Best Ways to Save Money as a College Student

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When you think about the best ways to save money as a college student, you are probably thinking about getting help paying for college tuition or saving money paying for college. While those latter two topics are completely legit, let’s be honest.

If you’re reading this post and your high school senior has just made their decision about where to go to school, it’s probably a little too late to look for help paying for college. I’m not trying to be depressing. I’m trying to be realistic.

Usually there are four times during the year when parents and students stress about paying for college. Those times are:

  1. Fall, when high school seniors are applying to college
  2. Spring, when high school seniors are weighing their admissions options
  3. Summer, when that first tuition bill arrives
  4. Winter, when spring tuition is due

So pretty much you could be stressing year round about how you’re going to get help paying for college tuition. I did write a book called The Complete Guide to Paying for College. Much of it focuses on just that–paying for college. But many of the tips I share require you to be years away from sending your son or daughter to college.

That being said I understand that many parents haven’t planned about how they are going to pay for college. So the book also offers tips on some of the best ways to save money as a college student. Why? Because you can ease the sting of soaring tuition by being money-smart when you get to college.

Best ways to save money as a college student

Now is a great time to focus on how you can save money as a college student. This advice also applies to parents and family members. This is advice you can put into practice even before you move your freshman into their dorm. Here now are some of my best ways to save money as a college student as well as general money tips for college students, including how to save money on car insurance, college textbooks and more.

7 Things College Students Need to Know About Money

According to American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC), a national financial education non profit, few college students and their families will ask themselves if they are financially prepared for the next four years, once the process of getting into college is over.

Personal finance can be a daunting topic for college kids, but it is one that needs more attention. Today, with the average American college student graduating with $26,500 of debt, it is essential that college students have an understanding of how to most effectively manage their personal finances.

Here are seven things college students need to know about money before the first day of classes. Many of these will even help them to embrace the best ways to save money as a college studen.

  1. Budgeting – Developing a realistic and manageable budget is a lifelong skill that is essential for anyone in college, preparing to go to college, or just graduating.  Start by using a budgeting worksheet for college students to get an accurate picture of your income and expenses. By comparing and contrasting your total income and expenses, you will be able to create a feasible budget plan. By sticking to your budget, you will avoid going into any unnecessary credit card debt.
  2. How to Choose a Bank / Credit Card – Consider your specific banking needs and services, not just the freebies you’ll receive when you open an account. Think about location. Is there a bank that is in both your college town and hometown? Don’t forget to see if there are any fees associated with your account or card. Our daughter stayed with our hometown bank, even though she was going to college two states away. Why? Because our hometown bank reimburses for ATM fees occurred out of state, so there would be no negative consequences of her having using ATMs at college.
  3. Use Credit Responsibly – It can be tempting to make purchases with a credit card when you’re short on cash, but make sure you’re not biting off more debt than you can handle. Racking up credit card debt now can severely hurt your credit score and your chances at obtaining other lines of credit in the future. It can also hurt your chances to rent an apartment. Only charge what you can afford to pay back quickly.
  4. Monitor Your Accounts on a Regular Basis – Take a few minutes each day to log into your accounts (including bank and credit card accounts) and check for any suspicious activity. This will help safeguard you against any fraudulent charges and potentially identity theft.
  5. Save ­– Consider retail jobs, paid internships, federal work study jobs, and tutoring to earn and save money while in school. It’s important to save for your future – for an apartment after graduation, student loan payments, or a relocation for a job. Our daughter had an unpaid internship this past summer, but because she applied for a grant through her college, she received a stipend to make up for the lack of pay (it went right in the bank) and qualified for subsidized housing, saving us thousands.
  6. Use your Student ID for Discounts – Not only will you need it to enter your dorm, the dining hall, and the library, but your student ID can also earn you discounts at hundreds of retailers nationwide. If you are not sure if a company offers a student discount, just ask. You can even get students discounts at the movies and certain performance venues. (More about these discounts below.)
  7. Be Aware of Your Financial Situation – Too many students graduate from college without any idea of how much they’ll have in student loans, or how much to expect to make at their first job. Make sure you know how much school costs per year, what your parents are covering, what you’ll be expected to cover, and budget for rent and living expenses accordingly.

