Ever hear the phrase "starving student?" Well, it didn't come from nowhere (and certainly not a fat-cat). College students are notoriously broke, but it doesn't have to be that way. These 25 tips will put more (er, some) money in your pocket.
Make a Budget, Check It Twice
This is number one on our list for a reason. It's easy to let money fritter away. Thou Shalt Not Fritter. A nightclub cover charge here, a dinner out with friends there, a book you didn't know you had to buy for class thrown in the mix and suddenly all the money you have for the month vanishes in a cloud of shame.
Getting a basic idea of how much you're spending each month and where you can cut back is one of the most fundamental financial lessons you'll learn while in college. This worksheet will help you brainstorm your expenses while Mint.com can track your spending.
Rule the School
Aside from tuition, room and board are going to be your next biggest expense. At some schools, room and board costs even more than tuition. Hey, they've got to pay for those ungodly expensive dorms somehow.
Students who work as Resident Advisors frequently get free or significantly reduced room and board in exchange for their work. Considering that the average full-time student attending an in-state public school pays $8,535 per year in room and board according to The College Board, working as an RA can be one of the most lucrative gigs on campus.
It happens every year—unwitting freshmen buy hundreds of dollars worth of text books then virtually cry at the end of the semester when they're worthless. Watch the faces of students in line at the book store. The ones who look devastated are those who haven't figured out that textbooks are expensive as heck and get sold back for pennies on the dollar.
The College Board reports that the average student pays $1,137 for books and supplies every year, but you can check the same books out of your library for free. If the campus library isn't an option, sites like eCampus, Chegg, and CollegeBook Renter will rent you books for a semester while sharing with a friend can cut the cost of buying books in half.
Three's a crowd right? Come and knock on our door. It's also a cheaper living situation. Students who live with more roommates in dorms equipped with fewer amenities typically pay less than those who live alone in posh campus pads. It's not uncommon for the cheapest dorms on a campus to cost 20-30 percent less than the priciest.
Cook It Up
College is all about learning about self-discovery, whether it's in a mind-blowing anthropology class, being away from your parents for the first time or realizing that hey, you actually don't eat the same thing as the linebacker who lives down the hall. (And scholarship money pays for his eats anyway.)
Schools accommodate by offering several meal plan options, which can vary by up to $1,000 per year in price. While many schools require those living on-campus to purchase a meal plan, students can typically choose whether they want a large or small option. Prepping some of your meals at home can save a bundle both during and after college. And by the way, been to WalMart lately?
Yes, it's undeniably cooler to be living with your friends in a pad far removed from resident advisors' watchful eyes, but living off-campus can cost anywhere from 10 to 40 percent more than the dorm life. In addition to forking over cash for utilities, students who live off-campus also pay for phone, internet connections, commuter parking passes, furniture, a security deposit and summer months when they may or may not live in their apartments. Think carefully before signing a lease.
Those tens of thousands of dollars that you fork over every year—they pay for much more than just your classes. Campuses are chock full of "free" amenities that come with your tuition including on-campus entertainment, movie rentals from the library, gym membership, intramural sports activities, dorm dinners, guest lecture series and student clubs. Take advantage of these. The College Board reports that the average on-campus student spends $1,989 per year on "personal expenses," much of which is entertainment they could have gotten for free from their school.
Rent Rent Rent Rent Rent
That loft and mini-fridge you're eyeing for your dorm? You're probably not going to use them after college. Some schools have low-cost rental program for amenities like vacuums and hot pots. If that's not an option at your school, don't sweat it. Companies like Loft Concepts and Bedloft will rent and deliver.
First ciprocate. Then do it again. Academic reciprocation agreements are the ugly step-sibling of scholarships and grants. Under-publicized and virtually unknown, agreements like the Western Undergraduate Exchange, the Midwest Higher Education Compact and the Academic Common Market maintain relationships with bordering nearby states that basically allow out-of-state students in partner states to attend college without paying the full out-of-state fees. That means that if you attend a Virginia public college and want to major in something that isn't offered in the state, you can fly your pasty butt down to Florida if there's a public college that offers your major there.
