College Game Plan

7 ways to save money in college

Here's what you can do to save money in college

Between tests and essays, the last thing college students (and their parents) want to stress over is money.

Yet there are some easy ways to cut your costs. Here's what you can do to save.

What's a budget? It's time to learn

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Work with your parents to set a budget before school starts. Stick to it. And don't forget to include travel expenses between school and home.

"I definitely think that if your parents are sending you money, you should budget it with them," said Makenna Lenover, a junior at Bryn Mawr College.

Teresa Mahler, a first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania's school of Social Policy and Practice, agreed.

"My mom makes me save my receipts and looks at my bank statement monthly, so if she sees I'm spending a lot on a certain category, like food or entertainment, she'll mention it to me and tell me to watch myself," she said.

Keep your student on your health plan

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If your student is covered under your medical plan, review it with your child and identify in-network doctors and facilities near their campus.

"There is no more expensive choice than to go out of network for a doctor," said Joe Mondy, a Cigna Health Insurance spokesman.

"They can charge you whatever they choose — whatever they feel is appropriate. You have no way of knowing how much they're going to charge you going in, and there's little recourse for you in terms of paying whatever they say is charged," Mondy said.

Insurance companies negotiate discounted rates with doctors, so save yourself some bucks by sticking to your folks' plan.

Think twice before paying with a credit card

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Take charge of credit card usage. Make it a habit that anytime you use plastic for a discretionary expense, save the same amount in a savings account.

Joao F. Gomes, a professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said while he does think college students should have credit cards, they need to be used with caution.

"Using credit cards responsibly is a very important skill to master in adult life," he said. "People should be exposed to these challenges early, although preferably in small amounts. Even if they make mistakes using their credit it is better that they learn early."

Chow down, but maybe not on the meal plan

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Look into skipping out on a meal plan to potentially save food costs.

"I spend a maximum of $5 on food each day without the meal plan," said Caroline Link, a junior at Montclair State University. Like a true college student, Link said a lot of her "meals" consist of vending machine snacks.

Whether it's the meal plan or the vending machine, Daniel Fan, director of wealth planning at First Foundation Advisors, just wants you to do your research.

"Schools sometimes lock you into a certain amount of meals and that becomes excessive, which can be dangerous. What I'm saying is, you should look into your options," he said.

No summers at the shore (unless you're working)

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Students should try to get full-time jobs in the summers to help save, said Sue Luse, an educational consultant and founder of College Expert. She doesn't recommend taking jobs during the school year that can distract from academic work and extracurricular activities.

"Working during the summer alleviates financial pressures during the school year that allow you to focus on academics more," Lenover said.

Link also enjoys earning her own money. While she thinks it's helpful to give yourself a budget for college spending, she says it's "far more rewarding to do it with your own money than a parent's."

No shame in buying used

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Buy only used books and classroom materials when possible. Most campuses have on-line sites for sale and exchange of used books.

Get all your school supplies off campus, too — from big box stores stores such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Lenover said she always rents her books or buys them used. She suggests comparing prices on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chegg, and other sites before making a purchase.

Arijit Nerurkar and John Wojciehowski, juniors at Swarthmore College, said they usually find free PDFs of their textbooks online instead of purchasing them.

No wheels unless it's a bike

University of Pennsylvania campus
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Skip the parking fees, gas, maintenance and insurance costs by keeping your car at home.

When you do need a break from campus, research cheaper methods such as Uber, Lyft or a bus.

Correction: An earlier version misspelled Daniel Fan's last name.