Whether you attend a large university or a private liberal arts school, college carries a hefty price tag. While financial aid and scholarships can help, paying for college—and supporting yourself while earning your degree—can still be a challenge. If you’re grappling with the high cost of higher education, follow these tips from Andrews Federal Credit Union to stretch your budget a little further.
- Look for low fees: Five dollars a month for an account service fee? Three bucks per ATM transaction? Those bank fees can add up to real money. Look around for a bank or credit union like Andrews FCU that offers student checking accounts or basic checking accounts with free or low-cost services.
- Leverage your deposits: Some students struggle to keep their account balances above zero. Others have a steady income or are sitting on savings for next year’s tuition. If you have money in the bank, make smart decisions to help it grow. It only takes a few minutes to move cash into interest-bearing accounts such as a money market account or certificate of deposit.
- Pick the right card: Because college students have very little credit history, it’s easy to end up with a credit card that charges a super-high interest rate. Use your online skills to shop around for an entry-level card with a fair rate. Then make regular payments to keep your balance down and interest payments low.
Make Smart Living Choices
- Live with roommates: Room and board at many four-year schools now average well above $10,000 per year. Privacy can be pricey. You can save hundreds of dollars by agreeing to live in a triple or quad. Sure, it can be a bit cramped, but it gives you a built-in social network. If you’re the kind of person who thrives in social settings, this could be a good option for you.
- Consider all costs: Is apartment living cheaper than a dorm room? It depends on housing costs near your college. Many students end up paying more than expected for off-campus apartments because they forget to factor in the cost of providing their own meals, paying utilities and committing to a 12-month lease.
Build a Food Budget
- Choose your meal plan: There’s nothing cheap about most college dining halls. One survey put the average cost at about $563 per month. But many schools offer a variety of meal plans to choose from. You can save if you choose a 10-meal weekly plan instead of a more traditional 19- or 20-meal plan.
- Stock up on snacks: Where do you eat the rest of the time? Go beyond burgers and pizzas. The cheaper choice is to hit the local market and stock up on simple, healthy foods—ranging from fruit and yogurt to soups and noodles—that can be kept in your dorm fridge or prepared in a microwave.
- Brew your own coffee: College students, like adults, fritter away big bucks on designer coffees. If you buy a $4 latte every day for a 15-week semester, that comes to $450. You can pay a fraction of the price by investing in a single-serve coffee maker for your dorm room or apartment.
Be a Savvy Consumer
- Go bargain hunting: No, you don’t have to clip coupons like Grandma. Just scout out stores near campus that tout student discounts on products and services. Or whip out your smartphone and look for websites and apps—like studentrate.com, Groupon, SnipSnap and the Krazy Coupon Lady—that connect you with great deals.
- Digital marketplace. Don’t assume that big store with the famous logo has the best deals on computers. Many campus bookstores offer deep discounts on laptops and software. If you’re committed to a certain brand, check out Apple’s education discount or Microsoft’s student offers. You can also find student rates on software like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop.
- Rent your textbooks: On average, students pay about $1,250 a year for textbooks and supplies. Cut down that cost by buying, renting and selling textbooks at your campus bookstore or online. Try Amazon, CheapTextbooks.com, or CampusBooks.com.
- Cut the cord. Most students don’t have enough TV-watching time to justify the cost of cable. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu can be had for about $10 a month with the added benefit of allowing you to watch favorite shows on your computer – and on demand.
- Stepping out. A night at the local cineplex or trendy nightclub can be loads of fun, but also expensive. Many campuses feature their own film series, showing recent releases and cult classics at cut-rate admission prices. Another option is to attend an on-campus play or concert by a student ensemble. That’s a great way to save money and support your classmates at the same time.
Get to Work
- Not-so-odd jobs. So you’ve done everything possible to get the most bang for a buck? It’s time to make a few more bucks. No need to flip burgers or clerk at the local mall. Most campuses have an online job board with more interesting options, ranging from library attendant and teaching assistant to peer tutor and fitness instructor.
- Get a side gig. Is your schedule too crammed for a permanent job? Join the gig economy. There are dozens of websites and apps – you can start with Instacart, Postmates, TaskRabbit and Wag -- that can connect you to piecemeal work ranging from grocery shopping for others to walking dogs.