3 Sneaky Ways to Save During College


The following post was contributed by Shanice Miller of Debt Free College Grad.

save during college

All over the news are tons of stories all centered around one big issue – student loan debt. While there are a few “lucky ones” that are able to graduate college debt-free, the majority of students have to take out at least one loan. With the cost of college tuition rising each year, many people feel that student loan debt is unavoidable.  I have friends with this same mindset who have graduated with as much as $100,000 in student loans just for their undergraduate degrees and now are stuck paying as much as $1,000 a month to Sallie Mae for the next 15 to 30 years of their lives.

Although some may feel like they have no other choice but to take out loans for a better future, we should all strive to keep this amount as low as possible. I’m grateful that I was one of the “lucky ones” who graduated from college completely debt-free. I even received refund checks back from the college each semester, but I really had to learn a lot along the way to get to that point. One big thing that I learned is that no one has to graduate with a massive amount of debt. There are many ways that you can cut the cost of college to make it more affordable. Here are my three strategies that I used to save thousands of dollars during college:

Find Schools that Want to Give You Free Money to Attend

It was my senior year of high school and I just received my financial aid award letters in the mail. Anxiously, I opened the first award letter to discover that I received $20,000 in scholarships. I felt really proud up until I saw that the school would cost $40,000 to attend each year. I thought to myself, “Where would I come up with the extra $20,000 each year?” So I opened the second one. This school gave me $15,000 but it only cost $20,000 each year. Still wondering where I would come up with an additional $5,000 each year, I hesitantly opened my last award letter. This time I saw a long list of different scholarships that totaled the exact amount needed to attend the year. Finally! I felt like I won the lottery.

What I learned from this was that all schools want top students to attend their college, and colleges obtain the best students through giving them automatic scholarships. Receiving these is one of the best ways students can save during college – and the more valuable a college perceives you, the more money you will receive from the college.

I also learned that just because you are considered a top student at one school does not mean that you will be considered a top student at another school. I am sure that if I would have applied to an Ivy League university, I most likely would not have received any scholarships (or even have been accepted).

Get Your Textbooks for Free

My first semester of college, I thought I was set. I found a school that wanted me so they gave me a combination of scholarships that covered the full cost of tuition, room, and board. However, what I didn’t factor in was the cost of textbooks.

Equipped with my list of required books for the semester, I entered into the school’s bookstore and came out with $500 worth of textbooks, even though most of those were bought used. By the end of the semester, I was ready to rid myself of this “dead weight” that I spent $500 on and barely touched. Of course, if you’ve already been through college you know how this story ends: I only recouped $100 of my original cost and had to deal with a $400 loss.

After that first semester, I learned to write down the titles and ISBN numbers that are located on the back of each textbook where the barcode is. Using those numbers, I looked up and purchased the exact textbooks that I needed on Amazon and Ebay. (Note: the international editions are exactly the same as the regular editions except the pages numbers are slightly different.) Using this strategy, I only spent $100 on textbooks for the next semesters; and after each semester was over, I sold the books back on eBay and received at least $100 for them – making my textbooks free.

Textbooks are a huge expenses, so putting in the effort to search for materials online will go a really long way in helping students save during college.

Save During College by Minimizing Fees, Not Just Tuition

If you have ever checked any college’s tuition and fees section on their website, you can see that tuition alone won’t add up to the thirty, forty, or fifty thousand dollars that people say higher education costs every year. An average in-state college’s tuition and fees add up to approximately $10,000 annually. It’s the fees that will get you.

After 4 years without scholarships or financial aid, tuition may add up to $40,000 (which is no paltry sum, but is less than what most people think of when considering the cost of higher education). However, the majority of students also add in fees like room (housing) and board (food) into the mix which adds an extra $10,000 onto the cost of tuition annually. With that alone, the cost of attending university doubles.

You can drastically slash your education costs by living with your parents. Now, some people are going to say, that’s nice but I don’t have that option. If that is your case, you can get a group of fellow students or friends together to rent an off-campus house. Splitting the rent of an off campus house will typically be cheaper than the cost of the school’s dorm room which you will already be sharing with at least one roommate anyways.

