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.

Keeping up with the Joneses might bankrupt you

Below is a link to a great article about how perspective sometimes distorts our good intentions where money is concerned. Inspired by a book, “Green with Envy: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses is Keeping Us in Debt,” the article’s author, yahoo! Finance columist Laura Rowley, goes on to tell the stories of several people in the book, who often attempt to keep up appearances that they have great wealth, only to learn later that they’re buried in debt, many of whom eventually file for bankruptcy.

While I haven’t yet read the book, I plan to read it very soon. It sounds like a book worth reading about getting some perspective back and putting priorities on things that really matter to us.

NWA’s Top 101 Money-Saving Tips for the Workers It Fired

Below is a list of 101 ways to save money. The ironic thing is that the list was compiled by Northwest Airlines and handed out to the (former) employees the airline just fired. Now, I don’t know about you, but this stunt really seems like it’s rubbing some salt into some really fresh wounds.

Nevertheless, is the list below a viable set of money-saving tips? Some tips seem sound, others not so sound, still others depend on context. What do I mean by context? Take Tip #1. First, context: Taken in winter, this tip seems mostly right. 60 is a bit chilly, but one could wear sweaters, right? But in the summer, this is downright frigid. Actually, one could turn the tables in summer. For example, in winter, you might keep your thermostat at 66 and turn it down to 62 at night. But in winter, you might want to set your thermostat at 78 and turn it up to 82 at night.

The thinking is that you’re asleep and won’t notice the difference. The concept is to save money while sleeping. This means that you do whatever makes sense depending upon the season. In spring, it may not make any difference, since the temperature at night may not fall appreciably enough to make the thermostat/heating/cooling system do anything. Make sense?

Now, take #46. Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash. Okay, besides being really unpalatable, how many people will be willing to do this? Living in the Bay Area (California), I see people poring through trash every day, looking for a bit of coffee, a piece of bread, a cigarette. But I’d have to get really desperate before I started looking through the trash to nourish myself. I mean really desperate.

Not to mention the filth. Who knows what kind of sludge has touched this scrap food? It’s not only impractical to go through the trash, it’s also very potentially unsafe. Leave this tip to the NWA execs that lose their jobs over offering up this stupid “tip.” (Here’s a tip for you, Mr. CEO: Go dig through your own garbage for food.)

We’ll be sure to revisit this list frequently. There are some good tips in here, many of which can form the basis of a sound money-hacking lifestyle. Also, many can be expanded upon with real money-hacking modifications, such as switching to VOIP (like Vonage or Skype) to save money on phone service.

