9 Tips That Will Help College Freshmen Save Money

Editors' pick: Originally published Aug. 4.

The average college student now spends between $16,000 and $48,000 in one year of school, including nearly $900 on back-to-school shopping and $126 on dorm or apartment furnishings. That's a lot of money for a recent high school graduate.

If you haven't talked with your future college student about saving money away from home, now is the time to start. Here are nine quick tips you can give your new freshman to help them save while they're at school.

1. Be smart about class enrollment. Encourage your student to schedule a free appointment with an on-campus guidance counselor. Wading through the massive college course catalog is daunting for first-timers, and without a little help, your freshman could make the costly mistake of taking a class that isn't necessary for their degree.

Remind your student to ask about testing out of classes, too. If they generally perform well in a particular subject or have high scores from an Advanced Placement test they took during their high-school years, they may get out of taking lower-level general education classes.

2. Avoid high textbook prices. The average student will spend up to $1,200 per year on textbooks, but savvy saving tactics could cut that cost significantly. Here are just a few popular cost-cutting methods.

  • Share a book -- and the costs -- with a classmate. Encourage your child to pair up with a fellow student and share a textbook for the semester. This has the added advantage of encouraging group study sessions.
  • Buy used books. Steer clear of the university bookstore, where prices for new textbooks are usually at a peak. Using textbook search tool MyNextCollege.com instead, students can find the merchant with the cheapest prices on used books.
  • Download or borrow texts when possible. E-books are generally cheaper than print versions, and some textbooks can be borrowed from the school library for no cost at all.

3. Get new electronics at discount prices. Your student should never pay full-price for a computer or tablet. Companies like Apple, HP, Lenovo, and Dell all offer special back-to-school financing options or special student pricing. Knowing a student is likely buying their first laptop before school starts, some tech brands don't even require a student ID, just a college acceptance letter.

4. Buy discount travel fares. Amtrak sells student tickets at 15% off regular price year-round, though students must be between the ages of 13 and 25, and they'll need to book tickets three days in advance to take advantage of the discount. State- and city-specific transport services, such as Coach USA, usually offer similar discounts for students, too.

For longer trips and vacations, sites like StudentUniverse can help students book cheap flights, hotels, and even tours.

5. Get Amazon Prime for free. New students can sign-up for Amazon Prime Student for free for the first 6 months. The subscription service gives college customers free two-day shipping, video streaming, and student-exclusive promotions. After that trial period, students can continue their Prime subscription for 50% off the normal cost for non-student members.

6. Score a lower cable bill. Your college student doesn't want to miss a full season of football or fall behind on "The Walking Dead," but a cable bill could add an extra $99 to their monthly expenses. Fortunately, many cable companies offer unadvertised deals and student discounts.

Remind your child that even if they can't score a student-specific discount through the local provider, they can ask for a smaller basic bundle. Further, that low-cost plan will be even cheaper if they split the bill with roommates.

7. Brew coffee at home. Coffee will surely be a vital part of your student's life during their time away from home, especially during and after late-night study sessions. However, the symbol of a trendy college student -- the Starbucks cup -- isn't the most cost-efficient option out there. By brewing their own coffee in their dorm or apartment instead, your freshman stands to save a lot of money. You could even buy them their first coffee pot as a graduation present.

8. Save at restaurants and retail stores. Dozens of merchants give discounts for college students with an active college ID. Students can score between 10% and 20% off at fast food joints, clothing stores, beauty supply outlets, and movie theaters. If they're not sure if a merchant offers a discount, it never hurts to whip out the student ID and ask.

9. Be smart with credit. College is a great time for your child to get their own credit card and start establishing a credit score. However, that credit card should come with some strict warnings. According to one survey, roughly 30% of college students carry credit card debt, with the average debt amount running over $2,500.

Warn your child about how easy it is for a few simple pizza purchases to end up costing quite a bit of money if the card has high interest rates. To avoid this, your child should use their credit card in emergencies only, and they should pay the balance off ASAP.

Most college students will be living on a tight financial leash for the next four years, but teaching your student to save now instead of paying later will rescue them from years of debt repayment in the future. Help your child master these savvy money-management tips to keep them from spending like they're still a carefree high-schooler.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.

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