September 24, 2019 | Money Matters

Beyond Tuition: 10 Ways To Save Money on College Expenses


Ride a bike, rent your books and other ways to make college more affordable.

How expensive is college? Put it this way, you could buy a new BMW every year for the next four years and still pay less than you would to attend a top tier private college or university. According to a recent College Board report, tuition at a moderate, in-state public college in 2018 cost $25,290 while tuition at a moderate private college will set you back $50,900. And that's just tuition! Add room and board, supplies and travel and it's no wonder students around the country are looking for ways to reduce the costs of a college education.

With a little planning and attention to detail, you can save thousands on college costs and open a savings or retirement account. Here are 10 ways to save on college expenses:


  1. Apply for financial aid
    To apply for most financial aid, you'll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to NerdWallet, the class of 2017 left $2.3 billion on the table by neglecting to complete the application. That's a Pell Grant worth $3,583 per student per year. With tuition costs rising, why not take advantage of free money in scholarships? Fill out the FAFSA every year to find out if you're eligible to receive specific grants or scholarships.

  2. Compare meal plan options
    Two years ago, Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History compared the cost of food at two elite private schools, Bowdoin and Vassar and discovered a huge discrepancy. The podcast raised the question of whether it makes sense to spend so much on food or whether those costs wouldn't be better spent reducing tuition to make college more affordable. Whether you're attending a small private college or a large state university, figure out how much the meal plan costs and break that figure down into cost per meal. If you like to cook, and you have the time, you can likely save hundreds of dollars by preparing your own meals.

  3. On campus vs. off campus housing
    Depending on where you're going to school, it may be cheaper for you and a roommate to rent an off-campus apartment than to pay for a dorm room. If you're going to school in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or Washington D.C., you'll likely be better off living on campus. But if you're going to school anywhere else, there's a good chance you - and the 87% of college students who live off campus nationwide - will be able to save money on rent.

  4. Rent your textbooks
    Textbooks are big business. According to the College Board, students spend roughly $1,200 per year on textbooks. In fact, the average textbook has increased an astounding 889% over the last 30 years. Instead of buying new books every year, why not rent your textbooks and save a little money? Here's a great resource for anyone looking to rent their college textbooks. If there's a few you feel like you simply have to own, do a little comparison shopping and get the best price.

  5. Use public transportation
    You don't really need a car on campus. Bikes and scooters are better for the environment and better for your health. And public transportation options around college campuses are usually pretty good. Plus, you'll save yourself (or your parents) money on car insurance and gas.

  6. Find a good college job
    Your first job is to study hard and get good grades. Your second job could be a real job if you can successfully juggle the two. Check your school's job board to see if there's a possible job or paid internship within your particular field of study.

  7. Find the best cell phone plan
    Every student is glued to their phones. And by the end of high school, we're well past the lecturing about screen time stage. If your parents won't let you stay on their plan, invest the time in searching for plans that offer discounts for college students.

  8. Take advantage of campus amenities
    Your tuition likely includes access to other amenities on campus like a gym membership, movie screenings, tutoring and counseling. Take advantage of these amenities and keep a little more money in your pocket.

  9. Search for computer and software discounts
    If you're buying a new laptop or need to install new software on your current one, search for student discounts from companies like Microsoft, Apple and Adobe.

  10. Save on travel
    If you fly home for the holidays every year, use Google Flights to set up a flight monitor to alert you when flights are on sale. That way you'll rarely overpay for your flights home.