you can. As fun as having a car can be, it isn’t a necessary expense. If you are visiting your family multiple weekends each semester, see if you can take a train to save money.

Also, as fun as spring break can be, a trip to a faraway destination doesn’t have to be part of your vacation plans. If you really want to take a trip, consider going home with a college friend or taking a trip to a nearby location that still has fun stuff to do.

There are many other ways to cut costs during college. Try to wait to do laundry until you have enough to make a whole load so you save water. Many college apartments include utilities in the monthly cost, but if yours doesn’t, be careful to turn off electronics when you are not using them. Lastly, share whenever possible: If you need something temporarily and another student has it, borrow it instead of buying it.

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: