The price of college doesn’t stop at tuition, food and housing. Books, supplies, transportation and other expenses can consume an unexpectedly large piece of the pie. In fact, according to The College Board, an undergraduate living on campus at an in-state, four-year public college or university can expect to pay an average of $4,520 annually on these expenses. That's one pricey back-to-school list. Learn how to save on these college essentials.


What is the biggest way to save on textbooks? Consider renting them. If you don’t plan to use your textbooks after the semester ends, renting can save you even more than buying your books used. Plus, you won’t have to worry about reselling them. According to Investopedia, you could save up to 80 percent. Some vendors who rent textbooks and eTextbooks include:

  • Amazon (textbooks or eTextbooks)
  • (textbooks)
  • Barnes and Noble (eTextbooks)

Your next best option is buying used. Compare your college bookstore’s prices with online retailers, but double-check that you have the right version by verifying the ISBN number found near the barcode. If you don’t want to risk using a deteriorating hand-me-down, you can also try electronic versions, which may be less expensive than their physical counterparts. Or, you might share the cost of a new book with a friend.

School and Dorm Supplies

Fortunately, many of the supplies you’ll need for college are not very different from those you needed for high school. Repurpose any leftover pens, notebooks and highlighters from previous years. For new supplies, skip the pricey college bookstore and look to large retailers instead. Back-to-school sales usually run from July through September. You’ll see the biggest discounts the later you shop, but you’ll find the best selection early in the sales.

Sharing some items with a roommate makes perfect sense, especially since college housing can be cramped. Decide ahead of time who will bring what and how costs will be shared to ensure you don’t double up on items like mini-fridges, televisions, printers, microwaves and room decorations.


If you have a 529 college savings plan, you can make a tax-free withdrawal to pay for a computer or computer equipment. Don’t have a 529 plan? Save money on a computer purchase by buying only what you absolutely need. Unless it will need to run complicated engineering or computer science software, you may only need a device that can connect to the web and run basic software like word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

You'll find that a number of retailers offer student discounts on both the hardware and software. And, if you don't need a laptop or desktop computer, netbooks and similar devices are perfect for the casual computer user. They offer basic functionality at low prices—especially during back-to-school sales. If waiting isn’t an issue, you’ll also find deals toward the end of the year, particularly around Black Friday in November. Finally, most colleges have a limited number of computers available for student use in libraries or writing labs. Check out what might be available to you and when.


Living at home or in an off-campus apartment can reduce your housing costs, although it can drive up your transportation costs. Get to school on the cheap by carpooling with a friend, taking public transit, bicycling or finding an apartment within walking distance. Many colleges and universities make the bus an even better option option by offering discount passes for students, and some even offer shuttles from a few off-campus sites.

If you have a handle on your college essentials, but still need assistance financing your education, Navy Federal is here to help. Explore our competitive private student loan options and learn more about how to pay for college.