Money Monday: 39 Ways You Can Cut The Cost Of College

If you’re  a UC Davis student (or even if you’re not), have we got a Money Monday for you! Over at, Thomas Frank has come up with 39 Ways You Can Cut The Cost Of College. Here are a few of our favorites:

3. Live off-campus after your first year.

loved living on-campus during my freshman year of college. Doing so put me really close to classes, right in the thick of all the opportunities, and helped me make lots of new friends quickly.

However, I quickly learned that living on-campus is expensive. You’ll most likely end up paying far less for your housing and meals by living off campus. Here’s a comparison for where I live:

  • Rent: $460/month (dorm) vs. $320/month (apartment – which is way bigger)
  • Food: $7.50/meal (campus meal plan – required) vs. $3.50/meal (based on a common stir-fry meal I make)

You’ll need to do the research in your area to see if this applies to you as well, but it most likely does.

10. Keep applying for scholarships all throughout college.

Scholarships aren’t just for high school students; there are actually a ton of scholarships available for current college students.

In fact 5/6 of my scholarships were won while I was in college. For me, college turned out to be a better time to apply for scholarships, as I had a lot more experience and projects to show off.

In fact, my work in building this blog helped to win a $1,000 entrepreneurship award – twice. It turned out to be an impressive self-driven project, but I also believe it swayed the judges simply because I’d worked intensely on it.

Author Kristina Ellis – who won over $500,000 in scholarships – reinforces this idea in her book Confessions of a Scholarship Winner:

“Years of dedication to a few things you really excel in can be more appealing in scholarship applications than participating in a ton of activities that require little commitment.”

A few pieces of advice when looking for scholarships

  • Focus on local scholarships first – those offered by your university or local businesses. (far less competition)
  • Spend 30 minutes a week applying for scholarships.
  • Your personal brand matters as much on scholarships as it does for job-hunting, so work on it.

I’m currently working on a very in-depth guide to winning scholarships; here’s how you can get notified when it comes out.

13. Get your textbooks for the lowest price possible.

If the Mega Maid had a Mini-Me, textbooks would be it. They’re overpriced, underused, and often aren’t even necessary. And yet, they cost the average student over $1,000 per semester.

That’s insane – and you should never pay that amount. Here are my strategies for finding the cheapest textbooks:

  • Get your class and book lists as early as you can
  • Email professors to ask how often the book is used and if anold/international edition is ok to buy
  • Check your university library for the book (and see if it’s on reserve)
  • Find older students to buy used copies from
  • “Book gamble” – don’t buy your book until classes start (make sure you have a quick way to obtain it in this case)
  • Share with other students
  • Check new startups like Boundless and Packback for cheap alternatives to buying a book
  • Use a price aggregator like StudentRate Textbooks to compare prices across multiple sellers

For for in-depth tips, check out my comprehensive guide to finding cheap textbooks.

 19. Get a credit card and be a deadbeat.

My first credit card wasn’t all that great; it gave me a $500/month credit limit and offered no benefits. However, using it for a couple years helped me to build up good credit, and I now have a nice card that gives me cash back on purchases.

After about a year of using it, I had built up about $300 in cash back – which I used to buy my girlfriend a PS4 for her birthday!

The key to using credit cards effectively is to be a deadbeat – that’s what credit card companies call people who always pay their bill on time, in full.

Credit card companies make no money on deadbeats, which is why they call us that. I’m ok with it, though.

Here’s what you should do to take advantage of this tip:

  • Sign up for a credit card you’re likely to be approved for – NerdWallet has a list of student cards. Never get a card with an annual fee. Interest rate doesn’t matter because you’ll never pay interest – right?
  • If you’re rejected for some reason, call up the company and explain why you want the card (to build credit) and that you’ll be responsible with it. Often, a call can sway their opinion.
  • Set the card to auto-pay one or more of your bills. Doing this helps build your credit and might help you build rewards.
  • Pay off the card’s balance in full every month. Think of it like another debit card.

If you choose to use the card on everyday purchase, then Alastor Moody has two words for you:

Constant Vigilance!

You must remember to pay off the balance in full every month. Additionally, keep these things in mind:

  • Using a credit card makes it easier to spend money frivolously. Use the next two tips to keep that spending in check.
  • Try to only use 20% of your credit limit – i.e. $100 if the limit is $500 – as credit utilization is a huge factor in your credit score.

23. Create a 30-day “Impulse Buy List”.

How many times have you bought something on a whim, then realized a month later that you really didn’t need it?

When you find something randomly that you decide you want, put it on a 30-day list instead of buying it right away. You can keep this list in Evernote, Wunderlist, a notebook, or wherever.

