5 Saving Tips From a Starving Student

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A new college school year is right around the corner, and so are new tuition hikes and budget cutbacks. Here's how one senior suggests stretching your higher-education dollar.

A new school year begins next month at the nation’s 4,400 colleges and universities, following a brutal summer of budget cuts and tuition hikes.

Last month, CNN reported that state universities in 25 states were facing budget cuts of $5 billion. Meanwhile, tuition is rising everywhere – 7.5 percent at Pennsylvania’s 14 state schools, 7.6 percent at tiny Kansas City Kansas Community College, and a whopping 18 percent in the University of California system.

For a little twist of the knife, USA Today reported last week that college presidents in several states – California, Georgia, and Kentucky – are getting raises! “While the budget situation in most states hasn’t changed,” the paper reports, “administrators at some institutions say the market requires that they start paying presidents more.”

At my state university, tuition is up 15 percent, or a little more than $400 a year. Here’s what I’m doing to try to offset the hike. As you read these tips, note that many will work for anyone, student or otherwise.

1. Party smarter

Around every college campus are bars and nightclubs that survive almost solely by entertaining its (theoretically) legal-age student body. But at my school, we’re going out less and staying in more. “Dorm parties” and “house parties” mean we can buy food and drinks much cheaper from Walmart and liquor stores. (As an added bonus, it also means less drunk driving, since those who have had a little too much can just crash on the floor.)

When we do go out, we read our student newspaper – not for the articles but for the ads from bars offering incredible deals on “college nights.” And, of course, the word will spread like wildfire through Twitter and Facebook. Bottom line: If you aren’t drinking at two-for-one prices, stay home.

You don’t have to be a student to save the same way on your entertainment expenses.

2. Start smart

When I was looking for a college, comparing costs was almost impossible – each school seemed to have its own way of breaking down the numbers.  While it’s too late for me (I’m a year from graduating), the government recently launched a new website called the College Affordability and Transparency Center, which shows you the least expensive universities in the country. All you need to do is type in what you’re looking for: a two-year school? Private? Public? The site does the rest and returns objective, fact-laden info. Another site to try is The College Board’s QuickFinder, which compares up to three colleges at a time.

3. Eat right and cheap

My campus cafeteria has all the fast-food options: burgers, chicken, subs, tacos. But my friends and I stay away from it as much as possible. Not only is it unhealthy, it’s really not that cheap anymore – certainly not as cheap as doing the cooking ourselves. Indiana University came up with a great guide for college cooking, and USA Today published tips from a vegetarian student about what she does to stay full and healthy. Thankfully, our newer dorms and apartments have nice kitchens, which makes cooking much easier – something to look for when you check out colleges.

4. Retro is in again

In my neck of the woods, the Salvation Army and Goodwill have totally overhauled their stores, making them brighter, cleaner, and hipper. My suggestion: Shop at thrift stores now, and you’ll be cool because you were on the cutting edge of this returning trend. Here’s a national directory of thrift stores.

5. Movies on campus – and everything else

The Los Angeles Times reported last year that theater ticket prices were on the rise, and IMAX prices are even steeper. So college kids are always on the prowl for student discounts – some theaters even give you a list of locations offering them. And “Netflix parties” are becoming more common, where movies are streamed on the largest flat-screen a friend or roommate has.

On my campus, we have an amazing movie theater that shows some current and foreign flicks for cheaper than the local multiplex if you have a student ID. And we also have a theater department with a black-box theater and a music department that puts on classical music concerts. Now, that’s not the kind of entertainment college kids prefer – but it makes for interesting and cheap college dating, especially if you want to be cultural and not seem cheap.

Also check out 6 Tips to Pay Less for a College Degree and 6 Top Tips for Finding College Aid.

Stacy Johnson

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