Photo by RJT LLC/Scott Little
College expenses add up. But there are lots of tools to help save you money—you just have to know about them. Follow our cost-saving tips for the essentials that will potentially last throughout your teen's remaining college years.
According to the College Board, students spend an average of $1,200 a year on books and supplies. While e-books are slowly catching on, they haven't become cheap or user-friendly enough to make students forgo print. To save money, look beyond the university bookstore. "On-campus stores can charge top dollar and give the lowest return for buyback," says Peter Giumette, dean of student financial services at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Instead, teens can purchase used books from sites like Bookfinder, Affordabook, Half or Amazon. Rental is another option.
"Instead of buying a book for $120 and selling it back for $20, you can rent it for half the cost," says Scott C. Silverman, special editor of How to Survive Your Freshman Year, fifth edition (Hundreds of Heads). Some schools have their own rental programs; also check sites like BarnesandNoble.com, CampusBookRentals.com, and Chegg.com. Just be sure to look at the rental agreement for rules about highlighting, as well as returns (in case of a dropped class). "The challenge in renting or buying online from non-university bookstores is making sure you get the right edition," Silverman adds. Use the ISBN number—not just the title—to find the right text. Other money-saving alternatives include splitting the cost with another student and sharing one book, or using the library's reserve copies. But neither solution guarantees access. "Saving cash on a textbook but not having it when you need it might cost you more in the long run," Silverman says.
Most schools have partnerships with technology brands, so purchasing through the university could save you around 10%. But that can be about the same as getting a computer directly from a manufacturer that offers an educational discount. One distinct advantage to buying through the school, says Giumette, is that the computer will be appropriately configured for the university's network.
Still, better deals are often available online through sites like NotebooksForStudents.org, which sells refurbished models. Whether you're buying new or used, shop around. "Try not to go for the bare-bones version," says Silverman. "Get a good processor and plenty of power and memory—you don't want a cheap computer that is frustrating to work on."
Keep in mind that with the rise in popularity of tablets, more students are relying on them for everyday tasks and turning to campus computers for projects or papers. In addition to using on-campus computer labs, students can check out a laptop for a few hours, says Silverman.
Dorm Room Basics
Bed Bath & Beyond and Target have the best selection of trendy back-to-school goods, according to Giumette and Silverman. But check dollar stores for items like shower shoes and storage bins. Many schools also encourage students who are leaving to donate or sell their old stuff to other kids. "Every year we have a move-in market run by the students," says Giumette. "People who graduated or moved out of the dorms sell their stuff and make a few extra bucks." Often many items are available for rent through the office of residential life, according to Silverman. It may be cheaper to pay a few extra bucks a month to rent a mini-fridge than to buy your own.
WIN IT! New clothes, a state-of-the-art tablet, supplies galore—let digital coupon site RetailMeNot.com foot the bill for your back-to-school shopping with a $500 Visa gift card! There are four up for grabs. To enter, go to