3Rivers Blog

A College Freshman’s Guide to Saving Money

Posted on Wednesday, August 8, 2018

by Bailey Sutton, Marketing Intern

As a new college student, you have a lot on your plate. Preparing for your first semester is an overwhelming experience – I’ve been there. There are so many different things to consider, whether you decide to live at home, on campus, or at an alternative off-campus location. You will most likely over-pack, over-plan, and unfortunately, overspend. Now, going in to my senior year of college, I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way that I hope you will find useful, whether you’re a college freshman, or even if you have a few years under your belt. Looking back, knowing these few things would have saved me few headaches, and more than a few dollars!

Image source: Shutterstock.com / Photographer: LStockStudio

Don’t buy everything – I promise you won’t need it.

This time of year, each and every department store is advertising their version of “college essentials." My advice to you: don’t buy it. Taken literally, don’t buy everything cool you see advertised. Chances are, you will never use it. Taken figuratively, don’t buy-in to the stigma that you have to purchase anything and everything to make your dorm room look “cool”, or “cute and cozy." Learning from experience, when it comes to a dorm room, less is more. When you start to cram too much stuff into a small space, it can quickly become overwhelming. Having a clean, uncluttered space to study and hang out in is much more useful and practical than just having a dorm room that looks cool. I promise, your roommate and your wallet will appreciate you.

It’s okay to not have everything the day you move in.

My freshman year I had the mindset that I absolutely needed anything and everything in my college dorm the day I moved in, which obviously turned out to not be the case - but at least I was prepared, right? Wrong. Because of this mindset, I ended up with so many unnecessary things that I never used once throughout the course of the year. My recommendation would be to take the necessities, move in and get settled in to your space, and then evaluate what you really need instead of trying to determine ahead of time what you assume you may need. Almost every college has a department store located within minutes of their campus. Making a quick run to the store a day or so after you move in can prevent you from over-buying and allow you evaluate what you need. Again, something your wallet will appreciate.

You don’t have to buy textbooks at the campus bookstore!

This is the single most important thing I wish I would have known coming in to college. If you gather anything from this post – I hope it’s this. I had no idea that I was able to purchase textbooks anywhere outside of the campus bookstore. A lot of times, campus bookstores are affiliates of various national chains. More often than not, their prices are much higher than other places you can purchase books. I have a method I use to make sure I am always getting the best possible price. If you follow these simple steps, it could end up saving you hundreds of dollars.

  1. Gather all of your required textbook information, along with ISBN numbers. The ISBN will ensure that you are searching for the correct text. Sometimes, books will have the name title but will have various volumes and editions. Using an ISBN to search will prevent you from ordering the wrong book.
  2. Organize your information. Personally, I like to make a basic chart in Microsoft Excel. It is fairly easy to make a simple comparison, and it allows you to copy and paste information instead of writing it all by hand, which lessens the chance of error. Below is an example of my chart, with my classes and ISBN’s already entered:
  3. Next, it’s time to research. While this may look slightly complicated, the whole process usually takes me about 15 minutes and ends up saving me hundreds of dollars, so I find it to be worth the extra time. As you can see, I choose to compare prices across the campus bookstore, Amazon, and Chegg. There are many websites that sometimes advertise extremely low textbook prices, but I am always hesitant to purchase on these sights because I cannot be confident in their credibility, and I do not want my information to be compromised or to be scammed out of my books. I know that the three entities I purchase my books from are extremely reliable sources and I have never had any issues. First, I record all of the cheapest prices from the campus store, as you can see below. I then total all the prices:
  4. Continue to fill out the chart for each site. This can be done simply by copying and pasting the ISBN into the search bar on each website. By doing this, it will return the exact textbook needed. When you locate the price for Amazon and Chegg, put the prices in, exactly as you did for the bookstore.
  5. When your chart is complete, you can now compare each site and see where you can purchase the cheapest book. To make it more visible, I choose to highlight the cheapest option for each textbook and add all of them together.

    As you can see, purchasing all of my textbooks from the campus store would have cost me nearly $700.00 if you take taxes in to account. By choosing to purchase the cheapest options, I will only spend around $250.00 (including taxes!) In this particular case, Chegg did not offer the cheapest alternative. More often than not, I can find books for great prices at Chegg, just not this particular semester.

Textbooks are a necessary evil that all college students have to deal with, unless you are lucky enough to attend a school that includes them in the price of tuition. By putting in an extra few minutes of your time, you will save hundreds of dollars over the course of your college career.

I know that going to college for the first time is nerve-racking but I hope that, aside from the tips above, you also take this advice: relax and have fun! College is hard but it will also be some of the best years of your life! It will go by faster than you think, so enjoy it while you can.