How to save money on the first year of college

Everyone knows that college tuition and fees are high-cost items, but what about the many other expenses associated with higher education? Parents of freshmen are often very surprised by the price of books, travel, dorm accessories and other college necessities. In fact, this year parents are expected to spend an average of just over $800 on purchases that include clothes, electronics, dorm furnishings and food, according to the National Retail Federation. The Texas Society of CPAs offers six tips on how to save on these and other expenses.
 
Think Small
Most dorm rooms are pretty cramped, with limited space for each occupant. That’s why it’s a good idea to be conservative when shopping for dorm accessories. A basic set of linens, a couple of pictures or posters and some personal items to sit on the desk or dresser should be enough. Make a list of the minimum number of things necessary, then buy only what’s on that list.
 
Don’t Be Too Hasty in Buying Appliances
Before purchasing appliances or electronics, check first with the college to find out what they supply and what items might be prohibited. A mini-fridge may not be necessary, in other words, if there’s a kitchen down the hall or in the room. In addition, some schools don’t allow students to bring appliances such as toasters or coffee makers because they are fire hazards. If possible, don’t forget, to check with your future roommates to see what they are bringing that can be shared.
 
Take Advantage of College Discounts
The lion’s share of college spending is devoted to electronics, which will cost an average of about $210, according to the National Retail Federation. Be aware, though, colleges often arrange for generous discounts for their students on technology purchases, so be sure to contact the school before you buy to take advantages of any possible price breaks. In addition, remember that some financial aid packages cover the cost of computers.
 
Buy Gently Used Books
Students spent an average of $1,137 on books and other course materials in the most recent academic year, according to the College Board. Less expensive used books are available in college bookstores and many online sources, so be sure to turn to these sources first. Check online for chances to rent textbooks as well.
 
Don’t Waste Dining Dollars
Many freshman sign up for a meal plan when they start college, but some find those plans don’t really suit them once school begins. Some plans emphasize meals eaten in the dining halls, while others feature “dollars” you can spend in a number of ways. If you’ve committed to an all-you-can-eat plan in the dining hall but find that you’re more likely to grab a sandwich on the way to class, you could be spending far more on your plan than necessary. Determine your realistic dining habits—on the go or at the buffet—and see if it’s possible to switch to the least expensive option that best matches those habits.
 
Stay Put
Many students drive home every weekend, but with the high cost of gasoline that can add up to a very expensive trip just to get some laundry done. In fact, since some college parking permits cost in the hundreds of dollars, it may be a good idea to leave the car at home. When students need to travel, they should consider carpooling or taking less expensive public transportation.
 
A CPA Can Help
Whether you’re trying to limit college spending or address a range of other financial concerns, be sure to consult your local CPA. He or she can provide the advice you need to make the best financial choices for your family.
 

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