College is supposed to be about more than just learning. It is supposed to be a time when you experience life; it’s a time filled with studying, partying, and staying up all night getting ready for a test.
Those are exactly the things that make college life an actual headfirst dive into
adulthood rather than a four-year extension of high school. All those life experiences cost money, which is not so easy to come by as a full-time student. The financial issues you develop in college may just carry on with you well into your true adult years.
The moment you step foot on campus, you’re bombarded with fliers for zero percent interest credit cards, discounts on school supplies, sorority and fraternity rushes, and sporting events. Vendors push their products on you – handmade jewelry, t-shirts, bank accounts, or even used books. There’s all this temptation and pressure to buy, buy, buy…but how much of it do you really need?
In order to figure out how to start off on the right financial foot, segment your college life and attack each area individually.
There is no way around it – you are going to have to get your textbooks. I mean, really, you can try to read off the shoulder of your classmate but how long are they going to believe you “forgot” your textbook in your dorm room? Most college campus bookstores offer used textbooks in addition to new textbooks, but even a used textbook will only save you so much. When you sell the book back, there are times when the bookstore will only give you a couple dollars in return, if they give you anything at all. A textbook that cost you $150 at the beginning of the semester may result in you only getting $1 back for taking care it. An alternative? Rent your textbooks! Textbook rentals are becoming increasingly popular. With free return shipping, these high-quality textbooks are a fraction of the cost of a used textbook. All you have to remember to do is return it at the end of the semester using a free return UPS label, just like Zappos. There are no buyback lines to wait in and there is no worrying about if you’re going to get any money back for your book at the end of the term. Check out www.bookrenter.com for more info on renting textbooks.
If you are living in the dorms, you likely have a college ID with a dining plan on it. Capitalize off this by eating your snacks and meals in the dining commons. By doing this, you’re saving the money in your wallet and maximizing the money you have already dropped into your plan. If you find that you are not maximizing the meals allocated under your plan, consider changing to another plan. Often this can be done with Student Services, or a similar department. Before changing plans, research your options to see which option best fits your budget and eating habits. If you’re eating in the dining hall a lot, but not using your food “dollars,” try a meal plan that is more liberal with dining hall visits. If you’re the opposite and spend more of your “dollars,” try going for a plan with more emphasis on those. If it’s too late to change your meal plan, consider bringing a friend with you for lunch or dinner. They can return the favor by treating you out to somewhere off campus for your next meal.
Sure, it can be great to spend nights and weekends forgetting about the stresses of college. But if you are going to go out, pace yourself. Don’t go out every single free night, and don’t always go to places where you need to spend money. Instead, try going to the beach, the park, or some other place where activities are cost-free. If you are more into the places that do have a cover charge, try going on the nights or during the times when the charge is less or free. It will be easier on you, and easier on your wallet.
- Going Home
Try not to go home every weekend. Yes, your parents are probably missing you. Yes, you probably need to wash your clothes. But if you are driving home, how much money are you spending on gas traveling back and forth just to save $2.50 on a load of laundry? Full-time student parking permits can typically cost $400 – $700 at a state university, depending on whether you are a commuter or dorm resident. If you’re paying nearly $700 for parking anyway, you may as well maximize your use of the parking lot. Consider carpooling with a friend who lives near you; split the cost of parking and gas by sharing the ride. If it’s convenient, you can also consider taking public transportation. Buses and trains are cheap and go almost anywhere. For the price of roughly one tank of gas, you can ride the Greyhound from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back. Don’t forget to take advantage of student discounts and “web only” fares. If driving home really is the only option, try leaving early or returning late, so the traffic isn’t so bad. Less traffic equals less money wasted on stop-and-go congestion and more time to spend on other important things. Plus, returning to school during off-peak times means you won’t be sitting in the middle of a parking nightmare when everyone else on campus is trying to find a spot in the garage.