Practical tips To Reduce College Food, Books and Tuition Costs

I am lucky that I did my college in a country where education is heavily subsidized. Before you start thinking I grew up in heaven, let me tell you that, in my country there is nothing called social security pay out.

I have lived in America for 7 years now and have friends and relatives attending colleges here. I have colleagues working with me and re-paying student loans even after being at work for 10 years.

In this country, an inevitable outcome of going to a college, for most of the people, is taking on debt, which takes on average half of the life to repay, unless parents saved for the college or you worked your way in to college. (related – Pick a college or Major with future career in mind)

I know a nice guy who works as our building security guard, he is actually saving for medical study, he chooses his shifts at night when building is empty, this earns him extra salary (for working in night shift) and gets more time to study (since no one is there, nothing much to watch for).

What are the items a college student would spend on and how he can reduce spending? This is a list I prepared after interviewing some of the past and present college students, I know off ,who attended college in US. These are tried and tested techniques that students have applied for years to save money in college.

Cost of Food

Almost all the colleges have free food events going on regularly, don’t miss any. Free pizza parties are great for your taste and pocket.

Stay late at any party to help clean and take home the left over, take as much as you can take by not getting rid of civility. Stock it up in freezer and eat for few days.

Ask you upperclassmen and find out if any local church or non-profit organizes any free food event, don’t miss that.

Take up part-time job at food co-op, you will get lucky at times, especially a large college cafeteria will have a lot of food waste everyday (are you feeling lucky?).

When eating out, don’t hesitate to ask for student discounts, chances are high that they will have something.

If you can cook your own meal most of the time, it will save you hell lot of money (remember this technique whole life). When you are in hurry grab that 30c Ramen noodles, value for money! Macaroni and cheese once in a week is not bad either.

Cook with other students and share the grocery cost. Your food cost can go down by as much as 40% by cooking together.

Invite parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and basically every one who can take you out for dinner. Order large portion or double of what you can order, then pack the other half you didn’t eat, to savor later.

Cost of Books

Try not to buy your books beforehand. Attend first few classes without the book to see if you really need it, if you can survive for few days, you probably don’t need books.

Try to get your books from upperclassmen, if you pay more than what bookstores would give them, they can give it to you. (Remember to scout for freshmen next year for sell)

Get your books at the library, college libraries have copies of the textbooks which are meant only for reading in the library, so be there as soon as it opens and read your chapters, take notes, finish as much as you can in a day. Repeat again next day. Do you still need books?

Local county library might have copies of suggested books as well, search through their online catalog.

You can get used books from book stores near campus and they do buy back, you have to shell the difference from your pocket, which might not be more than 20% of the actual cost of the book. I think this can be a pretty good deal in case above methods fail in your situation.

Cost of Tuition

Complete as many credit hours as you can through community college system, these are damn cheap provided you reside in the county more than one year to get the subsidized tuition rate.

Scholarships and more scholarships, search for any lead you could find, talk to Councilor, talk to upperclassmen and find out if there’s any available for you. Write number of essays, as many as you could, to secure one scholarship. This is free money and you should work hard for the free money! (See, there’s nothing as free money, even free things has to be achieved by working hard, lesson for a life!)

Get a part time job (or, full time) while at college. You have options for jobs at co-ops, stores near your college, summer jobs, basically anything non derogatory where you can lay your hand on. One thing the college students have plenty is, time. Use your time to earn on the side and you are well covered for tuition fees. Research assistant-ship, teaching assistant-ship and summer jobs are the three highly paid jobs that a college student can get while studying, show your merit and willingness very early in college to get attention of your teachers.

Doing well on grades can land you special merit scholarships as well. Some times scholarships are not even applied for, so chances are there that you get a scholarship by just applying for that scholarship.

See if your parents (or grand parents) can hand over some interest free loan to lower your debt burden, they can save some taxes on this money (restrictions apply, see a tax consultant before applying for tax refund).

Finish up your courses as fast as possible, a quicker finish ensures lesser bill on food, accommodation and books.

