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College costs - saving money in little ways
Old 08-16-2007, 08:29 PM   #1
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College costs - saving money in little ways

Just got back from Tulsa where we dropped off the oldest kid at TU. Along with a hefty chunk of cash for tuition, housing and meals. As he was the first I learned a few things about saving $$ along the way.

Meals plans - All students who don't live in the metro area have to live on campus, and all freshmen and sophomores living in dorms must sign up for a meal plan. They range from minimal to extravagant. I took a hint when the admissions people strongly urged me to go with the cheapest meal plan allowed. I figured if people at the school were steering me away from the more expensive options that those must be incredibly wasteful - they certainly were expensive. The ability to put cash into his student account, that he can use at snack bars and other dining options, provided flexibility. We'll have to see how that works out, but with milk at all time highs and my son having a gallon a day cow juice habit I think I'm coming out ahead in that department.

Health Insurance - Getting into bed with a college or university is the same as any other financial relationship you find yourself in. They all have multiple profit centers and financial relationships with service providers. You are quickly bombarded with offers for things you never thought you might need. One of the many pamphlets I received was for student health insurance - $900 a year.

Thanks to my former employer I get to keep my health insurance at employee rates for five years, and kids under 25 who are full time students can stay under the parents' policy. However, with BC/BS HMOs you are limited to the service area - and Tulsa is way the hell out of our service area. He would only be covered for emergencies and accidents under the HMO, and the University health center would only take care of minor ailments but no prescriptions, OTC medications, or outside tests.

I reviewed our policy three times and found no option - so I called the BCBS customer service people and asked them for advice. Lo and behold, there is a program called "Away from Home Care" for students out of the service area. You fill out an application and they assign him on a temporary basis to another BCBS HMO in the area where he is attending school. At no additional cost!

Renter Insurance - Another pamphlet arrived for insurance for loss or theft in the dorm. Concerned about the loss of an expensive laptop that might walk off I called my insurance company and found that he would be covered under my homeowners policy - again at no additional cost.

Compared to the costs of tuition and housing these savings were small, but I think I saved at least $2,000 by not buying things I didn't need - but that the University tried to sell me.
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Old 08-16-2007, 10:04 PM   #2
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Nice post, Leonidas

This is my second time around, so I know some things, but always looking for additional ways to save. First time through, I was very very naive with excitement of sending the 1st kid off to college......now all I can see is dollar signs....college is a business. You are right about the meal plans...kids quickly tire of the dining hall fare and settle into a routine of pizza, instant oatmeal, and ramen noodles in addition to whatever fast food options available. Our school lets you designate x% of the meal plan to non-dining hall options. We also avoided the pre-packaged dorm accessories (sheets, blankets, toiletries, rugs, etc.) and went to Target, Kohl's linens N things, etc. We were also fortunate that the local private book stores have a great system for used books........bring your class schedule and they assemble the books you need, save about 40% vs. new and the books are in really good condition. The laptop "spec'd" by the school seems pricey (~$1200), but we went spec-for-spec at bestbuy and found the school discount beat the big box by the cost of the 4yr warranty
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Old 08-16-2007, 10:46 PM   #3
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Our school lets you designate x% of the meal plan to non-dining hall options.
Sort of the same deal at TU - you get some "Dining Dollars" that can be used at the coffee shop, convenience store, pasta bar, pizza joint, etc. More versatile is the debit card feature on his student ID, that can be used at those places as well as places like the bookstore, etc.

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We also avoided the pre-packaged dorm accessories (sheets, blankets, toiletries, rugs, etc.) and went to Target, Kohl's linens N things, etc.
We did the same. From some reviews I read most of those package deals are near ripoffs with a lot of worthless junk thrown in to a basic sheet set.

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We were also fortunate that the local private book stores have a great system for used books........bring your class schedule and they assemble the books you need, save about 40% vs. new and the books are in really good condition.
A great deal can be found at AddALL book search and price comparison. Alternative book shopping with TU was tricky though. There are no published book lists. Your choices are to either go physically to the campus bookstore and see what is in the stack for CHEM 1013, or just order the book from the online bookstore (eFollet - rather high priced). We were able to piece enough info together to find out what books were needed for each class and got them all super cheap using Addall.com.


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The laptop "spec'd" by the school seems pricey (~$1200), but we went spec-for-spec at bestbuy and found the school discount beat the big box by the cost of the 4yr warranty
I put my kid to work on this after giving him a budget. He came up with a good machine that works perfectly well with the campus ethernet and wireless. Plus it is a machine whose components can be easily swapped for newer versions. He can upgrade over the years at a fraction of the cost. I had to give him a big thumbs up for his work researching that purchase.

Oh, I did remember one great buy that I got from the U. The full deluxe version of MS Office 2007 for $10.
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Old 08-17-2007, 07:12 AM   #4
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A lesson I learned was to only provide the non-committed money to my son on a monthly basis - NOT as a lump sum at the beginning of the semester.

