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College Money Tip #16: Incoming Freshman

Welcome to Oxford by philTizzani on Flickr Welcome to college! At the risk of sounding like one of your orientation coordinators, I’m going to tell you that the next four (or so) years of your life may well be the best years of your life. But you generally don’t get a crash course in finances during orientation (I sure didn’t), so I’m here to help.

There might be some instruction about money in your “First Year Enrichment” class (or whatever they call it at your school), but by the time they cover that topic, most of your classmates will have already made the three big freshman money mistakes. Ouch. Be cooler than your peers: avoid these mistakes!

Mistake #1: Buying textbooks from the school bookstore.
I’ve yet to meet a college freshman that shopped around for their textbooks. They all (including me, at that time) shuffle into the school bookstore like lemmings, and pay the premium that the school bookstore charges. Get your textbooks from Amazon, Chegg, or used from another student on campus, and you can easy save $150 (or more!) each term. You can find my super-secret, ultra-refined formula for saving money on textbooks in the College Freshman Checklist.

Mistake #2: Getting bank accounts and credit cards for free t-shirts.
Free stuff is awesome! But you’ve got to know, in the back of your mind, that there’s a reason that these guys are giving you a free t-shirt (or candy bar, or Frisbee). The reason they do it is because they will make way more money off of you over the years than the cost of that freebie. In most cases the money they make off of you is in the form of awful fees, which you could have avoided if you got a proper bank account.

So don’t be like your friends, who’ll line the pockets of banks and credit card companies in exchange for a cheep Frisbee with the bank’s logo on it! Get a checking account that is a truly fee-free student account, with ATMs on or near campus. This might be the type of account the guys with the free t-shirts are offering, or it might not be. Trust me, the money you save in fees will buy you much cooler shirts!

As for the credit card, I’m all for college students establishing a credit history by getting a credit card. However, the one being pitched on campus with a freebie probably isn’t the best one you could get. Get a proper credit card with no annual fee and spending rewards. (See College Money Tip #9: Establish Credit.)

Mistake #3: Ignoring student loans.

Chances are, you’ve taken out some student loans to help pay for school. You might be tempted to take this lightly, since it seems like everyone has student loans, and you’ve got a long time before you’ve got to start paying them back. But your best bet is to pay some attention to those bad boys, before they get out of hand.

You’d be amazed at how easy it is to take out more money than you should. Student loan companies are not likely to tell you if you’ve taken out more than you can reasonably pay back, and that includes the Federal government! I took out way more in loans than I could handle, and all of my loans are Federal student loans, so don’t think you’re safe just by avoiding private loans.

Keep track of your student loans starting now and you can save yourself a whole lot of hurt come graduation. And it will be ten times easier to track them if you do it from the beginning than if you try to start keeping records halfway through. Just put all of your loan paperwork in one file folder, and put a piece of paper in it where you add up all the money you’ve borrowed and keep a running total. And use this loan calculator to make sure you’re not going to borrow more than you can handle. That’s it!

Upperclassmen: could you chime in with some sage wisdom for the incoming class in the comments?

This post is a part of the weekly series College Money Tips. Previous College Money Tip: Get Savings.

22 responses to “College Money Tip #16: Incoming Freshman”

  1. Thomas

    I would also add to this list the advice of not selling books back to the campus bookstore at the end of the semester. Find friends that might need the books later or sell them online. I know I have heard of plenty of sites that will pay you for your books but I do not know of any off hand.

  2. Meghan

    Did you go to Emory? Just wondering because of the picture.

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  4. Eric

    Yay, upperclassmen tip:
    – Email the professors of your classes before heading out to buy books. It puts you on their good side for showing interest, and there’s always the chance you’re scheduled with a professor that makes a last-minute switch to the new version of a textbook, and you’ll be ahead of the game. Remember that goody two-shoes that gets to smirk & hold up the ‘proper’ edition of the textbook on the first day of class? That’s going to be you!

    – Check the various college textbook stores in the area, and make sure to note their return policy. It’s been a lifesaver on more than one occasion to buy a textbook from them and return it for a full refund within a couple days when the copy of the book I ordered online finally arrives. Just make sure you know how long that return policy lasts and don’t lose the receipt!

    1. Nicole

      Better yet, email them and ask if you’re even going to be using the book at all I had a good number of classes in college where there was a book listed for the class but the professor never really had us use it.

  5. Raymund @ Pinoy Social Network

    Students can also go for ebooks. Will save them money plus they will become portable.

  6. matt s

    do ISBNs change with new editions?

  7. Rebecca

    Always check with the professor if they are keeping copies of the textbook on reserve in the library. Many of my professors did that and I was able to save a ton of money by spending a couple hours each week in the library reading the reserved book. Many professors didn’t advertise that they did this so the text books were easy to access. There were a few times I had to photocopy some pages but the few dollars in photocopies was a HUGE savings over the few hundred dollars that I would have spent on the books. The previous editions are usually fine for most classes anyways. Always try to do a comparison of the new vs. old edition for extras.

    And yes, I did shop around for my books when I was a Freshman. And that was before many of the used text book sites came about.

    Another tip is if you buy the books from the school bookstore, watch the refund policy. Sometimes you can front load your reading or assess the use of the book within a couple weeks of classes and then return it for full refund. This was helpful if the professor wouldn’t send the syllabus or give a good response about the textbook use until the first week of class, especially when they were one of the authors of the book.

  8. Anon @ Deans Credit Ideas Guide

    Especially tip #3!!!!

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  12. Diane

    Great tips that I wish I had followed as an incoming freshman a few years ago. But luckily I have a younger sister who is starting college in a week and I’m passing all this info to her. She’s already ordered her books from websites like, and for much cheaper prices…some were even free!

  13. J. Scott Allen

    I agree that avoiding the college bookstore will bode well for your wallet. I always use They are a textbook search engine that searches all the online textbook retailers and rental sites to find you the best prices.

  14. Lindsey

    Thanks for the helpful tips! i’m starting college soon and i almost made the textbook mistake!! thanks for the alternative suggestions.

  15. Meg

    You have no idea how much these tips will help me!

  16. Amit Sehgal

    Check out this site, A price comparison search engine for books and textbooks. It searches for the lowest prices among the major online stores worldwide and also offers discount coupons. You can also choose among various shipping options to calculate the lowest price

  17. Cristina

    Great post, thank you for inforamtion.

  18. Carole

    I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website. It’s a very
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