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Big Money Savers for College Students

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College expenses encompass more than tuition and room and board. Items like transportation, fees, books and supplies, and personal expenses are often rolled into the total cost of attendance, or COA. If you're looking to reduce your overall cost, and the amount you need to borrow to pay for college, here are some large-ticket items to consider.

Each of the following strategies can save hundreds of dollars each semester.

Books and Supplies

The traditional advice of buying used textbooks instead of new still applies, but you also have other options. Consider the following example for the same textbook with a list price of $257.60.

Costs of books and supplies
Books and Supplies Cost
Buy new from university bookstore: $173.40
Buy used from university bookstore: $81.75
Rent new from university bookstore: $164.40
Rent electronic version from university bookstore: $47.57
Buy new online: $110.000
Buy used online $96.00
Rent online: $30.49
Rent electronic version online: $29.99
Use library copy as needed: $0.00

As you weigh your text book options, keep these tips in mind.

  • Think about whether you are likely to want to use the book again after the class is over.
  • Talk to your professor and students who previously took the same class to see how much the text is used. Online reviews and college sites can help you make an informed decision about whether you even need a copy.
  • Ask your professor if an older edition of the same textbook would provide the information needed for the class.
  • Many textbooks now come with access codes or supplements that are not available or not guaranteed in certain formats. These may sometimes be purchased separately.
  • While college libraries generally stock copies of required textbooks, remember that availability may be limited during crucial times.
  • If you decide to rent books, pay careful attention to usage and return guidelines as you may be required to pay full price for books not returned on time.

Lower costs more by purchasing needed supplies in late summer and early fall when discount stores stock up for back-to-school. Compare this list of similar supplies. (Opting for generic items saves even more.)

Supply costs between university bookstore and big box retailers
Item University bookstore Big box retailer
2" ring binder $6.99 $3.55
5 one-subject wirebound notebooks $14.95 $1.25
300 3×5 Index cards $9.00 $1.24
4-pack dry erase markers $8.00 $2.63


If you can possibly get by without a car on campus by using public transportation, catching rides home and biking or walking to class, you save in multiple ways.

  • Car insurance. Check with your insurance provider on resident student or occasional driver discounts for college students who don't have a car on campus and attend college at least 100 miles from home. Discounts can vary but may be as high as 35%. Also consider whether you will be driving while at home over breaks and how that might affect your coverage.
  • Parking fees. The cost of a student parking permit can be well over $100 per year. Add to that the cost of any tickets for parking in unpermitted spaces or exceeding time limits, as well as the cost of metered parking.
  • Fuel and maintenance. Besides the cost of gas, which increases the more you drive, think about the cost of oil changes, tire repairs and other maintenance costs.


Some college and universities charge students a fee for health or dental coverage while they attend school. Carefully review your billing statement or contact your financial services or cashier's office to see if you're paying for this insurance. Then, speak with your parents or guardians about any existing coverage to compare cost and benefits.

In addition, cut habits like smoking, vaping or drinking. These products are expensive to purchase and may result in additional costs for doctor visits, fines and more.


If you took advanced classes in high school or are otherwise academically prepared, check out the testing options. You may be able to test out of or transfer credit for required general education courses, saving you the cost of tuition for those classes.

Also work with your academic adviser to stay on track academically. Repeating classes or taking unnecessary ones costs you money for every credit hour.

In addition, streamlining your coursework can help you leave college earlier, allowing you to save on housing and other costs associated with attending school.

Daily Expenses

Avoiding or reducing daily expenses can also save you upwards of $100 per academic year.

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