How to Save Money in College: Unlocking the Secrets that Save Students Money!
As a college student, you are likely to be on a tight budget. With tuition fees, books, and living expenses all adding up, it can be not easy to save money. But there are many ways to save money as a college student if you know where to look.
With some planning and thinking outside the box, you can save more money than you think.
Table of Contents
How To Save Money in College
Get In The Habit Of Budgeting
College is the best time to get in the bait of budgeting. Track your income and expenses and build a budget so you only spend what you have. Or better yet spend less than you have.
There are three major advantages to creating and sticking to a budget. To start, you’ll become aware of your spending patterns, which might assist you in evaluating your own potential for financial savings.
You can plan your spending thanks to it, too. You can plan and reduce expenditure or look for ways to generate additional revenue if you desire something but need more money to pay for it.
Last but not least, starting to budget now will help you after graduation. You have the budgeting foundation and abilities that assist you to spend sensibly and save money for the future, so you won’t be as tempted to spend it all when you do eventually receive a regular paycheck.
Use Cash Back, Rewards, Coupons, and Discounts
Saving money is relatively easy in the digital age. There is no shortage of websites and apps that will help you cut down on spending for some of the essentials you need.
Are you going to the grocery store? Look for in-store coupons or join their rewards program. They pay attention to the sales fliers, so you know when an item on sale is selling at the lowest price.
Are you shopping for electronics online? Look around for discount codes to apply to get money off your purchase. If you can wait until next year’s model comes out, take advantage of the lower price on the old version. You can also find a store selling an open-box version to save.
Do you need to make a purchase you might not be able to get a discount on? See if any financial apps offer a cash-back promotion for that purchase. At the very least, ask the cashier if there are any discounts. You might be surprised they have a coupon or can offer you 5% off just because you asked.
Earn Free Gift Cards
Another option to help offset the cost of things is to earn gift cards. Many sites, including Swagbucks and MyPoints, allow you to play games, answer surveys, watch videos, and more.
You can redeem your points for cash or gift cards to your favorite retailer.
Then you use the gift cards to pay for the things you buy, saving you money. As a bonus, these sites often run sales, so you can get a gift card for fewer points than usual, helping you get more gift cards.
Use The Library
The library is an excellent resource you can use to cut down on expenses and meet a college student’s budget. Many college campuses have libraries with on-campus managers that can help you with assignments, recommend books for your leisure time, and offers resources and activities to help you excel.
Look for Student Discounts
Being a student has its perks. Nearby businesses might offer student discounts. If you show them your valid student ID card, restaurants, movie theaters, and other establishments might give you a deal.
Make sure you always have your student ID card in your wallet just in case you find yourself somewhere you can save money.
Seek Out Education Discounts
Many services also offer discounts. Amazon Prime has a special student price. You can even get a discount on a Spotify Premium bundle that includes Hulu and Showtime as a student.
Along with a few clothing stores and insurance firms, restaurants like Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s provide discounts. Before registering for anything or making a payment if you’re a student, check to see if you can obtain a discount.
Your annual savings from one store alone might be in the hundreds.
Renting or Buying Used Textbooks
Renting textbooks is becoming an increasingly popular option for college students. Not only is it less expensive than buying, but it also allows students to access the latest versions of textbooks they need without having to spend a great deal of money.
Renting textbooks eliminates the hassle and clutter of storing multiple copies of the same book in one’s home. Once a textbook has been returned there is no residual commitment or cost associated with it. Renting textbooks is a convenient solution for any student on a budget.
Textbooks can be costly, so research and find the best book deals. One way to save money on textbooks is to buy them used. You can also look for online versions of books or rent textbooks from the library.
If you’re looking for ways to cut down on spending, used textbooks are only the tip of the iceberg. University campuses often offer discounts on used laptops.
Off-campus apartments might have secondhand furniture and household items available either through Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Garage sales are also a great place to snag quality goods on the cheap. Moreover, Freecycle is an excellent resource for finding free items people are giving away instead of throwing out.
Purchasing new items is not always necessary; used items can offer just as much value and utility. Adopting this minimalist approach now will help you save money in college and beyond.
Take Advantage of Your College
You should get a lot of free things that you otherwise would have to pay for simply by being a student. For example, if you have to mail a letter but don’t have an envelope, go into one of the administration offices and ask for an envelope.
