8 Tips to Keep College Costs Low

Tuition is bad enough, but the cost of college doesn't end there. Check out these 8 tips to keep college costs low so you don't have to worry about miscellaneous expenses.College can be a very expensive experience. The tuition bill is bad enough, but if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself paying more than you need to in other areas.

If you’re heading off to college soon, check out these 8 tips to learn how to keep college costs low.

1. Skip the Bookstore

In the old days, when we walked to school in 8 feet of snow, going uphill both ways, we had to buy our books at the campus bookstore. We would pay several hundred dollars for just a few books. At the end of the semester, we would attempt to sell them back, but we would be lucky if one of them was accepted. We were overjoyed if we were offered 20% of what we had originally paid.

In more recent times, off-campus bookstores have started to crop up. In general, their prices are lower than the campus bookstore and they accept more buy backs. The on-campus store will only buy back books that professors have said they want to use next semester. Meanwhile, someone somewhere is looking for that edition of that textbook. The off -campus store is willing and able to connect your used textbook with those buyers.

Lately, textbook rental programs, which save tons of money and cut out the concern over buy backs, have also increased in popularity.

As a last resort, you can check with friends to see if you can share a textbook. This could be difficult to manage, but if you’re good friends (or roommates) with someone in your major, it might be an option for a really expensive book.

While you’re skipping the campus bookstore for books, go ahead and skip it for supplies, too. You might stop in to comparison shop, but I doubt you’ll find they have the best deals.

Check office supply stores or all-in-one retailers like Target or Wal-Mart instead. You can also check online, but factor in any shipping expenses you might incur.

2. Meal Plans

Some colleges have requirements regarding meal plans. For example, if you live on-campus, you may be required to have a meal plan. Unfortunately, the meal plans available are will certainly be more expensive than making your own meals at home.

However, they’re often less expensive than eating out or eating prepackaged meals. The key is to balance the number of meals you cover through the school meal plan, ensuring you can use all the meals.

For example, if you don’t eat breakfast, there’s no point in having a meal plan large enough to cover 21 meals a week. Also note that some meal plans are flexible about what’s covered, so do your best to investigate the meal plan structure and be wise with what you choose.

Our meal plans usually allowed us to have things like fresh fruit, yogurt, or bakery items with a meal. However, the rest of the meal was usually enough to consider a full meal. The smart students would take any extra food, pack it in their backpack, and use it for snacks or small meals at other times. This should give you even more motivation to get the smallest meal plan possible.

On the other hand, getting the smallest meal plan just because of the low price tag isn’t necessarily the best plan. If you find yourself starving, you’ll end up buying more expensive food – especially if you don’t have easy access to a grocery store. Consider all your options.

3. Housing

The ultimate way to saving on housing is to live with mom and dad. If that’s absolutely not an option, you should weigh the cost of living on campus with the cost of living off-campus.

If living on campus costs you $600 per month, you might think it’ll be easy to beat that cost by living off-campus with a few roommates. That might be true, but make sure you’re factoring in all utilities that aren’t covered by the lease (water, gas, electricity, trash), and whatever costs you’ll have for commuting.

For some campuses, off-campus students pay more for parking, so check into that beforehand. Additionally, if you plan to live with your parents over summer breaks, you’ll need to see if you can get a lease that accommodates that. Otherwise, the year-round cost of your off-campus rental might be more than the dorm cost for your enrolled semesters.

College expenses include far more than just tuition. Here's how to save #money on the other costs! Click To Tweet

4. Fees

Some college fees are unavoidable. If you take a lab class, there’s bound to be an associated fee. You’ll have to pay it, but there are many other college fees that you can – and should – avoid.

One thing that might crop at times are fines. The campus library will charge you late fees for books that aren’t returned on time. Many colleges have parking issues, and that results in students paying parking fines – usually because they were running late and parked improperly.

Fines can be avoided, so do your best to plan ahead. Also note that at many schools, you’ll be unable to register for the next semester until all fines are cleared.

Speaking of the library, you might want to make copies from time to time. Doing so will probably cost you! Use your own technology to your advantage. Take a good old-fashioned note if you must, or use your mobile device to store the information. You can even take a picture!

If the book isn’t a reference book, you can check it out of the library. You could then make a copy on your own copier or a friend’s (if you’re unaware, there are many affordable printer/copier combos).

5. Be Prepared

Do your best to come prepared for school every day. If you live off-campus and plan to stay at school from 8 am until 8 pm, pack snacks, if not lunch and dinner to bring with you. Avoid the temptation to stop for some overpriced chips in the vending machine. If you don’t have a meal plan, the campus cafeteria prices might not be worth the meal.

It’s also a good idea to invest in a sturdy, reusable water bottle. Fill it up in the morning with whatever drink you want, rinse it out during the day, and refill it at water fountains.

Before leaving for the day, check twice to make sure you have everything you need – especially if you live off-campus. I can’t tell you how many overpriced umbrellas I bought at the campus bookstore because I came unprepared for the day. Even if you run back to your apartment for what you forgot, the commuting costs can add up. There’s no need for this to become part of your routine if you force yourself to be prepared.

6. Frugality

I’m not really known for being the most frugal person in the world, but during college, some frugalness came naturally to me. I was an aerospace engineering major, so that meant most of my homework was handwritten problem solving. As I advanced in school, a single problem could take several pages to solve, and some took me a few tries to get it right. Then, it had to be written neatly on engineering paper (which is very expensive).

I learned quickly not to solve my problems on engineering paper. Instead, I took scrap paper, solved the problem, and then transferred the results over to the expensive paper. The scrap paper sometimes came from my on-campus job, from handouts from class, or from fliers passed around campus. I basically stockpiled any paper that had a blank side. Admittedly this tip works best for math-heavy majors, but the real point is to assess what’s costing you money and work around it.

While our campus library charged for copies, the campus computer lab didn’t charge for printouts. Despite having my own printer, I often printed things while working at my campus job (my boss was aware) or at the campus computer lab. Otherwise, I would have found myself having to buy paper and costly replacement ink cartridges.

In college, assess your regular expenses and figure out ways to spend less or nothing at all! Click To Tweet

7. Student Services

Your tuition and fees likely include a number of student services that you should take full advantage of before seeking costlier alternatives. Many campuses offer some sort of urgent care service for free. It’s unlikely you can be seen at your campus clinic for long-term issues, but if you need to see a doctor for a refill, that’s probably an option.

Counseling services are also offered for free, though you might be referred off-campus if your issues require long-term care.

Check into whether your campus gym and pool are free for student use; don’t pay for off-campus memberships if you have an option you’ve already paid for in your tuition! If you’re renting an apartment, you might have equipment for use there, too.

Finally, look into what discounts your college offers. Many offer discounted health and car insurance, and they almost certainly offer computer and software discounts. Ask local shops if they offer discounts to students as well.

8. Free Events

Before spending money on a night out, look at what your college is offering first. Even small college campuses offer an abundance of free (or reduced-cost) entertainment options. Some campuses provide free admission to sporting events or just free food. The student life organization will have a calendar of events, ranging from concerts to movies to comedians.


With college tuition rising, it’s more important than ever to be wise with your money each semester. You can spend all the money you earn each semester on fees, entertainment, and overpriced food – or you can save it up for next semester’s tuition and books. Start being wise with your money now; these habits will prove useful as you enter your early professional life.

What are ways you saved money while in college?

2 Comments

  1. Thias @It Pays Dividends