5 Ways to Save Money When Your Kid Heads to College (And 1 Way Not To)

Saving when your kids go off to college
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.

3. Go Lighter on Groceries. According the latest numbers from the USDA, the average cost of feeding boys ages 14 to 18 on a "moderate-cost" grocery budget is $298.60 per month. The cost of feeding girls in that same age range is $243.30. This is a huge monthly savings -- but only if you don't keep buying things out of habit. Put down the Pringles (your waistline and wallet will thank you).

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

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Student debt is mounting in this country because too many students borrow way more than they need. It's common for them to overborrow just to have money around to spend on whatever. More of them need to have jobs, yes jobs, during school. It will actually help them to organize and prioritize their lives. Mine did/are and it works out fine. They each have some student debt sure, but not excessive. Mom of 2.

August 10 2012 at 11:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Do not go into debt for an education. Pay as you go. There are no job guarantees at the end of it all.

August 07 2012 at 11:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bcheerful3's comment
Laura Long Woerner

College tuition has increased allot in the past decade 20,000 for tuition at my state college (and that is IF your not out of state). I work 20-30 hour weeks, often working six days a week. On top of being a full time student. I also went to a community college to save on tutution, which I did, but next year I am graduating with 30,000$ in debt and that all that money went to Student Fees, textbooks and often rent. Even though I work part time I often could not find a job and was never awarded work study. At the moment I barely make enough to get by and have to get food stamps or else I wouldnt eat It is not easy being a student and the only reason I have the job I have now is because I was the only candidate with the enough education for the job and I still only make 9.10$ an hour. "Paying as you go" is nearly impossible in todays world

August 12 2012 at 2:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Student debt is stunting the growth of the economy. Student loans have increased by 275% over past decade. As the next generation graduates from college, they are plagued by insurmountable debt that places demands on their income, limiting their ability to spend their earnings in ways that stimulate the economy.


August 07 2012 at 3:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply