Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cutting College Costs

"It's going to cost me how much to go to school???!!" Sticker shock. It affects us all when we decide to return to school. Multiply that by the number of children you have in college as well as yourself and the total comes out to be . . . Wow! Where do I sign up for the next government bailout??

I've read quite a few articles on cutting college costs. However, they were all written by well-known and well-paid columnists who either have not been to college themselves in well over thirty years or have no children currently in college. So, let's get down to the practical nitty-gritty, shall we?

Other than tuition, what's the most costly item on your "Back to School" list? Textbooks! Last semester, I ended up paying over $250 for three books - THREE BOOKS! That was at the bookstore. *facepalm. My freshman son at UTC bought his books online through Amazon or on eBay. That's using your noggin. With regard to textbooks, there is nothing wrong with buying used books as long as they are the correct edition. One of the things I've done in the past is to check out the textbook from the school library and keep renewing it. However, the book is always subject to recall should someone else need it. You can also rent textbooks (see http://www.mybookhead.com/).

One of my son's biggest expenses was food. Many schools have a meal plan you can purchase. However, there are limitations to some of the meal plans (# of meals a day, only certain places to eat, etc.). If you are a commuter to school, bring a sack lunch with food that is healthy, but not perishable. If you are in campus housing and have (a) roommate(s), you might want to think about going in with some of your fellow collegians and purchase bulk items at a place like Sam's or Costco. Buying in bulk is great for high volume items (toilet paper, computer paper, paper towels, coffee/tea/hot chocolate, etc.). You can also divide items like shredded cheese, hamburger, etc. Take advantage of the local farmer's market for fresh fruits and veggies. Earth Fare, a great whole foods store, just opened a new location not far from campus.

How many of us absolutely cannot do without our cell phone? Call your provider and find out how you can save money on your plan. Put the customer service department to work for you. Can't live without texting or chatting all day long? You'll need to learn to curtail your non-essential communication. There's always email, free on the computers at the library. And speaking of the computers at the library, if switching to a phone with less bells and whistles (like internet access) will save money, do it. My cell phone is like Captain Kirk's communicator - a basic communication device. I can phone and text - that's all. And that's all I need on my cellphone.

Other cost cutters are: take public transportation (if possible) instead of driving everywhere; recycle your old clothes and take them to someplace like Plato's Closet, Planet Exchange, etc. that will either give you money for your clothes or an in-store credit to purchase more clothes (The basics in clothing don't change that much from year to year); rent a movie or join Netflix ($10/month) instead of always going to the movie theater; keep an eye out for "cheap dates" - low cost or free activities you can do with family and friends; drink less alcohol and more water.

What are some ways you are cutting college costs? Share them with us! Stay tuned . . .

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