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9 Money Saving Tips for College Students on a Budget

By: Kayla Gowan

Let’s face it: college is expensive. Between tuition, housing, student fees, transportation, and textbooks – the costs add up quickly. For many college students, this is the first time you have to budget and manage money on your own. 

Managing money and setting budgetary goals may seem like the last things you want to do at the end of a busy day filled with classes and exams, but developing good habits is worth the effort. Managing in-college spending is a learning experience. Fortunately, there are many ways you can save money while in college. 

Here are the nine best money-saving tips for college students:

1. Rent Your Textbooks

Buying textbooks can be one of the biggest expenses every semester. One huge way to save money in college is to rent textbooks instead of buying them! With eCampus.com – you can save up to 90% off the regular price of a new textbook. eCampus.com also has three rental term lengths (short term, quarter term, and semester) to fit every student’s schedule and the ability to extend or purchase the rental at the end of the rental term.

If you’ve already purchased your textbooks, when the semester is over – you can sell your books back to eCampus.com for cash!

2. Apply for Grants and Scholarships

Start by filling out the FAFSA before each new school year, regardless of your family’s financial status, to tap into federal, state and institutional grants and scholarships. 

You can apply for scholarships and grants every year throughout college! It’s a misconception that scholarships are only for first-year students. In fact, many colleges have systems in place that reward students financially for good grades, volunteering, being an active part of the college town community, and many other things. Given that many scholarships go unclaimed (or have very few entries), if you dedicate some time to applying, you could find yourself saving on tuition costs! 

If you’re not sure where to find scholarships, the Federal Student Aid has compiled a list of places to look that you can view here. For more information about how financial aid works, you can read our eCampus blog post here.

3. Create a Budget

If you don’t know where your money is going every month, you’ll never know the true potential of your saving power! Start off small by giving yourself a weekly budget and see how close you come to accurately estimating expenses. Work on creating a realistic budget that you can stick to, incorporating all regular bills or payments. A budget isn’t set in stone and often takes several tries to get right – so keep working on it until you find the right balance!

A lack of structure can keep you from being on top of managing your spending and can mean disaster for your budget. Fortunately, there are a number of free budgeting apps to help.

3 Apps to Help with Budgeting for College Students

  • Mint: This money management and financial planning app lets you see all of your accounts in one place. You can swipe to check your balances or get reminders to pay your bills on time! 
  • Pocketguard: This app lets you see all of your mobile banking, including credit cards, checking and savings, loans, and investments in one place. After you’ve paid the bills, the app tells you how much you have left over, so you can save the rest! 
  • Personal Capital: Like Mint and Pocketguard, this app allows you to see all of your accounts on one platform. On this app, you can see separate graphs of your cash flow (income vs. expenses), your budget (what you’re spending your money on), and your investments.

4. Split the Cost of Rent with Roommates

Living with roommates is the quintessential college experience. This is helpful for many students as you can split the cost of rent and utilities with one or more roommates.

Make a point to know what’s already provided in your future dorm or apartment. Some dorm rooms come equipped with a microwave or small fridge or an ironing board in the laundry facilities. An apartment might already come with appliances or even basic furniture. Coordinate with your roommates before shopping so you’re not double-buying items or buying things you don’t need.

Take good care of your apartment so you don’t forfeit your security deposit at the end of the semester!

5. Cook Your Own Food

Eating at restaurants can be one of the most expensive items in your budget. It’s almost always cheaper to cook than it is to go out to eat. While a dinner for $5-10 may sound cheap, it really does add up over time.

How Much do College Students Spend on Food?

The cost of a meal plan has doubled in the last 10 years. The average college and university charges about $4,500, or $18.75 per day, for a three-meal-a-day dining contract that covers the eight months or so of a typical academic year.

You can probably cook the same meal (and prep for future meals) for about half the price. If you do eat out, go for lunch or happy hour when restaurants are most likely to be offering discounts.

That goes for coffee, too! Let’s say you spend $5 on a daily cup of coffee – this can equal up to $375 per semester. Save the bank by investing in a coffee machine and making your morning brew from home! 

6. Use Public Transportation

Parking, gas, and insurance for your car can quickly add up. Many college campuses have free buses and shuttles that help students get around campus and even to nearby apartments. Some schools even have rentable bikes or scooters for the semester!

If you need public transportation to get around, see if you can get a student pass. Many colleges partner with their local transit authorities and offer student discounts and student passes for busses, subways, trolleys, and more.

