Money Tips for Incoming College Freshmen

This morning Alex the Intern appeared on Fox 59 to discuss the finances of new college students, bringing an inside view of the current financial difficulties faced by his generation. I blogged previously about this topic, but today we’ll go a little more in depth on the four points Alex brought up in the segment.


1. Meal points 

Most colleges and universities offer meal plans for their dining halls. It’s important to utilize these as much as possible. The plans are usually offered on a semester or cash total basis, and many times offer discounts on each purchase if you are using a meal plan. These plans can save you hundreds of dollars a semester on food if you use it correctly. Think about it this way, if you buy food not in your meal plan only once a week, say pizza every Saturday night, then you will spend about $15 a week. Multiply that times the usual 15 weeks in a semester and you are already down $225. Now I’m not saying never buy food or go out to eat with your friends, but you need to set a limit that works with your budget.

A word of warning: There will always be large amounts of candy and snacks next to check out in the dining halls. Resist these as much as you can or you will find yourself out of points faster than you think.

2. Dorm room items

This is one that can quickly get away from you. The issue with dorm rooms is that its been accepted as a necessity to have an HD TV, fridge, futon, microwave, and decorations. The key is to bring as many items from home as possible. If there are multiple kids in the family simply save the items through the years. But if you do have to buy new then be smart and look for deals and discounts along the way.

Remember that other kids will most likely have nice TV’s and gear. This is a great chance to hang out and meet the kids on your floor, while not having to worry about people crowding and trashing your room.

3. Textbooks

Textbooks are a cost that you can’t necessarily avoid, but can easily decrease. As a rule of thumb, never buy a textbook new unless you have to. The two situations that you have to buy a textbook new are when they switch to a new addition or only offer the book in a package with required supplemental material. Renting is a viable option if you can trust that the book won’t be damaged or lost by the end of the semester. I personally recommend used books. Look online at sites like Amazon and Chegg, you can find a wealth of books for drastically cheaper prices. Just be careful that you are ordering the proper book and edition. Campus bookstores should have used versions available of most textbooks for much cheaper than new.

The great thing about used books is you can sell or exchange them at the end of the semester. Campus bookstores usually have buyback policies, and third party textbook companies are becoming more prevalent. They will often have price matching programs where they will compare their buyback price with the price of your local bookstore. Put in the time to find a good deal and you will be rewarded with huge savings.

4. Student Discounts

There are more discounts for college students than you would ever expect. We’re not just talking about food discounts either. Many stores, from clothing to school supplies, offer discounts usually in the 10-20% range. They will mostly be found in college towns and the surrounding areas, but they can also be found in outlet malls and other shopping centers. Make a habit of asking and always keep your student I.D. with you!

Just between these four points, you can be saving from $1,000 to $1,500. The little decisions each day will add up. Keep your end goal in mind and it will take you a long way to achieving what you want to financially while in school.

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