Controlling College Expenses

Controlling College Expenses

Your tuition money probably won't take care of​ such loose ends as​ lab fees for specific courses, late registration charges, drop-and-add fees, library fines, motor vehicle registration and parking fees, and various other course-related hits your budget will have to​ absorb. Individually, these fees may seem manageable— $25 here, $10 there—but over the span of​ a​ year, they can add up fast.

Your best bet here may be the preemptive strike: Find out about the existence of​ such fees, particularly in​ lab classes, before you register or​ during the first week of​ school, so, if​ need be, you can drop the class and take it​ later, when you've budgeted for it. (The fee might be mentioned in​ the schedule of​ classes, or​ you could find out from your professor or​ the department.)

And then, there's book money. Books are expensive, even though, in​ the grand scheme, they generally account for only a​ tiny fraction (probably less than 5 percent) of​ a​ student's total college expenses. One state school, the University of​ South Carolina, estimates that students will spend about $495 a​ year on textbooks.

Are you helpless? is​ there no hope for saving money here? Don't be silly! of​ course there's hope. First, you can shave a​ huge chunk off your total cost for books and supplies by buying the things you could get anywhere—notebooks, pens—at an​ off-campus discount or​ warehouse store.

Save even more by buying as​ many used books as​ you can and by being creative. For example, if​ you're assigned the Oxford edition of​ Pride and Prejudice, you could pick up a​ cheap used paperback at​ an​ off-campus bookstore and, assuming the basic text is​ the same in​ any edition, just read the Oxford edition's introduction (to note any important points of​ criticism your professor may discuss in​ class).

Borrowing. if​ you're lucky enough to​ find willing lenders, this is​ also a​ great way to​ save. Ask around—befriend and/or plead with older students in​ your major (or in​ your dorm, club, fraternity, or​ sorority) and see if​ they'll lend you their textbooks. (We know you already know this, but if​ you borrow somebody's book, treat it​ with kid gloves. Treat it​ better than you'd treat your own book. Cherish it. Nurture it. Protect it. Don't write in​ it, don't dog-ear pages, don't read it​ in​ the bathtub, don't mark your place by leaving it​ open, face-down, and ruining the binding, and don't abuse the goodwill of​ the person who lent you the book. And don't forget to​ return the book when you've finished with it.)

Buy used books whenever possible. as​ you can imagine, used books are gobbled up fast, so buy early. (This means that you should sign up for advising and preregistration as​ soon as​ possible, so you'll know what courses you'll be taking. if​ you register late, you probably won't find a​ huge selection of​ cheap used books to​ choose from.)

At the end of​ the semester, you can recoup some money by selling your own books either back to​ the bookstore or​ to​ other students. You won't get the full price back, but you can recover at​ least some of​ your costs. (Note: if​ you think you might be selling the book one day, plan ahead. Take the steps mentioned above to​ care for the book; in​ particular, don't write in​ it—you'll lower the resale value.)

Buy only what you really need. Finally, be sure to​ find out whether each book on your course list is​ required or​ recommended. if​ it's just recommended, you may be able to​ get by without buying it. (Bookstores are supposed to​ label these distinctions plainly, but they don't always do it. if​ you're not sure, ask a​ clerk to​ check the professor's ordering instructions.) Tip: Some professors put copies of​ the books on their list on reserve at​ the library. Which means that you may be able to​ avoid buying some books altogether. (But be aware that this could be risky if​ you count on getting access to​ the books in​ the reserve room just when you need them most—like a​ few days before a​ big test.)

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