By far, the biggest downside to East Lansing is parking. There is literally no where to park during the day in this city. Every single spot is either a meter, in a parking garage, in a "pay to leave" lot, or in a lot that is reserved for passes only (aka, you have to buy a monthly/yearly parking pass to be able to park there).
The situation gets a little better at night. Certain parking lots on campus that require passes only require them until 6 PM, after that it becomes free to park there for the rest of the night, as long as you leave by the time the passes go back into effect the next morning. However, if there is a Michigan State basketball or hockey game, many of the lots near those stadiums are blocked off and they won't let you park without paying in advance (even if you aren't going to the game).
The "pay to leave" lots open their gates at varying times, usually 9 or 10 PM, so if you have time to wait them out you can get out without paying. Also, some of the meters stop being enforced after a certain time. This varies street by street, so you'll just have to check the sign on your meter to see what the rules are for it.
Off campus, several of the parking structures are free on weekends (except during Michigan State home football games).
It's not a good idea to try to park illegally, especially on campus. The Michigan State police literally have an entire full time staff devoted to simply driving around and ticketing anyone who is parked illegally. So even if you leave your car somewhere for just ten minutes, by the time you get back you'll likely have a ticket on your windshield.
I wish I could offer some advice, but I can't... other than to just find another mode of transportation that doesn't require you to park (I rode my bike everywhere when I was a student). If you absolutely have to drive, then I guess just be prepared to pay.
The Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) is the regional public transportation provider for the Greater Lansing area. CATA provides service to the Cities of Lansing, East Lansing and DeWitt, the Townships of Lansing, Delhi and Meridian and to Ingham County.
CATA is Lansing's bus system. While the portion operating in MSU and between East Lansing and Okemos is fine, the Lansing portion is 50% mentally imparied individuals, many of who are aggressive. Women should be extra careful and never give money to any passanger who solicits it.
I-496 is very dangerous to drive during the evening rush hour in either direction. Cars may move at 70 mph and then come to a sudden stop without warning. Many commuters cut in and out of traffic lanes with inches to spare. Accidents are frequent and the police even seem to avoid the highway during this time. Talk Kalamazoo or Michigan Avenue instead.