Top 20 Ways to trim college costs

There are lots of ways to trim college costs. The basic expenses of college are tuition and books, room and board, clothing, and transportation. Finding ways to save in each of these categories is very simple. The difficult part is doing it. Here are a few ways to save. More to come.

  1. Share and/or borrow textbooks. Buy used if possible. But make sure you read them because if you don’t, it will haunt you on your exams!
  2. Ride the bus rather than drive a car. Better yet, buy a bike and use it. Pick a college like UC Davis, where at any given time there are over 20,000 bikes on campus.
  3. Phones. Many dorm rooms have ethernet connections. If so, try VOIP like Vonage. At less than $25 per month ($17 for 500 minutes), this beats most cell phone plans. If VOIP is impossible, shop for cell phone service that suits your needs. Know that going over your allotted minutes can be very costly.
  4. Costco, Sam’s Club, and other big box warehouses can be very wise. Get together with other students and split the cost on things like pencils, paper plates, soap, paper towels, toilet paper, etc. Be wise about how you spend your money here, though. Often times, supermarket prices are better than the warehouses. Watch your local papers! Compare.
  5. Top Ramen. You’re a college student, so your blood pressure should be okay. Though full of salt, Ramen makes a great meal. I once took almost nothing but Top Ramen and a water filter on a week-long backpacking trip in Yosemite. Everything turned out fine 🙂
  6. Avoid eating out. It’s not only bad for your health, it’s bad for your pocket book, which might be very thin (unlike you if you eat at Taco Bell too often) after a few months away from home.
  7. Buy cheap beer. You’re gonna drink it anyway, so save some dough by buying less-than-premium beer. It gets you buzzed faster anyway.
  8. You can save a ton of money on clothes. DON’T BUY ANY. The crap they sell now looks like it’s already been worn anyway, so take your already-worn clothes with you.
  10. Save your coins in a jar. They’ll come in handy when the ATM stops working for you.
  11. Stay away from the ATM, especially those that charge you fees to get your own money.
  12. Open a free checking account. Washington Mutual offers a great free checking account and they’re all over the place.
  13. Don’t get designer checks. Get the free ones that come with the free checking account.
  14. Put a few dollars aside each month and watch your savings grow. Put it in a place like ING, Emigrants Direct, or HSBC (all online banks). They offer much higher rates than your local bank (all over 5% now vs. 1 – 3% at the typical bank) and they make it just a little difficult to get your money out.
  15. Laundry. Buy the cheap detergent. Don’t use fabric softener. And for goshsakes, put your money in the machine and turn it on before you dump your detergent in. There’s nothing that maddens me more than putting in soap, then my money, only to find out that the darned machine doesn’t work. You’ll never get your soap back.
  16. Speaking of laundry soap, use about half what’s printed on the bottle. A little detergent goes a long way.
  17. Don’t buy bottled water. If you’re concerned about your tap water (and you should be), buy a Brita filter pitcher. Replace the filter once in a while and you’ll come out way ahead. Here’s a neat trick: Buy one case of bottled water and drink all of it. Keep the bottles. Fill them up with your own filtered water. The water you filter, I can almost guarantee you, is better than what you buy in the store. They “filter” it, too. It’s not distilled.
  18. Keep your thermostat at 62-66 in the winter. 72-78 in the summer. You’re young, you’re healthy, you’re resilient. Put on a sweater (in winter) or take off some clothes (in the summer, but not too much!).
  19. Many colleges give you free email and internet access. Take advantage of it.
  20. Cancel all subscriptions to magazines, ISPs, TiVo. You don’t need ’em. Your parents don’t need to keep paying for them. Go to the library to read.


  1. Buy frozen food (if you have a freezer). It’s often cheaper, lasts longer, and makes for great ice packs when you get speared in that pickup rugby match.

Make your parents proud while at the same time making them stress a little less. Show your sense of responsibility by making ends meet. If you think making ends meet in college is difficult, wait ’til you get out in “the real world.” You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


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