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Biggest Waste of Money: Freshman year

Alyssa Pry
Personal Finance Reporter

If you’re heading off to freshman year, those college costs may seem daunting. The average student at a private, non-profit four-year college pays $34,740 per year in tuition and fees and $12,210 in room and board, according to the College Board.

Some people spend even more money than they have to — here are four expenses smart students can avoid:

  • Dorm room extras

It’s exciting to get ready for your new life in college, and “Back to College” shopping is big business: consumers will spend $25.5 billion in 2018, according to Deloitte. But while dorm room appliances like microwaves, toasters, or coffee pots may seem like must-haves before you head to school, you’ll quickly realize you don’t need them. Most dorms will have a common room with a kitchen. And keep in mind that many schools don’t allow certain appliances because of safety concerns. Check the rules before you buy.

While it may be tempting to recreate the comforts of home, bring personal items from home instead of buying everything new. You will spend a lot of time hanging on your bed (because there’s not much room elsewhere…), so if you want to splurge, spring for colorful and comfortable bedding to liven up your space.

  • Buying new textbooks

Books are a major expense: The average student will spend a whopping $1,300 per year on books and supplies. But with so many resources available, you can save a lot of money and avoid collecting books you’ll never need again after freshman year.

First, avoid purchasing your books before you start school. The syllabus might change, and you don’t want to be stuck. And swap those heavy volumes for e-book versions using a site like, where you can save up to 90% off the list price of the book. You can also consider renting books through Chegg or Amazon Textbook Rental — rent for the semester and don’t worry about having to sell those books back at the end of the year!

  • Getting a credit card

If you want a credit card, but are under the age of 21 and don’t have income of your own, your parents will have to cosign, according to the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Or else you will have to become an authorized user on your parents’ card. To be sure, having a credit card can be a good way to learn responsible spending habits. But you can land yourself in debt fast if you spend more than you have. Not only will it harm you, but it will harm your parents credit, too.

Instead, use a debit card to get into the habit of spending money you already have. Plus, you won’t have to deal with credit cards bills or late fees. You can also start tracking your money and set a budget through apps like Mint or Learnvest. Try the 50-20-30 budget plan, where 50% of your money goes towards your basic expenses, 20% goes towards savings or an emergency fund, and the final 30% goes towards fun and leisure expenses.

  • Skipping Class  

Heading to college means a lot of new responsibility, but the temptation to skip classes hits college students hard. The average college student will skip 240 college classes before graduation, according to a survey by Class120.  

So let’s do the math: Each college class costs $30-$104 according to a 2016 report by USA Today.  By the end of your college career, you’ve wasted $7,200-$24,960! Do yourself, your wallet, and your grades a favor: Set your alarm and head to class!


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