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Save While You Study: Eight Easy Ways to Cut Down on College Costs

There are no easy ways to skimp on tuition and room and board. But it's possible to keep extras from getting out of hand. Follow these expert tips.

The scary figures are flying as orientation gets closer: College textbook prices have risen 1,041 percent since 1977. Tuition and fees this past school year for a private, non-profit four-year college averaged out at $31,231. And student debt keeps rising.

There are no easy ways to skimp on tuition and room and board. But it is possible to keep the extras from getting out of hand. Follow these expert tips — and read more about the Freshman Year Experience here.

Don't waste money on shipping.

“You should never pay to ship anything,” said Lisa Heffernan, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown. At stores like Bed Bath and Beyond and the Container Store, you can order ahead, and pick up your dorm supplies at the store nearest your school. The store will hold the items for you unpurchased, so that once you’ve seen the dorm space, you can decide what your freshman will actually need."

Keep your school pride in check.

Enthusiasm is great. But, said Kal Chany, author of “Paying for College Without Going Broke” and president of Campus Consultants, a big mistake is buying a whole wardrobe with the school’s logo. “(Freshmen) get so excited, they go in there saying, ‘I want this shirt, I want this, I want that,’ then they realize that mostly the freshmen wear those around campus.”

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Avoid the school store for textbooks.

“You can save a fortune by searching for used books on Amazon, visiting your local library or buying an e-book version instead of buying a brand new copy at the school store, especially if it is a textbook in a topic that does not truly excite the student (for example, that macro-economics class that is required their first semester),” said Dr. Kat Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise.

Ditto school supplies.

“Get deals on supplies beforehand,” Chany said. “Some retailers like Staples run back-to-school specials now that may be much cheaper than buying the notebooks with the school’s logo on it in the bookstore.”

Leave the car at home.

“Having a car can lead to many unexpected costs over the course of the year. Numerous campuses charge students a fee for parking which can be very costly, plus there can be many unforeseen expenses such as gas, parking tickets, tire changes, etc. Getting around without a car can be pretty easy — and free — if you live on campus, as many colleges have on-campus buses and shuttles,” Cohen said.

Eat for cheap.

Check out the school’s food situation before committing to paying big for a meal plan. “Go for the smallest meal plan so you’re not paying for takeout because the food is bad,” said Marilyn Cedrone, a mom of two picky-eater college grads from Groton, Massachusetts. “This smaller plan will allow you to make a smart decision — whether to keep your kids on the meal plan or send money so he or she can shop for food or eat out.”

RELATED: Parents: Ready to Feel Old? Here's How College Is Different Now

Keep an eye out for student discounts.

“Many local businesses and restaurants offer discounts to students,” Cohen said. “Make sure to ask before you sit down to eat, purchase an item or buy a movie ticket what kind of discount is offered. Not everyone will give you the discount if you don’t ask for it.”

Make a plan, and stick with it.

“Parents and students need to have a discussion about what an appropriate allowance is, if any, how much the student is expected to contribute from part-time jobs, and clearly indicate what allowance money should be used for (for example, school supplies and some snacks, but not for movies or meals out, etc.). Make sure clear expectations are laid out in advance, so there is less chance of wasting money down the road,” Cohen said.