The Money Secrets Your College Student Is Keeping

college money
When it comes to college and money, there's not much that is a secret these days. Tuition is transparent -- pricey, but transparent -- and the costs of room and board are readily available with a few clicks of a mouse. Likewise, it's no secret that our young people struggle to manage their money. Survey after survey (most recently, a joint one from the U.S Treasury and the Department of Education) has revealed that the financial literacy of millennials is at an all-time low.

So, if you're sending Junior off to school this fall, you might think that you know everything there is to know about where your money is likely to go. Right? Wrong. After talking with a few recent grads and doing some digging, I've discovered there are a few things your college student doesn't want you to know.

Money Secret #1: Books don't really cost $2,000 per semester. According to CollegeBoard, books for classes cost an average of roughly $1,200 per year. That means $600 per semester. Now that's an average, and if your budding engineer has taken on seven classes, the bookstore bill will likely be fairly high. But if your son or daughter is following a regular course load, he or she shouldn't be spending two grand per semester.

So where is the money going? Sweatshirts. Ipods. Computers. You name it. Bookstores aren't just bookstores these days, and college students know that. Some schools -- like my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania -- allow students to charge their books directly to their bursar bill, but all that you see on the bill is the lump sum, so it's easy to slip in a DVD here and an iHome there. "We learned about it as mere freshmen; we were told it was a convenient way to charge iPods to our unsuspecting parents," wrote a student on a UPenn blog. Well, now you're not so unsuspecting.

Money Secret #2: Your kid is spending the money you send for groceries on beer. Okay, maybe this isn't the biggest secret in the world, but you might be surprised at how much college students are spending on alcohol. According the the U.S Department of Health, college students spend a total of $5.5 billion per year on booze. By some estimates, that breaks down to $50 per student per month just on beer. Maybe you should send a care package instead.

Money Secret #3: Out-of-network ATM fees add up fast! This happens because students don't know any better. Many student centers and campus hubs now have ATMs, but unless that ATM is in your network, you'll get hit with a fee. Make sure your child understands this. The best thing to do is open an account with an area bank that has plenty of branch locations near the campus.

Money Secret #4: Procrastination carries a high price. As I note in my new book, Money Rules, "Doing nothing can be very expensive." Case in point: Your child forgets to buy a book for a class and has to rush order it before an exam and pay for express shipping. Or he has the list of course materials weeks ahead of time but only hits the bookstore the night before, when all the "used" options are gone and only new is available. As one mom ranted on, "Nothing beat the first term when she spent $1,200 on her books. She bought them all at the bookstore. She didn't have any idea what she needed until the last minute. Not good!"

Money Secret #5: They're not taking a full course load. This may be the biggest financial sinkhole (I mean secret) of all. Graduation rates vary depending upon the school, but in general, it's taking kids longer and longer to finish their degrees -- as many as six years, in some cases. At many schools, taking just three courses per semester is considered taking classes "full time," and as a result, will cost you full-time tuition -- the same amount you would pay for four or five courses per semester (which is what most students need to take to finish in four years). Make sure your child knows that the three-course minimum is unacceptable, and that you won't be paying tuition for a fifth year of school.

With reporting by Maggie McGrath

Here's A Quick Guide To Selling, Swapping, Buying And Renting Textbooks
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The Money Secrets Your College Student Is Keeping

By Mandi Woodruff, Business Insider

Malls and e-commerce sites are packed with deals on back-to-school basics like electronics, but finding ways to shave the soaring costs of textbooks can be tricky.

From e-books to online swap meets, there's absolutely no reason to plop down big money for glossy hardbacks when you could be saving that cash for student loans down the road.

Click through our quick guide for buying, renting, selling and swapping your text books online and in-store.

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Amazon's Book Rental. Rent e-books as long as you need them (30 days minimum) and save up to 80% off the cover price. The best part about this service is that all your highlights and notes will still be available via their Cloud service even after you've returned your book. You can download books to just about any device, including the iPad, Kindle, Macs and PCs.

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Rent-A-Text. Created by Follett Higher Education Group, students can save 50 percent on average by renting their books from Rent-a-Text. Not only can you rent straight from, but the site gives access to rentals from more than 900 college bookstores across the nation. Want to avoid shipping charges? They tell you where to pick books up, too.

Video: Rent-A-Text

Business Insider This site promises savings up to 85% off the cover price of textbooks. It claims to have the largest textbook inventory on the market and also allows you to sell or buy books new. CEO Chuck Jones says they aren't offering e-books at the moment but don't charge customers for shipping costs. And if you're really into highlighting the margins, Jones promises they're far more lenient in that regard.

Video: College Book Renter

Business Insider site has a huge inventory of books for rent and it recently launched an e-book rental service as well. You can download books to your account and access them anytime on the Web. The only drawback is they're only available as streaming files, so you'll need an Internet connection to access them and they can't be downloaded.

Video: Chegg

Business Insider They give you a 15-day late return grace period and offer three options for rentals: 55 days (summer), 130 days (semester) and 85 days (quarter). Extra perk: They're cool with highlighting fanatics, too.

Video: Campus Book Rentals

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You can sell back your books on most sites, but Amazon is a great go-to site for anyone new to the game. has a great app to find the best buy-back price on your books. Stack up your text books with the ISBN codes all facing the same direction, then snap a photo with your smartphone.

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Give a try if you're looking for something quick and simple. You can ship your book to them free and they pay by check or via PayPal.

Video: Cash4books

Business Insider This eBay-owned site lets you rent and buy your books online, like


Business Insider The go-to site to swap everything from DVDs to expired Groupons, is also great for trading textbooks. If you've got an older edition you know you won't get much cash back for, it might be a better idea to try to swap it for another title.


Business Insider This site is a bit different in that it charges a fee ($8.95) for swapping services. If you sign up for a five-swap plan, that gets knocked down to $7.99 per book. But the cool part is every book you post for sale accrues points toward your account, which can then be applied to a book purchase. The points for each book are based on fair market value of the book, age and demand.

Business Insider This is a true swap site, in that you trade books even-steven with other users and get points for every book you give away. For each book you give, you can get one back in return and you only pay the cost of shipping. You can also request books from other countries and choose to donate points to charities.

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