NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When you go back to college, the tuition is the least of your worries. The average student is going to pay $1,200 a year just for books, according to the College Board. On top of that, there's room and board, which averages between $9,804 and $11,188 over the course of your higher education. But there are ways you can rack up significant savings without forfeiting any necessities. Here's how you can save money when you head back to school this year.
The Elephant in the Room of College Education
The main cost that people leave out when it comes to planning for college is the cost of books. But you don't have to drop over a G on your textbooks. Elizabeth Riddle, director of OnCampus Research, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores, points out that the cost of books per year is the average for people who buy only new books. In the 21st Century, that's no longer necessary.
"There are a lot more options out there," says Riddle. "It used to be just new and used. Now you can rent or get books in digital formats. Custom course packs are arranged from custom materials, so you don't necessarily have to buy the whole textbook." She notes that the earlier you shop, the more options you're going to have. The last things left on the shelves are likely to be the super expensive, brand-new books.
A lot of students these days shop online. That might save you money, but Riddle says that you need to make sure that you're comparing apples to apples. "The material on the website might not be the right edition," she says. "It might be missing online access codes that a lot of course materials come with." She also urges students to factor in shipping expenses and return policies. "Taxes and shipping can add up real fast," she says.
And, of course, college bookstores sell a lot more than just books these days. So you might do well to wait for sales on things like electronics. Riddle says that many times, your student discount can be significant. She also says that you should sign up for social media to get alerts on flash sales that are becoming more common on campus websites. "If you come in during a two-hour period, they might have a higher percentage off, or BOGO deals or bundles for students," Riddle says. Lastly, make sure that you hang on to any materials that you can reuse over the course of several years.
Shopping For College Sundries
Ellie Kay, a personal finance expert and a mother of seven, knows a thing or two about buying college goods on the cheap. She agrees that when it comes to textbooks, you're going to want to beat the rush. But on everything else, she says that you should wait. "If you wait a couple weeks into the semester a lot of the things you need might be marked down 50 to 75%," she says. Kay states that back to school clothes are often marked down between 30 and 50% a few weeks into the semester, so there will be some great deals to be had on current fashions there.
So what do you need? Wait and talk to your roommates before you decide. Kay says that it's better to have everyone buy one big thing for the suite or dorm room than to go halvesies. "Coordinate with your roommate as far as who is going to buy what," Kay says. "Have someone buy the microwave and someone else buy the fridge." You also don't want to duplicate purchases that your roommate is bringing from home, like coffee pots or ironing boards.
The important thing, says Kay, is to budget. "Whether they're first year or fourth year, most of them don't have a budget," she says. "But those who do are going to do better financially." This would seem to apply both to college and the real world to follow.