Queen of free: Get money-smart on costs of attending college

While the return to the classroom has already occurred for the younger set of scholars, most college students are just starting to get moved into their dorms. Every student of higher education (and his or her parents) knows full well that pursuing a degree is costly at best, financially stressful at worst.

However, there are some unique ways to save and even perks for those taking their next steps on campus. Time for the collegiate set to sharpen those pencils, sit up straight and take note. It’s about to get real with saving money.

Fill up that 529

Remember all of those envelopes that you opened containing wads of cash at your high school open house? Still have some of those tips from your summer gig? Well if you thought it was too late to use those dollars to start a college fund, you were wrong.

Head to collegechoicedirect.com to see all of the benefits available to parents and students. Best of all, taxpayers from Indiana benefit from a state income tax credit equal to 20 percent of their contributions up to $1,000. College funds aren’t just for babies. Even if you don’t have much time to grow your investment, you can still use this beneficial program to help you manage paying for college.

Go used on textbooks

Sometimes it can seem like your books cost as much as your tuition. When you hit the campus bookstore, be sure you find out if there’s a used or digital option to save a few dollars. Some professors use a specific edition or year of the text; however, others are fine with you saving money and getting a similar yet not the same version.

Scour online student communities where students who have already had the course might be selling their books or look for campus-sponsored events that allow students to do the same. You can also check out an online retailer such as Half.com to see if you can score a better deal. Don’t settle for the top dollar book. Do your savings homework and keep those dollars in your account to finance other needs.

Buy basic and used

Every big box retailer now has at least one designated seasonal aisle crammed with cork boards, ottomans, lamps, mini-refrigerators, desk organizers and cute comforters to make your home away from home photoshoot worthy. While it’s easy to get caught up in all of the extras and coordinating pieces, what you really need for a dorm room is very basic.

Keep in mind the majority of your purchases are meant to be used for four years (or at least that’s what your parents are hoping). Post on your social networks to see if you can find someone who’s looking to unload a futon or chair. Make what you already have work. And when necessary, buy only the basics that you need.

Use discounts

The best thing — OK, maybe it’s a close second after chasing your passion and becoming equipped for your professional pursuits — about college is the wide variety of student discounts you can make the most of during your years of study. From food to laptops, you can save dollars in almost every category imaginable.

Amazon offers Prime Student — a special discount program for anyone with an .edu email address. For six months, you’ll get free two-day shipping, unlimited streaming of movies and TV, unlimited photo storage, and access to exclusive deals. If after your free trial expires you wish to continue your subscription, you can upgrade (and also receive additional benefits) for 50 percent off the typical Amazon Prime subscription.

Apple also issues special discounts for college students and educators. The current featured promotion allows students to nab a free pair of Beats headphones with the purchase of select Macs. Sam’s Club offers a discounted collegiate membership program, too. Movie theaters, restaurants, clothing retailers and more — the discounts you can garner with a simple student ID are astounding. Always be sure to ask.

You were smart enough to get into college. You’re smart enough to collect your degree after four years of hard work. Take that brilliant intelligence to the next level to save as much money as possible in pursuit of your dreams.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net.