Acceptance letters and financial aid offers for college are rolling in for the Fall 2015 semester, but before you get caught up in the excitement of heading off to school and plunking down your hard earned cash for college supplies, here’s what you need to know. It’s in your best interest to spend as little as possible, and there are some things you definitely don’t need to waste your money on – here’s a look at five things you should not buy as you’re figuring out finances for college.
#1 A new printer
Before you go browsing Amazon or Best Buy looking for a fancy new printer to print out all your impressive college term papers on, consider this. Increasingly, college professors accept (and even prefer or demand) that assignments be submitted digitally via email or a Learning Management System like Blackboard or Moodle. Gone are the days of printed documents neatly bound with a plastic cover. If you already have a printer, let it limp along for rare occasions you need to print something. You can also use a printer at your job or the college technology lab if you must print.
#2 College sweatshirts and branded merchandise
You may get excited about your new school and want to let everyone know, but past your first week of college, a spiffy sweatshirt with the college logo is lame. It screams “new student” just as a map and a camera scream “tourist.” College branded gear is expensive and there’s a ton to choose from – from shirts to notebooks and pencils. Skip the official merch, wear what you already own to school, and stick to cheap school supplies from Amazon or your local big box store.
#3 Brand new textbooks
While it might be exciting to emerge from the bookstore with a stack of shiny new texts with that new book smell as you crack open the covers, bear in mind this can easily represent $500 to $1500 (or even more) spent each semester. Plus, once that class is done, you won’t need the book ever again. Instead, look for used books on campus or online – you can almost always make do with a prior edition rather than the latest iteration. You can also rent hard copy or digital textbooks from Amazon or other specialty sites. Skimping on textbooks will save you big bucks over the course of your schooling.
#4 Tablet or new cell phone
You may be considering upgrading your digital devices before you head off to school. A new tablet may feel like the perfect accessory for your digital textbooks, but it’s an unnecessary expense and, as college is costly enough, spending unnecessarily is a quick way to get yourself deeper in debt while you pursue your degree. Likewise, a new cell phone is money wasted. Stick with what you have and, once school gets underway, if you find out that you truly need to upgrade your digital devices, shop for the best deal and only buy if you must.
#5 High end laptop
If you already have a laptop that’s functional and comes with Microsoft Office, you’re likely in good shape. And, if you’ve chosen an online college, you may be surprised to know that many provide a new laptop to incoming students. However, if your laptop is decrepit and limping along, you may need a new one, but you don’t need a suped-up model unless you’re majoring in IT or programming. Take your time, shop around, check reviews, watch for sales, and consider a quality refurbished model rather than splurging on a top of the line new model.
With college debt now averaging more than $30,000 per graduate, it makes sense to scrimp where you can. Obtaining a degree can boost your lifetime earnings by more than $1 million, but this ROI is diminished by the expense and debt you incur to finish your schooling. Be sure to explore grants, scholarships, employer reimbursement programs, and other free sources of college money – and don’t spend where you need not!
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