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80 Creative Back-to-School Savings Tips for College Students

Posted on Sunday July 24, 2011 by Staff Writers

Retailers are happy to tell you all of the things you’ll need to buy to get ready for college, but you can bet that they’re going to hold back on you when it comes to saving your hard earned cash on all those necessities. Fortunately, money saving strategies for back-to-school college students really do exist and we’ve found 80 creative ideas for you. Read on to learn about money saving tips for college students that have nothing to do with stockpiling Ramen.

General

  1. Take inventory

    Before running out and buying everything on your list for college, take a look around and make sure you don’t have them already.

  2. Check out the pawn shop

    Most college campuses have a pawn shop or two close by and you can bet that your fellow students have sold a few items you could use. Pick them up for way less than you’d pay retail.

  3. Go straight to the manufacturer

    Get special pricing from manufacturers like Dell or Apple on back-to-school purchases.

  4. Ask for student discounts

    Stores often have student discounts — don’t forget to ask for them.

  5. Make a list

    Prepare a focused plan of attack with a list of things you’ll need, rather than just hitting the store and picking up what looks good.

  6. Don’t buy in a rush

    Rushing to buy everything will almost certainly mean you’ll overbuy or pay too much out of desperation, so be sure you have enough time to carefully consider your purchases.

  7. Sign up for Upromise

    The Upromise program links your debit or credit card and gives you cash back for spending online and with certain retailers and restaurants. You can put your cash in a 529, online savings account, or get a check to pay for tuition today. You can also link friends and family members to your account to save even more.

  8. Question what’s on the list

    If you’ve gotten a supply list from your school or professors, take a critical look and consider what you’ll really need.

  9. Ask for hand-me-downs

    Ask family and friends if they have useful items they don’t need anymore, like a couch or even a laptop.

  10. Sign up for store newsletters early

    Sign up for newsletters before back-to-school season, and you’ll be on the list for coupons when the time is right.

  11. Comparison shop online

    Use online comparison shop websites to find out what items cost in several different stores — and then shop the one with the best deal.

  12. Get sale alerts

    Sign up for email or Twitter alerts from retailers to find out when they’ve got good items on sale.

  13. Do some mystery shopping

    Find out if any mystery shopping agencies need shops done at back-to-school retailers, and you just might get paid to buy school supplies.

  14. Don’t forget coupon codes

    If you’re buying online, check for coupon codes before finishing your purchase.

  15. Ship to your dorm

    Instead of paying for items to be moved, packed in checked baggage, or just having to haul them to college, order online and set delivery right after you arrive.

  16. Learn how to DIY

    Save money by doing it yourself — fixing furniture you can take to college, repurposing clothing items, and more.

  17. Get price adjustments

    Find out about store price adjustment policies — you may be able to get them to honor sale prices for items previously purchased.

  18. Comparison shop with your cell phone

    Use shopping apps on your phone to make sure you’re at the store with the best price for your item.

  19. Be careful with your credit card

    If you’re not going to pay your credit card bill immediately, don’t use it for back-to-school purchases — finance charges will wipe out most of what you’ll save on sales.

  20. Buy off campus

    Supplies will almost always be more expensive at your school bookstore and near campus, so check out stores on the other side of town.

  21. Put off purchases

    Only buy what you really need to use right away. Everything else can be purchased later.

  22. Use reward programs

    If you’re shopping online, use reward programs like Ebates, which often have back-to-school bonuses.

  23. Find out what your college has for free

    Before buying a laptop, scanner, or other expensive items for school, find out if your college has a borrowing program for them.

  24. Don’t forget about freebies

    Your public or college library likely has lots of books that you’ll need, and friends or family may have supplies, like furniture, that you could use for school.

  25. Pay with cash

    Use cash instead of a credit card to better stick to your budget.

  26. Buy quality items

    The cheapest option isn’t always the best choice. You can get more years out of a good quality backpack than one you need to replace each semester.

  27. Check out sales tax holidays

    Lots of states have specific weekends that offer tax breaks for back-to-school items — keep an eye out and buy when the time is right.

  28. Barter

    Need a couch for your college apartment? Find out if you can trade it for some lawnmowing.

  29. Buy used whenever possible

    Save big by shopping used when you don’t absolutely have to buy new.

  30. Spread out purchases

    Break payments up so it won’t hurt so much all at once.

  31. Save your receipts

    Some college expenses can be written off on your taxes, so hang on to your receipts.

  32. Use your 529 money

    If you’ve been carefully putting money into your 529 for years, now’s the time to cash in. Money from your 529 savings plan can be used to buy certain school supplies.

Electronics

Buy your laptop, cell phone, and other gadgets without busting your budget using these tips.

  1. Reassess cell phone usage

    If you’ve had a cell phone plan for a couple years, chances are your plan doesn’t fit you anymore. Take a look at a few of your latest bills to see your usage, and also consider that you may need increased long distance minutes as you call home from college.

  2. Know what you need

    Be careful not to overbuy on your computer system. Bells and whistles don’t mean anything if you’re not using them.

  3. Put your smartphone to the test

    Before you buy a new electronic device, phone, or gadget, find out if there’s an app for it on your cell phone instead.

  4. Upgrade, don’t replace

    If you’ve determined your high school laptop isn’t going to cut it in college, consider upgrading your hardware instead of tossing the whole thing out the window.

  5. Skip the printer

    Print for free or cheap at your college library of computer lab instead of investing in your own printer and printing supplies.

  6. Check out bundle deals

    Retailers will often give you a deal when making large purchases, such as a free iPod with your computer, or a free scanner with your new laptop.

  7. Don’t give too much weight to branding

    Buy the right computer for your needs- not who happens to market their products the best.

