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4 Ways Students Can Save Thousands a Year

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Whether you are heading to school for the first time or going back for another year, you’ll quickly have to face a sad paradox. College is expensive and students are perpetually broke. Forget tuition and room and board, the cost of textbooks, software, transportation, and just about everything else is enough to put any aspiring student into debt. It’s almost like there is a target on your back (or your wallet). Rather than sit back and let the debt pile up, try these four simple cost savings strategies to save thousands annually.

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1. Stop Buying, and Start Renting your Textbooks.

Remember those $150 textbooks that you skim through once out of guilt or fear? Every time I went through the checkout line I held deep-seeded resentment about paying outrageous sums for textbooks that I would barely use and then end up selling back to the bookstore at the end of the semester at a fraction of the price I paid for them. You would think that having three different bookstores on campus would result in competitive pricing, only to find that they were all charging the same obscene price right down to the penny.

Studies show that the average student spends over $900 per year on textbooks. But you may not have to anymore. There are now a number of textbook rental sites that claim to offer up to 70% or more off of retail price to rent textbooks for a semester. For starters, you may want to check out Bookrenter, Chegg, and Campus Book Rentals. Additionally, you may be able to find used versions of your books on Amazon, Abebooks, or Ebay. A little competition in the marketplace is a beautiful thing.

Average Savings: At 50% off – $450 per year

2. Ditch the Office!

At some point, we’ve all had to write a paper, present to a class, or use a spreadsheet for a math project. Yes, we’ve all needed to use an office software suite and if you go the Microsoft route when purchasing software, you’ll end up paying approximately $120 for Office 2007.

That’s one option. Fortunately, there are a few other options these days:
Open Office: Powered by Sun Microsystems, Open Office is an open source office software suite that is nearly identical to Microsoft Office. The best part is that the full suite is available for a free download at Openoffice.org. You are even able to share your files in Microsoft office program formats if you need to share them with others.

GoogleDocs: GoogleDocs is a suite of “cloud-based” word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. Although the features aren’t quite up to par with MS Office or Open Office, the programs let you collaborate with others and can import and export into other formats. This makes it a great option when working on projects with other students in real (or delayed) time.

Best of all, they’re free.

Together, these two free options should be more than sufficient in meeting all of your document needs.

Average Savings: $120 per Office version

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3. Rolling Down the Street – In a Bus.

Before the macho types lynch me for suggesting that they give up an opportunity to impress their sorority dream woman, here is a difficult to hear truism: the right date will not only care less that you take the bus versus riding around campus in an SUV, but they may actually respect and like you more for it.

Even if you’re able to find a modest used vehicle at $200/month, you will probably need to add at least another $100 or more per month for insurance and fuel. Additionally, you will be able to avoid all of those extremely frustrating parking tickets (how do they always find you??). In contrast, a search for my alma mater’s bus system yielded a semester-long bus pass for a mere $50.

Average Savings: $2,600 (for a $200/month vehicle with $100/month in insurance and fuel expenses)

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4. Open a Local Bank or Credit Union Checking Account.

Even as we trend more towards a plastic society, ATM fees for college students can add up quickly. If you’re attending a school out-of-state or even just out-of-region, your bank or credit union may not have authorized ATM’s. Starting up a free checking account for these petty cash transactions can be a huge money saver.

In 2008, the average cost of using another bank’s ATM was $3.43 per transaction, up 13% from 2007. Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for students to make at least one or two ATM withdrawals per week. Avoid this unnecessary expense!

Average Savings: $110 annually (1 withdrawal per week)

What tips do you have for savings money while attending school?

For more of GE Miller’s writing, visit personal finance blog 20somethingfinance.com.