By Andrea Woroch
Many colleges across the country have announced plans to begin the year with virtual or hybrid learning models, but that doesn’t mean students are off the hook from buying supplies and other gear. In fact, the National Retail Federation estimates that college students and their parents will spend an average of $1,059 per family. Meanwhile, college spending is expected to total $67.7 billion, up from $54.5 billion last year.
With many families still struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever for both parents and students to be smart about what they’re buying.You can learn how to save on the essentials while also creating a plan to cover ongoing expenses throughout the year.
Here are six money moves every college student should make before the fall semester kicks off.
1. Reuse school supplies.
College students often get in the habit of buying brand new school supplies for each new year, overlooking the fact that they may have plenty of items left over from last semester that will do the trick without having to spend any money at all. Look around your home for leftover supplies from last year, from pens to folders and notebooks, and reuse whatever items are in good condition. Half-filled notebooks can still be used for the upcoming semester.
2. Shop savvy for essentials.
After you gather any leftover school supplies, there will likely be a few extra items you need to buy for the upcoming semester and it’s important to stretch your budget by shopping savvy. The good news is there are plenty of discounts to take advantage of during the back-to-school rush, from penny deals on basics to sales on speciality items, like computers and printers.
Before buying anything, compare prices and search for a coupon or promo code online at sites like CouponFollow.com, where you can find savings of up to 20% off at stores like Office Depot, Overstock, and Kohl’s. You can even download their browser tool, Cently, which automatically finds and applies any applicable coupons to your online order so that you don’t have to spend extra time hunting down such deals.
3. Rent textbooks.
According to the National Association of College Stores, the average price of a new textbook is $90, while a used textbook costs $58. Obviously going with a used option is a quick way to save, but you can knock this price down even further by renting instead of buying. For instance, both Chegg and CampusBookRentals.com offer textbook rentals for over 70% savings. To ensure you’re not slapped with any fees at the end of the semester, keep the book in pristine condition and avoid highlighting or marking up the margins.
4. Look for refurbished gadgets.
Personal electronics like laptops and tablets will take the biggest bite out of your college shopping budget, but you reduce this overall expense by opting for certified refurbished deals on tech. Many retailers like Best Buy feature an entire section devoted to open box options in their store at significant savings. Meanwhile, sites like Newegg and Dell Outlet feature refurbished gadgets at an average of 30 to 40% savings. Even Walmart and Amazon offer the choice to view used options when searching for most electronics on their sites. Just make sure your refurbished gadget comes with a warranty and can be returned.
5. Earn extra income while studying.
Since most of the fall semester classes will be held online, why not make money while studying? There are a few easy side hustles you can do right from home or in between your virtual classes to rake in some extra cash. For instance, you can earn up to $1,000 a month by pet-sitting in your own home through Rover.com, something that is easy to do even while joining a Zoom class or studying for an exam. Plus, you may enjoy the canine companionship.
You could try taking online surveys via sites like SurveyJunkie.com or participate in a virtual focus group through 2020 Panel, where you can make up to a few hundred dollars for discussing topics such as online shopping, sports, or your favorite beverages. This money can be used to pay for other course materials or school supplies or save it so you can put a nice chunk toward your student loan debt after you graduate.
6. Cash in on items you no longer need.
Whether you have an old smartphone lying around your house or clothing you no longer wear, now is a good time to go through your closet and drawers to find items you can sell online.The extra money you make can help cover basic supplies. Check out Gazelle to cash in on personal gadgets, Poshmark for selling unwanted fashion, and SwapMeSports for selling old sporting gear.
It’s easier to save money for college when your low credit score doesn’t make you pay high interest rates. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free by joining MoneyTips.