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15 Tips to Stretch Your College Budget

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The best four years of your life can also be the most expensive. With tuition, housing, textbooks and food, college costs a lot. But if you’re smart with your money, you can stretch your dollars further. Here are 15 tips to do just that:

1. Newer isn’t necessarily better

Go thrift shopping for clothes and apartment furnishings. You’ll find more than just ugly sweaters at Goodwill, and you’ll save money.

2. Spend less on textbooks

If you buy your textbooks new at your college’s bookstore, you could be spending $500 or more each semester on books alone. To make a smaller dent in your wallet, do your research and shop for textbooks online.

You can also rent books for a semester. When you don’t need them anymore, sell your books online — you’ll get more money than returning them to the school store.

3. Steer clear of sororities and fraternities

If you’ve always dreamed of wearing Greek letters, be warned: it comes at a high cost. Every year you have to pay dues, spend money on clothing and other Greek life accessories and buy expensive presents for your “little” or “big.”

If you can’t afford to be a part of a fraternity or sorority, don’t worry. You’ll still be able to make friends and have fun without breaking the bank.

4. Graduate in four years (three is even better)

Aside from tuition, every semester has housing, food and fees that add up and put you in debt. To stay on track and graduate on time, talk with your advisor, make a plan and stick with it. This means maxing out your credit load each semester, if you can handle it, and taking a few CLEP exams to cut costs.

5. Budget

At the beginning of each semester, take inventory of how much money you have and how you can wisely spend it. Allow percentages of your budget for textbooks, rent, laundry, school supplies, food and leisure.

6. Rent an apartment with friends

Campus living can be very expensive. Move off-campus with friends to lower your rent and costs for utilities and apartment furnishings.

7. Turn down the heat

When the winter months hit, don’t turn up the heat. Instead of raising the temperature in the apartment, put on some slippers, a sweatshirt and even long underwear. You could save about $100 per billing cycle.

8. Cut the cable

While having Internet is essential, cable TV isn’t and costs you a large chunk of money. Cutting cable from your life could also help you focus more on your studies. You can catch up on your shows during the summer.

9. Take the bus

Most colleges offer a free shuttle service for students living off campus to get to school. Taking the bus — or even walking — saves you gas money and the cost of an on-campus parking permit. If driving is a must, see if your school has a carpool deal and hitch rides with friends and roommates.

10. Shop savvy

Food is a huge cost when living on your own. Use coupons when you can, buy store brand products and look for sale items. Think about getting a store rewards card that offers discounts or even gas rewards.

11. Make two big meals weekly

When cooking at home, two big meals a week could save you money. Make enough so you have leftovers for the week.

12. Ditch expensive drinks

If you’re on a tight budget but still need to satisfy your daily coffee craving, make it at home and save hundreds of dollars. When eating out, order water with your meal. It’s free and you’ll save at least $2.

13. Always ask for a student discount

If you go to the movies, a museum or any leisure activity, ask for a student discount. If you’re an AAA card holder or have a military ID, you can get discounts at many restaurants, hotels and attractions.

14. Save your money to pay off student loans

Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be saving money. Save a certain percentage of your income. Use that money to hold yourself over until you get a job after college or, better yet, use it to get a head start on paying off your loans. You’ll thank yourself later.

15. Cut out the extras

You don’t need to get that martini, pair of shoes or Glamour magazine. It may only seem like a few dollars here and there, but it adds up. You can still have fun without spending money, and you should encourage your friends to choose cheap or money-free activities.

The best way to combat the expenses of college is to be smart with your wallet and stick to a tight budget. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) Every dollar you save will help you maintain your checking account balance and leave you with some money when your college days end. When stretching your budget, remember to be thrifty, shameless and wise.

Alicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for WebpageFX and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land. Her work has been published by the Association for Business Communication, Yahoo! Small Business and iGrad.

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