Unless you’re going to live at home, college accommodation is an expense that’s impossible to get around. You’ve got to sleep somewhere, so you may as well make it as nice as you can with as little money as possible.
Whether you rent your own place with friends or stay in dorms, we’ve got tons of tips for making the most of your room and board without breaking the bank.
Stay At Home
We’re sure most of you are going to turn your noses up at this idea- but we have to say it anyway, because it’s by far the biggest money saver available…
If you forego the dorm/living out option altogether and stay at home with family, you could save yourself a fortune. This only really applies to those of you who are going to college fairly close to where you live already. If you’re moving across the country then this won’t be an option. However, if you’re just going to be down the road, you can always cut your losses and stay in the comfort of your own home.
We know…it’s not quite what you had in mind for your college experience, and that’s fair enough. For many students, the extra expense of rent and living alone is totally worth it for the new found independence and freedom of moving out of your parent’s house. In these tough economic times, staying at home to cut costs is actually becoming increasingly popular. We just suggest that you weigh out the costs and benefits to make sure that it’s the right move for you.
If your loans, grants, scholarships and any money you have saved up can cover the cost of room and board at college then we certainly recommend it- it’s the easiest way to make quick friendships at college and gives you the chance to get out in the world without your parents propping you up.
For those that haven’t been quite so lucky financially and are struggling to make your budget stretch to fit in accommodation expenses, staying at home might be the best choice. You’ll save on food and rent and it’s not impossible to get involved socially at college while living off campus-many students have done it before. Just make sure you factor in potential transport costs when working out the best decision for your budget.
The majority of you are probably preparing to head into a dorm for your freshman year. This is definitely the most popular option (probably because it’s usually compulsory) and, as long as you can afford it, probably makes the most sense.Depending on where you are in the country, dorms can often be a cheaper living situation than renting privately off campus, and you get the benefit of having utilities,internet and many handy amenities included in your rent.
A great way of saving money on the cost of your dorm is to opt for one of the cheaper rooms on campus. There’s often a huge variation in costs, with more crowded dorms often costing a fair bit less than some fancier options.
If you sign up for a dorm with more roommates and a few less perks, you could end up paying up to 20-30 percent less on your rent than those in the more expensive rooms. Ultimately, you’ll probably have an amazing time regardless of how many roommates you have, and you’ll have even more people to make friends with when you arrive.
Make sure you’re aware of the pricing options for all of the dorms before committing to find the accommodation that best suits you and your budget.
Talk To Your Roomie
Once you find out who your roommate is going to be- get in touch with them ASAP. Add them on Facebook and start chatting. Not only is this a good way to get to know each other before the semester begins, but you can also find out what they’re going to bring with them, just in case there are items that can be shared.
For example, if your roommate is planning on bring a microwave to college, it probably won’t be necessary to go out and buy your own. This goes for things like TVs, mini-fridges and other appliances. Check that they won’t mind sharing basic things like that, and you could easily save yourself the expense and energy of going out and buying these things yourself.
On that note, your college should also be able to tell you before you arrive what you can expect to find in your dorm room. Some colleges supply things like kitchen appliances and certain furnishings- so call to check up on what will already be there before you bring a load of extra stuff. This could save you money and valuable space.
As everyone knows, dorm rooms tend to be on the smaller size. Particularly if you opt for the less expensive option, you may find yourself with a pretty tiny space to work with- so learning to make the most of the room you have is key. These tips don’t just apply to dorm living- they’ll help you learn to live happily in a small space wherever you are, off campus or on.
- Minimize Clutter: Although it might be tempting to bring all of your worldly possessions with you to college, try to resist the urge. You probably won’t end up need half of the things you bring, particularly if you’re lugging along clothes from freshman year of high school, stacks of books you’ve already read and every DVD you own. Bring only the things you’ll actually use and you’ll find yourself with far less irritating clutter to clean up all the time.
- Find Storage Solutions: If everything in your room has its own place, the space will look larger and less cluttered. Invest in some storage boxes, shelves and anything else you can think of that could store your stuff. These can then be stacked in a corner, in a closet and under your bed to store all of the things you couldn’t bear to leave behind, and your floor space will still be clear.