I have kept aside the write-up on techniques to save cost of accommodation for future posting. You will soon get to see it on OCAAT. I am sure there are many more creative ways exist to save some money on college education.See also – Dumbest mistake I ever made in college.

Tips:do not ever forget that your primary responsibility is to study hard in college, and, land a good job once you pass out. You should not let frugality come in between you and your study time. If going gets tough concentrate on study.But if you are a true leader, you can manage both at the same time.(Don’t be stupid, advice for college freshman)

Readers, how do you think about the practical advises provided here? How did you save in college or how are you saving while attending college? 


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  1. says

    Never buy books from the campus bookstore (unless it is customized notes for that particular univ). Online book comparison site like bigwords are the best for buying books. University library will have the book but they always run short of the number of copies and most libraries have limited time period you can renew. Another way is to buy international editions.

    • says

      Suba, those are great tips. tell me though if buying intl edition is an option for Americans, why any one will ever buy an US edition?

  2. Financial Success for Young Adults says

    I used to go to the first couple of classes to determine if I needed the book. I also had many classmates that would ask outright if we needed it. The cost of books is skyrocketing and it’s near highway robbery now.

    • says

      Well said, when I went to college Google, Amazon and were not websites. Still I got all my books from upperclassmen and gave over to juniors.

  3. says

    There are lots of ways to cut down on expenses! Buying books online, sharing books with friends or roommate. Cooking your own food is a tremendous savings versus a meal plan. The internet makes find scholarhips or grants much easier.

  4. says

    Good tips. I was pretty frugal in college and always cook my own food. I couldn’t avoid the book expense though since most of my classes were technical. I purchased used books when I could.

  5. says

    I wish I had gone to community college, that’s one tip I wish every college going kid would listen to. Complete the General ED there and then move on to your fancy school! Plus working during college is important.

  6. Graham@The Money Corner says

    Some great ideas to save money, especially the books section. When I was as uni, I did pretty much the same thing. I found that you didn’t really need to buy all the books on the reading lists and the shop did buy some back (the ones in better conditions). I also found that many 3rd year students sold their books via noticeboards, etc. but be careful because new editions are out all the time!

  7. Dave J says

    I am starting this year at UT, this tips actually opened my eyes. thanks SB for putting the ideas together. I wonder where did you do your schooling?

    • says

      UT for Univ. of Texas? Oh man I miss my college days, I did my college in India. where ever you study fundamentals are same, don’t spend too much and college is for studying rather than partying. Be a great learner and a successful man!

  8. says

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. Another thing is that individuals have a choice between national student loan and also a private education loan where it is easier to go with student loan debt consolidation than in the federal student loan.

    One thing is that while you are searching for a student loan you may find that you will want a co-signer. There are many scenarios where this is true because you might discover that you do not possess a past credit rating so the loan company will require that you have someone cosign the credit for you. Interesting post.

    Thank you for this article. I will also like to express that it can always be hard when you find yourself in school and simply starting out to initiate a long history of credit. There are many college students who are simply just trying to endure and have a good or positive credit history are often a difficult factor to have.

    I’ve learned a number of important things by means of your post. I will also like to convey that there might be situation in which you will make application for a loan and never need a co-signer such as a U.S. Student Support Loan. In case you are getting that loan through a common bank or investment company then you need to be willing to have a co-signer ready to assist you to. The lenders may base their very own decision using a few aspects but the most significant will be your credit score. There are some creditors that will likewise look at your job history and make up your mind based on that but in many instances it will be based on on your credit score.

    One other issue is that if you are in a circumstances where you will not have a co-signer then you may actually want to try to make use of all of your educational funding options. You can get many grants or loans and other scholarship grants that will give you funds to assist with college expenses. Thanks for the post.

  9. says

    Good Points. Many of my high school students go to community college to save money. They transfer to state schools and in many cases they live at home to minimize costs.

    • says

      Yup those are intelligent students. Student loan default rate, to some, will become next headache for banks. We should try to reduce cost as much as we can. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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