Get a Free Checking Account
College students may find that a free checking account is the most cost-effective option. With no minimum balance requirements, these accounts provide an easy way to keep track of your money without incurring additional costs.
Many banks offer free checking accounts to help young people manage their finances efficiently. Switch banks if your current bank charges you a monthly account fee or additional fees.
While it might not feel like paying $5 a month in fees is much, it’s a complete waste if you can bank and not have to pay the fee.
Don’t Overdraft Your Account
Do not overdraft your bank account. Avoid spending more money than you have in your checking account. Explore whether your bank offers overdraft protection.
With overdraft protection, the bank will still allow you to use your debit card or write checks, even if you don’t have enough cash to cover it.
The catch is you get charged a fee for this privilege. The average overdraft fee is $33, which means if you overdraft your account five times a year, you are paying $165 in fees.
To lessen the likelihood of this unnecessary cost, create a budget and be aware of your checking account balance.
Discover What Services Are Available At Your University
College students often find themselves tight on money, and universities are aware of this fact. As a result, schools offer a variety of services that can be beneficial to students, such as free mental health services or reduced health insurance.
Each college offers different resources, so it’s important to take the time to research what services your particular college provides so you can get the most savings possible.
Use Career Services
Utilizing the career services office at your college is a great way to help yourself, whether you’re a junior or senior, an alumnus, or even just starting out.
Best of all, there is no charge for this service, so it’s worth taking advantage of in order to save yourself the cost of hiring someone else to create or edit your resume.
Take Advantage of Your Meal Plan
When you’re trying to save money, one of your greatest expenses is likely food, so it’s worth taking a look at your college’s dining hall meal plans.
Most schools offer tiers of plans at different prices. For example, the priciest option might be seven meals per week, while cheaper plans can include two meals per day for five days.
I personally opted for the one-meal-a-day, five-days-a-week plan and ate lunch on campus during the week and at home on the weekends. Doing this proved to be more budget friendly.
Sometimes, you can even get seconds or thirds and pack the food in your bag to eat later.
Spend less on food by cooking at home. While food prices may rise, you may save money by shopping around for deals, enrolling in local loyalty programs to benefit from discounts and freebies, and buying in bulk.
You can also save money by sticking with the staples. You can buy a lot of pasta for very little money, as well as canned vegetables. The more creative you can get with shopping, the more money you save.
Be Smart When Dining Out
When you do go out to eat, be smart about it. Look for specials or only go during happy hour to get food at a discount. You might even consider splitting plates with others.
Eating out can be expensive, especially for students who are on a budget. However, there are ways to save money while enjoying a meal. Here are some tips to help you do just that:
- Look for discounts and deals. Many restaurants offer discounts or special deals for students, so check if the restaurant you’re eating at has any offers available.
- Skip the drinks. Soft drinks, alcohol, and other beverages can add up quickly when eating out, so consider skipping these items to save money.
- Share a meal with a friend or family member. Most restaurants offer larger portions than one person needs, so splitting a meal with someone else is an easy way to save money and enjoy your favorite dishes.
- Choose restaurants wisely. Eating at more affordable restaurants will help you save money in the long run, so try to look for places that offer good food at reasonable prices.
- Avoid ordering appetizers and desserts. These items can be tempting but they can also add up quickly when it comes time to pay the bill, so try not to overindulge on these items if you’re looking to save money while eating out.
Attend Campus Events that Provide Food
Many colleges and universities hold events that provide food. These events can include speaker series, club meetings, and sporting events. Attending these events can help you save money on food.
Avoid Expensive Drinks
College students spend way too much on coffee and alcohol. Rather than spending $7 on specialty drinks, invest in a good coffee maker and brew your own.
Similarly, if you’ve got roommates who are avid coffee drinkers, then you can split the cost of your coffee machine and recurring drink-related expenses with other students.
When it comes to alcohol, buy the cheapest available. It lowers your costs, but when you look back years later, you will have great stories admitting that you enjoyed drinking a particularly low-end brand.
Use Public Transportation
Having your car, while convenient, is another significant expense. There are maintenance costs, gas, and insurance to consider for something you’re probably not using much. Most college students don’t need a car.
Public transportation is your friend in college and a great way to save money in college. Taking the bus to and from places is much more cost-effective than having your car.