NWA’s Top 101 Money-Saving Tips

1. Set your thermostat to 64 and turn it down to 60 at night.

2. Use the phone book instead of directory assistance.

3. Use coupons at the grocery store.

4. Carpool.

5. Ask for generic prescriptions instead of brand name.

6. Do your own nails.

7. Rent out a room or garage.

8. Replace 100 watt bulbs with 60 watt.

9. Make long distance calls at night and on weekends, instead of mid-day, mid-week.

10. Throw pocket change in a jar and take it to the bank when it’s full.

11. Always grocery shop with a list.

12. Buy spare parts for your car at a junkyard.

13. Go to museums on free days.

14. Quit smoking.

15. Get hand-me-down clothes and toys for your kids from family and friends.

16. Meet friends for coffee instead of dinner.

17. Request to get interest on a security deposit for your apartment.

18. Take a shorter shower.

19. Write letters instead of calling.

20. Brown bag your lunch.

21. Make your own babyfood.

22. Use public transportation.

23. Drop duplicate medical insurance.

24. Buy old furniture at yard sales and refinish it yourself.

25. Apply for scholarships and financial aid.

26. Exercise for free-walk, jog, bike, or get exercise videos from the library.

27. Form a baby-sitting cooperative with friends and neighbors.

28. Buy your clothes off season.

29. Go to a matinee instead of an evening show.

30. Share housing with a friend or family member.

31. Hang clothes out to dry.

32. Do not use your calling card.

33. Volunteer two hours a month for reduced cost food through the Share Program.

34. Change the oil in your car yourself regularly.

35. Get pre-approval from your medical insurance company before undergoing any procedures or tests.

36. Buy ‘no frills’ vitamins.

37. Take a date for a walk along the beach or in the woods.

38. Make ca
rds and gifts for friends.

39. Shop in thrift stores.

40. Have your water company do an audit so you are not charged sewage fees for water used in your garden.

41. Refinance your mortgage.

42. Grocery shop on double coupon days.

43. Trade down your car for a less expensive, lower maintenance one.

44. Convert your cash value life insurance to term.

45. Shop around for eyeglasses.

46. Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.

47. Recycle.

48. Move to a less expensive place to live.

49. Use low flush toilets or water saving devices in the tank.

50. Drop unneeded telephone services like call forwarding or caller ID.

51. Buy fruits and vegetables in season.

52. Avoid using your ATM card at machines that charge a fee.

53. Bicycle to work.

54. Shop around for auto insurance discounts for multiple drivers, seniors, good driving records, etc.

55. Ask your doctor for samples of prescriptions.

56. Borrow a dress for a big night out. or go to a consignment shop.

57. When you buy a home negotiate the sales price and closing costs.

58. Turn the hot water heater down and wrap it with insulation.

59. Never grocery shop hungry.

60. If you qualify, file for Earned Income Credit.

61. Shop around for prescriptions including mail order companies (Medi-Mail 800-331-1458, Action Mail Order Drugs 800-452-1976, and AARP 800-456-2277).

62. If you pay for childcare, make use of the dependent care tax credit or your employer’s dependent care flexible spending account.

63. Buy, sell, and trade clothes at consignment shops.

64. Shop around for the lowest banking fees.

65. Caulk windows and doors.

66. Iron your own shirts.

67. Plan your weekly food menu before shopping.

68. Buy a good used car instead of a new model car.

69. Purchase all of your insurance from the same company to get a discount.

70. Cut your cable television down to basic.

71. Go to an optometrist for routine vision tests or to change an eyeglass prescription.

72. Buy pre-owned toys and children’s books at garage sales.

73. Have potluck dinners with friends and family instead of going out.

74. Use the library for books, video tapes, and music.

75. Inspect clothing carefully before purchasing it.

76. Don’t use your dishwasher dry cycle; open the door and let them air dry all night.

77. At the grocery store, comparison shop by looking at the unit price.

78. Make your own coffee.

79. Use old newspapers for cat litter.

80. Shop at discount clothing stores.

81. Skip annual full mouth x-rays unless there is a problem; the ADA recommends x-rays every 3 years.

82. Water your garden at night or early in the morning.

83. Shop around for long distance rates.

84. Hand wash instead of dry cleaning.

85. Grow your own vegetables and herbs.

86. Shop around for auto financing.

87. Donate time instead of money to religious organizations and charities.

88. If you are leaving a room for more than five minutes, turn off the light.

89. Shop at auctions or pawn shops for jewelry and antiques.

90. Keep your car properly tuned.

91. Request lower interest rates from your creditors.

92. Trade in old books, records, and CDs at book and record exchanges.

93. Pay bills the day they arrive; many credit card companies charge interest based on your average daily balance.

94. Buy software at computer fares.

95. Search the internet for freebies.

96. Compost to make your own fertilizer.

97.If your car has very little value, you probably only need liability insurance.

98. Cut the kids hair yourself.

99. Increase your insurance deductible.

100. Buy in bulk food warehouses.

101. If your income is low, contact utility companies about reduced rates.

Site where I found the list.

