Finding a way to pay for all of your college-related expenses is no easy feat, especially because the price of tuition has been steadily rising, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Although the cost of higher education is becoming more expensive, there are plenty of different ways to save money during your time as a student. You can avoid the headache of living paycheck to paycheck by practicing these new simple money-saving tips.
Table of Contents:
🍔 Food 1-9
Save Money on Food
We all have to eat, so saving money on a purchase that you are required to make anyway just makes sense. Learning to save money on food in college could lead to strong money saving habits in the long-run.
1. Make meals at home
Although it is tempting to stop by a fast-food restaurant or to order pizza delivery, making food in your home can help you save money. The foods that you prepare with your own two hands are less convenient but typically more affordable than the other alternatives. They may even be healthier and can provide you with more satisfaction than a drive-through burger from down the street.
2. Simplify your coffee
Buying your morning brew at a fancy coffee shop every morning can put you in a good mood... until you realize those purchases are draining your wallet. You can try limiting the number of times you order each week or finding a cheaper alternative to your current drink of choice, but the most economical option would be making your coffee at home.
3. Buy in bulk
In college, you typically know which foods you like to eat. While you should experiment with food and diversify your taste buds, some classic dishes or snacks just hold a special place in your heart. Buy the ingredients for those foods in bulk to save money. You’ll also find yourself making fewer trips to the store, meaning you can save on gas as well.
4. Freeze your leftovers
While the chicken soup you made for supper last night was probably delicious, chances are you are not looking forward to eating it for four more meals in a row. Freezing your leftovers is a great alternative to letting the meal go to waste in your fridge after a few weeks. With proper storage in the freezer, your meals can be enjoyed later in the month, saving time and money on cooking another meal.
5. Pack snacks and drinks for class
Although running to the campus convenience store or restaurant before class is inviting, paying the extra money for items that are $1-2 cheaper at the grocery store can begin to add up. Always keep snacks and drinks in your backpack to avoid the markup cost on those items.
6. Use your meal plan in the dining hall
Going out to eat with friends is always enjoyable, but you need to remember that you have already paid for your meal plan in the dining hall. Whether you selected the most basic package or the most expensive, make sure you get your money’s worth out of it. Take advantage of not having to cook your own meals. You can still enjoy a dining hall meal with friends.
7. Hit up Taco Tuesday or other restaurant specials
If you must eat out, try to go at the times when restaurants have promotions. Whether it be Taco Tuesdays or half-priced appetizers on Thursdays, you can share good food with your friends at a lower cost. Simply knowing when the local restaurants are having specials can save you money.
8. Shop along the perimeter of the store
Because staple items like milk, eggs, bread, and other healthy foods are in the back of most grocery stores, you may find yourself strolling through the many aisles of tempting junk food to get to them. You can avoid the urge to spontaneously add those extra items to your cart by walking around the perimeter of the store.
9. Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry
This last food tip may be the most important one. Shopping with a growling stomach and throwing whatever sounds good in the cart is expensive and can lead to waste if the items are perishable. You should follow the ads for the grocery store and come with a list of items you plan to buy. Make sure you eat something prior so you’re not tempted to buy items that you don’t need.
Reduce Education Expenses
There are some college costs, like tuition, that you don’t really have control over. That is why it is important to save money on other education expenses when you can.
10. Check in before you buy books
Some professors may not use every book that they assign or recommend for the course. To avoid spending your money on an unnecessary book, you should ask students who have taken the class previously which materials are needed. Another option is to email the professor in the weeks prior to the first day of class to ask if all the books will be utilized. Choosing this route could be a great way to introduce yourself or to build rapport with your professor.
11. Don’t buy books from the campus bookstore
Although purchasing books from the campus bookstore is convenient, you will likely be charged more for them because you don’t have to go off-campus. You can look into rental options or search for those same editions online. If you like the online textbook format, e-books are usually cheaper yet. Ask around to see if you have a friend that took the same class and will let you borrow or buy used textbooks.
