We all know that paying for college isn't cheap. After stocking up on dorm room necessities, handing over a tuition check and buying expensive textbooks, most college students barely have enough money left over for the plane ticket home for winter break, let alone cash for incidentals that pop up throughout the year.
But there are ways to stretch your limited college dollars. And by becoming an expert at scrimping and saving during college, you can build a financial safety net – and also free up a few bucks to use for takeout when you just can't stomach another night in the cafeteria.
[Follow these tips to furnish your college dorm on a budget.]
1. Take advantage of student services on campus: Your tuition dollars finance a variety of student services that you can benefit from. In order to start saving, make sure you learn what you're already paying for.
The student health center at your college or university will likely offer certain services at no cost. For example, Texas A&M University—College Station offers free flu shots and health education programs.
And many colleges offer testing for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as counseling services, at little or no cost to you. If you find you need immediate medical care and simply do not have the money to go to the doctor, a physician once advised me to tell student health services that I had no money and ask for free care. It worked.
Before you shell out money for the bus, check to see if your school offers free or discounted public transportation. For example, student fees at the University of Colorado—Boulder fund city bus passes for students. And some colleges offer their students free late-night rides home from local establishments as a way to curb drunk driving.
If you're looking for back-to-school technology, a number of colleges have licensing agreements that allow them to sell software and hardware from vendors for greatly reduced prices.
Hopefully you won't run into any legal trouble while you're trying to earn your degree, but if you find yourself needing some legal advice, colleges often provide free legal services. This could prove useful if you're having problems with your landlord or experiencing a range of other legal issues.
[Check out four tips for getting free college textbooks.]
2. Look for student discounts: In addition to the student services from your school, many businesses also offer student discounts, so make sure to be on the lookout for reduced prices for college students. A great place to start is the website Living Rich With Coupons, which lists businesses and museums that offer student discounts, including Apple, Amazon and Amtrak.
Other places you're likely to find a discounted student rate include restaurants near campus, professional sporting events and nearby movie theaters. If you aren't sure if a business offers a discount, just ask!
Heading out of town for spring break? Before you fork over any cash for airfare or lodging, check out the travel resources available to college students. The StudentUniverse, STA Travel and International Student Identity Card websites connect students with discounts for travel, lodging and entertainment.
Finally, realize that clipping coupons isn't just for parents! If you have a smartphone, use free coupon apps to browse discounts based on your location.
[Prepare to deal with unexpected personal costs in college.]
3. Seek out giveaways on campus: There are many clubs and organizations that lure students to meetings with free food. Check them out before you make your grocery list. And do make a grocery list, as cooking is a lot cheaper – and healthier – than eating out.
Another great resource you should check out is this post from Grades Blog, which describes the how and where of scoring free stuff on your college campus. From free entertainment to swag and even cash, your student union is also a good spot for handouts. Look for flyers advertising free upcoming events.
My commencement speaker at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities summed up the basis for success in four words: "Keep your overhead low."
In other words, if you can keep your basic expenses in college to a minimum, you'll have more money to invest in the things you are passionate about. Living thriftily doesn't just pay your bills – it frees up funds for chasing your dreams.
Angela Frisk holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and is a former scholarship recipient. She joined Scholarship America in 2012.