Leaving home for college means taking on all sorts of extra expenses. You need a place to live, food to eat, a PC for assignments and some entertainment too.
How to pull all this off without adding to that big mound of student debt?
The technology you choose and how you use it can actually go a long way toward keeping those extra costs in check.
We can’t do anything about tuition (unless you want to use your PC to take an online degree program and avoid leaving home altogether), but our list of back-to-school tips will help you save money during those costly college years.
Money-Saving Tech Tips for College Students #1: Skype
Moving away from home to go to college can be a lonely experience. Staying in touch with family and friends is important, but long-distance phone calls can be expensive.
Carriers like AT&T (T) offer discounted or unlimited long-distance phone service packages, but even $25 a month adds up.
Instead of paying for long-distance voice calls, why not take advantage of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Skype and talk all you want for free?
Skype software is available for a wide range of PCs, tablets, smartphones, game consoles and even Smart TVs. Calling anyone from one Skype account to another is free, and you don’t need college math to know free beats $25 any day.
Even better, although Skype does voice calls, it’s also able to one-up long distance with video conferencing.
Money-Saving Tech Tips for College Students #2: PC Entertainment System
If you’re going to college, you’re going to need a PC. And while many back-to-school tips lists will suggest something like a Chromebook as a cost-saving alternative to a Windows PC, there’s another route you could take: spend a little more instead of looking for a bargain.
If that seems like the opposite of a money-saving tip, here’s the reasoning behind it.
When they move to their dorms or apartments, college students often end up bringing a bunch of electronics with them, including a PC, stereo, video game console, and a TV.
Investing in a quality all-in-one PC with a big screen, like Apple’s (AAPL) 27-inch iMac can let your replace all of those devices with a single unit. The computer becomes home entertainment central.
Going this route can not only save money, but it will save a lot of space too — another commodity that’s often in short supply for college students.
Money-Saving Tech Tips for College Students #3: Tablet
Many college students end up buying a laptop computer for taking to class and working on assignments on the go.
Laptops can be expensive and heavy for carting around campus all day. If your program doesn’t require running specialized software packages, you may well be able to get away with a small tablet and keyboard case combo instead.
I like the pairing of Apple’s iPad Mini with Retina Display and a Zagg (ZAGG) Folio. You get a laptop form factor, decent keyboard (with backlit keys for dim lecture halls), 10 hour battery life and the ability to run apps like Microsoft Office.
The combined device is small enough to easily slip into a backpack, weighs under a pound and costs under $500 — that’s pretty tough to beat with a traditional PC laptop.
Money-Saving Tech Tips for College Students #4: Online Coupons
The web has become a money-saver’s paradise if you know where to look. Online coupon sites like RetailMeNot (SALE) can save you money on everything from back-to-school clothes to groceries.
Deal-of-the-day services like Groupon (GRPN) take the money saving a step further, delivering tough to beat bargains for restaurants, products, services and activities –including offers specific to your location — directly to your smartphone or tablet.
Money-Saving Tech Tips for College Students #5: Rent Amazon E-Texts
College textbooks are expensive. According to the National Association of College Stores, in 2012 the average student spent $655 per year on them.
Amazon (AMZN) has a way to cut this cost significantly for Kindle owners or anyone with a connected device running a Kindle app: Kindle Textbook Rental.
If the textbook you want is available as Kindle edition, choose the rental period (30 to 360 days) and you get a digital copy for that period at up to 80% off the price of the printed book. How’s that for big ticket back-to-school tips?
Added bonus — the digital version weighs nothing.
Money-Saving Tech Tips for College Students #6: Netflix
This one’s a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning on any money-saving back-to-school tips list.
If you don’t already have a Netflix (NFLX) account, get one. Cable is expensive and Netflix gives you unlimited TV shows and movies for a flat rate of $7.99 a month ($8.99 if you’re a new subscriber).
Netflix streams content over Wi-Fi, and as a student, chances are you either have Wi-Fi for free in your dorm or already pay for it at your apartment (no student can live without web access).
If you own a device that connects to the Internet, chances are Netflix will run on it. So, you’ll also have the option of binge-watching in the library if studying gets to be too much.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.