The Sharing Economy Back to School Survival Guide

Ahh, college, that moment when you're handed the controls to your future. Whether it's your first year or you're returning, it’s a time to meet new people and new responsibilities. Not to mention taking on that most enduring of college traditions, student debt.

That’s right, the world can be yours, but at a price. So if you have some pennies, you should start pinching them now. But don’t worry, you’re far from alone. Students everywhere are figuring out how to live better for less through sharing. From housing, to food, to furniture, the sharing economy has got you covered. 

Below is the college guide to a new world where access trumps ownership. Far from exhausitive, it highlights key services to make campus life more fun, affordable, and sustainable.

Housing and Furniture
First things first: you’re going to need a place to call home. If you want to live off-campus, try EasyRoommate to find a roommate or room. And there's always reliable Craigslist. Once you have a place to live, read over How to Find and Keep a Housemate to ensure that your front door doesn’t become a revolving one.

Now that you have a place, you’re going to need some furniture (milk crates and cinder blocks only go so far). For furniture rentals, try Cort. They have special student rental packages and can set everything up in 48 hours.

Also consider furniture exchanges. UC Berkeley has ReUse stations where students, faculty and staff exchange clothes, school supplies and furniture. The University of New Hampshire’s Trash to Treasure and MIT’s Furniture Exchange are two more programs that recirculate good used stuff. Find out if your school or town has a similar program. If not, start one.

Books
Let’s face it, textbooks are one of the greatest college scams. You shell out big bucks for a book that you might not be able to re-sell next semester. Bum-mer. But, unclench those fists, you have options. Try Chegg, TextbookRentals, and CampusBookRentals to rent instead of buying your books. Some of these services offer perks like homework help, scholarships and charitable contributions for each book rented. 

Transportation
Back in the day, having a car meant freedom. These days, millennials are bailing on cars because they're too expensive. And it's never been easier to go car free. Try ride sharing services like Zimride. Try ZipCar car sharing to rent a car by the hour or day. Zipcars are available on over 250 campuses at a discount to students. Try peer to peer car sharing services like RelayRides and Wheelz where you can rent from a fellow student, or rent your car out for extra cash.

If cars aren’t your thing, use public transportation, your bike, or check out bike rental services. Try Spinlister to find bike rentals near you. And many large cities have local bike sharing services too

Food
When it comes to food, you have a few choices. You can go the health-endangering fast food route, dine in the glamorous school cafeteria, or cook for yourself. If the latter appeals to you, check out your local farmers market. Markets have sprung up in cities all over the country, they offer good prices on fresh, locally-grown fruits and veggies. Visit Local Harvest to find one near you.

Once you’ve started making your own meals, try a potluck or food or meal swap. You can meet new people, share recipes, and wow your friends who show up with chips and salsa with your culinary skills.

To save money on the staples, join or start a food buying club or coop (see below). Want to get a little closer to the vine? Check out NeighborhoodFruit, where you can find fresh and available fruit trees nearby or consider starting a garden. Local community gardens and garden sharing programs are good places to start.

Photo by Jefferson Liffey. Published under a Creative Commons license.

Co-Ops
Whether for food or housing, the idea behind a cooperative is the same: they're enterprises owned and operated by their members. They are often formed to help people save money, increase access to a vital resource like healthy food, and even to create jobs. They are inherently democratic and community-focused, which means they are good for you and for your community. There are hundreds of student coops in the US alone. Do yourself and your community a favor -- join, shop at, or start a coop. Use the NASCO Guide to Co-Ops to find one near you. Or start a food, housing, or worker coop.

Coworking
Coworking offers an attractive social option to studying or working alone. While you may not need a full-time coworking membership, keep coworking in mind for projects, professional networking, and study jams. Many offer student rates, free day passes, and internships. Coworking can get you out of the dorm for real-world experience and connections. Find a coworking space near you on the Coworking Wiki. Or start your own.

Repair and Maker Spaces
Maybe your toaster always burns the toast, or your clock is running slow, or the lid on your super-secret stash box is always askew. Don't toss it, fix it instead. Try the nearest FixIt ClinicTechShop, or HackerSpace and figure out how to fix or make things. You’ll meet a ton of people making awesome things (robots, wearable electronics, 3-D printed food, etc.), save money, keep stuff out of the landfill, and forge a new relationship with the world around you. 

Money
For extra cash, become a sharing economy "micro-entrepreneur." Work on your own time doing what you want to do. Try TaskRabbit to find odd jobs near you (think office organization, Ikea furniture assembly, shopping etc.). Try SkillShare, Uniiverse and Vayable to create classes, tours, hikes, and more to sell to the public. As a micro-entrepreneur, you name your price and time, so working around school schedules is no problem.

Once you’ve made some cash, put it into a credit union (many large universities have their own). You can get better interest rates and lower fees than large, private banks and your money helps your community. Use the Credit Union Directory to find one near you.

Entertainment
There’s no shortage of social events in college, but if you want to go beyond keg stands, there's hope. Uniiverse, Vayable and SkillShare are great for making money, but you can also create a social life around them. Use them to find group museum trips, guitar lessons, film discussion groups, day trips, outdoor adventures, tech gatherings, bicycle safety classes, and more. A huge variety of experiences is being offered for the community by the community.

Outside Traditional Learning
Now that you’re ready for a totally shareable college experience, we need to point something out. The value and relevance of a college education is increasingly being scrutinized, and free educational resources are available to everyone with access to the Internet. If you really want to save, sidestep or augment criminally expensive higher ed and educate yourself. For tips on how to get started, check out Learning Outside the Academy and this Q&A with Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.

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