College is expensive, there’s no way around it. But those college degrees are major game-changers when it comes to getting job interviews. In today’s world – and your future children’s world – a degree can open a lot of doors in the professional world.
That’s why we’re letting you in on our top 20 money-saving tips to help you save for college. Whether you’re looking at higher education for yourself or your children, these tips are sure to help keep costs (and debt) low.
1. Know Your Options
A great starting point for your savings journey is to estimate how much money you’ll likely need for college.
College costs are rising all around, but there is still a big difference between the price tag of a four-year university and community college (especially if you live in one of these states). Likewise, the money you’ll need for in-state vs. out-of-state vs. private school tuition varies widely.
Check out our guide on estimating your total bill to get a ballpark figure of how much you’ll need to shell out for school.
2. Take (and Retake) Those College Entrance Exams
Grab your study guides and crack open those textbooks, because it’s time to talk college entrance exams.
Many scholarships take into account ACT or SAT scores. A single point higher could end up saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tuition costs. There’s no limit on how many times students can take the SAT, and the ACT only caps attempts at 12. However, most students’ scores don’t change much after attempt number three.
Also keep in mind that these tests cost money to take, so if you haven’t put in the time and effort to boost your knowledge before the next testing date, it might not be worth the fees.
3. Research Scholarships
This is a no-brainer, but you definitely want to explore your scholarship options. There are some great websites out there that let you filter by anything and everything – the U.S. Department of Labor even offers a free scholarship search tool.
Some other places you can find scholarships include:
- Your college of choice’s financial aid office
- Your state grant agency
- Through your or your parents’ employer
- Local businesses, community groups or religious organizations
Remember, you can keep applying for scholarships every year!
4. Save with Tax-Advantaged Accounts
A savings account is a savings account, right?
Not quite – there are actually several different types of accounts you can use to boost your savings, including tax-advantaged accounts designed specifically for educational expenses.
From 529 plans to CVLIs and even Roth IRAs, we’ve got you covered. Explore the pros and cons to your savings account options here.
5. Stick Close to Home
Although every college has different costs, the general rule of thumb is this: a college in your state of residence will offer cheaper tuition prices than a college in a different state.
If you’re looking to significantly reduce your college costs, it’s best to keep close to home.
6. Get a Head Start at Community College (or Even High School)
Looking to get even better bang for your buck? Spend a few years getting those pesky gen-ed requirements checked off your to-do list.
Enrolling in college classes during high school or spending a couple years at a community college could lower the price of higher education by thousands of dollars. Just keep in mind that not every credit transfers to a four-year college. Consult with a counselor to avoid wasting money on unnecessary classes.
7. Rent or Borrow Books
If you thought the cost of tuition was high, just wait til you see the price tags they’re slapping on those textbooks – especially considering you’re required to purchase them for your classes.
The average cost for textbooks and other course supplies at a four-year university is a whopping $1,240 per year.
You can cut the amount you have to save for college by thousands of dollars by planning to rent or borrow books, either through the campus bookstore or an online retailer.
8. Explore Your Payment Plan Options
Most colleges offer payment plans for tuition, housing and even meal plans. Compare the costs of monthly installments versus an annual upfront payment – which is cheaper?
You can typically save money by paying everything upfront, but it’s good to know that payment plans are an option so you can build a savings plan that works for you.
9. Learn How to Cook with Just the Basics
Meal plans are pricey (and who wants to eat cafeteria food anyway?). But eating out every meal will drain your bank account faster than you can say “McDouble.”
People joke about living off of ramen and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but there’s a reason that’s such a common element of college stories. Money is tight when you’re in school and aren’t working full-time – your diet (or that of your child) will likely reflect that. And that’s okay!
10. Get a Credit Card
You’ve probably been warned against the dangers of credit cards, but they can also have some benefits – if you use them responsibly. Credit cards can help you build long-term credit and learn how to borrow money. Plus, several credit cards offer cash back or other bonuses to help you save more money.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid annual fees like the plague
- Always pay off your balance by the end of the month
- Keep your utilization low (just because you can spend $1,000 doesn’t mean you should)
11. Explore Student Worker Opportunities
Many colleges offer jobs on campus to help pay for tuition. It’s an especially great option when you need an employer that understands your hectic class schedule.