While your child may not graduate debt-free from college, these tips should help him or her join the ranks of financially savvy college students.

Stores that offer college student discounts

One of the benefits of having a student ID is getting discounts at stores. Having spent much of my life living in college towns, I know how many shops have signs in the window saying that they offer college student discounts.

When in doubt, ask. In The Complete Guide to Paying for College, I have a whole section on stores that offer college student discounts. The next time you shop in person, ask at the register if the store offers a discount for college students. Many do without advertising. It can’t hurt to ask.

In  my book I also talk about stores that are designed to save college students money when shopping. Here are two examples that you can take advantage when shopping online.

Be sure to take advantage of any state sales tax holidays when shopping for back to college.

Amazon Prime can save your college student money

One of the best examples of this is Amazon’s student Prime account. Both of my daughters signed up for Amazon Student Prime when they went away to college. Having this Prime account saved them thousands of dollars on books and other supplies. It’s one of the best ways to save money on college textbooks. (More about saving money on textbooks below.)

The account also saved their father and me tons on shipping costs. That’s because with an Amazon Student Prime account, other family members can use the account.

amazon student prime savings
In my new book The Complete Guide to Paying for College, I mention Amazon Student Prime. I talk about how it has helped my own daughters save hundreds of dollars each semester on college books. As soon as both girls received their college email addresses, they signed up for Amazon Student Prime. What’s great is that they got their first six months for free.

After that first free six months, their Amazon Student Prime account was billed annually. It cost half of what a regular Amazon Prime account costs. With this new option, there is still a discount. However, an annual commitment no longer is required.

Amazon Student Prime Payment Changes

Recently, Amazon announced a new monthly payment option for Amazon Prime Student. It is available to all college students enrolled in four or two year colleges in the U.S. Prime Student is just $5.49 a month, which is 50% off Prime, after a six month trial. This flexible payment option offers all the benefits of Prime to students without an annual commitment.

Join Prime Student FREE Two-Day Shipping for College Students

“Our new monthly payment option lets students enjoy the best of Amazon in a more flexible and simple way,” says Ellen Kinney, Director of Prime Student, Amazon. “Whether it’s getting their favorite products with free shipping or streaming thousands of popular movies and shows, Prime student members can experience all the benefits of Prime.”

7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Buy on Amazon

Benefits of Amazon Prime

Here are some of the benefits of Amazon Prime, including Amazon Student Prime First, you get unlimited free two-day shipping. This applies to over 50 million items. These range from college essentials, such as textbooks and electronics, to face paint for the big game and even your favorite Halloween costumes.

Also, you have the option of Prime free one-day shipping and Prime free same-day delivery in more than 5,000 cities. Free Same-Day and Free One-Day pickup on millions of items at campus locations, as well as Prime Now in over 30 major cities.

Prime Video

Next, you can enjoy unlimited streaming on thousands of movies and TV shows. This includes popular licensed content plus critically-acclaimed and award-winning Amazon Original Series and Movies from Amazon Studios like Transparent, The Grand Tour and Manchester By the Sea with Prime Video. We used access to our daughters’ Amazon Student Prime to watch The Man in the High Castle.

Twitch Prime

In addition, there are discounts on most pre-release boxed games, free in-game loot, like exclusive characters, boosts, skins, and more, plus full games from indie developers. Members also receive a Twitch channel subscription every 30 days. This provides ad-free viewing, an expanded set of chat emotes and colors, and an exclusive chat badge. You can also sign up for Twitch Prime outside of a student membership.

Prime Music

Furthermore, all prime members receive ad-free access to more than two million songs and thousands of playlists and stations at no additional cost to their membership. You can also sign up for Prime Music separately.

Prime Photos

Also, you’ll have free unlimited photo storage within the Prime Photos App. Prime Student members can securely store their existing photo collections, automatically upload new photos taken and access them anytime, anywhere, at no cost.

Prime Reading

Another benefit is you’ll get unlimited access to a rotating selection of more than a thousand books, Audible narrations, magazines, comics, Kindle Singles, and more. With fiction, non-fiction, short works, and magazines right off of the newsstand, you’ll always find something interesting to read.