7. Use Student Discounts

Don’t leave home without your student ID! Most places offer a student discount – this can include restaurants, shops, movie theaters, theme parks, and more!

Another big expense for college students is technology. Many students want (or need) to get a new laptop. Plus, some classes require their own specific software that you need to install. Often, technology companies offer significant discounts to students – from Apple and Microsoft, to Adobe and more. If you’re getting any type of new computer or software, make sure to buy it through the education store and get your student discount.

Click here is a list of the top 60 discounts available to students right now! If you’re not sure whether a company offers a student discount, there’s no harm in asking. Better “save” than sorry!

8. Utilize Campus Resources

Check out the amenities that are free for students to use on campus. Campus resources are designed to make college easier, but that’s only the case if you use them!

  • Student Gym: working out and staying fit is important in college. Instead of spending money on a gym membership, see if your campus offers the use of the student gym for free. Most campuses have great athletic and gym facilities available to students. Take full advantage!
  • On-Campus Printing: printing is another area that can be costly, with papers eating up ink cartridges at home. Oftentimes, the cost of printing is included in your student facility fees. Check the school library to see if they offer free or discounted printing.
  • Campus Library: one of the most under-used, but best free tools on a college campus is the library. College libraries have everything, including books, computer stations, software, and more. Libraries also offer free spaces to study, meet with group members, or use the computer. 

Other commonly provided resources include tutoring, counseling, childcare, and career services. Check what your college offers before you pay extra for the same service elsewhere.

9. Take Advantage of Campus Activities

Going out every weekend can drain your entertainment budget very quickly. Instead, keep up with what’s happening on campus. Most colleges organize plenty of events throughout the semester, ranging from museum visits, to movie nights, and more for free or discounted rates.

Check the events page on your school website to see what’s up and coming. You can also look for signs and promotions around your campus. These signs often promote free food in an attempt to get students to come. If you do this regularly, you can probably get your lunch taken care of most days! And maybe even learn something! 

Bonus: Attending campus events is a great way to make new friends, too!

While saving money as a college student is not always easy, it is possible with plenty of hard work and a commitment to your financial security and wellbeing. Meeting your budgetary goals will not only help your college experience, but prepare you for a bright financial future!

Be sure to connect with us @ecampusdotcom on Twitter, Instagram, & Facebook for more resources, tips, and some great giveaways! And when it’s time for textbooks, eCampus.com has you covered for all your course material needs at savings up to 90%!

References:

  1. https://turbo.intuit.com/blog/real-money-talk/how-to-save-money-in-college-1539/ 
  2. https://www.debt.org/students/college-budgeting-101/ 
  3. https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/student-guide-to-budgeting/ 
  4. https://thecollegeinvestor.com/22453/save-money-in-college/ 
  5. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/financial-wellness/63-quick-tips-to-save-money-in-college/ 

FAFSA – How Does Financial Aid Work?

Financial Aid Definition

According to Wikipedia, student financial aid in the United States is funding that is available exclusively to students attending a post-secondary educational institution in the United States.

The Office of Federal Student Aid provides more than $120 BILLION in aid each year to help pay for college or trade school. This aid can come from a variety of sources, however, there is only one way to access these funds – by using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

When to Apply for FAFSA

The FAFSA filing timeframe always begins October 1st the year BEFORE you plan to attend school. So if you plan to attend college in fall of 2021, you can file as early as October 1st, 2020. Typically applications continue to be accepted through June 30th the year you plan to attend. 

PRO TIP: You’ll want to make sure to file as early as possible, because many states and some colleges award financial aid on a first come first served basis. 

To make things easy, here’s some upcoming filing deadlines. Go ahead and put these in your calendar:

  • June 30, 2021 | FAFSA Deadline for the 2021-22 Academic Year
  • June 30, 2020 | FAFSA Deadline for the 2020-21 Academic Year

What are the Types of Federal Student Aid?

Student aid is not always “free money” – in fact usually it’s not! It’s important to understand the differences between aid types and, more importantly, how they impact your pre and post education finances.

Grants

These are the only types of federal student aid that don’t need to be repaid – so pay attention to these. Within this category, there are 4 different types of grants. Maybe you’ve heard of a few of these:

  1. Pell Grant – The average amount is $4,271 (these figures are usually given on a ‘per year’ basis) and is primarily for undergraduates who have the greatest “financial need”.

