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Will Owning a Printer Save Money?

At most colleges, you can either bring your own printer or use the school's provided printers for a fee. Here are a few pointers to help you decide if a personal printer is a better option than a school's communal print option.

printer

Saving Money with a Printer

If your school has an option to pay for printing, it might seem like a good deal. After all, a few cents a page sounds like a bargain compared to the collective cost of purchasing a printer with ink and paper. But depending on your printing habits, purchasing your own machine might be the best choice.

The Choice

Most colleges and universities allow students to print from communal printers for a standard charge, usually about five or ten cents per sheet for standard black-and-white, and perhaps a bit more for color printing. This may seem like a great idea. Owning a printer can be a hassle, and you have to pay to recharge the ink and replenish your paper supply.

Looking at it like this, the choice appears to be simple. The up-front cost of owning a printer seems like a lot more than a few cents here or there. Plus, the machine is your responsibility. If it breaks, that's on you. If your mooching friends want to take advantage of the free printer, that comes out of your pocket.

Reality Check

In reality, though, even a few cents a page can add up, especially if you print multiple copies or write extra-long papers. For instance, let's say you're taking five classes during the fall semester. Between writing assignments, test printouts and lab reports, you could end up printing about 40 sheets per class, for a total of 200 pages. In this scenario, the printing costs on campus are seven cents a page.

Now, assuming that your printing is perfect - you don't accidentally send your pages to the wrong machine, never to be found, or end up finding several typos on your final read-through and end up printing more pages than you originally thought - the total is $14 for one semester and roughly $28 for the school year. If this was your average printing load in a two-semester school year for four years of school, your total printing cost would be about $112.

Printernomics

Now that we've estimated the cost of using school printers, let's talk personal printers. As of 2016, a bare-bones laserjet or inkjet printer can be purchased for around $100, while used printers can be found at half that price.

As for printer cartridge refills, they typically run in the range of $10-$20 each. It's hard to say how long they'll last, but 500-800 pages is a good general estimate. As for paper, it's not unusual to find a ream of 500 pages for $5 or so.

So, if you purchase a used $50 printer with a $20 black-and-white refill cartridge and buy one ream of paper to cover you for the year, you'll end up spending $75. It's not a bad idea to budget for one new printer cartridge and one ream of paper per year, which brings the total estimated cost of owning and operating a printer to $150 when attending a four-year school, versus an estimated cost of $112 for school printing privileges.

The Decision

While owning a printer may end up costing slightly more, it may be negligible, depending on your budget. There's also an added benefit to printer ownership: you can print anytime of day or night on your own printer. The majority of college students have procrastinated until the wee hours of the morning before the due date of a paper at least once or twice. In some cases, college printers may not be available during off-hours when you need them, though some dorms have 24-hour print centers.

If you do end up buying a personal printer, one word of advice: monitor your ink cartridge so you aren't caught without one at the last minute!

If shelling out for a printer seems like small potatoes, why not consider the pros and cons of student iPad ownership?