College students are or will soon be back at college. A recent survey and report got my attention, because college costs and student loan debt is something that I have been addressing for over 20 years. According to the National Retail Federation, back-to- college total spending should reach $54.1 billion this year, up from $48.5 billion last year. Also, according to its recent survey, college students and their families plan to spend an average of $969.88 this year, compared with $888.72 last year.
In the survey they also indicated that they expect to spend the most amount of money on electronics, clothing and snacks and food items. The Federation attributes this to greater consumer confidence and more young adults enrolled in school.
Last year at this time, I did a two part series on how college students could save some everyday money at college. The tips were the ones that I have been suggesting for over 20 years. They seem to still be relevant, except that some things have changed because of technology and the internet. So, for example, I have always suggested looking for used books at bookstores on and around campus, but now, you can also look online.
This year I thought I would lay out some everyday money saving tips that I found online. Before I do that, however, I must say that we just keep getting bombarded, every day it seems, with continuing talk about our $1.34 trillion in student loan debt; the increasing student loan debt defaults; and how that student loan debt is keeping people from buying homes, taking their dream jobs, delaying having a family, or even getting married. It has become clear that a solution is not just around the corner. Then there is the talk about increasing apprenticeship programs, other college alternative training and educational programs, and improving our K-12 education.
However, from my experience, with my wife’s students in the performing arts, one thing that has become clear to me is that there are a lot of scholarships out there that can make college more affordable. Not “full ride” scholarships, but $1,000 here, and $500 there. There are a lot of resources online if you have the desire to pursue these scholarships. They include the following, set out in a CNBC piece: Cappex.com, fastweb.com, bigfuture.com, collegeboard.com, and scholarshops.com. They have extensive listings of scholarships available across the country. Why not at least check them out?
So, let’s look at those other money saving tips at college, some of which may sound familiar to regular readers.
First, from collegeavestudentloans.com there are these tips. If you bought into the meal plan at school, use it, and don’t make eating out a habit. Stock up your mini-fridge with snacks and drinks from a grocery or discount store, rather than from a vending machine or convenience store. Get a coffee maker, instead of buying those expensive lattes. In addition, get a membership in a buying club, like Sam’s Club, Costco, or BJ’s, where you and your classmates can buy in bulk to save money. Also, if you are going to use credit cards, pay the balance on time and in full each month in order to avoid interest charges and fees. Lastly, use free campus amenities as much as possible. Things like movie nights, lectures and fitness classes can entertain you and save you money.
Here are some useful tips from fastweb.com. Skip expensive spring break and summer trips – look into alternatives, like volunteering. Cut out vices – smoking, drugs and binge drinking are terrible for you and expensive. Look for student discounts wherever you can find them, ask about them wherever you go, and always carry that student ID with you. Also, wait to get a pet until after college, since with food and vet bills, they can be very expensive. Drink tap water, which is free, and better for you. Even though it may be easier said than done, don’t make impulse purchases on the internet or otherwise. Stop, think and evaluate.
Finally, here are some tips from college scholarships.org. Forget about TV, you can watch cable television through your computer. Go to discount movie theatres or matinees, or rent and share DVDs as a group. Also, commit to not spending money for one weekend a month. Challenge yourself to be creative. Go on a picnic to an interesting new place, go for walks, or even read a book for enjoyment. In addition, if you are living off campus, don’t spend a lot of money on décor. Look for alternatives. How about shopping around town for a hair salon that offers student discounts, and buying personal grooming items at a discount retailer?
If you are a college student, or the parent of one, why wouldn’t you check out these and other sites with tips on saving everyday money at college, think about them, and adopt some of them?
Here's to a great college experience at a smart and reasonable cost.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo