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9 Ways to Save Money This Semester

Here are 9 things that might not come to mind when you think about budgeting for the semester—and some smart ways to reduce their costs.

According to The Institute for College Access and Success, 65% of 2017 college graduates left campus with an average of $28,650 in debt. Debt levels vary from state to state; a recent grad’s likelihood of having debt ranges from 38% in Utah to 74% in New Hampshire.

Everyone knows that tuition is a huge chunk of that change, but it’s not the only expense that drives up the average student’s costs—and debt. Here are 9 things that might not come to mind when you think about budgeting for the semester—and some smart ways to reduce their impact.

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1. Tuition

OK, OK, this isn’t exactly an unexpected cost, but there are creative ways to 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 bill. You likely know you can apply for a FAFSA loan each year, but upperclassmen sometimes think scholarships are only for freshmen. In reality, students at all levels can find countless scholarship possibilities for every year of school.

Do some research on your own: Sites such as Fastweb and Unigo offer a huge variety of opportunities, depending on your situation. And Course Hero offers monthly scholarships amounting to thousands!

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 thousands per year—depending on your school and its location, of course. You may well find that living in a sorority or fraternity house is cheaper. And 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 include the possibility of better food options, as an apartment generally includes a kitchen. Preparing your own meals can mean cheaper and healthier eating. If you’re close with your roommates, try sharing the shopping or cooking responsibilities.

You might get to ditch that parking permit, too, which can amount to a substantial savings (from tens to hundreds of dollars per semester, depending on your school).

3. Books

Hold off on buying books for your classes until you know 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 online versions. (This conversation also offers a great way to introduce yourself to your professors early, and let them know how much you’re looking forward to their courses.)

When you know for sure, rent the books you need, or buy used copies, for a fraction of the new book price. And don’t forget to ask your friends if they’ve already taken the same course and would loan you the textbooks they aren’t using now. Passing up those shiny, brand-new books in your college bookstore could save you several hundred dollars a year.

4. Food

When you budget for meals, you probably don’t factor in those late-night pizzas or the chicken wings you share with your friends while you’re all watching the game. Plan for these expenses ahead of time by tracking your spending habits for a couple of weeks. It will give you a clearer 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.

5. Coffee

This elixir of life is required by most college students. (Take note: This doesn’t change after graduation.) But you’ll likely save several dollars for every cup you drink 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.

Making coffee at home can actually 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 Specialty Coffee Association’s Coffee Tasters Flavor Wheel and its step-by-step instructions.

6. Entertainment

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, and 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 plan more nights in to play board games or catch up on your favorite TV shows with friends. If you do not have a Netflix subscription, check out these eight free alternatives.

7. Travel

Going home on breaks or for the weekend can add unexpected costs to your time off. If your family’s house is within driving distance, search your campus ride boards for those who are going nearby and propose a carpool to split gas costs. And don’t forget to pack sandwiches! Food stops are another drain on the wallet.

If airfare is part of your trip home, see if you can start collecting frequent-flier miles, and perhaps talk to your parents about a shared account so points will add up faster. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and restaurant purchases, and these points can be redeemed for miles with a variety of airlines. Airlines often offer their own cards with rewards, and some grant large bonuses for signing up, such as the Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card. Do your research and determine what’s best for you and your family.

8. Clothes

Chances are, you’re probably going to need some new clothes over the course of 4 years. Shop sales, and try to wait until birthdays and holidays if you have a gift-giving family. Buy clothes that can be easily mixed and matched with things you already have, so you don’t need yet more new clothes.

Be sure to hit the thrift stores, too. A little extra time spent searching can yield an amazing $25 outfit instead of a $75 one. Once your friends see how practical and fashionable your wardrobe becomes, they’ll want thrifting tips too. Or plan a clothing swap—you can have fun and find some unexpected treasures at the same time.

9. Taking your education seriously

The best way to be smart about money and your educational investment is to take your courses seriously! Procrastinating, sleeping through classes, or turning in mediocre work will waste thousands of dollars (and a whole lot of your precious time). Your education is your main investment right now, so give yourself the best return.

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