12. Complete your gen ed courses at a community college
In college, there are general education classes that are required by every student. Because these courses aren’t tailored to a specific major, they are easily transferable from college to college. Going to a community college for the first two years can provide you the same level of education while being less of a burden on your wallet.
13. Remember that school is your first job
Too often, students get hung up on their job, clubs, or sports, and forget to keep up their grades. Remember that being a student is your first priority. When you are looking for a job after you graduate, being involved in lots of extracurriculars but having poor grades may hurt your chances. Conversely, campus involvement matched with excellent grades can make a good impression.
14. Go to class-- You’re paying for it
When you pay for classes and don’t show up, you are missing out on the valuable information that you would have learned by being in class. You also have a higher chance of not passing. Failing would cause you to have to pay for the same course all over again. You can avoid these unnecessary costs by being present and paying attention in your lectures.
15. Have a plan for your degree
Trying to decide your major is very intimidating, but having a solid plan for your class schedule can save you money. If you take a lot of classes that don’t count towards your major, it will take you longer to graduate and cost you more tuition dollars. The more semesters you are in college, the larger your education bill will become, so you can avoid the extra costs by taking courses that benefit your progress towards your degree.
16. Test out of or transfer as many classes as you can
If you have enough knowledge about a subject and are confident in the material, you may be able to test out of the class. This way, you won’t have to pay for a course that would simply allow you to review your existing knowledge. In addition, if you have taken college credits in high school or have credits from another college or university, make sure you transfer them to your current institution.
17. Complete the FAFSA every year
You may remember filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) your freshman year of college, but you should fill out this application every year you attend school. The FAFSA allows you to apply for federal grants, work-study, and loans at no cost to you.
18. Apply for scholarships
Although sometimes it seems that the odds are against you, you should apply to as many scholarships as you can. Scholarships, such as the 1st Financial Bank USA Financial Goals Scholarship, offer free money that you don’t have to pay back, so winning scholarships is a great way to save money on your college costs.
Maximize your Personal Finances
The income and aid for each student is very different. No matter which end of the spectrum you are on, you can save money in college by following these personal finance tips.
19. Get a credit card
A credit card is a useful tool to build your credit in college. Having excellent credit can help you be approved for loans at the most favorable interest rates, meaning you’ll save money on interest over the life of your loan. Credit cards also help you learn how to manage your money. Read 10 Reasons to Get a Credit Card in College for more.
20. Always pay your bills on time
One of the most common myths about credit cards is that you need to carry a balance from month to month to achieve a good credit score. In reality, you can increase your credit score just by paying your bill on time. Even one missed payment can bring down your score, and you’ll be on the hook for interest and a late payment fee. Avoid these extra costs by setting your account to automatically transfer the money from your bank account to pay your statement balance in full and on time.
21. Don’t forget to budget
When you use your credit card, you are spending borrowed money. Because it is so easy to swipe that little plastic card, you often forget that you even made a purchase until it shows up on the next month’s statement. There are multiple budget apps that can help you get a handle on your expenses. Make sure that you set up a budget, only allow yourself to use an appropriate amount of your credit limit each month, and use your credit card responsibly.
22. Carry only large bills
An article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, covers the denomination effect, or the cognitive bias that people are more willing to spend money when they are paying with smaller bills. For example, it is more likely that someone won’t think about spending ten $5 bills as opposed to spending one $50 bill. Carrying only large bills can help you prevent mindless impulse buying.
23. Start a free checking account
Having a checking account is a must for college students. Many banks offer free checking accounts to students. Often these are free of fees and you may receive perks or freebies just for setting up an account. Look into the options for checking accounts that are student-friendly and convenient.
24. Get a job
Going to college costs money, and having a job can help cover some of the costs. There will be job opportunities both on and off campus during the school year. Landing a summer job is another option because you won’t have to balance class and work schedules. This is a great time to work long hours and save up for the upcoming semester.
25. Start a side hustle
If working for a traditional employer does not sound fun to you, take one of your hobbies and turn it into a side hustle to make extra spending money. You could make bracelets, start a blog, or even drive for ride-share companies. While hanging out with friends or scrolling mindlessly through social media may seem more enjoyable in the moment, a side hustle can bring long-term benefits to your finances.