There’s also the option to get a student pass. Many colleges partner with local transit authorities so that you can get a discount on the bus, subway, or trolley anytime you need to get somewhere, and it’s certainly less expensive than owning a car.
Finally, you can barter with someone that does have a car. If you need a ride, offer to clean their dishes or help them with a class they are struggling with in exchange.
Walk or Bike To Save Money As a College Student
Going around campus without spending a dime is easy when you walk or bike. Not only will it save you money, but it also offers health benefits!
If you can get to your favorite stores, cafes, and more by walking or biking, consider taking advantage of the free mode of transportation.
Use The Campus Gym
Avoid costly monthly gym fees and take advantage of the free college gym. You use the equipment and facilities whenever they are open.
Many college gyms offer extra amenities not included in traditional gyms, such as a basketball court, racquetball, swimming pool, and even fitness classes at no cost!
Attend Free Events
Explore free events and activities around campus and nearby towns to keep busy and save money. Look to your college website’s student life section for upcoming events on campus, and don’t forget to check the communities surrounding your school for additional events that are free of charge.
Save on Video Games
Borrow or buy pre-owned video games to save money. Check with other students to see if they have a game you want and can lend it to you.
You can also find used games at garage sales, thrift stores, online retailers, and even your local library.
Keep Track of Your Borrowing
Student loans can help you pay for college, but you must be careful how much you borrow. You don’t want to end up in debt after graduation. Try only to borrow what you need and ensure you understand your loan terms before you sign anything.
Track how much you borrow while in college to help you manage your money. Aim to borrow only what you can earn in your first year after graduating, and be aware that every dollar borrowed must be paid back when it comes time to leave school.
Seeing a running total of your debt might push you to find ways to reduce it while still in school and make it easier for you to progress with your career and life goals afterwards.
Learn from the student debt crisis. Only borrow what you can afford to pay back quickly.
Do Not Miss Payments
Another critical way to avoid wasted spending is not missing credit card or tuition payments.
Late payments can damage your credit score. If you struggle to make ends meet, consider setting up auto-payments for bills. Autopayments make it so you will never forget to pay a bill.
Also, ensure you’re not falling behind on credit card debt, as the late payments combined with high-interest rates can set you back significantly.
When you miss a payment, you pay additional fees and sometimes a higher interest rate.
Create a process and find a budgeting style that lets you pay your bills on time.
When I was in college I paid my bills weekly. I was obsessed with never having a late payment.
This tip also extends to your post-college years when you start paying back your student loan debt. If you pay on time, they will not harm your credit score.
Work in College
Saving for college is an important part of preparing for the future. Working while in college can be a great way to save money and reduce the amount of student loans you need to take out.
Many students find that working part-time while in school helps them pay for living expenses, books, and other costs associated with attending college. It also provides valuable experience and skills that can help you after graduation.
Working during college can help reduce the amount of debt you accumulate over the course of your degree program. You may be able to use the money earned from your job to pay for tuition or other educational expenses, such as textbooks or supplies.
This can help you avoid taking out additional student loans and minimize the amount of debt you have when you graduate.
In addition to saving money, working while in college can provide valuable experience and skills that will be beneficial after graduation. Employers often look favorably on applicants who have held jobs during their studies, as it shows dedication and commitment to their education.
Working while in school also allows students to gain experience in their field of study, which can make them more attractive candidates for future jobs.
Overall, working while in college is a great way to save money and gain valuable experience simultaneously. By reducing your reliance on student loans and gaining real-world experience through part-time work, you’ll be better prepared for life after graduation.
Complete The FAFSA Each Year
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form you must fill out to get financial aid for college. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, you must fill this out yearly.
Most people think you fill out this form to qualify for student loans. While this does help with that, it also allows you to be eligible for Federal grants, which you don’t have to pay back.
Make sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. This form can help you get grants and loans to pay for college.
Even if you don’t receive any aid your freshman year, you may become eligible if your financial situation changes the following year.
Another benefit is work-study, which is an on-campus job that helps you with having some spending money.
Apply for Scholarships
Look for scholarships and grants that can help cover the costs of tuition, housing, and school supplies. Even if grant money is limited, plenty of scholarship opportunities are available before the next school year starts.