- Get A Shoe Caddie: Your bedroom floor at home can probably attest to this fact- shoes can make a lot of mess. Your footwear collection can build up a huge amount of clutter and when thrown at the bottom of your closet, gets into a confused mess. A shoe caddie is a really handy, inexpensive buy- it’ll organize your shoes for you and can be hung up on a door handle or inside your closet.
- Don’t Bring Furniture: Although you might want to bring your own furniture to really personalize your space, your dorm room will already be furnished, and anything extra will just completely swallow up your space. Wait until you’re in your own place with a bit more room to start purchasing furnishings- now is the time for minimalist living.
- Use Your Wardrobe Wisely: If you can, try to minimize the amount of clothing that you bring with you. You may have less closet space than you’re used to at home, so bringing too many clothes will leave you with a heaving wardrobe and lots of mess! One great idea is to only bring the clothes you need for that particular season- you won’t need flip flops in the dead of winter so leave the rest at home and then switch your wardrobe around during breaks to suit the weather. If you do find that you have more stuff than space in your closet, then learn how to fold things efficiently to make more room. This site has tons of ideas for folding clothes as small as possible so that you can make the most of the space you have.
- Get A Chair Hanger: These useful accessories slot into the back of your chair, and you can put all of your study essentials like pens and books in the pouch and clear up space elsewhere. You’ll find some great ones at a reasonable price here.
- Get A System: If you label all of your storage boxes and shelves, you’ll always know where things belong and each item will have its place. Try to stick to the system even as the semester goes on and your motivation wanes- it’ll help keep your mind clear and your space organized.
- Invest In Files: Once you start stacking up lots of notes and paperwork, you’ll need files to keep everything organized. These are definitely a necessary purchase- a room covered in papers will make you feel stressed and will be sure to infuriate your roommate.
- Put Up Mirrors: You’ve probably heard this trick before, but it really does work! Bring some mirrors from home and put them up around your dorm room- you’ll be amazed at how much bigger the room looks, and feels.
- Read Up: Organizing extraordinaire Ellen Faye has tons of awesome advice on living happily in a small room- check out her page for loads more tips and you’ll be the most efficient dorm inhabitant on campus.
Being on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your style. It’s easy to get your dorm room looking great without spending a load of money- you’ll just need some creativity, some good ideas and a little imagination.
- Make A Budget: As with everything else, it’s important to make a budget for dorm decorating. Unless you can make everything yourself and take things from home, you’ll probably have to spend a little money on things for your dorm. After you find out what’s already going to be there, sit down with your parents and come up with a set budget- then make sure you stick with it. It’s the sticking with it that’s the challenge, but with these money-saving tips you should be able to get plentyof bang for your buck!
- Go Second Hand: Don’t turn your nose up at pre-loved goods. With a little hunting you can find some amazing stuff in thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, from interesting antiques to cheap pictures to hang on your walls. You can also try finding cheap stuff second hand online- Craigslist and eBay are two good places to start, while Freecycle is full of stuff that people no longer need and are willing to give away for absolutely nothing.
- Hit Yard Sales: Speaking of second hand goldmines, yard sales can be full of great finds at rock bottom prices. Start scouting around on Sundays and remember to haggle if something seems too high.
- Think Cheap: Instead of looking in overpriced interior stores, try out wholesale stores, dollar stores, all of the cheap places that you wouldn’t necessarily normally think to find design products. You never know what kind of bargains you might come across, and these stores often have bedding, cushions and decorations that don’t look a whole lot different from what you’ll find at a pricier store.
- Personalize The Drapes: You can easily make inexpensive, interesting curtains from fabric that will make the room feel more like your own. Look around the house for unused fabric to take with you to college, or check out hardware stores for dropcloths or fabric stores for cheap cuttings.
- DIY: Got some skills when it comes to crafting and creating? Put them to good use and make some of your own designs. You could create your own wall murals, artwork, blankets and lampshades- whatever you’re up for! Having your own hand made decorations will really set your room apart from the other identical dorms, and will make for great ice breaker conversation points when new friends come over. You’ll find some good ideas to get you started here.
- Etsy: Not so crafty? Check out Etsy, a site that’s full of handmade, unique design pieces at far better prices than you’ll find in the stores. You’ll also be supporting someone’s small business, which is always a nice plus.
- Bring Nature In: Flowers and plants won’t cost you much at all, and can make your room brighter in an instant. Find a pretty, cheap vase second hand or borrow one from your mom and fill it with wildflowers- it’ll be a great addition to your workspace and will give you a glimpse of nature when you’re cooped up working on a paper.
