Saving on College Costs

July 31, 2009
Michael Sheehan

Some estimates peg the average cost of “extra” items for an incoming college freshman at more than $820. Consumer experts have some tips on how to save on those costs.

You probably have already paid the first installment on your college-bound child’s tuition. Now, as Junior or Sis prepares to leave for school, you’re about to get hit with a barrage of costs over and above what you’ve already shelled out, for things like textbooks and computers. Some estimates peg the average cost of these “extra” items for an incoming college freshman at more than $820. Consumer experts have some tips on how to save on those costs.

Textbooks are a big item on a college freshman’s budget. Books are expensive but buying them used can save you a bundle. At sites like CheapestTextBooks.com or Amazon.com, you may be able to find the books you need at deep discounts or buy new books at lower prices. Some sites like TextbookMedia.com let you download textbooks, some of them free. Another area for savings is computers. A laptop is now a requirement at many colleges and getting the best price on one means checking out online comparison shopping sites like Pricegrabber.com, or on individual store sites like Wal-mart, Best Buy, or Target. But make sure the computer fits your needs, the experts caution. An engineering or math student will need a more muscular computer than a liberal arts major.

Your college freshman may be required to sign up for the school’s meal plan, which can cost as much as $3,000 to $4,000 a year, and many students find themselves running out of meal-plan money before the semester is up. You can help prevent that from happening with a mini-refrigerator and a microwave that your collegian can use to put together inexpensive meals or snacks. Again, shopping for the best deals on these appliances can save you money.