Deals and Exclusives

Finally, you’ll get early access to select Lightning Deals and other exclusive deals and offers available only to Prime Student members.

Signing Up for Amazon Student Prime

To join Amazon Student Prime, college students from four and two year colleges simply need to provide a valid .edu email address. Following a six-month trial, Prime Student is 50% off Prime – which is just $5.49 a month with no annual commitment. Therefore, if college students want to save even more, they can choose to pay $49 a year for an annual Prime Student membership.

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A Target college registry can save your student money

I love the fact that Target has a college registry. My daughters have always loved shopping at Target. So that’s why we set her up with a Target college dorm registry, which I talk about in this new blog post.

To be honest, it is where we ended up getting the extra-long twin sheets that dorm beds require. I think Target is one of the best places to get extra long twin sheets. And they’re soft, too.

With a college registry set up, friends and family will know exactly what kind of sheets she wants–and other college necessities.

Here’s my blog post on college dorm must haves, which includes those aforementioned extra-long twin sheets from Target!

Benefits of a Target college registry

Here are some of the benefits of the Target college registry:

  • 15% off coupon to shop online and finish out your registry
  • A generous one-year return policy for anything purchased off your registry
  • Free shipping on orders over $25

Other tips to save money in college

When your student goes away to college in the fall, there are ways to save money in college that you might not realize. Two biggies are all about insurance.

How college students can save money on insurance

There are a number of insurance-related topics that fit with this notion of the best ways to save money as a college student. They range from different kinds of health insurance to car insurance. In addition, I’ve included different insurance policies you may want to buy when you send a child to college. These policies, should you need them, can save you a ton of money over time.

1. Health Insurance

Let’s start with the biggie and one that’s on my mind, now that my daughter is a high school senior. I know that some time in the next 365 days we’re going to have to get her own health insurance card. That way if she gets sick at school and needs to go to the hospital, she has proof of insurance.

However, with the health care reform law, I don’t think we have to pay extra for university- or college-sponsored health insurance, as long as we can provide proof that our daughter has health insurance through us–usually a photocopy of the insurance card that you submit to the school.

What I need to figure out is if she will still be able to use the same campus health services as students who paid for insurance through the school if we opt out of using their insurance in favor of our own. You should do a similar investigation for your own college students and their health insurance needs.

2. Dental Insurance

In my opinion there’s no need to worry about dental insurance, since dental cleanings occur twice a year. And with college schedules, chances are your child will be home twice in the year–usually six months apart–and you can squeeze in a dental appointment then. What I would suggest looking into is whether or not the university where your son or daughter is studying has a dental school.

When my husband was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he could get dirt-cheap cleanings and other dental work done at the dental school–the dental students have to practice on someone! This could be a good fallback option for having dental work taking care of on campus without having to worry about dental insurance.

3. Auto Insurance

A recent Associated Press article on insuring college kids said that your auto insurance costs could go down if your child is attending college more than 100 miles away from where you live and isn’t bringing a car to school with him or her. I’m guessing you benefit financially from this arrangement simply because your college student won’t be driving at all during the semester, and therefore isn’t at risk of a car accident or anything else that would involve auto insurance.

If this scenario describes yours, be sure to touch base with your insurance company to see if you can get a discount now that the young driver is no longer using your car on a daily basis. Also, many companies offer “good student” discounts so let them know when your son or daughter makes dean’s list!

4. Home Insurance

Your homeowner’s insurance may cover the theft of or damage to any of the more expensive items that your child brings to college, such as a laptop computer or jewelry. You may also consider buying a separate renter’s insurance policy in your child’s name. These cost up to $200 per year.

No matter how you handle home insurance, be sure to photograph and document what he or she takes to college so that upon returning for summer break, you know what’s still there and what may have been lost, damaged, or stolen.

5. Travel Insurance

Ever since witnessing a sick passenger being airlifted from a cruise ship we were on many years ago, I have been a big believer in travel insurance, sometimes known as trip insurance. While you may think of these policies as for vacations only, they make a lot of sense if your student is going abroad for a semester or traveling somehow related to his or her studies.

Some travel insurance policies cover a trip that is curtailed due to illness or an accident. Others allow you to get reimbursed if you cancel before even leaving home. You may even be able to buy this kind of insurance through the college or university. Whichever office handles study abroad is the one where you should inquire first about travel insurance.