- Bring Throws: Colorful throws, cushions and quilts will make your room look instantly warmer- mix and match quirky patterns and colors for a cool look.
- Sticker Decals: Some colleges hold you back from styling up your room with a long list of restrictions and regulations. If you can’t nail things up or stick posters on your wall, try sticker decals. These can be stuck up and peeled off without doing any damage to the wall, making them ideal for dorm living. You can pick from a huge range of options on RoomMates Décor, from funky patterns to movie and entertainment themed designs.
- Find Inspiration: If you want to get creative when it comes to the look of your dorm room but are feeling a little stuck for ideas, read up on décor sites and flick through interior magazines for inspiration. Pinterest can be a great place to start when it comes to inspiration and craft ideas.
Become a Resident Advisor
Want to live on campus after you’re obligatory dorm stay is up? You could apply for a position as a Resident Advisor, or RA. The primary perk of becoming an RA is financial– in most colleges, RAs get their room and board fees waived, or at least discounted. Some colleges also offer a stipend to RAs, so this position essentially works out to be as lucrative as getting a “real” job while you’re at school.
Aside from a huge reduction in your accommodation fees, there are some other major upsides to being a RA:
- Space: Most RAs get their own bedrooms without any irritating roommates hanging around. After spending freshman year in close quarters with someone else at all times, this can be a super tempting perk.
- Make Connections: RAs get the chance to build relationships with a diverse range of students in the dorms, and buy hearing about their problems and helping them out, they can form lasting friendships that they might not have had the chance to experience otherwise. You’ll also get to work as part of the larger campus staff team, so you’ll get to know them too.
- Gain Skills: By working as an RA, you could gain valuableleadership skills. You’ll learn to manage other people, delegate, practice diplomacy to reduce conflict and empathize with others. Not only will these skills help you to grow as a person, they’ll also look impressive on your resume and give you something to brag about to employers in the future.
- Work From Home: You get the benefit of being paid for work without having to go out to a job every day. Most of the time, all you have to do is be present and ready to take on any problems that come up in the dorms.
- Stay At College: If you’re keen to get back on campus quickly before a semester starts, you’ll get more flexibility as a Resident Advisor. RAs can usually come back to campus before the rest of the students, so you’ll have the chance to settle back in, get some work done and prepare for the influx of students. Sound great, right? Think its sounds a little too good to be true? As with most things in life, there are also somedownsides to being a Resident Advisor:
- Privacy: Although you do get your own room, most RAs have to keep their doors open when officially on duty, so your precious privacy could be invaded more than you might like. You’ll also have to generally be a visible presence in the dorms and willing to talk to anyone about anything, so an outgoing, friendly persona isessential.
- Pressure: RAs are expected to serve as role models to the rest of the student body, particularly to younger students, so you’ll have to keep your behavior up to a pretty high standard. If you’re a party animal or find it difficult to stay on top of your work then you probably won’t be right for the position.
- Time Commitment: Learning to manage your time properly is essential for RAs- you’ll be expected to be on duty at your set times, and you’ll have to put your personal life and academic assignments second during these hours.
- Drama: If you’re not someone who usually deals well with drama, conflict and difficult scenarios, being a RA might not suit you. RAs have to help students with any issues that they might be facing, deal with fights between roommates and talk to those who are struggling. If you don’t consider yourself to be an especially empathetic person or if you had your fill of drama in high school and want some time off, maybe give this a miss.
If you’re the kind of person who loves talking to others, helping peers with their problems and tend to act like a responsible, mature and organized individual the majority of the time (nobody’s perfect!), then you could be the ideal RA.
Applying to be a RA tends to be a pretty extensive process with several interviews and lots of application forms to fill out, but if you’re the right person for the job and are super enthusiastic then the position could be yours! This is one of the best ways we know of to bring down your overall college costs while boosting your resume to improve your future career prospects.
Living Cheap Off Campus
After freshman year, most students will have the option to move out of college dorms and into a privately rented apartment or house off campus.
Off campus living either be a wise budgeting choice or a total financial disaster. Although the rent itself can easily be cheaper than what you’re paying to live in dorms (and you’ll probably get more room for your money), the many extras involved in off campus accommodation can easily trip you up.
