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How to Save Money While at College

Stefanie O'Connell

With the first days of orientation right around the corner for rising college freshmen, it's all excitement and butterflies as new students hit up the stores to pick up last minute collegiate staples, including dry erase boards, microwaves and endless packs of ramen. As more experienced college students know, the tuition bill is only the start of the college costs. While you might have secured some grants and scholarships to cover that big-ticket item, you'll need to employ some additional savings strategies to help minimize everyday costs. Here are some tips to help with that:

Consider alternative housing strategies.

According to The College Board, the average room and board price at a four-year college last year was $9,500. But you don't have to necessarily go with the mainstream option. Instead, consider all your choices.

When it comes to on-campus housing, there can be a significant cost difference between the cheapest dorm room on campus and the most expensive. If you're centrally-located, in a private room and in a brand new building, then you're more likely to be on the high end of the payment scale. Ask the housing office about your more affordable alternatives. If you become a resident advisor, you might be able to get your housing costs covered completely.

Some off-campus housing options might beat out the going rate of dorms at your school, especially if you're willing to live with roommates. Before committing to a lease, be sure to consider the additional costs of off-campus living, including utilities, Internet, additional transportation and possibly a 12 month lease rather than a 9 month one.

Get creative with meal plans.

Score some big savings on those room and board costs by opting for a reduced meal plan. Something as simple as sticking to breakfast in your room rather than hitting up the omelet station or the artisan coffee shop can add up to significant savings when compounded by all the days in the school year. The more you can DIY, the more you'll save, and the more ready you'll be for life sans dining halls post-grad.

Look for ways to reduce student fees.

In addition to tuition, most colleges charge additional fees for amenities like parking, computer access, student activities, ID cards and library access. If any fees seem exorbitant or are not applicable to you, see if you can negotiate a fee waiver with the financial aid office.

Otherwise, be sure to make the most of the resources included under those fees. For example, use the fitness center access included under your fees rather than signing up for another gym off campus.

Borrow textbooks instead of buying them.

The College Board estimates the average cost of books and materials to be $1,200 a year at a four-year public college. While those books might be required reading, the price tag is not. Start by checking out the used section of your bookstore on campus to find pre-owned textbooks in good condition at a more reasonable price point. If you can restrain yourself from highlighting, tearing or otherwise destroying the text throughout the semester, you might be able to sell your books back to the bookstore at the end of the semester.

To find even better deals, go comparison shopping online. Sites such as Amazon, eBay and Half.com carry new and used titles, often at a significant discount. Textbook rentals are also becoming increasingly common. Sites including bookrenter.com and textbookrenter.com can save you up to 80 percent on standard textbook prices. Of course, if you can snag all the books on your list from the library before anyone else does, you might be able to cut the cost of books out altogether.

Cut transportation and storage costs.

Keeping a car on campus costs a lot more than a parking pass. It's gas, insurance and maintenance, too. Save on transportation by opting for public or university transit, walking or biking when possible. If you decide to go to school cross-country, you'll also have to contend with additional transportation costs and storage over the summers. Consider staying on campus during shorter breaks and taking on holiday work rather than flying back and forth every few months. When you do fly, bus or train home, be sure to plan ahead and search for student discounts to get the best deals.

Reduce other startup costs.

In addition to the classic dry erase board, many first time college students are stocking up on new school supplies, from sheets that fit dorm room beds to big ticket items like laptops. Rather than walking into the local Apple store or Bed, Bath and Beyond and picking out whatever strikes your fancy, take some time to research the options and comparison shop online. Reaching out to recently graduated seniors is a great strategy for scoring affordable dorm room furnishings and small appliances.

Pay less for entertainment and personal expenses.

From toiletries to health expenses to clothing to laundry to entertainment, learning to budget for miscellaneous personal expenses will prove an important savings strategy for years to come. In addition to savvy shopping tactics like couponing and bargain hunting, be sure to stay up to date on resources and events offered through your school. Many things, particularly entertainment, can be enjoyed for free on campus, and there's no need to pay a premium elsewhere.

Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.

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