Heading back to college or going away to school can be an exciting and expensive time in a student's life. There are people to meet, interesting courses to study, tuition to pay, and textbooks to buy. After the excitement wanes though, it's not hard to feel discouraged by the big bills that need to be paid. Before spending all of your student loans on back-to-school gear, try these six ways to cut your college costs.
1. Don't be lazy, keep a student budget. A student budget can be viewed as either a smart way to get savvy about finances, or a cruel introduction to the costs of being an adult. You pick. But from my own experience of living in a student slum with cockroaches and Kraft Dinner, I think it makes good financial sense to become smarter about your money sooner — especially if you’re spending student loan cash.
A student budget is just a financial plan for tracking the flow of money into and out of your life. It helps you identify the costs of your education, plan ahead for any shortfall, and see ways to save more money before you're in trouble. The hard part with any budget is getting started, so download this comprehensive and free Student Budget Planner to plan your school costs the easy way -- before you need to stock up on that orange macaroni stuff.
2. Only pack what you need. Moving onto campus can be expensive, especially if you live out of town or out of state. Before packing every item you own, check with your campus dorm to find out what you really need. This printable Dorm Room Essentials Checklist is a great start for those living on campus, while the First Apartment Essentials Checklist is excellent for those living independently away from school.
If you're moving far from home, the Moving Checklist and Planner may be the planning tool you need to get back to school in a more cost-efficient way.
3. Don't shop before classes start. I once made the expensive mistake of buying all my textbooks before the first day of class. Being prepared for school was my aim, but I wasn't prepared to learn that half of the listed books were optional. Avoid this common, and expensive, mistake by waiting for class to start, and then buying only the textbooks you need.
4. Get smart, buy used textbooks. Opting to buy used textbooks can save you up to 70 percent over buying new, adding hundreds of extra dollars to your wallet. So skip the campus bookstore when buying textbooks and find the place where students swap, sell, and barter their used books for less. Depending on your school, you may find a special used bookstore in town or in a back room on campus where students meet to unload last year's chemistry books. Going online could also net you some cool savings. Many students now post their used books on Facebook, Craigslist, or eBay hoping to find a buyer. Big online book sellers like Alibris, Thrift Books, or even Amazon may have the used edition you need.
5. Buy school supplies in bulk or online. Notebooks, pens, and printer paper are not cheap, so stock up during the back-to-school sales to get more school supplies for less dollars. Shopping at big-box stores and checking out online retailers can save you at least 10 percent on common school items. Searching for special online coupons can save you additional dollars too -- try 8 Stealth Ways to Uncover Big Savings with Secret Online Coupons. 6. Get a haircut, and land a job. When your student budget is feeling pinched or you're buried in student loan debt, it may be a good idea to find a small part-time job. There are many opportunities available on college campuses that can fit a student's busy class schedule. Just put some polish on your resume and download these free resume templates to land a job worth some extra bucks each week.
If you're looking for additional ways to save money on school, open your mind to another way of learning with How to Avoid Student Debt -- you may just find a way to study debt-free.
Kerry K. Taylor writes at Squawkfox.com, a blog where personal finance and frugal living are sexy, delicious, and fun. Kerry is the author of 397 Ways To Save Money: Spend Smarter & Live Well on Less.