  8. Download free software

    Instead of shelling out big bucks for Microsoft Office, just use Open Office, which will do the same thing for free.

  9. Find out if your school has a computer purchasing program

    Plenty of universities have a computer purchasing program, or a nonprofit program that offers great discounts for buying computers, so make that your first stop.

  10. Get student discount software

    Get a great discount on software by checking with your school’s technology department before buying anything.

Transportation

Getting to class doesn’t have to mean paying a fortune. With these tips, you can get there cheap.

  1. Invest in a bike

    Buy a bike, helmet, and good lock, and see how far you can get without a car.

  2. Find out if your college town has zipcars

    Use a car only when you need it by taking advantage of Zipcars.

  3. Update your auto insurance

    Be sure to drop or modify your insurance if you’re not bringing a car to college, and update your location if you are.

School Supplies

Books, pens, notebooks, and backpacks add up — but they don’t have to add up to thousands if you follow these tips.

  1. Rent textbooks

    Instead of buying books, take a look at rentals to see how you might be able to save money.

  2. Share books

    Share books — and their purchase price — with a friend, and take turns reading them.

  3. Use an ebook reader

    Download books instead of lugging around tons of paper — and save some money at the same time by using an ebook reader.

  4. Hit up a trade show

    Stock up on free pens, bags, and paper whenever you visit a trade show, and you’ll never have to buy these items for yourself.

  5. Look for loss leaders

    Stores often advertise loss leader school supplies, like notebooks, paper, and pens.

  6. Go online

    Sure, it’s nice to go home from the bookstore ready to study with your book in hand, but you can save hundreds of dollars if you just buy your books online.

  7. Hang on to your high school stash

    The books and binders you used in high school will work just as well in college so save them and bring them to college with you.

  8. Don’t buy books until class starts

    Find out what’s really on the syllabus, and ask your professor if an older edition of the book would be fine.

  9. Network with other students

    Find out if friends have used textbooks you can borrow or buy from them for more than they’d get from the bookstore, and more than you’d pay the store.

Tuition & Fees

You won’t find these items on any back-to-school shopping lists, but saving on tuition and fees can make a big impact when you’re headed off to campus this fall.

  1. Take advantage of interstate tuition discounts

    If you’re planning on going to college out of state, look into state reciprocity programs.

  2. Get credit card points

    Pay with a rewards credit card, and you’ll get points for all of your tuition money which you can redeem for cash, or even gift certificates you can use for books and supplies.

  3. Max out your credit hours each semester

    As long as you can handle a heavy courseload, it makes great sense to take as many classes as possible. You’ll save on fees and maybe even graduate a bit early.

Clothes

Most students rush out and buy a new wardrobe for a fresh school year. Use these tips to find out how you can do it without breaking the bank.

  1. Learn how to tailor your own clothes

    Repurpose old clothing and give yourself the option to fix up bargain buys with a little tailoring knowledge.

  2. Get organized

    Before back-to-school clothes shopping, take some time to organize and inventory your wardrobe so you know what you’re missing before you go.

  3. Buy a little bit at a time

    Don’t shop all at once — just buy the clothes you’ll need to get started and update as clothes go on sale in the fall and winter.

  4. Limit designer purchases

    You don’t have to buy everything with a designer label, just make a few key purchases.

  5. Head straight for the sale rack

    Don’t buy clothes full price unless you absolutely have to, and head straight to the back of the store for the sale section to save big bucks!

  6. Wait til the last minute

    The best discounts come right before or right after school starts. Procrastinators win at back-to-school shopping.

  7. Have a garage sale

    Get some cash for an updated wardrobe by selling your old clothes at a garage sale, or taking them to a clothing swap shop.

  8. Stretch summer items

    Keep summer pieces around for the fall and use them for layering to cut out on the pieces you need to buy.

  9. Check out resale shops

    Shops like Plato’s Closet sell designer clothes for cheap and will buy them back, too.

Dorm Room

Outfit your dorm room, live comfortably, and still have enough cash to pay for lunch.

  1. Go on a tour

    Without knowing what your dorm looks like and what’s already there, you’re shopping blind, and may buy unnecessary items.

  2. Buy in bulk

    Get paper towels, canned food, and other items in bulk, and split the cost with your roommate.

  3. Find out what’s allowed

    Often, schools have banned items from dorm rooms, so forget buying candles or toasters until you find out if you can actually bring them.

  4. Shop small

    Remember that dorms are small. There’s not a lot of space for large, expensive items, and not a lot of room for items, period, so limit your purchases.

  5. Divvy up supplies

    Talk to your roommate about who is going to bring what, so neither of you spends more money — or brings more items than are absolutely necessary.

  6. Measure your room

    Before making any major purchasing decisions, make sure you know your room’s measurements to ensure that your furniture will fit.

  7. Check out garage sales

    Outfit your dorm room with garage sale items like mini fridges, microwaves, and lamps.

  8. Buy cheap furniture

    Chances are, you’re not going to move your furniture home with you when you’re done with college. Pick up cheap or used furniture from a thrift store or Walmart, use it, and if it survived your college years, resell it when you’re done.

  9. Shop cleaning supplies at the dollar store

    Get great deals on cleaning supplies by stocking up at the dollar store.

  10. Talk to your RA

    Before stocking up, talk to your RA about what you’ll really need to survive in the dorm rooms.

  11. Live off campus

    You can save more money living off campus, making your own food and sharing rent with friends.

  12. Start a hydroponic garden

    While you’re stocking your dorm room kitchen, pick up supplies for a hydroponic garden to save lots of money on vegetables.

  13. Leave your TV at home

    Most dorms offer a common room with TV where you can watch with your friends.

  14. Check out used items

    Cleats, shin guards, and other used items make sense for students in sports.