How to save money in college to graduate with smaller student loans

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As college costs continue to rise, so does student debt. According to the Institute of College Access and Success, two out of three bachelor’s degree graduates will end up with student debt, with the average debt total among them being $28,659.

Much of that is out of your control. But despite how expensive college can be, there are lots of things you can do to save money in college, both big and small. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are 10 ideas to get you started.

How to save money in college

1. Choose an affordable school

Where you go to school can make a huge difference in how much your education will cost you.

Check out these recent statistics from the College Board that compare the average tuition cost of different types of colleges:

  • Public Two-Year College (in-district students): $3,440
  • Public Four-Year College (in-state students): $9,410
  • Public Four-Year College (out-of-state students): $23,890
  • Private Four-Year College: $32,410

Those are huge discrepancies! The average private college costs nearly 10 times more per year on average than a public two-year school (often called “community colleges”).

With grants and scholarships, you may be able to afford a more expensive school. Otherwise, opting for a more affordable school could be a smart move.

2. Fill out the FAFSA

Even if you think you won’t need financial assistance in college, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

There are lots of grants and scholarships you won’t be able to access unless you fill out this form. And contrary to what many students assume, not all financial aid is solely based on your family’s income.

Plus, if you do need to take out loans in college, you won’t be eligible for federal loans without your FAFSA.

3. Apply for scholarships and grants

If you’re still in high school, now is the time to begin thinking about your scholarship and grant strategy. Your guidance counselor is a good person to talk to about the scholarships and grants that are available to you.

They may even be able to point you toward grants and scholarships that are only available to students from your town, or school-specific opportunities.

If you’re already in college, it’s not too late for you. You can apply for grants and scholarships every year. Stop by your financial aid counselor’s office for advice and ideas.

4. Rent textbooks or sell them back when you’re done

If you haven’t noticed yet, textbooks can be crazy expensive. But there are ways that you can cut costs.

Did you know that you can rent textbooks using Amazon Textbook Rental or with competitors like Campus Book Rentals or Chegg?

Even if you do decide to buy your textbook, you can sell it back after your course is done. Most college bookstores will buy textbooks back, but you’ll probably be able to get more for it by selling it yourself on Amazon or websites like eCampus.

If you plan to sell your textbook after you finish your course, keep it in mint condition and don’t write in the pages in order to score good prices.

5. Take advantage of campus amenities and equipment

There are lots of ways to save money during college by simple taking full advantage of what’s already available to you for free.

  • Use the campus gym instead of paying for a separate gym membership.
  • Use the campus computer lab and printers.
  • Attend campus movie nights or other events to save on entertainment.

The possibilities are endless. And if you pay for the college meal plan, make sure to take full advantage of it.

6. Work or start a side hustle

Sometimes the best way to avoid spending money on your free time is to spend that time making money instead!

Getting a job while you’re in college can be hard because most students are in class from morning to early afternoon. But you may be able to find a job where you can work nights and weekends. Restaurant and retail jobs tend to work well for college students.

And if you’d rather not be locked down to a steady job, why not start a side hustle like driving for Uber or Lyft, tutoring, or giving music lessons?

7. Shop at places that offer student discounts

There are lots of restaurants and retail stores that offer student discounts. Ask your fellow students which places in your area are known for cutting students a break. Nationwide brands like JCrew, Madewell, and Banana Republic also provide student discounts with a valid ID.

Make a list of these places and use them as much as possible. Flash that student ID with pride.

8. Don’t overspend on technology

Regardless of what you may think, you probably don’t need a $1,000 to $2,000 computer to get your school work done.

If you shop around, you can find a perfectly capable Windows computer for less than $500. Chromebooks (which are incredibly affordable) are becoming more and more popular with college students, too.

And if you’re one of those people who simply has to have a Mac, see if you can save money by finding a used or refurbished one online.

9. Split expenses with family or friends

Just because you’re “out on your own” doesn’t mean you have to pay for every bill all by yourself. Sending your parents money each month for your portion of the family phone bill could be a lot less expensive than paying for your own individual plan.

Most video and music streaming services now allow multiple users one one account. Why not ask some of your friends if they’d be interested in splitting the bill?

And if you’re a gamer, you already know how expensive video games can be. But if all your dorm buddies are going to end up enjoying the game too, why not ask them to chip in toward the cost of buying it?

10. Travel cheap

If you enroll in a school that’s not in your home state, you’re going to be probably be doing a lot of traveling for the next four or more years.

Summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas … these are just a few of the times when you may be traveling back and forth from home to school.

One way you can save on flights is by setting up flight price alerts for the days you plan to travel. Also, if you or your parents have credit card rewards points, you may be able to redeem them for a free flight.

In the end, though, driving may still be cheaper, especially during the holidays. Don’t have a car? Why not carpool with another student heading the same direction and split the gas cost?

With a little effort and creativity, you can save a ton of money in college. And every dollar saved in college will help you graduate with less student loans, or maybe even none at all.

Trust me, it’ll be worth the extra effort.

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