Every year, it can seem like your residence hall expenses go up while your budget remains stagnant — or even worse — shrinks. It’s a bit of a conundrum since, as a leader at the university, you’re expected to continuously improve student living while saving money.

Working that kind of magic may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. With some creative strategizing, you can stretch one dollar into five.

Negotiate with your dorm supply vendors

Universities are prized clients that many businesses don’t want to lose, leaving the door open for negotiations. To start, work with the university purchasing department to evaluate everyone you’re working with — from your copy paper supplier all the way to the company that ships new mattresses and cuts your keys — and note end dates for any contracts. Then, meet with your account representative for each vendor and see what they can do to reduce your costs.

Budgeting time is also an opportunity to evaluate your business relationships. Reconsider signing a new contract if a vendor isn’t meeting all your needs and expectations. Note underperformance, overlapping services (insourced or outsourced), and actual versus anticipated use of products or services. For example, if you keep having to pay your plumber to come in and fix the same leaky faucet, it might be time to find another company to keep on retainer.

Plan for the future of student living now

There’s no time like the present to build a budget blueprint for dorm upgrades incoming students expect. For instance, many universities and colleges are planning to implement smart home technology in residence halls, with schools like the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) blazing the trail.

In UNLV’s case, they upgraded their package management system to include smart lockers. As a result, they’re set to save $73,140 each year and were able to immediately give their student employees a raise. With increased efficiency (and more wiggle room in their budget), residence hall staffers can focus on their primary responsibility: enhancing student life.

Combine student and faculty events to build community

The first items on the budget chopping block are always the fun ones — the parties. While you trim expenses by scratching events, eliminating get-togethers can negatively impact student and faculty morale, so don’t put party supplies in storage quite yet. Instead, minimize the number of events held each year by consolidating and coordinating with other university departments.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Co-host a new student and alumni soiree with the university relations department.
  • Facilitate informational events at residence halls with university departments like Counseling, Student Affairs, or Athletics.
  • Join forces with Academic Affairs to throw a finals week cram session.

Go green to save money

Green building and eco-friendly practices are all the rage on today’s college campus. But you don’t need to run off solar power or compost every scrap of food from the dining hall to realize the benefits of going green. In fact, simple, eco-minded practices can save you money while tackling the wasteful mindset.

  • Throw an office supplies swap with a nearby lecture hall to put unused items and materials to good use.
  • Rethink how you print. Use scratch paper whenever possible and consider saving data electronically versus printing a hard copy.
  • Turn everything off. Things like installing sensor lights in computer labs is a good start, but also shut down unused computers during weekends or holidays.

Extra credit: Foster stakeholder creativity to develop innovation

The vast majority of executives agree that creativity can lead to business benefits such as increased revenue — a principle that can easily be applied to universities. Your dormitory staff, from maintenance workers to residential advisers, as well as the students themselves, are important stakeholders who hold insights that lead to innovative solutions.

Implement structured avenues for feedback to capture employee observations with these tips:

  • Distribute short surveys to identify weak process points that drain productivity. You might find something like managing package deliveries taking up hours of your staff’s time each week, which could be solved with package lockers or mailroom software.
  • Open a staff meeting to a “Yes And…” discussion and brainstorm. Saying “yes” to even the most outlandish suggestions and brainstorming from there can lead to valuable dormitory upgrades and process change ideas.
  • Implement an ideas board in a common area so people can contribute visual inspiration about their “dream residence hall” anonymously and on a whim.

Ready to start saving? Learn more about Smiota’s package management solutions for colleges and universities.

Related reading: Today’s Biggest Challenges With Managing Off-Campus Student Housing (and How to Overcome Them)