Once in a while, check your list for any items you still want to buy. Odds are that many of the things on it will make you go:

“Why the heck did I want that?”

If you still want something, you know that it’ll likely add real value to your life. This ties in with the philosophy of minimalism – being deliberate about the things you value and the things you buy.

30. Become passionate about something.

Boredom is the enemy of your wallet. When you’re bored, you want consume. You want to start a DVD collection, buy video games, drink more, and upgrade things that don’t need upgrading.

My friend Tony Stubblebine – the founder of Lift – told me a great story when I interviewed him:

“When I wasn’t yet passionate about building my company, I spend weeks and weeks researching flat-screen TVs. I wanted the best one possible.

Now, I care about building Lift. If I even wanted to buy a TV, I’d just walk into the store and buy an inexpensive one without wasting time.”

When you’re passionate about something, you find yourself wanting to work on it all the time. As a result, you’re a lot less likely to get bored and go buy stupid stuff you don’t need.

For me, building College Info Geek has been a passion for a long time. I spend a ton of time working on it, which means I’m hardly ever bored.

I have other passions as well – reading, DDR, climbing trees, and others. These things keep both my mind and body active, and they don’t cost a whole lot of money.

31. Use your university library.

Here’s a simple equation I think we can all get behind:

“A love of books + a library = endless free fun” |Tweet This

I freaking love reading, and I can be entertained for a week straight with just one 700-ish page fantasy novel. If that novel costs me $10, that’s money well spent.

The library, however, is free. Which means your ROI for reading books there is essentially infinite; it doesn’t cost you anything, you become a better reader, learn new things, and you have lots of fun.

I’ve started doing weekly book recommendations on the CIG Facebook page, so you can follow along there if you’re looking for something good to read! My first recommendation? The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage:

The Victorian Internet - a great read if you've ever wondered how the telegraph came to be.

Goodreads is another great place to find new books; it’s actually where I discover a lot of the things I read. If you like, you can be friends with me there as well :)

32. Practice mindfulness.

I’m not a yogi, and I’m not going to define mindfulness as some sort of “inner peace” or anything like that. My definition is much more practical:

“Mindfulness is being deliberately aware of your life’s dependencies, both in the now and with regard to your goals.” | Tweet This

My mother is a boss at mindfulness; I needed no further proof as a child than seeing her remember, out of nowhere, to ask us if we’d brushed our teeth that day.

Looking back, I can almost envision the whole subprocess running in her brain: “I love my kids, and their health is dependent on brushing their teeth, therefore I’m mindful of that and will check on it.”

Practicing mindfulness has been immensely useful for me, and it’s also saved/made me a lot of money. Here are a few examples of when being mindful helped me achieve my goals:

  • I thought ahead before moving in my first apartment. As a result, I knew what the best option in town was and was one of the first to sign up. I was also able to secure space in the same building for 11 of my friends.
  • I wanted to get an internship, so I made sure to start looking almost a year in advance. As a result, I received 8 interview offers and was hired for a great internship automatically. (Here are some of the tactics I used)
  • Every semester, I remembered to set an alert for the moment class registration opened. As a result, I never had trouble getting into all the classes I wanted.

For more on mindfulness, check out my in-depth discussion about it on the Listen, Money Matters podcast.

33. Barter on Craigslist.

Alright, I just can’t hold it in any longer. I’ve got to tell you my ultimate frugality story. 

During my sophomore year, there was a day in which I found myself about 3 miles away from my dorm. I was in the old part of Ames, where the busses did come – but it was the weekend, and the next bus wasn’t coming for like 45 minutes or some other unholy amount of time.

I didn’t want to wait. So, wandering around, I came across a discount bike shop. I go in and see a bike for $50, and I think:

“Yeah, I’m going to buy this and ride it home.”

So that’s what I did. I bought a bike just so I could ride home and skip waiting for the bus.

The next day, I put the bike on Craigslist. 48 hours later… somebody came by and bought it off me for $80.

My ride home cost me -$30! That’s a win in my book. And it’s also a segue into a good point: Craigslist is a great place for finding used stuff for cheap. You can find iPods, computers, bikes… well, anything. Even creepy stuff. Don’t contact the people selling the creepy stuff.

You can also sell things on Craigslist to make a little extra cash. One thing I did early in college was scraping together old computers, installing Linux on them, and selling them as complete desktops at a small profit.

If you do anything like this, though, be wary of scams.

 Read all Thomas Frank’s Tips here: 39 Ways You Can Cut The Cost Of College.