While the Midwest Higher Education Compact and the Academic Common Market are only open to students in specific programs of study—namely programs that aren't available in the student's home state—the Western Undergraduate Exchange is open to students in "virtually all undergraduate fields." If you live in a border county and attend college just over the state line, your school may offer an out-of-state reduction for those living in your county. The College Board reports that the average out-of-state fee for a full-time student is $11,990 per year. A little research and a call to your financial aid office can save you more than $47,600 over the course of your college tenure.
You know all of those college movies where students get into college, do their thing and graduate in four short years before they know it? That's not how it goes down in the real world. Statistically, only about one-third of full-time students seeking a bachelor's degree graduate in four years reports the National Center for Education Statistics. Even more scary, just over half graduate in six years. That's two years past the point when your parents said they would cut off funding. Talking to your advisor and planning your college tenure can literally cut tens of thousands off of your college bill.
Summer school is a drag but so is ponying up for yet another semester. Streamline your college tenure correctly and you could get out in three rather than four years. Or at least have time to chill. Summer school, community college classes, internships, AP and CLEP exams and summer study abroad programs can all save money by helping you graduate faster. A course at a major university costs (using some cost accounting guessing here) 3 grand. That same course can be box-checked at the local Harvard-on-the-hill JC for 300 bucks. Or less.
Go Carless (Wheels version of going commando.)
The dream of every high school student, is to finally get a car and get out from their parents thumbs. The dream of every college student is to avoid paying for gas, maintenance, insurance, taxes, parking passes and all this other stuff. Since most colleges offer free inner-campus transportation, getting by without wheels isn't impossible. Getting to and from class without a car and you'll substantially reduce your insurance premiums, gas and maintenance costs and the need for a campus parking pass.
Nobody makes movies that glorify the two-year college experience. And we don’t mean the fine work by Kim Kardashian. That's because the community college experience is not even close to the four-year college experience. Community and two-year colleges cost a mere pittance of their four-year rivals—$2,713 on average versus $16,140 at a public college or $36,993 at a private one—but don't have the same lavish campuses, research facilities or highly published profs. If you can deal with the bare bones amenities for a couple of years, you can transfer to the four-year school of your dreams with more money in your pocket. We won't tell a soul nor anyone in the capital of Korea.
Once you've made it to a four-year institution, stay there until you graduate. Students who transfer from one four-year school to another lose an average of one full semester's worth of credits. Unless you're transferring from a super pricey school to a substantially cheaper one, it usually makes more financial sense to stay where you are.
Math time: 1 trip to and from campus every day x 20 school days per month + 150 miles home once a month + a 200 mile weekend road trip with your friends + 6 grocery runs because hey, your friends don't have cars + that trip to the mall + two trips to get your roomie's car back from campus towing = .... a lot of driving.
Like spending, driving sneaks up on you. Before you know it, you've spent more on gas than you did on books this semester. Why should you have to pay for gas on those car trips? Many colleges offer ride boards that hook bill-paying passengers up with drivers headed to the same destination. If your school doesn't have its own ride board, this site can hook you up.
Baby, give back. While your friends are making bad decisions in Cancun, you're feeding the hungry, tutoring at-risk kids or helping Mother Earth. Alternative Spring Break programs connect college groups with needy organizations and offer a vastly cheaper way to spend your spring break. The experience is...different. Instead of partying their eyeballs out, ASBers do volunteer work during the day, spend their nights exploring their destinations and crash on the floors of other volunteers' homes and generous nonprofits. If your school doesn't offer an ASB chapter, start one or check out trips through neighboring colleges and universities.
Exchanging a private for a federal student loan is like trading a unicycle for a jet. Cheaper and armed with far better borrower benefits, federal student loans are almost laughably superior to their private loan counterparts (here's a full explanation why). While federal student loans are capped at a modest 6.8% (subsidized Stafford Loans are capped for 2011-2012 at a ridiculously low 3.4%), private student loans can easily reach 15% or even 18% plus origination and administration fees. A student who takes out a $20,000 Stafford Loan at a 6.8% interest will pay $11,101 less over the life of the loan than a student who takes out a pricey private loan.