I’ve only listed 3 ways that can help you save during college, but there are so many more. Which of these ways did you find most helpful and why? Can you think of any others to add to the list?

Author Bio: Shanice Miller is the author of “How to Graduate College Debt-Free with Money in the Bank” and founder of DebtFreeCollegeGrad.com, a website dedicated to helping students graduate college debt-free.


15 Responses

    • Shanice

      March 10, 2014 9:16 pm

      Hello Stefanie! I didn’t know until I started asking around either. They really don’t try to tell you that information.

      *By the way, I just glanced through your blog. I really like the concept of dreaming big but still living within your means. I can’t wait to check out a few of your posts. ;)

  1. Shannon @ Financially Blonde

    March 10, 2014 1:41 pm

    I went to school what seems like a long time ago, so the textbook trick was not available to me back then, but I would absolutely encourage someone to use it now. It is amazing how much money the publishers/schools make from book store sales and it adds up over 4 years of school.

    • Shanice

      March 10, 2014 9:22 pm

      Thanks so much, Shannon, for spreading the textbook trick.

      It’s really crazy how much schools and publishers make from books. They change one word or rearrange some pages and you have to buy the newest edition each year for the class when the older editions have the same content and are cheaper because they are seen as “outdated” or the book that the class doesn’t require anymore.

  2. Done by Forty

    March 10, 2014 6:04 pm

    I ended up working full time at a university because staff could take classes for free. Taking classes in the evenings after a full day of work was certainly difficult. But after two years of incurring student loan debt, the prospect of free tuition in exchange for some work sounded pretty awesome to me.

    • Shanice

      March 10, 2014 9:25 pm

      That’s a great tip, but I can see how you would be really tired after work. I don’t know if I would have made it through all of my classes working full-time and going to school full-time. Work study programs are also supposed to help with the cost of tuition.

  3. Kathy

    March 13, 2014 3:49 pm

    Since the internet didn’t exist when I was in college, I couldn’t take advantage of the book purchases. One thing we did when my son was in high school was take the advanced placement exams. He went to a small town high school and when we went to the guidance counselor and asked about the test, the counselor admitted he knew nothing about them as we were the only ones who’d ever inquired. YIKES! We pursued it and Scott got credit for three different courses. The cost of the tests was negligible compared to the cost at the university. Then, each summer, he took one or two classes at the local community college which would transfer as credit at his four year university. Doing things that way enabled him to take just a little easier load each semester at university. Plus, the summer classes were much cheaper than those at university.

    Interestingly, since my son was the trailblazer, the school now routinely offers advance placement tests to its students. Everyone needs a leader. :)

    • Shanice

      March 17, 2014 2:57 pm

      I’m glad that your son started getting the word out about the placement exams at the school. I know it helped so many other students after him. That is a great way to get college credits but you have to have a certain score on the tests (the minimum score varies depending on which college you go to) in order for it to count. Most of the colleges wanted you to have a score of a 3 or 4 on those tests.

  4. Poor Student

    March 14, 2014 11:48 am

    My friend spent less than $100 on textbooks during her entire year so far. She borrowed the books from the library so she didn’t have to pay any single dime! On the other hand, I like to take notes on my notebooks, so that method doesn’t work for me!

    • Shanice

      March 17, 2014 3:00 pm

      I had a friend borrow the books from the library too but to me it seemed like such a hassle. She had to keep returning them and checking them out and hoping that no one else tried to put that same book on hold. Luckily not too many people knew the library had that book but there were a few times when she was left without it. I would just rather avoid that headache all together.

  5. Seonwoo Lee

    April 12, 2014 8:27 am

    I realize this isn’t the point of the article really, but no Ivy League university can give any merit or athletic based aid. It’s one of the rules of the Ivy League (which is technically a sports league).

    I will say that you do have to exercise judgement with selling your books. You may want some of them again someday (especially if you are considering graduate school).
    One of my friends bought the textbook for his probability class, brand new for ~$110. He sold it after the semester for ~$60. Then, next year, he took a class that required probability as a prerequisite, which required the same book! So he had to buy it again!

    Incidentally, my college bookstore started renting out their books my junior year. I’m almost certain I saw email newsletters saying Amazon does this too.


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