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Best Ways to Save on Off-Campus Living Expenses

CollegiateParent


Moving off campus for the first time can be daunting. There are so many things your student needs to learn how to do and keep track of!

As you help them navigate their new living arrangements — especially the financial side of things — be sure to consider these questions. Do they still need a meal plan? Do they understand what their bills are, and how and when to pay them? Do they know how to buy groceries and cook?

If the answer is mostly "no," don't despair. Budgeting for off-campus life may seem like a totally different ballgame than it was when they lived in the dorm, but it will be manageable if you break it down — and there are still plenty of ways to save money. Here are our Top 3!

1. Stretch the Food Dollars

If your student hesitates to cook for themselves (whether they’re not sure how, or simply don't want to take the time), encourage them to check out different frozen food options. Trader Joe’s has some excellent frozen dishes that they can easily stick in the microwave or onto a stovetop to heat through.

Remind them to be mindful of how grocery prices vary from store to store. They may find that Trader Joe’s is the cheapest for frozen food, or Walmart is the cheapest for produce or canned goods. If they pay attention while they shop, they’ll soon find a favorite store with the best prices. 

If they like to cook — or are ready to learn — they can check out these quick simple recipes to jump start their culinary journey or mix up their weekly meal prep. An ingredient list is provided to make shopping a breeze.

Many students choose to stay on a partial meal plan after moving out of the residence halls, as it makes for an easy lunch or snack option when they’re on campus. It also makes it hard to justify splurging on lunch in a restaurant simply because it’s close to their next class!

Finally, your student can save a substantial amount of money by making their coffee or tea at home rather than buying it from a store. A one-time investment in a tea kettle or coffee maker and a sturdy thermos will do wonders for their budget!

2. Understand Their Bills

Take the time to make sure your student fully understands the bills they will be responsible for. Certain things like cable/internet and renters insurance require a little research to find the best rates, while water, gas/electric and trash removal are usually set rates.

And have a conversation about how their personal habits will affect their bills — unless utilities and water are included in their rent, things like leaving the lights on, blasting the A.C., and taking lots of long showers will increase their monthly expenses substantially. (They may not have been aware of this when they lived at home or in the dorm!)

If your student has roommates, the household may choose to split up responsibility for certain bills — one person may be in charge of setting up the internet, another for the electric or water bill, etc. However, everyone in the household should know when those bills are due and share responsibility for paying them on time.

Your student should feel comfortable talking to roommates about the breakdown of the bills so everyone knows up front exactly what they'll owe month to month. They should also make sure they fully understand all the terms of their rental agreements so they aren’t surprised by deductions from their security deposit or any other charges that might get sent their way.

Rethink the Car

If you were planning to send your student off in one of the family cars, it's worth reconsidering. The costs of maintenance, gas and parking permits really add up. Most college campuses have readily available public transportation to help students get around, and biking is a great way to get some extra exercise in! Car share services are another option.

3. Shop (and Sell) Thrifty

Encourage your student to take the time to walk through their local thrift stores or their neighborhood Goodwill. They might just find themselves falling in love with thrifting. Even if they don’t care to buy anything this way, there are many consignment shops that will take old clothing, shoes or accessories in exchange for store credit or cash.

Textbooks

They should also do their research before buying textbooks from their campus bookstore. They might be able to find a cheaper option on Amazon or even a free digital version online. If they do need to buy the textbook directly from the bookstore, they can always choose to buy a used version or rent the textbook for the semester instead.

If none of these are viable options, they can check out local stores that buy back textbooks and compare prices between those stores and their campus bookstore. It might be the case that their campus bookstore will not offer them quite as much money for a used textbook as a local competitor.

Failing all that, have them take to the internet! They can see if anyone on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist is interested in their used textbooks, clothes, furniture, etc.

Electronics

Sell Broke is a website that offers cash in return for used or broken electronics such as laptops, phones, tablets, cameras, you name it! Their service is ridiculously easy to use all you need to do is select your device, decide how you want to be paid (PayPal or check) and send it to them using the shipping label they provide. Though your student may not get as much money as they would on an e-commerce platform, Sell Broke is easily the most convenient option and a quick way to trade old electronics for cash.

Furniture

The biggest budget concern may be furnishing your student’s space. However, there are a lot of ways to play the system and make sure you find the best deal possible.

Facebook Marketplace is perfect for finding secondhand furniture at low prices and many sellers are open to negotiation. Both Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist will occasionally have free furniture in decent condition as well! The key is to start looking early, and pay extra attention around popular moving times (start of school or end of a semester) when many students or recent graduates are looking for a hassle-free way to get rid of their furniture.

Make sure your student takes their time! The first few options they come across won't necessarily be the best. Given a little patience and legwork, they’ll find something they love for the right price.

If your student is concerned about having fun while on a budget, have them check out these tips and tricks for thriving in college while staying within a budget. There's no shortage of ways for them to enjoy their free time while still being mindful of their spending.

Learning how to manage their money is a crucial skill. There's no time like the present!

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