College isn't cheap. From tuition to books to room and board, the costs can add up quickly.
However, there are ways you can lower the cost of school while you are in college, from shopping around for a meal plan to living off-campus, even leaving your car at home. Follow these five easy steps to lower your cost of living as a college student.
Ditch the Dorm
Unless you go to school in a large metropolitan area, you will likely be able to find an apartment that costs less than the dorms. While living in the dorms your freshman or sophomore years has its advantages, it isn't always the most cost-effective option.
Consider finding an apartment with roommates to save some money. However, it's important to take the time to hunt for a good apartment. If you do decide to live off-campus, you will want one that offers things like free parking, washer/dryer on-site, close to public transportation, and close to a grocery store. You'll also want it to be relatively close to campus.
Plus, a good location will make it easier for you to save money because you can get to campus, the grocery store, and your part-time job more easily.
Watch Out for Your Meal Plan
Another expensive aspect of attending college is the meal plan. Sure, having a meal plan can make life easier, but you can save money by considering other options. While in college I opted to only have two meals per day, which reduced the monthly cost by nearly $200/month. And I didn't have to skip a meal, either; I bought cereal and milk and kept it in my dorm room.
Once you are living off-campus, you can really begin to save money on your grocery costs. Plan a weekly menu and take the time to pack your lunch instead of purchasing it on campus. You may want to consider starting a nightly dinner group with friends or roommates. If you cook one large meal and feed four people with it, it often costs less than cooking four smaller meals.
Leave Your Car at Home
You can save a lot of money by living on campus without a car. The basic savings in parking and gas are obvious, but you can also save on monthly insurance costs, car maintenance, and registration.
Plus, many campuses are walkable or have excellent university-sanctioned transportation so that you can survive without a car. If you are living off-campus, just be sure you live near public transportation and you can still live without a car. Plus, a bus or metro pass is likely going to be a lot cheaper than a car.
Look for Better Deals on Books
Depending on your major, your books may cost more than your rent. Although the campus bookstore may be convenient, it's going to be your most expensive option. Plan ahead and order your books on a secondhand site, or utilize discount sites like Amazon.com. A few minutes of browsing online can make a huge difference in your monthly budget.
Another way to save money on books? Sell your old books and use the funds to put toward the next semester's books. Besides, what are you going to do with a Chemistry 101 textbook, anyway?
Protect Yourself When It Comes to Bills
When you are living off-campus, it is important to protect yourself. Some college apartment complexes will charge you the utilities as part of the rent. This is an advantage because you do not have to worry if your roommate doesn’t pay their share of the utilities. It's also wise to avoid putting everything in your name only. Divide the utility bills up among the roommates so no one person is in charge of collecting all of the money or covering it if someone is short.
Another tip? When you sign up for a lease, see if it can be in your individual names. Some college apartment complexes offer this, which means you will not be kicked out if your roommate stops paying rent.
Also, make sure you lock up personal items like your social security card and credit card information so that you can protect yourself from identity theft.
Updated by Rachel Morgan Cautero.