Hidden College Expenses: 4 Ways to Save

When I was in college, the start of a new school year always would fill me with excitement and anticipation. I wondered what I would learn, who I would meet and what I would discover. But, my enthusiasm quickly waned when I realized just how much money I’d have to shell out at the beginning of the semester. 

While I expected expenses like tuition, activity fees, and textbooks, other costs — like having large (and required) professional prints made for my photography class — caught me off guard. My mantra quickly became, “Do you offer a student discount?” Much to my surprise, many stores and businesses did — even if it wasn’t widely advertised. 

Over the course of my studies, I discovered a few other tips for navigating hidden school-related expenses without breaking the bank.

Borrow books (instead of purchasing)

I let out an audible gasp when I saw that a textbook for a business class I was taking was over $200. It was hard to justify spending that much for something I would use for three and a half months, but I thought I had no choice. In hindsight, I wish I had done a little more research to find students who had previously taken the class, and asked to borrow or buy the book at a discount. 

For freshmen especially, it can seem important to own every expensive book on your class’s syllabus, only to have the professor focus on one chapter of that $30 novel, or even skip a book entirely. For courses like English literature where textbooks aren’t required, but other books are, check out your school or local public library before making any purchases. Whenever possible, I opted to borrow books rather than purchase them, especially if I knew that I probably wouldn’t use them in the future. Make sure to find out how many times you can renew a book, too, as there may be a limit.

Ask professors if you can submit assignments via email

Before college, I hadn’t fully grasped how expensive printer ink and paper could be. I vividly remember standing in Staples asking the clerk behind the counter for the specific ink cartridge I needed. I was surprised when the bill was twice what I was expecting. But, my English literature term paper was due the next morning, so I reluctantly bought it. 

While some professors prefer that assignments be turned in via hard copies that you’ve printed out, other teachers may accept — and even prefer — that you submit assignments by email. If there is no clear policy, ask if email submissions are acceptable and be sure you have the correct email address for the professor. Many professors are sympathetic to the financial plight of students and understand the desire to save money whenever possible. 

Scope out hand-me-downs

If you know of someone who took your class last semester, ask if they would be willing to sell you their old textbooks or equipment like lab goggles or unused art supplies at a discount. They might be happy for some extra cash! If you’re moving into a dorm and will need furniture or a mini refrigerator, check out local thrift stores or yard sales. It might be possible to find a cute desk or a comfortable chair. It doesn’t have to be brand new or in perfect condition. It just has to meet your needs for the current time. 

Sign up for coupons and look for student discounts

When I had the prints made for my photography class, I only found out about the discount because my friend mentioned it. It wasn’t advertised. Always be sure to ask, and remember to sign up for mailing lists for coupons. While it wouldn’t seem like saving a dollar here and there could make a difference, savings can add up over time. I was surprised at how much. And the effort required is minimal. 

One key to saving money is to be aware of what you’re spending. While some college costs are unavoidable, I’ve found that a little extra effort and planning over time can lead to big savings. 

Originally published on September 17, 2019.

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