Most of your amenities are included when you’re living in dorms- so if you’re planning on moving out to your own apartment then you’ll have to adjust your budget to include all of the extras that come with living independently.
Some important things to take into consideration when working out the costs of living off campus are:
- Internet costs (this essential expense can be surprisingly steep).
- Utilities: Water, electricity, heating, air conditioning.
- Deposits: You’ll need a pretty substantial amount upfront for a security deposit.
- Groceries: This expense can work out cheaper than your campus meal plan, but needs to be carefully budgeted to ensure your bills don’t skyrocket.
- Cable: Want a TV with lots of channels? This will set you back, so budget accordingly.
- Furnishing: Unfurnished places will be far cheaper than furnished, but make sure you have the means to cover furnishing costs.
- Phone: If you’re hoping to make calls from a landline then make sure you factor this in.
Of course, the main expense you’re looking at when considering a move off campus is your rent. One important point that many students don’t necessarily consider is that when living off campus, they’ll most likely be paying for a year’s lease. This means that you’ll have to continue to pay rent over the summer or during breaks, regardless of whether classes are running or not.
If you’re planning on always going home during breaks then be sure to consider this when comparing the costs of dorms to off campus apartments- your rent overall might be cheaper living in the dorm during the semester and heading home the rest of the time.
There are certainly perks that come with living off campus. Aside from the extra independence, you may also find that living outside of dorms is great preparation for life after graduation. You’ll have to cook your own food, clean your own home and budget more extensively than you did in freshman year.
If you want to experience off campus life, it’s definitely possible to make it work financially with some careful planning and preparation. Here are somesimple steps to finding a place off campus without running out of cash:
1) Make A Budget: Like every aspect of college planning, your first step here is to set your budget. Work out exactly how much you have to spend, and then divide it into rent, utilities and “extras”, like furnishing, decorating, internet costs and transport. Once you have a clear picture of how much money you have to work with, then you can start your search.
2) Choose Your Neighborhood Wisely: Even if you’re not living in a city, house prices can vary substantially between different neighborhoods. Your geographic location will have a major impact on your rent, so choose carefully. In many areas, the closer you are to campus the higher the rent will be, so if you have a car or access to public transport then living further from campus could help you save money. Just make sure you factor gas or bus prices into your budget. Living in a trendy neighborhood might seem like a must, but you could find that the rental prices put you off. You don’t have to find the most dangerous area and settle down, but somewhere a little further out of town with less of a nightlife might suit you perfectly if you’re hoping to save money and maybe even get more work done. Make sure that you consider safety factors and have a clear plan of how you’d get home from classes and late nights in the library- if you don’t have a great transport system set up then closer will be better, regardless of the cost.
3) Find Roommates: While the thought of having your own space might be tempting, you’ll save a lot of money buy getting as many people to share rent as possible. If you find a bigger space then it should be pretty easy to cut costs without overcrowding. Try and pick friends who are reliable, responsible and who definitelywon’t miss rent and utilities payments.
4) Get Hunting: The more places you can look at, the better. Leave yourself enough time to look at tons of different apartments and houses in a few different neighborhoods- this will give you a clear sense of the market and allow you to compare rental rates and quality. By seeing what’s out there, you can make an educated decision, instead of choosing an apartment on impulse or in a rush. If you find a place you really like and your roommates are all equally enthusiastic, give yourself 24 hours before you make a set decision. This is a major decision and will determine where you’ll sleep every night for the next year, so don’t be hasty.
5) Eliminate Luxuries: This all depends on how much room you have in your budget. If you have a fair amount to spend on your rent and bills then you shouldn’t have to worry about this, but if you’re trying to tighten your belt and want to minimize your rent payments, try and find apartments that have fewer unnecessary luxuries. By luxuries we mean things that are nice to have, but you can probably live without. If you are going to college in a state with pretty mild temperatures, then consider finding an apartment without central heating or air conditioning. You can always buy a cheap fan to cool you off in the summer, and layer up in the winter months to cut costs. Other luxuries that you could probably live without include a dishwasher, washing machine, and fancy furnishings.
6) Furnish Frugally: Once you’ve found your apartment or house, use our budget decorating tips from the dorm section to deck it up without breaking the bank.Borrow what you can from your family (and your roommate’s families) and avoid spending wherever possible. Thrift stores and Freecycle will become your best friends- use them wisely and stretch your dollars as far as you can.