NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For most students, attending college requires taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. The idea, of course, is that once you graduate, the great income you'll earn will allow you to pay off your loans with ease. So what's the difference if you tack on an extra thousand here and there?
Many colleges would have you believe that it makes little difference, especially when it comes to auxiliary services you don't really need. However, if you want to reduce your student loans and reduce the time needed to pay them back, here are several expenses to think twice about.
1. Meal plan
The school cafeteria might be convenient, but it's also bound to be a lot more expensive and potentially less healthy than if you do your own cooking. Plus, cooking in your dorm or apartment is a great way to get acquainted with other students and new foods. If you don't have a kitchen, just make sure to bring at least one hotplate, a microwave, and a small fridge.
2. Campus health insurance
With the recent change to healthcare laws, students can stay on their parents' healthcare plan until the age of 26. In other words, many students simply won't have a need for campus health insurance at any time during their undergraduate career. However, be careful. Though you may not intend to sign up for this service, it could be automatically added on to your bill unless you opt out.
You might be used to having mom or dad do your laundry for you, but they didn't charge you an arm and a leg to do it. You can save roughly $400 a year by not utilizing campus laundry services. And if you simply don't think you have the time, learn how to better manage your time so you can fit laundry and other essential activities into your schedule. Also, the laundromat or facility at your campus is a great way to meet people. 4. Campus debit card
Roughly 900 colleges currently offer debit cards, but many come with stiff inactivity fees of up to $10 per month, in addition to transaction fees. Also, if the debit card is tied to your financial aid, you won't have to repay it until after you graduate. While that might sound like a bonus, it will increase your debt. Furthermore, it could also lead to bad spending habits that follow you the rest of your life and ruin your credit score. Just skip this "convenience." 5. Errand services
Errand services run the gamut from grocery shopping to prescription pickups and more. At an average of $30 an hour, you're better off starting your own service and charging other students to do their errand-running for them. Final thoughts
There's a lot to think about when you're headed for college, and what may seem like relatively small expenses are often overlooked. However, enough small expenses can pile up to create a mountain of debt that you will eventually have to repay, with interest. If you're a college student or soon will be, planning for your future is probably fairly new to you, or may be limited to considering your major. But limiting your student loans is an important aspect of your future, and will give you more flexibility after you graduate to pursue the type of career you want. What other unneeded services can you think of that students shouldn't pay for in college? Let us know in the comments section below. --By David Bakke Bakke is a financial columnist for