Applying to college and getting in can have you on a high of emotions that quickly come crashing down when you start to look at the finances of actually going to college. Your college living expenses can add up through the years and if you’re not mindful of your spending habits, you can end up owing more from your loans than you intended. Whether you’re commuting from home, living in the dorms, or staying in off-campus housing, there are ways to reduce college living costs so you can have a great time while staying within a budget.
10 Ways to Reduce College Living Costs
#1 – Take advantage of school transportation
If your college offers transportation for students, you should consider leaving your car at home. Parking passes can cost upwards of $200 for the entire school year depending on your college. Using school transportation will not only save you money on the parking pass, but also on gas. If you live close to campus, most college transportation services will have a bus stop in front of your apartment complex. And if you’re a student who lives at home, you can find an apartment complex with free guest parking and use the bus stop in front of it so you’ll still save money on the parking pass.
#2 – Shop the grocery sales
Grocery stores have weekly sales and coupons that are easy to find and use with each store’s app or website. Take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free deals, using them to plan out your weekly meals. You can also download cashback apps, like Ibotta, and scan your groceries to earn money back on your purchases. Groceries are a huge component of college living expenses so it’s important to budget for it. Using sales to your advantage can save you hundreds each semester.
#3 – Buy used instead of new
From textbooks to apartment furniture, buying secondhand is incredibly beneficial. It’s no secret that college textbooks are expensive so buying them used or renting them for the semester can save you hundreds of dollars a year. You can even ask your professors if you can use the older edition of the textbook, allowing you to get it even cheaper. As for furnishing your apartment, Facebook Marketplace and local thrift stores are excellent shopping options as they offer items at a much cheaper price than buying brand new.
“When I moved into my new apartment, I was shocked by how much typical household items cost. From pots and pans to lamps, I would have spent hundreds of dollars on just my essentials. I chose an alternative route and decided to get my apartment stuff from a local thrift store. I bought dinnerware, cups, utensils, decor, and even some furniture all for under $50. You’ll be surprised by how much you can find secondhand so I definitely suggest it for students on a budget!”
-Marissa C. (University of South Florida)
#4 – Buy in bulk
Getting your household items in bulk may cost you more upfront, but it cheapen expenses in the long run. You can get toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, snacks, and more from wholesale warehouse stores. Actually, you can also get good quality meat, vegetables, and fruits from those stores as well. Freeze what you’re not going to use immediately so you’ll always have back-ups to cook with. Speaking of cooking…
#5 – Cook at home
When you go out to eat, it starts to add up, especially if you’re going out multiple times a day. Learning how to cook will not only help expand your palette but save you a lot of money on food costs. You can start off small with simple meals and minimal ingredients then expand your skills from there. Watch a few video tutorials and follow popular cooking recipes and you’ll be a chef in no time.
#6 – Attend events and club meetings
Your college campus will hold weekly events that are often catered and completely free. Sometimes these events have speakers while other times they are just social events for mingling. Either way, these little to no-cost experiences are a great way to keep your expenses low and be a part of something fun. Plus, if you find a club that aligns with your interests and hobbies, you can make new friends and have dinner at those weekly or monthly meetings.
#7 – Take advantage of your student discount
There are restaurants and stores in your area that offer student discounts if you show your student ID. You can even get discounts from online stores and subscriptions if you provide proof that you’re in college. Use these discounts when you can and try to shop at stores that give these discounts. Even if the discount is just 10-15%, it’ll add up over time.
#8 – Apply for scholarships consistently
Many students think that applying for scholarships is a one-time thing, but that’s far from the truth. You can apply for scholarships all throughout your college career and receive aid up until you graduate. Use a scholarship search tool to find scholarships that you’re eligible for. Scholarships make college cheaper and can be used on college living costs, not just your tuition!
#9 – Test out of general education classes
Did you know that you can test out of taking certain classes in college? Before you decide to take this route, make sure your college will accept it as credit. College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is a program where you can take a pass/fail test to get college credit. If you took advanced classes in high school and have retained that knowledge, you’ll have a higher chance of passing the test. These tests cost money, but they are a fraction of the cost of one college class.
“I took AP and advanced classes throughout high school but didn’t receive college credit for most of them. When I got into college, I CLEP tested out of College Algebra so I could receive credit for it and not have to pay to take the class. I had all the prior knowledge but studied for 2 weeks before the test and passed on my first try. It saved me hundreds of dollars for just one semester.”
-Alecia P. (St. John’s River State College)
#10 – Avoid credit cards with high interest rates
Building your credit while you’re in college is important but finding the right credit card can be overwhelming. Look for a credit card that has a low interest rate and offers your first year with no interest at all. Never spend more than you have and always pay off your balance so you’re not losing money when paying interest.
During your college years, making smart financial decisions can create a solid foundation for your post-grad life. Your college living expenses add up quickly but finding ways to reduce costs will help you enjoy your experience even more.