College can be an expensive endeavor, even with scholarships and other kinds of financial aid. It's difficult enough balancing a class schedule -- the thought of balancing a check book, on the other hand, can strike fear into the hearts of even the most studious mathematicians.
Everything from textbooks, food, transportation, supplies and entertainment -- these will all cost you money. There's no getting around it.
However, there are easy ways to save. Here are several ways to avoid the constant panic of going broke.
New textbooks from university bookstores can be very expensive. Brand new editions of chemistry books, for instance, can cost as much as $300, and that's not including any lab material. However, you can cut costs on reading materials and not starve. Look around for used bookstores. Most college campuses should have several -- the prices are heavily discounted, and book conditions are usually good. If you have enough time before classes start, check out the Internet for your books. Even with shipping charges, prices can turn out to be cheaper from online bookstores. And don't forget -- some of your friends might have taken a course in the past. Ask around and see if you can borrow from someone.
Instead of driving to class and spending money on gas, parking passes and possible tickets, look into a local bus or subway system. If the system is run by your university, you'll probably be able to ride for free with a student ID. If a transportation system doesn't exist (or the existing one isn't safe or reliable), try to work out class schedules with friends and carpool. If you're close enough, walk or bike to class and get some much-needed exercise.
Campus meal plans vary depending on the university -- food quality, how often you eat, how much you eat, and location can all factor in. A meal plan can be a good deal, however, so do a little research and see if it's worth it. Grab a brochure; ask meal plan veterans; anything to get a little taste. Some universities offer off-campus meal plans, too. These usually involve deals with food chains, so make sure the plan is appealing to you. If you decide to skip out on a meal plan, it's possible to eat enough and eat healthy on your own budget. Cut out coupons, buy in bulk and sign up for a shopper's discount card. Be creative and plan dinners with roommates and friends instead of going to more expensive restaurants.
Banks usually cater to college students by offering free checking and savings accounts, allowing you to avoid fees on withdrawals, fund transfers or the minimum amount allowed in the account. Make sure online banking is an option, as this makes it easier to follow your activity. Keep track of your account -- overdrafting will only cost you more in fees. So, do what it takes to stay out of the red as much as possible.
It might seem like a hassle, but saving receipts of everything you purchase -- from small items such as a candy bar or a CD, to big-ticket items like a new computer -- is a great way to monitor your spending habits. Try it out for a month. When your thirty days are up, add up all of your expenses and see where your money went. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to cut back on unnecessary spending.
Everyone needs to unwind after studying, and college campuses typically offer all sorts of opportunities -- movie theaters, bars, cafes, arts centers, parks, downtown shopping centers, et cetera. Ask if any of these places offer student discounts. You can also think of alternative ways to have a good time. If you make the right choices and use a bit of creativity, you can have fun and save money at the same time. Plan a picnic in the park; make dinner for a date instead of going to a fancy restaurant; go for a bike ride around town; play Frisbee golf on campus. Any of these activities cost a fraction of the typical college experience and can be more fun.
Put down the video game controllers, go outside and get some
free fresh air.
If you can fit it into your busy class schedule, a part-time job is a great way to bring in some extra income and give you some more flexibility with your spending. Waiting tables or delivering food can bring in great tips, and college-town restaurants are almost always looking for new help. A great way to earn some money and get some studying done is to work at your university's library. It's not a very demanding job and is usually quiet, so you can read for class and get paid at the same time.
It's difficult to get by without a cell phone today, but with a little research you can find an affordable plan that fits your needs. If they're up for it, join a family cell phone plan with your parents. It's usually much cheaper for everyone involved than having separate plans. If you're on your own, check out websites that offer side-by-side comparison charts of different cell phone plans. You should also avoid text messaging. Before you know it, you could rack up hundreds of dollars worth of texts when you could have communicated the same information for much less. Remember, phone companies charge both the sender and receiver of text messages, so let your friends know if you don't want them texting you five times every class. Send out e-mails or use free networking Web sites like Myspace or Facebook.
If you're not living in the dorms, split the rent with a few roommates. When thinking about appliances, see if your apartment complex provides a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, a microwave, and other handy accessories. If your parents or friends have any old appliances lying around, ask them if they'd be willing to part with them. Electricity, water and heating bills can be costly, so do your best to conserve -- turn off lights when you're not in the room, use as little water as possible by taking fast showers and use the A/C and heat sparingly.
If you're applying for college right now or thinking about transferring to another school, it doesn't hurt to do some research on various types of financial aid provided by the school.
Aside from the obvious chunk of cash you'll save in the long run, several scholarships offer all sorts of perks and benefits -- semester stipends, group trips, special access to useful resources, et cetera. If you're already enrolled but haven't received any aid, keep trying! If your grades are good and you show you mean business, many scholarship programs give you the opportunity to apply each semester.
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