If you have private loans but haven't maxed out your federal student loan options, switching to federal loans next year will be one of the best financial decisions you've ever made. The federal Stafford Loan program allows all dependent students to borrow up to $27,000 over four years while the Perkins Loan will provide an extra $27,000 for needy students.
Pay the Interest
Paying interest pays off. That's because every year you're in school, your student loan interest slowly gets bigger. Wait long enough and you'll have to pay interest on the interest. (We're not joking at all. That's a nasty phenomenon called loan capitalization).
The good news is that you can sidestep all of that fiscal ickiness by simply paying a little bit towards you interest each month. If two freshmen each take out $5,500 Stafford Loans—the maximum you can borrow during your first year of college—but Student A pays the paltry $31 in interest the loan accrues each month, they'll leave school with a loan that's $1,500 lower than a student who let the interest accumulate.
Can It on Credit
How many times have we told you that spending can sneak up on you faster than a ninja on steroids? At least three in this article alone. Thanks in large part to not having any idea how much they're charging, the average college student graduates with $2,200 in credit card debt on top of student loans.
Credit cards, especially high-interest ones issued to starving college kids, can spiral out of control pretty easily. Think of it this way—if you charge a $15 pizza on a card with an 18% interest rate during your freshman year, you'll pay more than double for that pizza by the time you're a senior. Reserve those cards for emergencies only and pay them off ASAP.
Good grades and close ties to your department advisors will not only make job hunting and recommendation-getting a cakewalk when you're a senior, it will also help you land scholarships and grants reserved for upperclassmen. Most colleges have special aid awards designed to reward students who have busted their rump academically, athletically or extra-curricularly (that's totally a real word) as well as paid research and assistantship positions for juniors and seniors. Do well, keep in touch with the financial aid office, check with your department heads and coaches about aid for upperclassmen and peruse Shmoop's Scholarship Database. It will literally pay off.
Tap Hidden Money Resources
Grants and scholarships aren't the only ways to pay for college. "Alternative aid" options ranging from tuition waiver programs to national service awards can foot your bill just as easily. What's this "alternative aid" we speak of? Check out Shmoop's list.
Ask For More
Death, divorce, medical expenses...things happen and financial aid offices understand that. If your family's financial circumstance changes while you're in college, you may be eligible for more financial aid. Situations like job loss or other surprise bills won't show up on your financial aid forms. If you encounter an unexpected change, head straight to your school's financial aid office and request a professional judgment. It's not guaranteed that your school will hand over a bigger chunk of change, but it's worth a shot.
Access Student Discounts
Smile, get your student ID then use it until you can no longer pass for 21. Your student ID grants you discounts on items ranging from movie tickets to computers. Student discounts are particularly advantageous when it comes to traveling. Amtrak and Greyhound both offer discounts for student travelers while STA Travel can hook you up cheapo with flights.
Get Personal With the Career Center
You've slogged through four years (or more) of exams, research projects and theses. You've finally turned the tassel. You've graduated! And made it to the real world!....only to be jobless and bored out of your mind for the next half a year.
That exact scenario happens all the time. The University of California Santa Barbara Career Center reports that the average job search for new college grads takes 3 to 6 months, meaning that it could be quite a while after you leave college before you can start paying your student loans back.
A quick visit to your campus career center can help you research jobs other grads in your field have landed, connect with recruiters and land a full-time gig before you graduate. Career centers frequently sponsor job fairs, resume critique workshops, mock interview sessions, networking resources, connections to professional organizations in your field and job shadowing opportunities. Take advantage of them while they're free.
Work It Off
If that last scenario sends chills up your spine, it should. Post-grad joblessness is no joke, especially when you've got student loans. Luckily there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of winding up over educated and under employed.
Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that 2 out of every 5 interns are offered a full-time job once their internship is over. Internships get a bad rap because many of them are unpaid, but there are some very lucrative gigs. Find one, do well and walk away with a post-grad job along with jealous looks from your broke friends.