According to US News, 70% of 2014 college graduates left campus with an average of $28,400 in debt. It’s 2016 now, and that number is only on the rise. While you might not be able to escape student loans, there are other expenses to account for as well.
Everyone knows that tuition is a huge chunk of change, but it’s not the only expense that will empty your bank account this year. And college freshmen aren’t the only ones broadsided by hidden costs! There are plenty of upperclassmen who become sabotaged by their own high-priced choices and by the unexpected costs that undermine their efforts to create a budget and stick to it.
Here are nine things that might not come to mind when you think about budgeting for the semester—and some smart and creative ways to reduce their costs!
Okay okay. This isn’t exactly an unexpected cost, but there are creative ways you can put money toward your tuition. Make an appointment with your school’s financial aid office to get some advice and see how much money you can shave off your tuition. While everyone knows you should apply for FAFSA each year, upperclassmen sometimes think scholarships are only there for freshman. In reality, students at all levels can easily find millions of scholarship opportunities each year.
Or do some research on your own. Sites like Fastweb and Unigo offer millions of opportunities depending on your situation. Course Hero even offers a $3,000 monthly scholarship! And you can reapply for it every month.
2. Room and board
While living in a dorm is part of the classic college experience, it’s also a part of the classic college cost as well. Believe it or not, moving out of the dorm could save you around $4,000 per year on average, depending on your school, of course. You’ll find living in a sorority or fraternity house is cheaper, or, if pledging isn’t your thing, consider moving off campus and sharing an apartment with roommates you pick yourself.
Other perks of moving out of the dorms can also include better food options, as an apartment generally means a kitchen! Preparing your own meals at home can mean cheaper and healthier eating. If you’re close with your roommates you might even be able to share the shopping or cooking responsibilities. You might get to ditch that parking permit, too, usually saving around $75 each semester.
Hold off on buying the required books for your classes until you see what your professor requires. If you can see a syllabus ahead of time, search for book-buying tips directly from your instructor. Sometimes they’ll recommend an older edition or even online versions. They’ll know best what’s really required for success in the course. If you aren’t sure, just reach out and ask! It’s also a great way to make an early intro to your professors and to let them know how much you’re looking forward to their courses.
When you know for sure, rent the books you need for a quarter of the price, or at the very least, buy books used or see if you have any friends who have already taken your courses.
Passing up the shiny, brand new books in your college bookstore could save you several hundred dollars a year, and it saves trees too!
When you budget for meals, you don’t realistically budget for late-night pizza or meeting your friends for chicken wings to watch the game. Plan for these excursions ahead of time by tracking your spending habits for a couple of weeks. It will give you a clear picture of how much more you need to plan for each month (or how much you need to cut down on takeout).
Apps like Mint or PocketGuard can also help you keep tabs on spending. You might be surprised at how much you spend on food and drink in social situations. Knowing can be enough to make you think twice before going out to eat. Instead, plan a potluck or cook at home with friends and split the cost! You’ll probably end up eating healthier too.
This elixir of life is required by most college students (Hint: This doesn’t change after college). On average, you’ll save $60 per month if you invest in a good coffee maker, the raddest coffee tumbler of all time, and all of the fixings you’ve come to love. (Hint #2: A little coconut water in your iced coffee is heaven.) You can even discretely carry your pre-made drink into a coffee shop and meet with your study buddies without slurping down $5-6 on each visit.
Making coffee at home can even be a fun hobby! Learn a new brewing method and try out a variety of beans to determine what you like. Need a little help deciphering what you’re tasting? Check out the SCAA’s official coffee flavor wheel with step-by-step instructions on how to start using it.
Pause a moment to look back over the past year. What kinds of things did you do for fun?Did you go to movies often? When you went to movies, did you buy snacks every time? Did you go to expensive concerts or sporting events? Did you spend a lot going out to eat with friends? It’s not that you can’t do those things at all—just reflect on how much they added up over the course of the year and try to make adjustments.
Consider fun (and free) alternatives to costly movies, concerts, and dinners. Plan a picnic with some friends on campus, check out on-campus movies and sporting events, or even just plan more nights in to play board games or catch up on your favorite TV shows with friends.
Going home on breaks or for the weekend can add unexpected costs to your time off. If your parents’ house is drivable, search your campus for those who live in your hometown, and propose a carpool situation with split expenses. There might even be ride boards somewhere in your student union. A split cost is a good cost. Don’t forget the sandwiches! Food stops are another drain on the wallet.
If airfare is part of your trip home, start collecting frequent flyer miles, and even talk to your parents about a shared account so points will add up quicker. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and food purchases plus 1 point back for every $1 spent on everything else. These points can be redeemed miles with a variety of airlines. Airlines often offer their own cards with rewards as well. Some even grant large bonuses for signing up, such as the Southwest Chase Card. Do your research and determine what’s best for you and your family!
Chances are, over the course of four years, you’re probably going to need some new clothes. Shop sales when you’re looking to buy some new threads, or try to wait until birthdays/holidays if you live in a gift-giving family. Try to buy clothes that can be easily mixed and matched with things you already have vs. things you’ll need to match with more new clothes.
Be sure to hit the thrift stores! A little extra time spent searching can yield an amazing $25 outfit instead of a $75 one. Once your friends get a taste of your practical fashion, they’ll want thrifting tips too. Or plan a clothing swap. You might just find some unexpected treasures.
9. Not taking your education seriously
The number one way to be smart about money and educational investment is to take your classes seriously! Procrastinating, sleeping through classes, or turning in mediocre work will waste thousands of dollars (and a whole lot of your precious time) in the end. Your education is your main investment right now, so give yourself the best return!