When you see articles with the words "college" and "money" in the headline, the news that follows isn't typically very comforting. The stories usually also contain words like "debt" and "loans," and phrases like "growing cost," and "over $1 trillion dollars."
So I'll forgive you for not believing me the first time I tell you that you can actually save money when your son or daughter goes off to school.
How much? Well, it's not going to make up for the large tuition check you had to write. But it will make you feel a little bit better. Here are five areas where you can find extra cash -- plus one "cost-cutting" trick that you should actually avoid:
1. Rethink Your Auto insurance. If your child is going to school full-time at least 100 miles away from your house and won't have a car on campus, you could qualify for a discount. Some insurance providers, like Travelers Personal Insurance, call this the "Student Away at School" discount. Others don't call it by that name, but they will re-rate your policy if you meet the 100-mile distance criteria. The amount you save will depend entirely on your insurance provider.
And even if your child didn't drive while home, instead depending on you to play chauffeur, you may still be able to save on car insurance by switching to a mileage-based auto insurance program. Depending upon how much less driving you'll actually be doing, you'll typically save 5% to 20% by switching to a low-mileage plan.
2. Cut the Cable. First, you added HBO just so your daughter could watch Boardwalk Empire for a history class. Then you caved and got a TV for her room -- which meant an extra cable box on the family bill. But now, the person who wanted all of this will be out of the house for nine months of the year. Don't pay for what you are not using. Cancel those no-longer-watched premium channels and remove the extra box. Depending on your cable provider and the extra services you've ordered just for your teens, you could save $40 to $50 a month.
4. Scale Back the Gym Memberships. The average cost of a gym membership is $55 per month, according to Club Manager Central, a software maker for health clubs. This was a good investment when your kids were in high school and their own gym classes at school did little more than teach them how to play ping pong. However, your child will have access to gyms at college, so this is $55 per month that you should not be paying. Likewise, if you're on a family plan and this child is your last out of the house, see if you can scale back to a membership for couples or singles. If and when your offspring returns, head to the local YMCA, which typically offers month-to-month policies and student discounts, both of which are perfect for breaks.
5. Skip the Subscriptions. You ordered a Sports Illustrated subscription for your athlete, and you get the local paper to keep up with all the high school happenings. Come September, you know you won't be reading either. Cancel SI and save $39 per year. Cancel the town paper and save another $50 or so (depending on the town). Not a ton of money -- but every bit helps.
And that one thing you shouldn't do... Now, you might be tempted to look at your child's empty room and, after getting past the lump in your throat, think, "Well, since no one lives here now, I don't need to heat or cool the room. Let's close the vents to save money on the utility bills!" Don't. According to Lou Manfredini, host of the syndicated TV show House Smarts, this will backfire. "The system works harder to heat that air that you now didn't heat because [this cold air] circulates through the home," he said. Saving on electricity and utilities will happen naturally simply because there is one fewer person in the house.
With reporting by Maggie McGrath