5 Easy Ways for Undergrads to Reduce the Need for Student Loans

David Bakke is a writer for the popular personal finance website, Money Crashers, where he shares tips for saving money and getting ahead with education, careers, and small business.

The cost of college is skyrocketing. One year at a public institution currently averages $22,261 according to the College Board, and private school is basically double that. A four-year degree is still as important as ever, which means you’ve got to do whatever you can to save money on yours. With the pressures of studying, socializing, and trying to forge the foundation of a career, reducing the cost of attending college isn’t an easy task. However, the last thing you want is to be saddled with an exorbitant amount of student loan debt after you graduate. Here are five quick and easy ways to save money on your college experience, starting today:

1. Work While in School
Working a part-time job while you’re studying has the double benefit of giving you a paycheck and limiting the time you have to spend money unnecessarily. Hypothetically, if you take a part-time job as soon as you start college, work 15 hours per week at $12 an hour, assuming two 16-week semesters each year, at the end of four years that’s $23,040 in earnings you can put toward your student loans. Alternatively, you can look to start a side business as a college student to make some extra cash and boost your resume.

2. Do Not Sign Up for the Campus Health Plan
Thank to the Affordable Care Act, you may be able to remain on your parents’ health plan until the age of 26. If you are, there’s simply no need to switch to campus-based health insurance, which can be quite costly. Just make sure you’ve got a good selection of in-network doctors on or around campus and you’re all set.

3. Rethink the Meal Plan
Unless you’ve got an extraordinary appetite, there’s probably no need to sign up for the college meal plan. Most are overpriced and cannot be rolled over to the following semester. In most cases, you can serve yourself better by investing in a mini-fridge for your dorm and doing your own grocery shopping. Pool in with roommates when purchasing groceries, using coupons when possible, and create a rotating cooking schedule to ease any burden on your time.

4. Make Full Use of Your ID Card
Your student ID card is a gold mine for entertainment activities. You can watch on-campus sporting events for free, attend speaking engagements, and go to movie screenings and concerts. Carry it with you when you’re out on the town and you can save even more. Just be sure to inquire about any available student discounts when you’re shopping or dining out.

5. Skip All Other Unnecessary Extras
Tempted by that laundry pick-up service? Skip it and wash clothes yourself. Want food delivered to your dorm room? Shop and cook on your own instead. Generally, services like these are run by companies that outsource the labor to local businesses, which means you’re probably paying a marked up price for them. If you think you’re too busy to complete these tasks on your own, research time management techniques to free up your schedule.

Final Thoughts
The average college grad finishes school with roughly $27,000 in student loan debt. With an unemployment rate close to 9% for recent graduates, chances are you’re going to struggle to find work in the early going. You’ve got to account for interview wardrobe expenses, moving costs, rent, utilities, and transportation, so do you really need a ton of student loan debt on top of all that? If the answer is no, start cutting your costs now and you’re going to thank yourself once you’re out on your own.

What ways can you think of to reduce the need for student loans?

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