Burned once (uh... Dad... I know it's only the end of September.... but...), I remembered back to my own college days and having to look at my checkbook balance with serious regard as to getting to the end of each month.
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Old 08-17-2007, 08:28 AM   #5
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If the kid has a car, but does not take it to school, call your ins co. Ours drop the rates way down, and they can still use the car if home on w/e/holiday/summer.
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Old 08-17-2007, 11:36 AM   #6
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If the kid has a car, but does not take it to school, call your ins co. Ours drop the rates way down, and they can still use the car if home on w/e/holiday/summer.
Good one. We had several conversations about taking the car and in the end decided to keep it at home and see how well he did without it. I called and made sure he was covered if he took it, but I didn't think about this option. It will come in handy if they give us a reduction - because now his little brother is of driving age
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Old 08-17-2007, 12:06 PM   #7
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Our first son graduated in 2006 but our younger son is a sophomore this year. I wish I had found Half.com for books when the older son was in college. We save a lot of money on books when we buy them and I also sell them on Half.com when the semester is over.

Try Half.com and also Amazon.com: Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more for used college textbooks.

And surprisingly sometimes even Welcome to Target and Walmart.com - Always Low Prices!
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Old 08-17-2007, 12:19 PM   #8
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UT Austin. Castilian Dormitory.

Meal plan: The difference between "unlimited meals" and "10 meals/week" is $100/semester. I told my son to take the unlimited plan. Mistake?

Internet access: Cheapest plan is $140/semester for the lowest speed wireless access! That works out to $40/mo!

At home, I pay $20/mo for AT&T DSL, and I think it's too much.
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Old 08-17-2007, 12:35 PM   #9
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Our first son graduated in 2006 but our younger son is a sophomore this year. I wish I had found Half.com for books when the older son was in college. We save a lot of money on books when we buy them and I also sell them on Half.com when the semester is over.

Try Half.com and also Amazon.com: Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more for used college textbooks.

And surprisingly sometimes even Welcome to Target and Walmart.com - Always Low Prices!
I like AddALL book search and price comparison because it searches 38 sites, including Half.com, Amazon, Ebay, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Textbooks.com, etc. Then, it arranges them in price order and provides links that take you right to the appropriate page on whichever site you want to order from. Very handy and efficient.

Sam,

In your case the unlimited meal plan sounds like a heck of a deal compared to the 10 meals a week. At TU the difference was just a little less than $500 a semester.

As for internet, it's probably figured in the tuition at TU, but there is no charge. Pretty good system too, all the buildings and dorms have Ethernet connections, and the entire campus (all buildings and open spaces) is covered by wireless.
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Old 08-17-2007, 12:36 PM   #10
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Well the extent of help my folks gave me was a good sound raising and a best of luck because they didn't have the money for university so i didn't bother asking. It isn't so bad really.People in other places of the world are much worst off. I feel privileged for even being given the opportunity at the chance of an education because some don't even have that choice. So to anyone here who thinks they're hurting their kid by not helping them with university well i can tell you not to fret. After 18 years or so you've done your job despite what society tells you.

The dorms and meal plan at my university are too expensive for my tastes. I think the cheapest meal plan cost $2,000 a year but i can do it for a little over $800. I'd be able to do the $2,000 but I'd rather see the money growing in something risk free so i can apply it to my loans after I'm done. Arbitrage baby arbitrage!

The best money saving entrance gift i could suggest is the tightwad gazette. It's a little out of date now but the principals stay the same. Better yet, tell them to get it from the library. That and something on finance. I'll let the debate resound on whether it should be EMT or value/growth.

As for the books well half.com is a good choice to buy them but most teachers have a reserve copy on loan at the library. If the book isn't there then it is usually hanging around their office. I wait 2/4 weeks into the semester to see whether the book is really required for the course. You'd be surprised how many times the teacher says it's essential but never cracks that expensive bastard open. Grumble grumble. Oh well i'm done hemming and hawing. Hope that helped.
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Your Fledgling Scholar Might Not Need to Have a Car to Get An Insurance Discount
Old 08-17-2007, 03:54 PM   #11
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Your Fledgling Scholar Might Not Need to Have a Car to Get An Insurance Discount

We are getting ready to send Daughter #3 back to college - her two older sisters already graduated. Anyway, our auto insurance company gives a year-round discount if our child does not have a car at school regardless of whether or not they have a car otherwise. You might want to check with your agent on this one.

The meal plan is usually a tricky one to figure out. I normally recommend getting the full meal plan the first semester and then adjust from there. Of course, the colleges our DDs have attended allowed carryover to the next term/semester, so it wasn't a big deal. And, of course, there is always having your child's guests at school use any extra meals. DD#3 said she was inviting friends left and right to use up the meal plan at the end of this past school year. The plan doesn't carry over from year-to-year, and it was already paid for, so what the hey.
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Old 08-17-2007, 08:50 PM   #12
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We are still waiting for the books purchased from half.com last week. Hopefully, they will arrive on-time before school starts.
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Old 08-17-2007, 08:52 PM   #13
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regarding the books... You're right, not every class needs one. I actually went 2 years of college without buying a book. I had a ton of friends and teammates who took the same course the semester before and just borrowed theirs. If your children are on any sports team, they'll automatically have great access to many used books for loan or for purchase.

