MADISON, Wis. (8/16/10)--The cost of attending a four-year public college has risen sharply over the past decade. The price tag has climbed an average of 4.9% above
the general rate of inflation during that time (The College Board
July 2010). Add in the effects of a tough economy and the back-to-school season is financially difficult for college-bound students and their families. Relief is available in the form of discounts and incentives. But while these sales tactics can save money on back-to-school purchases, they also can entice you to purchase items and services that you could do without. Here are five retail categories to keep an eye on for potential savings of 5% to 25%, according to SmartMoney.com
, with some suggested alternatives from CUNA’s Center for Personal Finance:
* Technology. Major manufacturers and retailers hope to lure students with aggressive advertising of the latest, most powerful computers by offering steep discounts on hardware and software. Some manufacturers are extending these discounts for as long as you remain in school. But if you don’t need maximum computing power for schoolwork, you probably can squeeze a few more years out of your current laptop. As for video games, hey, what are friends for? * Cell phones. Discounts on hardware and service plans are one way cell phone companies try to hook students into contracts after graduation. Compare service plan features and fees carefully at least once a year to find the best deal. Now that you can keep your phone number when you change local providers, there’s one less disincentive to switch. Just be sure you understand all the costs of local number portability, including whether you need to buy a new phone. * Travel. Airfare and lodging discounts are common and change constantly. Monitor deals online for frequent opportunities. Include train travel, especially with the purchase of a rail pass. And don’t overlook the network of youth hostels that spans the world. Hostelling membership brings eligibility for a wide array of additional travel discounts. * Health clubs. Competition among gyms can lead to local price wars, so shop around. Be sure to ask about periodic promotional incentives that might save you even more than a student discount. But many universities give students access to gym facilities at a reasonable cost. And, if you exercise on campus, you’re more likely to run into people you’ll want to get to know than you will at a gym open to the general public. * Clothing. Store sales run almost constantly these days, and brand name bargains are easy to find. But if you can’t get away with a retro look based on second-hand clothes from a thrift shop while you’re a student, when will you ever be cool?