While there are a variety of tax-saving ways to save for college, tuition is only part of the financial burden. Parents of Freshmen are often caught off-guard by costs that are above and beyond standard tuition. Most Freshmen are required to live in college dormitories their first year; if you’re in a dorm, you have to purchase a meal plan. You’ll need to decorate your dorm room, equip it with appliances and electronics. Your Freshman will need a computer, most likely a laptop or tablet, books and supplies for classes, plus a college-friendly wardrobe. Before you know it, you’ve racked up thousands of additional expenses you hadn’t thought of. Here are some tips to cut expenses not only during the first year, but throughout the college experience. Remember every cent you save is worth the effort!
Home or Close to Home
The easiest (and probably least popular) option is to live at home. In most cases, this eliminates the need for many Freshman purchases since there will be no need for dorm furnishings and a meal plan. The next best option is to choose a college or university that is close to home. Staying close to home (at least in the same state) means no out-of-state tuition and reduced travel costs to come home for a visit.
Don’t Come Home Too Often
Most Freshmen feel that their college experience has to include transportation. For some that may mean adding a new or used vehicle. Some students may already have a car, but want to drive home every weekend. With current gas prices, this may mean a very expensive way to get your laundry done. Cost-saving alternatives may be to leave the car at home. Campus parking passes can cost a couple of hundred dollars while most classes are within walking distance of dorms. Most larger universities provide free shuttles that can transport students from one side of campus to the other. If your student must have their car, then they should limit visits home to save on gas costs. Some colleges suggest that Freshmen schedule their first trip home at Thanksgiving in order to become better acclamated to the college experience.
Decorating the Dorm
Remember you are furnishing your dorm, not an apartment. Key point is to “think small” – dorm rooms are already very small, space is limited and must be share with another person. It is best to be conservative when purchasing items for the dorm. Stick to basic linens and a few decorative items (like framed photos, posters or pictures). Start with the minimum, live with them for awhile, then possibly add additional items from your first trip home. Check with your school before purchasing appliances. There may be provided in a common area, while some items may be prohibited. If you do purchase items, coordinate with your future roommate on items that can be shared (refrigerator or television).
Some colleges may have discount programs and specials on electronics purchased at the bookstore. You may be able to buy your laptop at the bookstore and receive a free printer, tablet or MP3 player. If you must have your purchases made before you head off to school, contact the school to take advantage of any deals they may be offering. Also check to see if any financial aid can be used for computer purchases.
Textbooks are one unavoidable expense that can really snatch your wallet if you’re unprepared. Students can expect to spend an average of $700 per semester on new books, but there are many ways to save money by going with used, rental, or e-books. Shop around before you buy, compare prices and utilize resources that are available. Here are some tips: 1) use the ISBN of the book when searching the internet to ensure you are getting the right edition, 2) use a book-search engine that search online bookstores (bigwords.com), 3) consider renting your textbooks especially for core classes (chegg.com), 4) try out an e-book on your tablet computer to eliminate the need to lug around a giant textbook. For example, a book that sells for $120 new in the bookstore, may also be in the bookstore for $90 used. An online search may find the same used book for $85, a rental version for $60, and the e-book version for $75. And don’t forget, after the course is finshed – SELL the textbook to recoup some of your money. TAX TIP: Remember that in some cases the cost of textbooks may be deductible on federal income taxes.
As mentioned earlier, part of the Freshman experience is dorm living and meal ticket eating. In many cases the meal ticket can equal the cost of tuition and is required of all dorm residents. Meal programs of the past usually consisted of a set number of weekly visits to the buffet-style cafeteria. Parents thought “all-you-can-eat, 3 times a day, seven days a week” means my son or daughter will never go hungry or need additional money for meals. This is where many parents lose tons of money because most students don’t get up early to eat a good breakfast before class, and most would rather go grab a burger with friends rather than head back over to the cafeteria for the same ole choices. Most colleges have begun to offer more choices for students by adding fast food chains and food courts which offer a true variety of meal choices. Now meal ticket plans offer a blend of the old buffet with a dash of alternative food choices. You may find during the first semester of your Freshman year that the “all-you-can-eat” option isn’t right for you. See if you can change meal plans during the semester to one that suits you better or at least choose a better plan for the next semester.
© Can Stock Photo