Also check out the schools For Sale Bulletin board, or a craigslist for used books. In fact, if your child is entrepreneurial enough, they could be making some money. I actually bought a Calc 1 book from someone for about $20 and 10 mins later sold it $50. Was planning to do that full time at a much larger scale, but got lazy... ehhhh I was a college student. There were tons of other ways too, but by the time I figured it out, I graduated and got a job.

The meal plans are case by case. I had 18 meals a week at first and I ate every meal because I did not want to waste money. You probably don;t need that much and later I just did 150 meals a semester. I used them at dinner since lunch was cheaper.

Buy all your school stuff at home at target, walmart, and not the school bookstore. Don't get those microwave fridges that you have to buy from the school and they cost $150/semester... (when you can buy a fridge and a microwave for $100 to keep!). Just tell them to suck it up since you cant make too much anyway. Pizza is always open as is any fast food.

Most of all, make sure they get their education worth... If you calculate it out, its about like $100/hr of class time. I went to a private school and it was $18k/semester just tuition.

I think going to school is not about being super cheap frugal, but to understand "cashflow"... what stuff costs and how to not waste/use as much... and enjoy life, learn as much as you can, and meet as many people and have a good time.
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Old 08-18-2007, 06:05 PM   #14
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A little off topic, hope you guys don't mind.

How much allowance (spending money) are you giving to your child(ren) while in college?

My case: Everything is already paid for, tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, etc... I am giving each of them $200/mo for spending money. I transfer the money directly to their bank account twice a month (on the 1st and the 15th). If the GPA drops below 3.0, the amount is reduced to $100/mo. $Zero/mo if the GPA is below 2.5.

Is $200/mo too little, too much?
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Old 08-18-2007, 08:48 PM   #15
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Sam, I Think Your Question Has Been Discussed Previously

Sam,

You might find some information and insight in this thread - Kids, college, and frustrations.....

I think you will find those who post in this forum all have different experiences and opinions with regard to college and spending money. You know your kids and their ability to handle or not handle financial matters better than anyone here. There's only one way to find out; try your approach and see what happens. You might have to adjust your thought process once you and your child have some real-life experience.

For what it's worth, our strategy is to have our kids earn their college books and spending money over the summer. If some extraordinary expense comes up that we all think is worthwhile (such as the spring college track team training session at Disneyworld for DD#1 back in 2000), we pitch in and pay for that. That one wasn't bad - I think we had to chip in about $350 to $400. So far, this has worked for DDs 1 and 2. It worked last year for DD 3 in her first college year.

Good luck.
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Old 08-18-2007, 11:47 PM   #16
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For a kid taking a car off to school, the car insurance rate can decrease if the rates with your insurer are lower in the university's locale than in your home area. That has been true for our kids, saved hundreds of dollars per year on each car/kid.

And a good student discount helps a lot, too. Once a year our agent needs to see and make a copy of a transcript to verify that it still applies. Then the discount is good for another year.
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Old 08-19-2007, 12:55 PM   #17
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How much allowance (spending money) are you giving to your child(ren) while in college?
I'm hoping that our kid's spending is bounded by her savings from her summer/part-time jobs and by the NROTC stipend!

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My case: Everything is already paid for, tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, etc... I am giving each of them $200/mo for spending money. I transfer the money directly to their bank account twice a month (on the 1st and the 15th). If the GPA drops below 3.0, the amount is reduced to $100/mo. $Zero/mo if the GPA is below 2.5.
I like that system. Spouse had a classmate whose parents only paid for his airplane ticket home if he maintained at least a 2.5 GPA.

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Is $200/mo too little, too much?
Gotta know your kid. For ours it's too much but for many it's never enough, especially if they have their car on campus. And I'd rather have her studying than working non-academic jobs just for spending money.
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Old 08-19-2007, 11:15 PM   #18
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Sam, we covered tuition, room and board, books, clothing and supplies. We didn't pay for any "spending money" or extras. That was for them to cover from their own savings or from summer jobs.

When my older son was away at school his single, childless aunt would send him $20.00 a month. I thought it was very nice and generous of her. She did it so that he could have some fun money. Better from her than from us!
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Old 08-19-2007, 11:56 PM   #19
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Another site for cheap books:
AbeBooks: New & Used Books, Textbooks, Rare & Out of Print Books

International editions are much cheaper and mostly contain the same content:
AbeBooks.com: Buy International Edition Textbooks FAQs
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RE: spending money
Old 08-20-2007, 07:15 AM   #20
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RE: spending money

Thanks you guys. Sounds like my kids' allowances are a little too generous
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