Acceptance letter? Check. Tuition? Check. The paper kind with bank numbers and lots of zeros.
And how will you pay for everything else?
Just when you think it's smooth sailing through your college years, you learn about these things called expenses. Mom and Dad have paid for them until now, and may still dish out for them while you're a student. Things like gas, clothing, rent, food, and luxuries (or those things you formerly bought with your allowance) now suck up every available buck. Even if you stay on the parental dole for the next four, five, six, or seven years you owe it to them to find the best deals possible.
This means pinching pennies, deal digging, and coupon clipping. No, your grandmother isn't the only person who snips and organizes those little slips of paper to redeem en masse at checkout. The coupon world is changing and making it easier for you to find deals on the products you need in college.
Crash Course on Coupons
Coupons are offers that people cut, print, or text to get money off stuff at the store. There are new promotions called "coupon codes" that you input at check out for an online purchase. You can even download mobile coupon apps that let you scan coupons directly from your computer. Depending on what you buy, you'll want to look in different places to find offers.
Depending on the stuff you need for college, you'll have to look several places to find coupons. For those of your scratching your heads over just how 75¢ off a box of mac 'n cheese will make a dent in student loans, know that coupon clipping is just part of a frugal lifestyle. You won't see rewards overnight. After four years of looking for deals and comparing prices, though, you'll be in great shape to live within your means and underspend.
Scoring a decent apartment for cheap is tough work. Apartments continue to cut amenities and don't always care about pleasing tenants. Your best bet for saving on your living arrangements are:
Dorm Decor on a Dime
Bed Bath and Beyond has an impressive collection of spunky, must-have college stuff. 2010's "We Love College!" campaign is easy to shop (Eat, Sleep, Chill), a bit too easy if you're on a budget. After signing up for mail outs, coupons will begin arriving as the same blue mailout every few weeks. Before you buy a single thing, find out:
This will determine if you need to scrounge together shelving, bunks, refrigerator, desk or if the accommodations provide them. Are you allowed to bring a microwave or toaster oven? Most dorms have beds and mattresses, but you may want to bring a pillow top to make it more comfortable. You'll be asked to clear out at the end of every semester, so whatever you take up, you'll need to haul back down in a few months.
If you're within 3 hours of an IKEA store, start there! You'll get the best deals on modern style that a dorm budget can buy plus a huge variety of sleek storage options--just keep in mind that you'll have to assemble all furniture yourself. One of my favorite picks from IKEA is a lockable laptop desk station. While IKEA has the best prices, Target and Bed Bath and Beyond offer more dorm specific merchandise. If you shop with a coupon you'll come out spending about the same outside of clearance items.
Bare basics you'll need are:
Textbook Coupon Codes
Back in the day, students were stuck in the textbook monopoly scheme, paying way more for books than necessary, as in 40% profit margin for booksellers! Thanks to sites like Chegg you can save an average of $500 by renting, not buying, your textbooks. But what if you want to write in your book? Chegg allows limited highlighting, but asks that users refrain from taking notes in the book. If you find a textbook you'd like to keep for free reading, immediately inform your local newspaper--it would be a first!
The shift between "buy new textbooks for a small fortune, then sell them back for a few bucks at the end of the semester" to "rent and return books for cheap" has revolutionized the monopolistic nature of college textbooks. Be thankful you're in school today rather than fifteen years ago. Another big change is that media/book bundles must be available separately, should the professor only require a workbook or CD rather than multiple pieces sold together.
Other sites like Campus Book Rentals, Textbook Rentals, and Book Renter offer similar services with millions of titles from which to choose. Many of these provide free return shipping, which is a huge plus when sending books through the mail.
Computer and Electronics Coupons
Most kids in college have a laptop. And most colleges have free wifi on campus (or at least parts of campus). You'll need something portable to take notes on, submit assignments, and update your Facebook status ever 35 minutes. Does your high school principal issue one to you with your diploma? Think again.
Search for computers that will fit your needs. Wize has an awesome review of the top models for college students and (appropriately named) Laptops for College Students provides a wealth of information on pricing, specs, and comparisons to get you the biggest bang for your buck.
Best Buy is offering $100 off laptops for college students who present an ID. You may have to ask for it—this information isn't listed anywhere on the store site.
TigerDirect.com is a one-stop shop for college must-have 100 products under $100. From cameras and storage devices to monitors and GPS gear, this is an easy-to-navigate listing with top products for cheap.
Search Dell University for offers in your neck of the woods and save 20% off listed laptop prices. Complete with Apple slams ("You’ll live like a rock star with the $1000 you save getting this Dell Studio instead of an Apple® MacBook™ Pro), Dell stills holds the title of Most Popular College Laptop.
If you choose the more reliable and expensive MacBook from Apple, get a free 8GB iPod Touch with your purchase. Dell laptops tend to be less pricey but you can still benefit from using a coupon. Depending on your major, one may be more suited for you than another.
Avoid Loans at all Cost
What's the big deal? Doesn't everybody take out loans? With a low interest rate, why not? After all it's my education, it's worth it.
Maybe. Let's say you take out $40,000 with Sallie Mae. Even at a low interest loan (3.875%) you'll fork over $60,000 across the 226 months of repayment. On the high end (11.25%) that $40,000 loan will cost you a staggering $115,879 during the same repayment period. Can you handle that kind of debt? Will your career choices be affected by this slavery to your borrowed credit? As much as possible, work through college at a decent paying (not clothing retail) job to avoid the interest accrued with loaned money. The last thing you want to do is sell your dreams to pay for school. Even alternating work and school across several years is a better plan than assuming big loans.
Coupons for Hot Fall Fashions
College Fashion Blog is a great place to get started for back-to-school looks that fit with the college scene. Your style is uniquely you, so don't just pull up the cute outfits listed here and copy them exactly. Blend your own vibe with what's on sale and you'll be well on your way to smart savings and style.
Now is the time to gear up for fall! Most retailers are clearing out summer styles and promoting fall style with big coupons. Shopping online will save you time at the mall and help you score even bigger discounts. Check for discounted gift cards to your favorites stores before purchasing.
Before you buy a bag that can fit an entire library, stick to this one important fact—a backpack should carry no more than 15% of your body weight. Hauling more than that on a regular basis will inflict considerable pain on your back, knees, and hips. You'll also need to accommodate for a laptop, which adds an average 6 pounds to your pack. If you weight 150 lbs., you've already taken up 1/4 of your total load.
Ebags' blog post on the Top 5 College Backpacks lists the best on the market. Make sure you check out where zippers are and if your laptop has a separate pocket. Long-standing leader Jansport also has a line of dedicated laptop backpacks designed for computers and books. Take advantage of online coupon codes for unique hybrid messenger/backpacks from BBP Bags.
Munchies and All-Nighter Boosts
The general rule for pizza is the larger your pizza, the more of a price break you get. Go in with your new roommates and split a pie to make the most of your buck. Ask about additional charges for campus deliveries before finalizing your order.
Top Five Dorm Friendly Meals for Cheap
Just what can you do with a microwave, cheesy plastic utensils, and a coffee pot? Keep in mind that the average college student gains about 1/2 pound per week! Make the most of your makeshift living arrangements. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to create filling, nutritious meal for pennies.