With the exponentially increasing cost of colleges across the United States, potential students must strive to find cost-efficient ways to deal with attending school. While these skyrocketing costs would seem to deter students from obtaining a higher education, the increasing demand to have a Bachelor’s degree or other advanced degrees in workplaces (particularly those with high job security) pushes students back to these institutions.
Often, people have to turn to high-interest loans, which contribute to back-breaking debt that students have to pay back over the course of several years. For many students, going to school to get a degree to obtain a job eventually turns into going to school to get a job to pay off student loans.
Upon graduating college, about 71% of seniors have student loan debt; the average debt is about “$28,950 per borrower” (Federal Student Aid ). And, of course, there are major outliers, which can be seen in the Huffington post’s “Majoring in Debt” photo series from 2010 (where some students even have a six-figure debt). The series also brings up the reality that loan debt also accumulates rapidly at the graduate level.
However, what does college debt teach students? And what does it say about the goals of the American education system? Is it preparing students for financial stability in the long run, or is it taking that opportunity away?
If colleges are to be where students learn their career skills, they should also be where students realize their frugality skills. Without students developing financial literacy skills, many college students will have to focus more on paying back their loans than enjoying the careers they worked so hard to get.
Here are some ways to help students save money in college and practice financial literacy skills:
- Work hard academically in high school or at your current college.
Not only does this make it easier to be eligible for scholarships and grants, but it also helps you avoid having to take remedial college classes. Remedial classes aren’t worth credit as you take them to be ready for college-level classes. However, you still have to pay for them, and taking many remedial classes could delay your graduation date, costing even more money.
- Before buying a book, make sure you need it. Then, before you buy it from a college bookstore, whether it’s new or used, make sure there is absolutely no cheaper (or free) way to get some version of the book you need.
Don’t buy books during the first week of class. Go to the class to make sure that you will not drop it during the drop/add period and to see what the professor says about the book (i.e. is it required, is it supplement material, does it come with a computer program, etc.).
After deciding you need the book, there are many ways to get college textbooks that are cost-efficient. One semester in college, I got all 14 of my books and textbooks for free (and buying them new from the bookstore would have cost about $700) because I borrowed them all from the library. In the state of Ohio, there is a system called OhioLink, where you have access to different libraries across the state to check out books. If you are not from Ohio, see if your school or any local library participates in a similar program.
If you have to buy a book, there are many cost-effective ways to buy them. First, you can look for an older edition of the book you need on Amazon, eBay, or other online vendors. (However, you should always make sure that your professor is ok with you having an older edition of the book or that there’s even an older version).
For newer books, renting is also becoming a more viable option. Chegg is a big book renter for college students. They also offer eBooks, which are the cheapest to rent and easiest to return, making it easier to avoid late return fees.
- Find out if your school has its own money system and see what places accept this form of currency.
With room and board fees, some schools give you “fun money” that you can use to buy food, supplies, etc. Schools in more urban areas usually allow students also to use this money off-campus, and schools with large campuses typically have a lot of amenities at the school where this money can be spent, like mini-Walmarts, Starbucks, Chipotle, etc. It’s good to use this money instead of your own because it limits the amount of money you personally would have spent on food (especially junk food), direct school expenses, etc.
Illustration of students’ hands throwing their graduation caps into the air. A red picture of a bomb with the word “debt” hovers above the hats in the air. Illustration by Duygu Tanriverdi
- Find the most cost-effective, convenient housing and traveling plan for yourself.
This is especially relevant if you already live in the same city as your college or if your college allows you to live off campus. You should investigate the latter because many colleges have rules that state students have to live on campus. But if you don’t have to live on campus, living off campus is usually cheaper. However, living on campus is usually more convenient because there is free wifi, access to academic resources, proximity to classes, etc. You should weigh your options if you are able to and see which option saves you the most money in the long run.
- Look out for college discounts.
Especially in late August, stores have lots of deals on college basics. And some companies have college discounts all year round.
- Take advantage of events that give away free stuff, especially free food and clothes.
Colleges frequently have events that give away free stuff. These events are not only good ways to score shirts to help you to prolong your next wash day, but they also give you a chance to meet new people, hang out with current friends you may not get to see as often as you like, and save some money on pizza (free events with free food almost always have pizza, if nothing else.) College kids liking pizza is an age-old stereotype, but free pizza is still a pretty fool-proof way to draw a crowd.
- With the support of someone who knows the process, check with your current high school, the college you’re applying to, and the FAFSA, and on your own, apply for all of the available grants and scholarships you’re eligible for.
Work with a counselor, teacher, professor, current college student, etc., to make sure you are getting all the money you can before starting a semester of school. Also, check out places like StudentAid.gov, SallieMae.som, FastWeb.com, Scholarships.com, and others.
- Be open to colleges with low tuition, like community colleges.
A lot of people ignore this tip, even though, to many, it seems to be common sense. If you are not lucky enough to get a great financial aid package from a school you want to attend, try attending a lower tuition college first, then transferring your credits. Many community colleges have programs partnered with 4-year universities so that students can transfer all of their credits to participating schools, saving them thousands on tuition.
- Start checking and saving account for yourself if you don’t already have them, with particular focus on developing your saving habits.
Saving money in mattresses and jars can’t be an option for all of your money. While it’s ok to keep some money on you, remember that you’re going to be dealing with much bigger finances than you may be used to. With tuition refunds, direct deposit grants and scholarships, and employment, you will need a safe and reliable place to keep your money.
- Network and Make Friends.
Making friends and getting to know new people is probably the most overlooked way to save money in college because it also seems easy to lose a lot of money. Making friends can lighten your mood, and a light mood can limit some of your unnecessary spendings. For example, many people spend more money when they’re feeling down because it makes them feel better. If you have a support system for people, it can limit the urge to spend money to feel good.
Also, if you have friends, you can swap books when and if you have to take similar classes, find more free events to attend, and have access to more resources, as your friends may have their own ways of trying to save money.
So remember, college can be a time of learning, saving, and keeping post-graduation falling anvils at bay.
- Hahn, Alicia. 2022. “2022 Student Loan Debt Statistics: Average Student Loan Debt.” Forbes Advisor. April 5, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/student-loans/average-student-loan-statistics/.
- “Public Service Loan Forgiveness Data.” 2019. Federal Student Aid. November 5, 2019. https://studentaid.gov/data-center/student/loan-forgiveness/pslf-data.
- “Budgeting Articles.” n.d. Dummies. Accessed November 10, 2022. https://www.dummies.com/category/articles/budgeting-34275/.
- “Manage and Repay Student Loans | USAGov.” 2019. Usa.gov. 2019. https://www.usa.gov/student-loans.
- “Find College Scholarships.” n.d. Fastweb. Accessed November 10, 2022. http://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships.
- “Share Your Story: Majoring in Debt.” 2011. HuffPost. January 3, 2011. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/college-debt_n_471023.
- Scholarships.com. 2019. “Scholarships.com.” Scholarships.com. 2019. https://www.scholarships.com/.