5 Easy Ways to Cut College Costs
February 27, 2013

Student loan debt continues to rise both at a national level and on a per student basis. Graduates are coming out of school with debt close to $27,000 and many are finding they are unable to make their loan payments. Over half of student loans are now in deferment and the default rate is in double digits. If you are a student (or parent of one) looking forward to the freshman year in college or a student still matriculating, how about trying some strategies to reduce the cost of your college so you graduate with less debt?

When you’re in the college bubble, it’s easy to be so immersed in the now that your post-graduate experience seems far away. But if you are borrowing to finance your education, the decisions you make now about college spending will affect the rest of your life. Rather than take a “worry about it later” stance, why not do what you can now to cut costs? Your future post-grad self will appreciate not having to cope with crippling debt

Check out these 5 tips to cut college costs:

1. Get a job.  I know, that doesn’t sound cool, but unless you are in your last year of medical school, it’s totally manageable to work while you’re in school. If you get out there and apply for a part time job of 20 hours per week (or less), you’ll be able to pay for books and cover some of your living expenses without impacting your studies. Close to half of full-time college students work, so you’ll be in good company. A job might cut into your partying time, but it will teach you how to better juggle your time, multi-task and prioritize which are all great job skills you’ll need in the post-grad world.

Employment during college

Image source: DollarsandSense.org

2. Give back loan money. Just because you can borrow more than your tuition costs, doesn’t mean you should. You should borrow the minimum possible. It may be tempting to take the extra cash and buy a snazzy new laptop for school, but bear in mind that $1,000 computer will cost you more like $1,500 when you pay it off over 10 years. Every dollar less you can borrow now equates to less financial stress and more disposable income in your post-grad life.

3. Live off campus. Dorm life may seem like fun, but room and board are costly. Room and board charges have risen by 65% over the last 10 years to an average of $9,200 per year. If your parents live close enough to your college for you to commute, that’s the most affordable option. Otherwise, splitting an apartment with a handful of friends can see you reduce this cost well below average. As an incoming freshman, dorms may seem exciting, but you’ll tire of the hubbub quickly and your future post-grad self will thank you for saving them thousands on loans by living cheaper.

4. Eat off campus. It’s nice to be able to stop by the cafeteria any time of day and grab a nosh, but you’re overpaying for that convenience. With meal plans averaging $2,000 per semester, that equates to $125 per week in food. That’s just too expensive. Living in an apartment and eating cereal and splitting pizzas with your roommates is drastically cheaper. Even better, if you can live at home and commute to school, mom and dad can foot your food bill. Your post-grad future self will thank you not only for saving money on student loans, but for avoiding the “freshman 15” that many students pack on because of the easy access to ample food!

5. Take a year abroad. While this may seem like a luxury rather than a source of savings, it can be cheaper to spend a year at a foreign college than back home. American colleges are some of the costliest in the world and if you choose a school where the cost of living is also lower than the US, you’ll rack up even more savings. South Korea, India, South Africa, Costa Rica and Brazil are low cost options that will save you money, treat you to an exotic educational experience and look great on your resume. Your post-grad self will thank you for the memories that last a lifetime as well as the savings when you borrow less to foot your college bill.

Remember Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper? If you’ve not read this classic short story, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. With winter coming, the ant works hard stashing food to survive while the grasshopper sings and plays. Guess what happens to the little green guy when the cold weather rolls in? It’s not pretty. When it comes to paying for your education, you should be a hard working little ant – save, scrimp and work hard so your future is better. Your post-grad self will thank you for not being a grasshopper!

If you are just starting to borrow or have graduated and are now juggling student loan debt, jobs and life, try Tuition.io’s free student loan management tool to help you keep track of and optimize your debt!