Whether you’ve spent the past few months working and making money or vacationing and spending money, the end of summer is a good time to do an evaluation of your financial situation. Living the college life means having the opportunity (and responsibility) to make smart financial decisions and learning how to successfully live on a budget. Follow these tips for getting back into the swing of school without overspending!
Explore the Unfamiliar
Before school starts, take a look at your itinerary and consider where your classes are located. Instead of following your initial instinct to drive, identifying bike lanes and pedestrian paths could save you a significant amount of gas money over time. Have an internship or a job off campus? Look into the available transportation systems to see which can get you there with the best deal.
Maybe you’re familiar with the school’s bus system, but try asking around about the local city buses if your new set of directions look unfamiliar. If you use a subway or a train to get to class, check out the maps and determine your routes sooner rather than later. Knowing your stops and destinations gives you the opportunity to figure out the cheapest ways to get around. Use the end of your summer to discover deals like monthly tickets or student discounts for getting from one point to another.
If your car is your best bet, be sure to also navigate the parking situation. Are there meters on the street or parking garages near academic buildings? What hours of the day do parking limitations apply? Especially if you study in a more populated city, the availability and pricing of parking spaces often depends on the time of day. You don’t want to waste quarters parking for a 7:00 p.m. movie when the meter only works until 6:00 p.m.!
If a nearby parking lot looks promising, be sure to check that the spots aren’t already reserved and that no permit is required. Some university campuses are tricky – look out for signage now to avoid surprises (and fines!) later. If you’re lucky enough to have classes with friends or if you live close to coworkers, plan a carpool in advance to minimize the price you each pay on gas. By going into the school year prepared, you don’t have to worry about spending unnecessary dollars on gas, parking, tickets or permits.
Make a List
A good rule for back-to-school shopping: Know before you go. When you arrive to an empty bed and a bare-walled dorm room, it’s easy to go overboard thinking you need at least one of everything.
Do yourself a favor and determine the difference between what you want and what you need before you set out to purchase anything. Do you want a hanging shoe rack or a box in your closet? Would you rather have hooks or hangers? Do shelves fit above your desk? Do you need drawers under your bed for extra storage space? Create a list before you go and check off items as you find them to avoid getting distracted. Having a concrete outline can save you big bucks because you’ll be shopping with tunnel vision for the necessities.
Keep an Eye Out for Deals
Start keeping an eye out for applicable coupons. Pick up local newspapers and magazines, look through the flyers left in your door and skim through your emails (especially the spam folder!) to see if you overlooked anything that can still save you money. You can even search online for coupons if you have specific items in mind.
Next time you go to your local supermarket or pharmacy, look out for upcoming deals and specials on items you may need for school. You don’t want to invest in a new laptop this week if it goes on sale somewhere else next week. Throughout the next month or so, continuously compare prices on items between stores. This way, when it’s time to buckle down and buy your back-to-school decorations and wardrobe, you’ve already identified the best bargain and you know when to strike.
It may also benefit you to buy in bulk; pennies add up when you invest in bulk items that won’t go bad over time. Look for sale prices on anything from toothpaste and napkins to peanut butter and oatmeal!
To Get or Not to Get
Textbooks are the most notorious school-time swindle. Take this bit of helpful advice from an upcoming college senior: You may not need to get sucked into the textbook trick. Granted, some books are required and there’s no debate about that. But it will definitely be worth it in the long run to find out which ones on your list will actually be used throughout the semester. Curriculums often change and develop from year to year, so email the professor before the semester begins to get an idea of which books will definitely be used and when they fit into the agenda.
Buying books based solely on your syllabi may result in wasting hundreds of dollars on books that are later deemed optional or unnecessary. Some texts may only be required “if there’s time left in the semester” or “if the course gets around to it,” so remember that August and September aren’t the only months for buying books. You can always wait and buy later, but you can’t always get all your money back if you need to return books.
Saving on Textbooks
- If you know someone who’s taken an upcoming class of yours, ask if they have any hand-me-downs to offer.
- If you see a list with as many books as weeks in the semester, you’ll likely only need them for a short period of time. In this case, you could save hundreds by borrowing them from the local or school libraries.
- Search for books online and order used copies to buy or rent. Renting is usually cheaper, but it requires sending back whatever you use. If you buy your books, be sure to find out about ways to sell them back.
It’s simple: Planning ahead can save you money. As the summer comes to a close and the back-to-school season introduces itself again, start looking for opportunities to make smart financial decisions. If you figure out your transportation, make smart shopping decisions and weigh your textbook options, you’ll save big and start the school year on track!