Saving Money on College Expenses

The following is a guest post from college student Matt Nelson, the Writer.

I’m in my third year of college and I just changed majors. With some creative credit crunching, I should be able to finish my new degree before my scholarship runs out; however, I’m definitely dealing with the possibility of more grades after graduation.

Like BP’s oil well fiasco, it’s going to be a while before I can cap my billowing expenditures. Thus, it behooves me to cut college costs wherever I can. Here are some of the stranger steps I’ve taken to keep my debt a little less destructive.

Live in a fraternity house
— The beer is free, and you can’t pass up getting access to an xbox-360 every other night.

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Actually, Greek Life has come a long way since John Belushi imitated a zit. My fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, boasts an average 3.43 GPA with 100 members. Last year raised over $10,000 toward lymphoma/leukemia research. We also have a dry house (no drinking) in great shape, complete with a library, study space, all for a low rent that results in a $4,000 savings for me. Greek groups can make or break a persons finances (be sure to understand how much dues are going to cost you), but if you can find the right one, it can keep that wallet a little heavier.

Don’t get a steady job — I mean, what’s another few thousand dollars when you’re already five or six digits down the rabbit hole?

While it’s not a good idea to pile up a mountain of debt, don’t go running to the nearest employer yet. Education is your top priority. If you can’t make the grades because of a job, you’ve got a serious problem.

That’s why I prefer odd jobs or freelance gigs. Last semester, I was paid to write articles for the class paper and shoot photos whenever I could. I never made more than fifteen bucks at a pop, but that money added up, helping to keep my daily expenses in check. Find a gig that’s consistent enough to help you handle bills like gas or groceries, but flexible enough to let you pull those consecutive all-nighters.

Buy books online — WHAT?! But college bookstore books are better than online ones!

Bullcrap. This semester, I saved almost $260 dollars by buying online. I recommend as a place to start — they display books from hundreds of stores, easily sorted by price. For really expensive books, look for an identical International Edition for a hugely reduced price. I spent $90 for a chemistry book that sells for around $200 in the U.S. There is nothing wrong with intl. editions — they are completely legal to own (unless you live in Arizona, perhaps).

I also recommend avoiding renting books, unless you think you can get a really good deal. Say you rent a book for $50 that normally sells for $100. It seems like a bargain, but consider this: if you can sell that $100 book for $60, it only cost you $40 to purchase, saving you $10 in the long run. Make sure to check the going price of your used textbook in decent shape before you decide to rent it. Also, be wary when lending books out to friends. If they wreck the books, you might get stuck with an unsellable volume. If they’re cute females, you might even be unable to experience the catharsis of giving them a piece of your mind.

Part of the college experience is — well — paying for college. These were customized to my situation — what are some of the creative steps you took to make it through higher education?

Matt Nelson is a student journalist/physicist/educator/cheapskate originally from Northern Minnesota currently entering his third year at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. You can read about his adventures at Matt Nelson, the Writer.

About Guest Posting

Northern Cheapskate welcomes guest authors who can write compelling, original pieces on saving money. Send us an e-mail for more information.


  1. Kari Knudson says

    I was a Resident Advisor for 2 1/2 years during college. I was paid for my room and 1/2 of my board. This alone saved me thousands (plus it was fun for the most part).

  2. Tracy says

    Thanks for that post – really needed it. My son is leaving in 2 1/2 weeks and still have to get his books…

  3. says

    Kari — I’m actually planning on going through RA training this year, hopefully getting a position my senior year, if all goes well. You’re right — that’s a fantastic way to save money.

  4. Amy says

    Matt — awesome tips! I’d never heard of I’m going to look into it for my fall books. I was in your shoes last year. A few things I found that really saved me were a) switching out my brand name products for generic products and b) switching from a contract cell phone to a prepaid phone. I got off my AT&T plan and am now using TracFone. You buy the minutes as you need them but they have a plan called the Straight Talk plan = $45 / month = unlimited talk text and data — every college students deam!

    Good luck with your finances!

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