Twenty years ago around this time, I left the gritty urban landscape of Baltimore City for the significantly smaller (and infinitely more small-townish) Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin (famous for dairy products, the anthropologist upon whom Indiana Jones is based, turtle-shaped Native American burial mounds, a giant Hormel Chili can, and the Mindset List).

I was an English major and studied with some incredibly smart people as my professors (in and out of the English department) and fellow students with whom I am still close (thank you, Facebook). My advisor at Beloit was Professor Tom McBride. To this day we remain in touch, which means that the minute that the [in]famous Mindset List hits print and pixel, I hear about it and read what Tom and his Beloit cohort Ron Nief have listed as the historicultural background and collective mentality for the year’s incoming freshman.

I graduated from Beloit in 1996, before there was a Mindset List (and accompanying book). Undoubtedly had there been a list for my class, those alumni twenty years my senior would have felt exactly as I feel now when I read the Mindset List — old, very old, and also fortunate, very fortunate to have gone to college and to have done so at a place I loved and that stays with me in the form of still-quirky people, skills and interests and curiosities, and of course the annual Mindset List. That said, enjoy learning about where the class of 2016 is coming from in terms of headspace, and try not to feel too old while doing so. Oh, and take heart, at least we had bound encyclopedias and tan M&Ms.

Back-to-school time can be one of the most expensive times of year, especially if you are starting or heading back to college. With books, bags, computers, software and clothing needs, school expenses could run into the hundreds each year. While you have to buy what you have to buy, a few tips can help you keep your back-to-school spending at the low end of the spectrum.

Go for Quality

Everyone does it. It comes time to shop for a necessity, and we start comparing the price tags on items instead of the items themselves. This may seem like the smart thing, and it is if you’re just trying to save money upfront. Keep in mind, though, that an upfront savings may cost you down the road.

When you’re shopping for your school items, whether books, equipment or clothes, price should be only one factor. Quality is important as well. The $5 t-shirt isn’t a smart buy over the $20 t-shirt if it falls apart the first time you wash it.

Be a Smart Buyer

The trick to buying safely online is to stick to well-known vendors, who have respectable business practices. Youth is a good time to take your chances at things, but not in online buying. Online retailers are a common place for credit card number theft, so it’s best to stick with vendors with whom you are familiar.

If you’ll be doing a lot of online buying, or using your debit or credit cards freely around campus, consider adding identity theft protection, like that available from Lifelock, to your back-to-school purchases. This reputable security company can help protect your identity in the rare instance that someone makes an attempt to steal your information. It’s like insurance for your finances, and gives you one less thing to worry about.

Still, though, you should always be aware of where and when you use your credit or debit cards. Spring break, for instance, is a good time to carry cash and a single credit card and leave the rest at home, because tourist destinations are hotspots for card number thieves The best method of dealing with identity theft is to prevent it.

Rent Your Textbooks

Yes, rent your text books. Many students won’t use their text books after they finish the class they are taking that requires the necessary text, so why bother buying the text book just to have to sell the used edition at a lower price than you purchased it? Whatever you do, stay away from the college bookstore. All items run considerably higher in the on-campus bookstore, because the school knows they have captive consumers. If you take good care of your textbooks, you don’t have a habit of dog-earring your book, loosing supplemental materials that go with your textbook (like CD-ROMs, keycodes, etc.), if you like your savings up front (80 percent off of the price of new books, and if you care about recycling and doing something good for our planet overall then renting textbooks might be the option for you.

Find Out What Your Roommate Is Bringing

If you are heading off to a joint living situation, as most college students are, save money on your back-to-school purchases by finding out what your roommate is bringing. Then, you can coordinate. If one of you is bringing a microwave, the other can bring the refrigerator. Generally speaking, dorm rooms are small, so duplicate objects can be more in the way than useful.

If you’re a first-timer heading off to your freshman year of college, your university generally provides you with the contact information of your roommate ahead of time, so you’ll still be able to make a plan.

Watch for Tax-Free Shopping Days

Several states have one or two days a year during which you can make qualifying back-to-school purchases without paying sales tax. During this time, you can buy not only items that are directly school-related, like notebooks, pens, backpacks, and computer equipment, but you can generally buy clothing and shoes tax-free as well.

There’s no way around it. Going back to school is rarely cheap. By keeping an eye out for the best deals, renting your textbooks, buying lasting items and protecting yourself financially can ensure that it doesn’t wipe you out completely. If your wallet does start to look a little thin, maybe look into a job opportunity as a member of a reputable security company; LifeLock currently has many open positions available on their team that are entry level and managerial. Plus, it never hurts to have some work experience on your resume.

At, we believe that the key to that smart shopping comes from the power of information and options. Part of our commitment to that business ideal involves passing along what we believe to be too-good-to-miss deals and offers. Right now, one of those comes in the form of Amazon Student, which normally carries a price tag of $79 but for a limited time is free for a six-month period (after that, you can keep it for a fee or cancel without hassle).

So what is Amazon Student and why would you be crazy not to take advantage of this six months of free awesomeness? Well, it’s basically Amazon Prime plus even more goodies that are exclusively for students. Now what’s Amazon Prime? It’s a suite of benefits and bonuses that includes:

  • Free two-day shipping on millions of items (um, and not just textbooks)
  • Free release-date delivery on video, games, books, DVDs, and more)
  • Instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows via Amazon Instant Video
  • Freebies for Kindle

I’ll be totally honest and say that I was an early adopter of Amazon Prime when it first came out a few years ago and I have never looked back. I am not a student so I pay full price, which is $79 per year, which is well worth it for my household as we order tons of stuff from Amazon. I can’t imagine living without my expedited delivery, same-day new releases (seriously, a courier comes and drops off the item just as it becomes available in stores), and streaming movies and entire seasons of TV shows. It’s totally worth the annual cost and I recommend it to everyone at full price . . . but six months free? And with even more benefits just for students? I wish that I could get that deal and I envy you guys for being able to get in on it. That said, do not pass this deal up, get Amazon Student ASAP.