The cost of college is out of control. After you pay for room and board, tuition, a rug, a mini-fridge and all that other cool stuff to fill your super-cute dorm room, you’ve dished out a pretty nice chunk of change. And like it or not, you’re going to have to keep on spending.
If you’re not careful, you’ll come across hidden costs that will creep up on you on a daily basis. But don’t worry—HC is here to help you prepare for those unexpected costs and to budget for them ahead of time so that when they do creep up on you, you’re more than ready.
Hidden Cost: Your car
Solution: Keep your car at home.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution says keeping your car at home eliminates some major potential money-sucks. “You can avoid paying for gas, paying for insurance and paying for potential repairs to your car if you don’t bring it to school with you,” O’Shaughnessy says. She also suggests that you contact your insurance company so that you can take your name off of the insurance coverage while you’re at school and not driving your car or your family car. This is one huge way to save money while you’re off at school. You also won’t have to worry about paying for parking if you leave your car at home!
Hidden cost: Room and board
Solution: Become an RA.
Sure, it’s tough work. And no one wants to walk around campus on a Friday night, checking the girls’ dorm for boys or vice versa.But being an RA can actually be fun. “I love my RA job because I get to meet new people and help make their experience at Elon a better one,” Junior Elon student Jessica Scales says. “I like being that “go-to” person, especially for freshmen, who can help them with any problem or just be there to listen or hang out.” Not only does Jessica love her job, but she also loves the benefits that come with it. “Elon covers half of the [room and board] fee and then provides the RAs with monthly checks covering the other half,” Jessica explains. “It’s nice to receive a monthly income to be able to use to pay bills, buy necessities, or to just splurge on yourself every once in a while.” Elon’s system of paying RA’s may differ from other colleges. Some schools just completely cover the room and board fee. But either way, it’s a pretty sick deal! Even if it’s too late to be an RA this year, find out how you can apply to be one next year.
Hidden cost: Dorm room essentials
Solution: Apply to be a tour room.
My roommate and I applied to be a tour room this year at Elon University. This means that prospective students and parents get to see an actual dorm room while they visit our school. Tours come through our room once a week, so it’s incentive to keep our dorm room nice and clean and we got a lot of free stuff out of it. We got a free refrigerator, microwave, TV and DVD player. We also get $100 a semester each, just for smiling and answering questions when prospective students walk through our room once a week. Not a bad deal, right? Contact the admissions office at your school for information about becoming a tour room.
Hidden cost: Groceries
Solution: Start cutting coupons.
Honestly, all you have to do is type “coupons” into Google, and you’ll come across a ton of online coupons for stores in your area. Or read this article from one of our experts, Marina Shifrin. Or pick up a local Sunday paper and cut those coupons, girlfriend! Have no shame. Wave them proudly at the cashier. Make her scan twenty of them. Who cares? You took the time to search for them and cut them out. And you’re saving money. So be proud of yourself and enjoy it!
Hidden cost: Dining out
Solution: Go out to eat… without dropping a ton of cash.
Ever heard of restaurants.com? Well if you haven’t, then you should totally bookmark this website. You can find some really awesome deals that you can use at restaurants in your area. So get the girls together, decide on a restaurant, print out some coupons and go have a cheap night out. Emphasis on the cheap. If you live in a big city, be sure to check out Groupon, Gilt City, and opentable.com.
Hidden cost: Beauty products
Solution: Go to Target.
Stop buying expensive makeup from Sephora. Target has some nice stuff too, and it won’t put a huge dent in your wallet. I promise that no one will be able to tell the difference between $4 mascara and Dior
Hidden cost: Furnishing your apartment
Solution: Hit up garage sales.
If you’re living in an apartment or a house off-campus, you’re probably super excited to fully furnish your new pad in floor-to-floor Pottery Barn furniture and accessories. Resist the urge if you want to have money left over for groceries. Instead, hit up some local garage sales. Lynn O’Shaughnessy said her daughter found a lot of great home furnishings at local garage sales. You just have to look a little harder than you would at Ikea!
Hidden cost: Textbooks
Solution: Rent your textbooks.
Textbooks are one of the biggest money-sucks you’ll encounter in college. You can avoid spending a ton of money on books by renting them online. A great website to check out is Chegg.com. Some schools’ bookstores also rent out books for the semester, so take advantage of that if you’re able to. Elon University 2009 graduate Andie Diemer suggests borrowing a book from friends or from the library. “I actually completely stopped buying textbooks during my junior and senior year, and would just borrow them from friends,” she said. “If you know a friend that took the class the semester before, break a deal with them before they sell their books back.” For more suggestions about finding cheap textbooks, see what HC has to say here!
Hidden cost: Meal plans
Solution: Drop your meal plan.
If you take the time to calculate how much you’re actually spending on meal plans, you’d be shocked at how expensive they are. Andie says that at Elon, the fewer meal plans you have per week, the more expensive each individual meal is. She suggests dropping your meal plans altogether. “I quit buying meal plans because they were such a rip-off; my parents just gave me some food money every few weeks instead,” she said. She also suggests hitting up events on campus that offer free food. “There are so many organizations on campus that offer free food. They often advertise, so if you feel that it is worth exchanging some of your time at an interest meeting for some pizza, there’s a really quick way to score a free dinner,” Andie said.
Hidden cost: Entertainment
Solution: Borrow movies and music.
Instead of spending money renting movies and buying CD’s, Andie suggests renting them from your school’s library. She also suggests using your laptop to watch movies and TV shows instead of spending that extra money on a TV and cable.
Bonus solution: Get a job.
Most schools offer work-study programs for students who qualify. Andie suggests working on campus or close to it if you don’t have a car. Plus it keeps you closer to everything that’s going on and in the loop with the university. “I was a TA, and Administrative Assistant and I got paid for working for my school’s newspaper,” she said. “And (working) just a few hours a week can actually add up.” Read this article from HC about finding a great job on your campus!
College life can be expensive, but there are little loopholes that can cut the costs. You just have to be on the lookout for them!
Jessica Scales, Elon University
Andie Diemer, 2009 Elon graduate
Lynn O’Shaughnessy, Author, The College Solution, http://thecollegesolutionblog.com/