When we talk about “saving” for college, you typically think of socking away cash in an account somewhere. Another strategy that you should be implementing at the same time is to make the dollars you already earn go farther. You need to think about digging deep and making some sacrifices — even if it’s only for a couple of years — in order to divert money from some less important (or more easily jettisoned) expenses and into the college cash stream.
You may already be doing some of the more obvious things like taking less expensive vacations or driving your your car a little longer than you normally would before replacing it. But there are other ways to save money that will truly earn you the “frugal” badge when it comes to college saving.
Think about your lifestyle. Is there any place where you’re spending money that maybe you don’t have to or where you could spend less? Do you have any habits like expensive coffee, smoking, the occasional beer? These are habits that can add up. I bit the bullet a little bit when I switched from drinking large lattes to medium espressos. For me, it’s a daily habit that I couldn’t quite give up but the change saves me more than $500 per year (not to mention 200 calories a day!) due to the $1.50 price difference.
Smoking, too, can be a pricey habit. Without even getting into the health costs associated with smoking (this is a non-judgmental blog), the savings from quitting or even halving the number cigarettes you smoke could be pretty substantial. For argument’s sake, let’s say the national average price for a pack is $5 (which is probably low). If you cut down from a pack a day to half a pack, even if it’s just during your or your child’s college career, you would save nearly $1,000 per year. Check it out: that’s $1,500 in coffee and cigarettes alone, without giving either up completely.
Then there’s the old stand-by: coupons. If you’re careful and use coupons only on what you plan to buy anyway (instead of buying something because you have a coupon for it), you could save quite a bit over the course of a year. My best week in coupons netted more than $40 in savings. That is way beyond where I usually am, which is more like $15 per week. Even at $15 or $20 a week, though, you’re looking at an annual savings of $700 to $1,000. If you participate in some of the grocery store programs out there like gas points or other rewards, you could pile on the total savings.
Group coupon deals through sites like Groupon or LivingSocial are other ways to save money, particularly on entertainment. Once again, be careful not to go overboard and start doing a bunch of extra stuff just because you have a coupon, but if you have a regular going out night or family get together day, these types of deals can definitely save some money. Speaking of outings, be sure to take advantage of the free or low-cost venues in your community. In our metro area, we have some top-notch museums, outdoor spaces and typically, some form of performance or concert that is open to the public at no charge. Make sure these events are on your radar. Check your local media outlets to see where you might take your loved ones and leave your wallet at home. Picnics and bag lunches are great accessories to such outings.
Speaking of bag lunches, how much do you think you spend on those weekday sandwiches at the deli or in the building cafeteria? If you eat out every day, consider scaling back and putting the money you save by brown-bagging three days a week into a jar at home. If you spend $5 to $10 a day on lunch, and you cut back to two times a week, you’re going to save $15-$30 a week, which could add up to $1,500 a year in money that you could use toward college expenses.
How much television do you really watch? How much do you spend on cable? Is there anything that you’re so desperate to see that you couldn’t find it on a service like Netflix, Hulu or even a network’s website instead of paying $70 to $100 per month? Even for a few years? Really? You could save nearly a $1,000 dollars a year just by cutting down on your level of cable or satellite TV service.
If you are willing to cut some corners while you’re in college mode, you could really save some money. Don’t stop with my suggestions, be as creative as you can and remember to keep your focus where it should be during these years: on college.