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

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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.

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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.

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

Location: Princeton, N.J.

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,220

Total Annual Cost: $50,269

Average Debt at Graduation: $5,225

Students Who Borrow: 23%

Princeton’s no-loan financial aid policy, introduced a decade ago, means that less than one-fourth of students need to borrow, and the amount they do borrow is small. Princeton’s average debt at graduation, at a little over $5,000, is the lowest among our top 200 private colleges.

Location: Berea, Ky. 

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,613 

Total Annual Cost: $32,894 

Average Debt at Graduation: $5,836 

Students Who Borrow: 73% 

Plenty of colleges talk about keeping costs, and student debt, down, but Berea walks the walk: This Christian-focused institution covers the full $25,500 tuition for all students, out of a mix of grants and scholarships, leaving them to cover only $7,394 in remaining costs (including room and board). It’s no surprise that average debt here is second-lowest on our list.

Location: Williamstown, Mass. 

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,029 

Total Annual Cost: $55,360 

Average Debt at Graduation: $8,369 

Students Who Borrow: 43% 

With an average financial-aid package of about $40,000 a year, Williams brings the annual cost of its elite education to a relatively modest $15,360 for students who qualify. Williams admits students without considering their financial circumstances and meets the full demonstrated need of students who enroll.

Location: New Haven, Conn. 

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,294 

Total Annual Cost: $53,700 

Average Debt at Graduation: $9,254 

Students Who Borrow: 28% 

An Ivy League school with a walloping endowment and a financial-aid budget of $117 million, Yale offers no-loan financial aid to more than half its students, including families earning well over $100,000. Result: Students who borrow carry away one-third less debt than the national average for borrowers at private schools.

Location: Claremont, Cal. 

Undergraduate Enrollment: 956 

Total Annual Cost: $55,700 

Average Debt at Graduation: $9,435 

Students Who Borrow: 36% 

This tiny, all-women’s school awards generous need-based and merit-based grants as well as privately funded need-based loans, which do not accrue interest while the student is in school. (Students also have access to federally sponsored loans, such as Staffords.) Scripps is one of the three members of the Claremont Colleges (a consortium of five colleges and two graduate programs that share faculty and facilities) to make our top ten for low debt.

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With reporting by Maggie McGrath

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