smart spending

Snare alumni perks from your alma mater

a piggy bank with a college on top of it
Highlights
  • Discounts at local retail stores
  • Free and low-cost trips to the gym
  • Access to tons of books, DVDs and CDs

Forget the coupons, the stock-up-and-save sales and the loyalty discounts. To get some of the hottest deals around, sometimes all you need to do is give your university a call.

Discounted classes, deals at local and alumni-owned businesses and access to state-of-the-art facilities, your alma mater may offer up some valuable bargains and services.

In a rocky economy, many colleges are even more eager to reach out to their alumni to give them a boost—with the hope that when good times return, alumni will repay the favor.

"The primary purpose is to offer alumni and friends a tangible way to become and remain connected with the school," says Tim Wigington, assistant director of strategic planning for the University of Portland's alumni relations office.

Here are some of the most common perks offered up by schools to help keep their alumni happy.

Discounts at local retail stores

Many colleges and universities team up with local retailers to offer discounts on everything from pizza to bicycles, ranging from 10 to 25 percent off and sometimes more. If you live near the university you attended and are a member of the school's alumni association, you may be sent the card automatically. Otherwise, you may just need to ask for it.

Wigington says such partnerships have been successful at his college and allow everyone to benefit. "[Partnering] with local businesses or businesses with alumni connections build a network that grows our community," he says. So do your part by taking advantage of the deals. At Portland, for example, alums can earn 10 percent off from a local dry cleaner, 30 percent off online purchases at a local clothing store and 15 percent off of labor costs at a local auto repair shop.

National company discounts also available

But what if you don't live in the same place where you went to college? If you went to a large school, you may still benefit. Some schools have teamed up with national companies to garner group discounts for their alumni. You may be able to grab big discounts on home and auto insurance, car rentals, hotels and other services, head to the alumni page of your school's Web site and search for the benefits page. At the University of Michigan, for example, alumni association members can get discounts on Apple products, T-Mobile cell phone service plans and admission to theme parks including Six Flags.

Free and low-cost trips to the gym

You may not have to spend big bucks on that gym membership. Colleges often have state-of-the-art weight machines, Olympic-sized pools and quarter-mile, indoor tracks that you can access for free or for a relatively inexpensive daily or annual fee.

That said, sometimes there are restrictions. Alumni may find that they're required to use facilities only during certain hours, such as early morning or late evening. Nonetheless, if you can fit it into your schedule, it can mean big savings. Kathy Pappas, director of alumni relations at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., says that you may even be able to get a deal for a non-grad.

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"If you want to bring a guest with you to our gym, for example, it's just $2," she says, noting that many colleges have similar policies.

People living or working near a college should also check in to see if they qualify to get a discounted rate to use the facilities. At Grinnell College in Iowa, town residents pay just $260 a year get to access to the school’s recreation facilities. Those include a brand new building with basketball courts, cardio machines and weight equipment.

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