Saving on College Supplies

College costs more than just tuition, room, and board. I’m always amused every summer by the threads that appear on the College Confidential discussion forum about “What to buy for college?” Usually, it’s mothers looking out for their sons and daughters. My favorite threads are the ones about sheets. “Should we buy king-size sheets?” “What about fitted sheets?” “How many sets of sheets should we get?” And so on.

Enough already about sheets! Your newly minted college student doesn’t really care all that much about his or her sheets. In fact, if your soon-to-be college frosh is a guy, not only will he not care about his sheets, but he also won’t be washing them anytime in the near future. When he arrives home for Thanksgiving break, you had better call your local HazMat team to lead the way when opening that laundry bag he drags home.

Anyway, my point here is that you should be thinking about two things right now: (1) What non-sheets-related items will my collegian need? and (2) How can I save money on those items? Not everything will be available at Walmart, so you’ll need some way to know what goes on your list and where to find it at the best price.

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Consumer and money-saving expert, Andrea Woroch, sent me some excellent tips to present to my readers, so I thought that I would share them with you today. I like the way she thinks. Here’s what Andrea says:

The costs of college are on the rise, and students won’t find much relief when it comes to shopping for supplies. According to the National Retail Federation, average back-to-college spending climbed over $900 in 2012. That figure is up nearly $100 over 2011, and the trend is expected to continue into 2013.

As the last weeks of summer vacation draw to a close, students everywhere are starting to stock up on supplies. Before you begin shopping, consider these easy ways to save on the semester’s essentials.

1. Don’t Buy Brand New
Whether you’re shopping for a sofa or a laptop, buying used will save money. Refurbished computers from Apple are hundreds of dollars less and still come with the same guarantee as a brand-new model. Try applying this principle to your supplies, too. Get with roommates and gather last year’s leftover pens and notebooks for reuse. As any struggling college student will tell you, every extra dollar counts.

Dave says: I wonder if this applies to bed sheets, too.

2. Prepare to Print
No matter what major you go with, you’re going to wind up writing — or rather, typing — plenty of papers. Though on-campus computer labs can defray some printing costs, procrastination is rampant and having a printer of your own provides peace of mind for last-minute deadlines. Since ink will be the major expense, use sites like InkjetWilly.com to find the least-expensive cartridges. You can even find cheaper remanufactured ink options compatible with your printer model, so shop online and stock up before your back is against the wall.

Dave says: Check campus computer labs. You may find printers available there.

3. Wait and See
When making your list of supplies, avoid ordering that optional $100 textbook right away. As many unfortunate students have discovered, such optional reading materials often go unused for the entire semester. Instead, get the basics before going to classes and judge what you’ll need from there. Not only will you avoid spending on unnecessary items, you can catch clearance sales after back-to-school buzz has died down.

Dave says: I found some optional books in campus libraries and also found some copies available from students who had already taken the course.

4. Stay on Social Media
If your smartphone rarely strays from your pocket or purse, this works to your advantage when back-to-college shopping. Many brands offer discounts to their Facebook and Twitter followers, while Foursquare users can receive exclusive coupons by checking in at popular stores such as Barnes & Noble and Sports Authority.

Dave says: Caveat: If your cell phone plan has data limits, be mindful of how much data your downloading shopping to save a few dollars. You could offset your supply savings with phone charges.

5. Rent Your Textbooks
Textbooks are one college’s necessary evils. Anyone who tells you it’s possible to coast by without ever reading a page probably doesn’t have an especially impressive GPA. Buying used books is always cheaper than buying new, but you’re in store for paltry payouts when you go to sell them back. To avoid this predicament altogether, rent textbooks for a fraction of the price through sites like Chegg and return them when you’re done.

Dave says: Before you engage one of these rental sites, check with other students who have used them. This will forewarn you of any potential snags that could end up costing you as much, if not more, than buying the textbook, although with today’s textbook prices, that seems unlikely.

6. Use Student Discounts
Your student ID is one of the few college expenses that might actually cover its own costs. Thanks to a wide range of student discounts offered on everything from software to fast food, having your ID handy can save you money almost every day. Even if you don’t find a student discount listed, it’s always smart to ask just in case.

Dave says: Also, don’t forget to read the newspapers and shopper’s guides published in your college town. Every week, tons of coupons for everything from pizza to car washes appear as inserts or in their own publications. Remember: Don’t pay “fool” retail unless you absolutely have to!

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.