More potential students are opting out of college than ever, and the reasons are clear. Many young Americans see college as unattainable between post-pandemic malaise, an uncertain economy, and falling job prospects. The most significant contributing factor? Like many drivers of social change today, it’s cost.
With inflation at record highs and student loan debt loads equal to a mortgage, many also see college as too pricy with insufficient payoff. Despite this, many students find ways to make do and save money as college students. Here are six ways to save money as a college student living on campus.
1 – Take advantage of financial aid opportunities
College is increasingly accessible to marginalized communities, and the upside to decreasing college attendance is that the existing funds for support (financial and otherwise) are distributed to a smaller candidate pool which means more total support per capita.
To take advantage of the many opportunities available for students, you’ll need to do your due diligence. Ensure that you fill out your FAFSA annually, as many scholarships and private funding opportunities still need this to be considered for eligibility.
After ensuring you have completed the FAFSA and any other mandatory filings, information about potential scholarships abounds. You can always search or ask around, but the best schools often package up great outside scholarship opportunities to help you in your search.
The best part is that private scholarships don’t often have stipulations on how they’re used. This means you can put that cash towards living expenses or even your investing goals for your post-college career – even a little bit helps, as compounding interest starting early in adulthood can make you a millionaire before retirement.
2 – Free entertainment
OK, finding scholarships is a great way to make money, but how do I save what I already have?
College campuses are vibrant and often come with free entertainment options to occupy your non-studying time. Instead of paying for movies, concerts, or festivals, you can likely find the equivalent on campus for free or at a steep discount.
3 – Build a budget
Many of us are uncomfortable talking about money, and no wonder. Money is a social faux pas, and that general discomfort creeps into our private lives to the point where even considering a budget is an anathema to our sensibilities.
Despite this, you need to look hard at your cash flows. What’s coming in, what’s going out – this simple addition and subtraction can make or break your college career. Once you have a good idea of income and expenses, you can start looking for additional ways to cut costs.
4 – Don’t buy new textbooks
The textbook game is a racket, and even the professors writing the material admit this. Many subjects don’t have field-changing research dropping annually, but a new textbook is issued yearly. The upside?
Since the general concepts and content change glacially (if at all), buying a used textbook from last year is a great way to save some serious cash. If the worst case occurs and you need this year’s book for specific questions or content, check to see if your campus bookstore offers rentals rather than outright purchases.
5 – Take advantage of your meal plan
When I was in college, a fast-food joint with golden arches was right next to the strip of the most popular bars and operated 24/7. More money than I’d like to admit went into their cash register, often at 2 AM.
My mistake? I didn’t take advantage of my school’s meal plan. Meal plans vary from school to school, but mine mandated that all first-year students have one. Their plan let me eat all three primary meals at the dining hall and gave coupons for private on-campus dining options and coffee shops.
Once I figured this out, I saved a ton of money. Yes, eating my main meals there helped, but I learned a trick – my meal plan gave me unlimited food at designated times, so I could fill up a plastic container of dinner leftovers on my way out and enjoy that as a late-night snack.
6 – Get a roommate
In general, dorm life will save the most money, but if living with a stranger doesn’t interest you, finding a place as close to campus as possible is the second best option. These houses and apartments are tailored to students and come in a reasonable price range compared to homes on the outskirts that are priced for families and professionals. You’ll also save on gas and transportation costs if you can walk to class – plus, the exercise will save on gym fees!
College is one of the most exciting times of your life, but a shaky economy, inflation, and rising student debt threaten to make the college dream a thing of the past. Rather than throwing up your hands, take a close look at what you can do to make it happen – budgeting, finding free pools of money, and cost-cutting are all great ways to make college a financially viable option and make memories that will last a lifetime.