12. Live Off Campus
Living on campus is a great option – and the best way to get the full college experience. But living off campus has its perks too, including housing options that cost less. Sometimes you can find more space for less money, you just have to look.
Of course, living off campus usually means additional costs: furniture, utilities, gas for commuting… If living at home is an option, that could cut out even more of those options, but you have to decide which trade-offs you’re willing to make, whether you’re the student or the parent.
13. Become an RA
Resident Assistants typically get free/very reduced room and board, as well as a stipend for helping students with hosting events, checking in on other tenants and even solving roommate arguments.
We’re not saying it’s an easy job, but it may be worth it.
14. Invest in a Good Bike
If you haven’t heard already, gas is crazy expensive right now. It’s not uncommon to pay $100 or more for a single fill-up at the tank!
If you don’t have to travel too far for classes, consider investing a few hundred dollars in a bike to ride around town. Speedy zooms to class? Check. Little to no parking fees? Double check. Easy outdoor exercise every day of the week? You’ve got it. You can even get your groceries delivered for cheap these days!
Of course, biking is dependent on a few things like weather, safety and even storage, but if the stars align and you’ve been dreaming of toned calves, a bike is definitely the way to go.
15. Take Advantage of Free Stuff
College campuses are full of free stuff: Little Caesars pizza, extra-large t-shirts, even condoms.
It may not be stylish. It may not even be functional. But it’s free, and everyone likes free stuff!
16. Budget Like a Boss
Budgets are the backbone of any savings plan. Your budget should include every dollar that comes into your life, and every dollar that leaves your life. Sometimes creating a budget can help you see that your spending hasn’t exactly been on track with your priorities.
A budget can also help you identify ways to save money – maybe you’re spending way more on clothing than you need to, or you’ve accidentally signed up for Hulu twice. If you don’t pay attention to your finances, it’s harder to stay on track for your larger financial goals like college costs.
If your child is the one heading off to college, take some time to teach them how to balance a budget.
17. Use That Sweet Student Discount
Did you know that a ton of companies offer discounts for college students? That ID card isn’t just your ticket into the workout center, it’s also your pass for coupons and other great deals.
A few of our favorites:
- Amazon Prime, which offers six months free to students and then a reduced monthly subscription
- Hulu is just $1.99 per month for students
- Many movie theaters offer discount/free days for college students
- Adobe Creative Cloud’s $19.99/month plan for college students
And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Spend some time going through the subscriptions or services you already purchase regularly – do they have a discount program? It never hurts to ask!
18. Embrace Thrifting
It’s good for the environment and for the soul. Thrifting is like a treasure hunt – you never know what’s hidden at the “X.”
From textbooks to clothes and kitchen utensils, you can find high-quality stuff at steep discounts if you’re willing to do some digging.
19. Deduct Educational Expenses Next Tax Season
Some educational expenses can actually be deducted from your income on your tax return, saving you big bucks.
And it’s not just tuition and fees – you may also be able to deduct housing, textbooks and even supplies from your total income. Your best bet is to ask your tax planner or accountant for help (and bring your receipts when you do).
20. Work With a Financial advisor
Lastly, a financial advisor can help you find unique ways to save for college and reduce your overall education-related expenses. They’ve got the skills and expertise you need to both build a plan and put it in action.
In the old days, finding an advisor was like fishing in a huge lake – you never knew what kind of fish (if any) you were going to catch. Thanks to modern technology and apps like Lasso, you can now search for, filter and connect with advisors right from your phone.
College is expensive, and the cost is only growing. Stick to these 20 steps to save money and minimize your student debt.
Save More with Lasso
Lasso is the game-changing that lets you easily build a college savings plan and connect directly with advisors. Click here to start building your custom plan today and kick off your college experience with confidence.