Top 5 Ways People Waste Money

From The Common Sense Investor:

1. Buying Insurance That You Really Don’t Need
2. Buying Warranties That Cost As Much as the Product
3. Paying Fees That You Could Have Avoided
4. Buying After Solicitation
5. Not Maximizing the Power of Your Money

Fees, Fees, Everywhere There’s Fees

Have you heard the song, “Signs” recently? It goes something like this:

“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.
“F$%^*’ up the scenery, breakin’ my mind
“Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

That’s how I feel about fees. They are everywhere! You cannot go anywhere without being confronted with a fee. ATM fees, bank service charges, hotel and airport “taxes,” postage fees, bridge tolls, you name it, there’s a fee.

However, fees differ in one fundamental way: Some you have to pay and some you don’t. In order to cross the Golden Gate bridge by car, you have to pay the toll (or, if you don’t, you have to pay a fine, which is another term for a really expensive fee). To take the Jersey Turnpike, pay a fee.

However, having a bank account does not require you to pay a fee. Banks don’t want you to know this, of course, but you don’t have to pay monthly fees for checking or savings, you don’t have to pay per check, you don’t have to pay ATM fees. The list goes on and on.

There are a few banks out there that make a mockery of fees: Washington Mutual has stirred the banking pot in the past by making fun of old stodgy bankers who work for banks that nickel and dime its customers with ridiculous and unnecessary fees.

Remember, the bank has YOUR money! When you deposit YOUR money in their bank, they take YOUR money and lend it out to others at a higher interest rate than they offered you. They are making money off YOUR money. The fees are simply gravy. But as we all know, the best part about mashed potatoes is the gravy.

Did I just say that banks offer mashed potatoes for service? Not literally, but I think that’s a good metaphor. They take something (YOUR money), mash it up, and give it to others in the form of a loan. They then prey off your gullibility, laziness, or short-sightedness by charging you fees to get, you guessed it, YOUR own money.

Banking certainly is not rocket science. It’s pretty simple: Take in deposits, give 0 to a small interest rate, and give loans to qualified people (read: people who will pay back the principle, with interest) at a higher rate.

Somebody once said that man’s greatest invention was compound interest. Man’s second greatest invention might be bank fees.

So here’s what you do: Find a bank that doesn’t charge fees, or at the very least one that doesn’t charge fees for things you might use frequently. I can understand a bank charging a small fee for wiring money or safe deposit boxes, but they should be ashamed of themselves for charging fees to use their ATMs or for “maintenance.”

Once you find a bank whose fees (hopefully, lack thereof) you can stomach, don’t, I repeat, DON”T, fall into their trap where you’re obligated to pay a fee. For example, many banks offer “overdraft protection.” Sounds great on the surface. After all, if you bounce a check, your fees to pay the merchant you stiffed (probably unintentionally) may be a lot higher than your bank would charge you. There are two general ways a bank offers this protection: One way is through linking your checking account with a savings account. When you don’t have enough funds to cover a check that you have written, the bank draws money out of your savings account plus a small fee.

The other way, much more insidious, is through linking your checking account with a line of credit. Again, when you don’t have enough funds to cover a check you have written, the bank accesses your line of credit, draws money from it to cover the check, plus a fee. Then, if you don’t pay off that balance on your line of credit, they continue to charge you interest on the balance. So not only do you get hit with a one-time fee, but you also get hit with a perennial interest charge to boot!

The bottom line is: Don’t bounce checks. Gone are the days when you could “float” a check (writing a check against an account you know doesn’t have enough funds to cover the check with the knowledge that money will be deposited into that account before the bank clears) — so don’t even try. Most checks nowadays don’t even physically move from your merchant to his bank back to your bank and then finally back to you. Nope. It’s an electronic exchange between your merchant’s bank and your bank, where only the check image is transferred, electronically (as well as the funds).

If you do bounce a check, there’s a very good possibility that you could talk to a bank service representative and have the fee reversed. That’s assuming you haven’t bounce many (any?) checks there in the past.

Moral #1: Don’t bounce checks.
Moral #2: Don’t pay fees unnecessarily

Find institutions that are reasonable with their fees. Online banks like ING Direct offer great interest rates on deposits, reasonable transfer times between them and your checking account, and ZERO fees.