You could be amazed at how many organizations provide scholarships – some don’t even require proof of good grades! For example, a scholarship may be offered for being left-handed or reading certain personal finance blogs.
There are plenty of scholarships and grants available to college students, so apply for as many as possible. You can find scholarships through your school, parents, employer, or online.
Don’t forget that you can also apply for private scholarships!
Take a weekend to research online and apply for as many scholarships as you can find.
Work With Your Advisor To Streamline Your Education
Those who took Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school may have credits that they can apply to their college degree to spend less time and less money in college. However, if you didn’t take AP classes, you can still accomplish the same thing.
Visit your student advisor to see how you can complete all your needed classes and graduate early. Even if you can graduate one semester early, this will save you thousands of dollars. If you can land a job right away, this will put you that much further ahead financially.
Make Friends You Can Be Roommates With
Splitting rent and other expenses with more people makes life much easier financially, so it’s vital to ensure you’re living with responsible, reliable people who won’t throw their studies away.
Choose a Strategic Location
When looking for an apartment, choose a location to help you save. For instance, if you choose an apartment close to campus, you can save money on transportation. You can also save money by choosing an apartment in a safe neighborhood.
Live at Home If Your College Is In Your Hometown
You may want to live at home if your college is in your hometown. Living at home can help you save a lot of money on housing and transportation.
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Focus On Accumulating More Permanent Items
Although the newst fashions and other budget items may seem like they save you money in the short-term, they usually don’t last long. Take a cheaper pair of shoes that cost $20. You’ll probably get only a couple of months’ worth of use out of them before needing to buy another pair.
The cost adds up over time, and it’s often better to invest in good-quality devices or apparel that will last for years.
It sounds great to get the cheapest thing, but always remember to consider the full picture when it comes to saving money. One-time-use purchases should remain affordable, but larger purchases should be carefully weighed with both initial cost and long-term savings considered.
Benefit From Credit Card Rewards
Credit cards are where consumer debt usually starts. But if you are careful with your spending, credit cards are a great way to save money.
First, you can use a card that offers cash back or points every time you purchase. You can redeem these points for cash, a statement credit, or discounted travel.
Another way credit cards help you to save is by getting the lowest price. Some credit cards will monitor your purchases, and if the cost of the item drops after you buy, they will give you the lower price. Usually, there is a time limit of 30 or 60 days, but it saves you time from monitoring prices.
Finally, many offer great signup bonuses, allowing you to earn hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash back or points when you hit a specific spending limit.
If you decide to go this route, make sure you only charge what you can afford to pay back each month, as the interest you pay on any credit card debt far outweighs any benefit you get.
Sell Items You No Longer Need To Recoup Costs
Do you have things lying around you no longer use? If so, you can sell them and earn a few dollars. Just take a few pictures and list the item for sale on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
While you won’t pay for college with this tip, you can earn enough money to get some free pizza once in a while.
If you do this and find it enjoyable, here is a way to earn extra money. Go to yard sales, buy items, and flip them for a profit.
I did this in college and made decent money. I only bought things I knew, like video games, that I could resell for a higher price. But you can resell anything if you find a great deal.
Once I bought a bike for $5. It was in excellent condition, just dirty. I cleaned it up and sold it for $40.
Finally, at the end of the year, check out the dumpsters around campus, as many students toss perfectly good items. You can sell these things and make money.
Final Thoughts – Build Saving Habits
There are many ways to save money in college, and saving money today is easier than ever.
But because it is so easy, it can feel overwhelming to some people. Take some time to figure out what options listed here interest you the most, and make it a point to use them to help you lower your costs.
Then you can add more tricks as you go. Not only does saving money help you now, but it will also help you in the future. The more you know how to save, the further ahead financially you can be for the rest of your life.
Next Up From ChaChingQueen
- Hey College Students! Did You Know Amazon Offers Free Amazon Prime For Students?
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Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66), and is an expert on Investment Products and Financial Planning. Greg has 22+ years experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy.
Greg has been quoted/interviewed in Yahoo Money, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, Authority Magazine, Realtor.com, Business Insider, and others.
Greg is an avid runner, and the father to identical twin girls and their awesome brother. His love of budgeting and his kids led him to join The Great Resignation in 2021.
Disclaimer: Any Financial Tips on ChaChingQueen are general and informational. Speak with a professional about your specific situation.