6. Life Insurance

No one expect to lose a child, but it happens. If you, the parents, have cosigned for expensive loans or maybe you’re shouldering the weight of $50,000 a year for tuition, you need financial protection if something fatal happens. It sounds dark and disturbing to even consider taking out a life insurance policy for your child, but for about $100 a year, it could be a peace-of-mind investment.

How to save money on food in college

A college student has to eat. We all know that. Most students are required to sign up for the college’s meal plan as a freshman. Sometimes it is required all four years, especially if you’re living on campus.

One of the best ways to save money on food in college is to encourage your student to use their meal plan. That’s money you’ve spent and budgeted for. It’s crazy not to eat in the dining halls.

Buying in bulk to save money on food in college

Another way to answer the proverbial question of how to save money on food in college is to buy in bulk. We’re Costco members and share our membership with our daughters whenever possible. However, Amazon Prime offers tons of options for buying in bulk. Amazon Fresh and Amazon Pantry both offer options as well. All Amazon membership programs come with a free trial, so why not try them out?

Using an online bulk shopping option like Amazon Prime is smart. Your student can use it with roommates or suitemates. Everyone can pool their funds to get food affordably.

Of course, this is designed to complement any meal plans you might have paid for, not replace it. Again, if you’ve paid for the meal plan, impress upon your student the importance of eating all the “free” food the meal plan has to offer.

Are you aware of some other of the best ways to save money as a college student? If so, post a comment or share on The Real Sophisticated Facebook page. I’m sure readers will appreciate reading other people’s advice, too.

My daughters swear by two cash-back options for saving money on food. They are Ibotta, the cash back shopping app, and Rakuten. Here is my blog post that answers the question, “What is Rakuten?”

7 ways to save money on college textbooks

Throughout college both of my daughters have been extremely frugal with their money. This includes when it comes to their textbooks. One daughter was able to spend just $50 on textbooks for five classes. 

If you have a college student on a budget like mine, you’ll want to read on for 7 ways you, too, can save money on college textbooks.

1. Rent Your Textbooks

The college bookstore right on campus is likely renting textbooks these days. So is Amazon. If your child happens to go to school in a place where there are many other independent bookstores, they might do rentals, too. Expect to pay between $30 and $50 to rent a book for a semester. If you think you’ll be shopping a lot on Amazon, I would recommend signing up for a free trial of Amazon Student Prime, which offers free two-day shipping for college students.

2. Buy Used

Your college bookstore (likely run by Barnes & Noble) is a great place to find used books to buy. So are other students on campus. If your college is like many, there are Facebook groups for each class, and this could be a treasure trove for finding used books on the cheap. My own daughters report seeing ISO posts all the times in the Facebook groups at their respective colleges.

3. Download the Digital Version

Many college textbooks or even just chapters of these textbooks have eBook versions of them, which are often much, much cheaper to download and use than the regular printed version. Even the big boys in books (Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble) offer e-versions of popular college texts.

4. Visit the Library

Believe it or not, this seemingly lowbrow, Luddite way of getting your work done does actually, well work. My own daughter borrowed a book from her college library for one of her courses. For another she was able to use an inter-university loan system to get the textbook she need for her college from another college library–all for free. Nothing beats free in saving money on college textbooks.

5. Free Books in the Public Domain

U.S. Copyright covers books for only 50 years. That means that anything a professor assigns that is older than 50 years could possibly be found and downloaded, perfectly legally and for free, in the public domain. This is good to know for all those English major reading classic works.

6. Consider Older Editions

Many textbooks are updated annually or semi-annually. Sometimes this update changes the context of the material; other times the update may simply be with a new cover or to add a co-author. If most of the information inside remained the same (ask the professor), finding an older edition of that book could save you big bucks.

7. Wait for the First Day of Class

Some professors use the same syllabus from semester to semester. And while they may have updated the topics covered, sometimes they haven’t updated the reading list. So college students should wait until the first day of class to ask their professor if everything on the syllabus will, in fact, be required reading. Both of my daughters tried this approach and found out that one book was not going to be used that semester, thus saving them from buying or renting or downloading a book they didn’t actually need.

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