PRO TIP: You’re going to see the words “financial need” appear a lot in the student aid requirements. If you’re wondering what that means, the department of education defines this as:

Financial need is simply defined as the difference between the student’s cost of attendance (COA) and the family’s ability to pay these costs. Note that the student’s financial need will be reduced by aid that is awarded to the student.

  1. Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) – This is often awarded in addition to the Pell Grant, so if you qualify for one, you’re a priority for the other. For this reason, the amount is smaller – around $599 per year.
  2. Teacher Education Assistance (TEACH) Grant – It makes sense that educators would lobby to award aid to future educators. This is the purpose of the TEACH grant – focused exclusively to high need students in teaching programs, especially elementary or secondary school levels.
  3. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant – Awarded to students whose parent or guardian was a member of the armed forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq, Afghanistan, or on 9/11.

Loans

If you are just graduating high school, are looking at college, and you don’t have extraordinary “financial need” but also don’t have $35,000, then chances are you probably don’t have much of a credit history either. At least not enough to secure a traditional loan for $35,000 (that’s the average cost of a 4-year degree by the way). Banks would normally never loan this much to a person with little to no financial history.

This is the main reason for the government-created William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan program. Using this program, you can borrow money directly from the U.S. Department of Education rather than a bank. Like federal grants, there are also 4 different types of federal loans – but unlike grants, these will need to be repaid with interest:

  1. Direct Subsidized – These loans are made available to undergraduate students that can demonstrate “financial need”.

PRO TIP: “Subsidized” means having part of the cost paid to keep your cost low.

  1. Direct Unsubsidized – These loans are made available to students who don’t need to demonstrate “financial need” to be eligible.
  2. Direct PLUS Loans – If you don’t qualify for other types of federal student aid, you probably still qualify for this type of loan program. This is primarily for students and parents of students, who may have some credit history.
  3. Direct Consolidation Loans –  Most students require multiple sources of financing to afford college. This program allows you to roll all of your loans together under one servicer, and sometimes at a reduced interest rate.

PRO TIP:  On a standard 10-year repayment plan, a borrower  will pay $6,405 in interest or about $641 per year. Pay attention to interest rates! Source

Work-Study

Just like the name implies, a federal work-study job is there to help you earn your way through school. These are primarily community service related and possibly even something related to your field of study (it depends on your school). These jobs are always part-time and only offered while you’re enrolled.

Your FAFSA Application

Now that you know what types of college financial aid you can expect, it’s time to take the first step and visit the FAFSA Website where you will begin your application. Here’s a quick overview of the steps involved:

  1. Create a FSA ID, Username, and Password (and keep this somewhere safe).
  2. Gather Documents
    1. SSN
    2. Parent’s SSN (if you’re a dependent)
    3. Driver’s License Number
    4. Alien Registration Number (if applicable)
    5. Tax Info, such as tax returns and W-2.
    6. Income information for both you and you’re parents.
    7. Info on how much cash & savings you have.
  3. Use the documents to fill out the application
    1. Online at https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa.
    2. On your phone using the myStudentAid mobile app.
    3. On paper by printing/mailing the FAFSA PDF.
  4. List the colleges and schools you’re interested in.
  5. Report Parents’ Info (if you’re a dependent student)

PRO TIP: You’re going to be asked a number of times if you are a dependent or independent student. If you aren’t sure, you can look this up here.

  1. Provide Your Financial Info
  2. Sign & Submit

FAFSA Customer Service

Here are all the contacts to get help with filling out your applications:

Student Aid Report (SAR)

Next, you’ll receive a report that details your eligibility for aid and is typically sent within 3-10 days, depending on how you submitted it (longer if you filled out the paper version). The SAR will NOT tell you how much money you will need to pay for college nor will it tell you how much aid you will receive. The name is misleading, but this report is mainly something you’ll want to check for accuracy, because it is used in calculations to determine those things.

Financial Aid Award Letters

Now for the fun part! 

Award letters come from the colleges that you applied to, and usually become available 1-3 months after you submitted your application. This will explain the total amount of money a school will offer you. They won’t all come at once, but you should start getting these shortly after your acceptance letters.

Here’s the order in which you should be accepting aid:

  1. Free Money (Grants)
  2. Earned Money (Work-Study)
  3. Federal Student Loans
  4. State/School-specific Loans
  5. Private Loans

The award letter will detail next steps for how to accept aid. Keep in mind that the timeline for receiving the money varies widely depending on the type of aid. Work-Study for example, will only pay after your first week on the job, which is usually AFTER you have started classes.

