College can be one of the best investments you ever make. However, if you aren’t careful, the debt you rack up can outweigh the benefits. The average college student graduates with over $25,000 in debt unless they decide to save money by pursuing online degrees. For online degrees, we do not know the figure of student debt yet.
But, if you follow the guidelines below and are willing to work hard, you may be well on your way to getting through college without any debt at all.
1. Choose the Right School
This will be the biggest factor in how much you spend on your education. If you decide to go to a school that costs twice as much as the alternatives, no coupon cutting or bulk shopping is going to save you enough money to make a difference.Remember that private schools are extremely expensive, and if they’re so exclusive that no one has heard of them, they won’t do you any good when it comes to getting a job.
Also, if you’re going to go out of state to a public school, remember that it is likely the same education you’d get at the state school closer to home, for twice the price. Not to mention the money that goes into traveling to and from school if it’s a thousand miles away or more.
Find a school that will allow you to accomplish your goals but won’t break the bank at the same time. I chose Boise State University because it provided the same kind of education that I’d get at any other public school for less than $6000 a year in tuition.
There is still one more step you can take to save a sizable portion of the money, and that is to enroll in an online school. This unique style of education is catching on, and many of these schools even offer entire graduate degrees via their innovative programs. You can save on travel, room, board, and other supplies by choosing to learn online. The flexibility of online classes even allows you to maintain a full-time job while studying. Additional information regarding online universities is completely free, so set a few moments aside and see if it is right for you.
2. Make a Smart Living Decision
Many people think that living in the dorms is the cheapest way to go. But that isn’t always the case, in fact, I would argue that most of the time it isn’t When looking at the cost of living in the dorms, remember that you only get to live there around eight or nine months out of the year.
Take into account that you’d be living in a minuscule space compared to an apartment. For instance, I chose an apartment this year, and it is roughly six or seven times the size of some of my friend’s dorm rooms, even before you take into account the fact that their rooms are shared with someone else. Also, you can split a rented apartment or house with a couple friends and drive down the cost even further.
However, some schools do have an inexpensive on-campus living, so if that’s the case, take advantage of it. I’ve heard of people paying as little as five thousand dollars for room and board for the year at some private schools, which is substantially cheaper than anything else I’ve seen.
3. Eat Cheap
Cook food unless you are in an insane hurry. Letting someone else cook your food is one of the most expensive things you can do. This especially holds true if you are living off campus.
I spend maybe $2 per meal on average (and its only that high because I eat a lot of meat) when I cook my own food while my friends are spending a solid $20 per day eating out. Besides choosing an expensive school, this is one of the biggest reasons people go broke during college.
4. Find and Eliminate your Latte Factor
Your latte factor, or the little things you buy every day, such as coffee or cigarettes, can really add up to be a big expense. This seems to be especially prevalent in today’s youth (my generation likes our small comforts). Often times you can curb the cost of these habits by doing things yourself if you can’t bring yourself to fully eliminate them from your lives.
I have a friend who rolls his own cigarettes for a tiny fraction of what buying them costs. And if you’re addicted to caffeine instead of nicotine, then make your own coffee. If you think you may have a latte factor, I wrote a lengthy article about it here.
5. Avoid the Freshman Fifteen
The most dreaded thing in college for sure is that seemingly inevitable weight gain during your first year. Not only will this cost you in the looks department, but it’ll hurt your wallet as well. It’s no secret that being unhealthy is expensive, in the form of medical bills or otherwise.
And all that weight is coming from food (or other things) that you have to pay for, remember that. Take advantage of the activities and recreational facilities provided by your college, they are there for a reason.
6. Buy Things Used
When you are looking to buy things like furniture, remember that buying used can save you as much as 90%. I bought all of furniture at garage sales or through Craigslist, and neither my friends nor I mind. And the money saved was substantial. Hit up thrift stores, garage sales, classified ads, and your friends/family. You can get outfitted easily on the cheap when you buy used.
Another thing to buy used for sure is your books. I made the mistake this semester of waiting until the minute to buy my books, and boy did I pay for it. Buying them used would have probably saved me a couple hundred dollars.
7. Find Cheap Entertainment
Another area where college kids tend to spend a lot of money is on entertainment. It never ceases to amaze me just how much some of my friends are willing to spend just to entertain themselves. Ways to save money on entertainment are of course going to vary wildly depending on what you like to do and where you live, but there are always cheap or free alternatives to your activities.
A quick note on alcohol and especially other recreational drugs: those things may be fun, but remember, they are bad for your body, and worse for you wallet. I come from a town with a lot of stoners, and I watched them spend literally thousands of dollars every year just to get high. If not for the health reasons, avoid drugs simply to save your money.
This is another area where students sometimes spend way more money than they need to. If you are living in the dorms, you most likely will not need a car at all. Most of my friends that live in the dorms use their longboards and bikes to get around, and they think it works just fine.
If you are going to be living off campus, find somewhere that is close enough to walk to class. I only use my car once or twice per week when I have to go to the opposite side of the city, and it saves me huge money.
Also, make sure to utilize public transportation when available. As the weather gets colder here, I’m going to be using the university shuttle to get around instead of walking a lot of times.
And at all costs, avoid the financed car trap. You may think that because you’re going off on your own you can now afford to do crazy things like buying a nice car. I have a friend that bought a brand new Chevrolet Sonic on a loan, and while he denies it, I’m sure it causes him some significant financial stress.