Financial Hacks for College Students

In 2014 American Colleges and Universities estimated an enrollment of 21 million students. A Harvard study called “Pathways to Prosperity” found that 56% of students graduate within six years.

Colleges have an average annual cost of $17,000 at public in-state schools, $30,000 for out-of-state public schools, and $39,000 for private universities. The math for students taking six years to complete a degree, tallies in at an average of $102,000 for a public in-state school, $180,000 for out-of-state, and $234,000 for a private school.

These numbers do not include everyday expenses such as books, supplies, and transportation, which can easily add another $3,000 annually to the cost of furthering education. While spending, up to a quarter of a million dollars on a college degree, learn clever financial hacks to lower your living expenses and build strong financial habits you can use going forward.

Save Money at the Grocery Store

Meal plans are great for those who don’t mind cafeteria food every day. Once you move beyond your first year of school, students often seek an off-campus apartment and plan to cook as a way to save money. The trouble is you do not have time to cook from scratch, and pre-cooked meals can add up faster than the previous cafeteria plan, and eating out every meal will blow even a large budget.

Saving at the grocery store can include basic tips such as planning menus, shopping sales, making a list, and buying in bulk. However, most of these tips are not practical for students.

Instead, download the Lozo app and create an electronic grocery list and match it with current coupons and sales to save money seamlessly. Look for prepared food sales at the end of the day, which doesn't involve heating up a frozen pizza. Eat a quick breakfast, like cereal or an energy bar, before class and carry snacks to stave off temptations to buy junk food at the local convenience store.

Save on Office Software

Office software is a necessity and Microsoft office is highly favored but expensive. Instead of spending between $149 and $400, depending on the version, visit the Microsoft website and use your college email address to obtain a free version of Microsoft 365. If you prefer a physical disk, universities typically sell them inexpensively. The advantage of the disk over Office 365 is that when you leave school, the Office 365 version will give you access to documents, but you can no longer save or edit them. You will also lose access to the One Drive if you do not continue with a paid subscription.

Consider Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime offers college students a six-month free trial and a half-off membership after the trial, at $49 per year. Members get free two-day shipping on nearly every order, which will save you time and money on everyday items. Amazon has competitive prices on most items.

In addition to low prices on millions of items, you also get access to free movies, TV shows, and music, which can eliminate the need to pay for additional subscriptions. They offer a borrowing library of thousands of books at no cost. Amazons college textbook program gives you access to new, used and rental books, along with a buyback program, which provides credit for the next semesters purchase and free shipping on books both ways.

As a bonus, every time you refer a friend, you earn an additional $10 in Amazon credit.

Seek Student Discounts

Get in the habit of asking for a student discount. Many companies may not advertise the discount but offer one, which can save an additional 10% or more on everyday purchases, with a student ID. For example, a regular movie ticket typically runs around $10, where student passes are $7 or less, translating into a savings of 30%.

Student Universe is a website offering discounts for college students and has a free sign up. The site helps you locate discounts on activities, tours, hotels, flights, and more.

Rent or Borrow Textbooks

Students only use books for four months, yet pay hundreds of dollars each semester. You can buy used or rent books to save money. For reference material, you will only use for a short time, try the library and check out the needed material, for a free alternative. Online websites such as Chegg specialize in college textbooks and have programs, making it easy to receive and return books each semester, including free shipping both ways.

Search for Local Discounts

In addition to student discounts, keep an eye out for marketing promotions such a Taco Tuesday, where you can buy tacos for $1 each, or other local promotions. In most major cities, discount websites such as Groupon can save money on food and entertainment for 50 to 90% off the retail price.

Cut Cell Phone Bills

When parents stop paying the phone bill, you go on the hunt for discounts. Beware of “free” phones, which actually cost hundreds of dollars in the form of an increased monthly payment, and the lack of ability to change plans without paying off the phone. With new phones costing upwards of $1,000 that can be a significant commitment.

Republic Wireless is one alternative, which provides a prepaid phone without a contract. Plans offer unlimited talk, text, and Wi-Fi data, allowing you to purchase data based on usage to save money. Save even more by activating a current phone.

Track Money with Apps

Tracking spending is often not a priority but is an important part of becoming an adult. With the availability of free money apps, you can know where you spend each month and help you budget for the next. Mint allows you to link both bank accounts and credit cards to track all spending efficiently. Snapshots provide real-time data in the form of data points and graphs for an easy read.

ATM Hunter will locate the closest ATMs linked to your bank reducing foreign ATM fees.

Scoutmob is an application to find events and activities offering discounts near campus. The app will send a notice when you walk into a store or restaurant offering a discount or coupon.

Wallet apps allow you to link your wallet to your phone, making it easy to make purchases and track spending.

Find Discounted Gift Cards

Websites such as Gift Card Granny serve as an exchange for consumers wanting to buy and sell gift cards at a discount. Savings can range from 5% to 30% on popular places such as restaurants, gas stations, and retail stores. Some cards come electronically, while others have a physical card mailed.  

Finding creative ways to make college life easier while saving money is a win-win for everyone.

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