In Conclusion

This process is time-consuming, confusing, and often frustrating. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the benefits of both your education and the aid you receive for that education, more than compensate for your efforts. For many students, this will be one of the first steps into adulthood. You can do this – we believe in you!

Was this helpful? Did we miss something? Do you have something to add? If so let us know!

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @ecampusdotcom.

The Thing No One Likes to Talk About

We’ve all been there – your award letter comes and maybe it’s not quite as much as you’d hoped it would be. And the loan portion isn’t quite as little as you’d hoped it would be. But you take out the loan anyway because how else are you supposed to pay for school? We’re 18-22 year olds mostly, and I don’t know about you, but I certainly haven’t got $30,000 lying around for free spending. College costs continue to rise and with the rising cost comes a rising amount of average debt per student per year.

 loans1

 In addition to a higher amount of debt being taken on by students, a larger number of students have to resort to taking out loans as well.

 loans2

 Another thing to keep in mind while borrowing for undergrad, is how you are planning to pay for grad school should you choose that route. According to the Wall Street Journal, “About 15% of graduate and professional school students graduate with six-figure student loan debt compared with only 0.3% of undergraduate students”. Be aware of potential salary increases that can come from an advanced degree in comparison with the additional debt and decide for yourself if it is appropriate for your goals.

 Student loan debt is not all bad though. With proper planning and budgeting, you can keep your student loan debt under control. Still, college students need to be aware of how much they are borrowing and make sure it is the smallest amount possible to get through school. Supplement the borrowed amounts with jobs and scholarships as much as possible. It’s not always enough to cover everything, but every little bit counts especially once interest starts adding up on an unnecessary loan.

4 Ways to Pay for College

A college education is worth the investment, but paying for college may be the reason why many individuals do not attend. By no means is it cheap, but that does not make it any less important. There are many ways in which you can pay for college without that dreaded, overwhelming feeling of looming debt.

1. Always Apply for Financial Aid (even if you think you do not qualify)

fafsa

Financial Aid (FAFSA) is a helpful funding program to assist students in paying for many college expenses. Luckily, many students do qualify. The online application doesn’t take too much time to complete and it’s free.

2. Apply for Grants

grants

Grants are a great way to help pay for college. This is aid the does not need to be repaid and is often based on one’s financial need. You can apply for grants from the federal and state government.

3. Apply for Scholarships

scholarships

Scholarships are a bit different than grants. Grants are need based assistance and scholarships are merit based assistance. That means it’s awarded when an achievement is met. Your college of choice will have access to all scholarships offered.

4. Work While in School to Help Cover the Costs

work

Working while earning your degree is a great way to help pay for small college expenses. Ecampus.com has great, affordable rates on textbooks or other items needed. If loans have been taken out, many times you can pay the interest while attending school.

If paying for college is still too much of a burden, the next best thing would be to attend a local community college. That would offset the cost at a much cheaper rate until graduation. Then complete your degree at a four year institution. Staying at home can also help, as you wouldn’t need to pay for room and board.

How Will You Pay For School?

Paying for school is just flat out tough. Decisions need to be made by not only you, but your parents or guardians as well. Most high school students do not have the kind of money needed to pay for college so there are a few other options.

Financial Aid

Filling out financial aid is extremely beneficial and an absolute must if you are given the opportunity. Financial aid is determined by household income and a bunch of other various categories. It is then determined how much you will receive. This will help you along with your family to pay for college.

Scholarships

Unlike financial aid in which there is a process to determine if you will receive any of it, scholarships are just flat out earned. It could either be straight out of high school in which you may have excelled in, or it may be in smaller forms maybe from an essay contest you applied to. There are various ways to receive scholarships either coming out of high school or even when you are in college. Maintain a certain GPA, earn an athletic scholarship. This will certainly help you pay for college, but you must earn it first.

Loans

Loans are a tough thing to go about. The reason I say this is because paying off student loans for the rest of your life and during your career is just an absolute challenge and it can last all of your life. But of course loans are usually needed when it comes to college, and just because you have to repay these, it is definitely the way to go for most families.

Parents/Guardians

Having your parents and or guardians help you pay for college is another option but again a tough decision. The first thing you need is the permission from your family, or just to know that they will be helping you pay off your college payments.

Work

Working a full 9-5 job during college is nearly impossible but some people do actually manage to pull it off. It is truly and honestly tough to even have a part time job during school but it is an absolute necessity. Sure you won’t be able to pay off tuition and room and board with just a part time job, but having this part time job will keep your wallet a little more filled so you can survive throughout college!