Today the second of a two-part series on personal finance for college freshmen, Top 5 Money Saving Tips for When Starting College, appeared on HuffPost College today. Co-authored by economist Lisa Kaess, founder/producer of Feminomics.com, and myself, this article provides tips about managing some of the indirect costs–those that do not appear on a term bill–as well as the meal plan. The largest costs for most college freshmen as well as continuing college students include books, transportation, room decoration, computers and property insurance.
Through reading this article as well as the previous one, you might notice that a family’s introduction to college can be overwhelming, especially for getting the first child off to school. Registration for classes, the room and board contract, getting settled on campus, processing the student loan, among other things, expose college freshmen and their parents to more bureaucracy than they ever expected before the first midterm exam. High school certainly was never like this. Nor did college freshmen get the all-out press from credit card issuers to take on debt.
As today’s article mentions, there are many ways that college freshmen can keep more of their money in their pocket and also keep most of their sanity. In going through each and every pre-semester and start-of-semester expense, read everything before doing anything.
For example, the college burser’s office, might send you a bill with “default” charges for the meal plan. Colleges typically choose a meal plan for freshmen living on campus, unless the freshman makes their own selection. At some schools it could be the most expensive meal plan available. I have not seen a situation where it was not at least the second-most expensive plan. If you ask someone in dining services why the college does this, the remark will be something like: “we want to make sure that our freshmen will eat well.” The truth is more likely that the college needs a guaranteed amount of revenue to run the dining hall. They know that they can get it from the freshmen who must live in the residence halls. Continuing students have more living and dining options. The better they manage them, the more likely they can squeeze out some savings to offset the tuition and fee hikes each year.
Then there is computers. As our article states: use the laptop that you used in high school, unless your classes have software that has special requirements. Then go to the tech support offices on campus for thoughts on upgrades to the high school machine or a new computer. If you have to buy a new one there are places that will sell them for less than a campus bookstore. There is no possible way that a campus bookstore would ever carry as many laptops as a big-box electronics shop like Best Buy. Just make sure the tech support on campus can help you maintain it. Their services are free–a huge benefit to college students at virtually every school that I have visited, and likely many that I have not.
There are so many ways that a college freshman can get ripped off, legally far more than illegally, even by the college itself. It might be tedious to be a savvy consumer when dealing with a college bureaucracy and marketing pressures to buy over-priced items on and away from campus. But the savings may turn out to be well worth the time.