College Spending Dos and Don'ts

When it's time to get ready to leave for college, you may have a long list of things to buy to get ready for life in the dorm. But these costs can add up, especially on top of living costs and college tuition. Before you buy, consider what items are most important and what you can skip to save money in college.  Remember, it is important to avoid making financial mistakes in college since they will follow you into your adult life. 

Other tips to save money in college? A college financial checklist can help you manage your money carefully while in college while choosing the right bank accounts for a college student can also save you money in fees.

Read on for the five things you don't need to buy for college, plus five things you actually need. 

Skip the Car

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Most college freshman and even ​upperclassmen do not need a car to get around town and to campus. In fact, many schools don't allow underclassmen to have cars. 

Especially if you live on campus, you really will not need a car. Think about it: You can find a college job close to or on campus, and purchase a meal plan so that you do not need to buy groceries or go out to eat.

By not buying a car, you can save quite a bit of money on costs like gas, registration, parking, and insurance. Plus, college towns usually have excellent public transportation if you need to get around off-campus. 

Leave Your TV at Home


Another purchase you can skip when going back to college is a television. Most dorms have a common area with a television that you can use if you want to watch a major sporting event or a popular television show.

You can also watch shows on your computer, via streaming options like Netflix or Hulu. The monthly subscription costs for these services are nominal, and you will usually save money in the long run, since you won't have to purchase a TV or pay a monthly cable bill. 

Use Your Parents' Health Insurance

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You can potentially save money on health insurance if you stay on your parents' plan. Most health insurance providers allow children to stay on their parent or guardian's plan until age 26.

Most student health centers will accept off-campus insurance, but you may want to call ahead and see if they accept your insurance. Health insurance costs can add up quickly, so be sure to do your research and go with the most cost-effective plan for you.

You may even be able to save by shopping for your own policy rather than going with a group plan. Be sure that you don't skip having health insurance, though. And keep in mind that the cheapest option isn't always the best. You'll want to pay attention to coverage amounts, copays, and deductibles, too. 

Don't Buy Furniture


Dorm rooms are small and are usually already furnished with a desk, bed, even sometimes a dresser. If you add anything else that's too big, it may overwhelm the space or not fit at all. 

If you are living off-campus, you may have the option of choosing a furnished apartment. This is easier to deal with since you will need to pack up and store items over the summer when you go home.

You can save a lot of money by using what is provided and just decorating your room instead. Another way to save money? Skip buying organization components until you actually see the space and will know what will fit.

Don't Buy a Whole New Wardrobe

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Most college campuses are extremely casual, and you won't need formal or nice clothing, except for the occasional interview for a job or internship, or perhaps a formal. 

However, you may be able to borrow clothes from your roommate, friends, or teammates. Also, the Freshman 15 is definitely a trend, so you may not want to buy a lot of clothing in your current size, as that can definitely change. 

Stock Up On Kitchen Supplies for Your Dorm


Many college students save money on the meal plans by stocking up on a few things to keep in their dorm room, like snacks, and easy-to-make meals. 

It may also make sense to have a mini-fridge or microwave in your dorm room, but be sure to check out the set up in your dorm before you buy. 

But you don't have to buy them new. Try searching for a ​cheap ​used one on Craigslist, or even renting one through your school. You'll also need a basic set of plates and utensils if you plan to eat some meals in your dorm room. 

Spend Money on a Computer

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You'll definitely need a laptop computer for college. Many schools have a requirement about the type of laptop you need, plus minimum requirements.

Shop around for the best option for you. However, you may want to skip the most expensive, top-of-the-line model, since it's common for laptops to be stolen, damaged, or lost, especially on a college campus. 

If you can, purchase a protection plan for your computer that will cover the cost of repairs for several years. This can save you significant money if your computer becomes damaged.

You can save on discounted software by purchasing it through your college bookstore. You may want to wait to buy the software until you are on campus because student discounts are quite significant.

Buy (Used) Textbooks or an E-Reader

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Many colleges are moving toward e-books and may require an e-book reader. However, you can usually also read e-books on your computer. 

If your college is still going with traditional textbooks, save money by buying used or on a discount site like Amazon. 

Remember, your campus bookstore may not offer the lowest prices available, but they can give you a list of the required texts so you can look elsewhere to purchase your books.

Invest in a Meal Plan

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Before you go to college, you should carefully consider your meal plan options if you are living on campus. The most expensive plans often offer more food options than most college students actually need.

Considering purchasing the two-a-day meal plan option and supplementing by purchasing the milk and cereal or other foods to cover the other meal. This strategy can save you a lot of money. If you are living off campus you can use several different money-saving strategies for your food budget.

Invest in a Good Backpack or Book Bag


A good backpack or book bag is another thing to spend money on when you go to college.
Think about it: You'll need your bag to carry your books, computer, even snacks or lunch. Plus, college campuses can be large, so you'll need a high-quality bag that fits you well. The money you spend here is money well spent.

Updated by Rachel Morgan Cautero