26. Compare the costs of wants to your hourly wage
College students want the latest fads, whether it be clothing, tech, or hairstyles. In order to avoid falling into the trendy trap, think about the cost of items in relation to the hourly wage at your job. How many hours would you have to work to pay the full price of the item? That trendy item may not seem too expensive, but when you realize you would have to work 8 hours to cover the cost, you might decide you don’t need it.
27. Begin saving and investing
Although people usually don’t use the words ‘college student’ and ‘investor’ in the same sentence, it doesn’t have to be that way. College students don’t typically have a lot of extra money laying around, but it doesn’t take a lot of money to start investing. You can begin to let your money work for you by opening a certificate of deposit, a high-yield savings account, or an individual retirement account. Make sure that you do your research first, and avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.
28. Start paying off student loans now
If you have to take out student loans, don’t wait until you are out of college to start paying them off. Start repaying your loans as soon as possible. Even if you are in a grace period, interest may still accumulate. Give yourself a head start, and you’ll thank yourself for it later.
Minimize Housing Costs
College students need an affordable place to live, whether that be on-campus, off-campus, or at home. When shopping around for housing, look for the opportunities that will save you money and be the best fit for you.
29. Live off-campus
In some cases, living off-campus is cheaper than living on-campus. The benefits, like privacy and more space, are nice, but you’re also farther from campus and exposed to less opportunities to meet new people. When you live in an off-campus house or apartment, you will also have to make your own food, but you will have the freedom to choose what you want to eat. Living off-campus could save you money and outweigh the many benefits of living-on campus.
30. Split the costs with a roommate(s)
Find a friend that you are comfortable with and ask them if they would want to live together. Not only can living under the same roof strengthen your bond, but it will also cost less for you both. Splitting the cost of rent and the other costs of living off-campus, like cleaning, cooking, and maintenance, will save you money and allow you more free time.
31. Consider living at home
If the option is available to you and the distance is not an obstacle, consider living with your parents while you are in college. You will save money, and you will get to spend quality time with your family before you move out on your own. Although it will cost less, you may miss out on the social opportunities that a college student living in the dorms or an apartment may have.
32. Think about becoming an RA
If the on-campus lifestyle is your thing, consider becoming a resident assistant. You will get to meet and interact with a lot of new people, and the job will provide you with leadership skills and responsibility. Most importantly, you can have your room and board completely paid for by the college in exchange for your work.
33. Try to use minimal decorations
Although it can seem fun to decorate your new space with the latest trends, college is not the time to get the most expensive designer home decor. Chances are, the space you are decorating is unique, and you won’t want to or be able to use the decor when you move out. Try to make DIY decor or find cute furnishings at your local second-hand store for cheap.
34. Protect your security deposit
When you rent a house or apartment, you have to put down a security deposit in case you break anything or an accident happens. If you don’t do any damage to the property, then you will get the money back. Treat your home with respect and care and you will get your full deposit back when your lease is up.
Students in college have to buy many items to get through the school year. Some of these items are essential and some of them, like the new shoes you bought, are not essential. Whatever the circumstances, you should try to get the best deal on your purchase. Here's how to save money in college when it comes to shopping.
35. Use your student ID for discounts
Many stores and restaurants allow a student discount on their products and services with a valid student ID. This is an easy way to save money on the items that you were going to purchase anyway, like your school laptop or tickets to an art museum. Make sure you always carry your student ID to receive student discounts in college.
36. Unfollow your favorite brands on social media
It’s likely that you have spent time scrolling through Instagram or TikTok and have seen a product that you just had to have. Those major companies try to influence people to make impulse decisions. You can avoid the temptation for these products altogether by unfollowing those brands’ marketing on social media.
37. Don’t make impulse decisions
Advertisements that say Act Now or 20% Off Today Only are trying to rush your judgment so you won’t think the purchase through before you make it. A good rule is to wait a week before buying an item that you think you want. After a week, you may realize you didn’t want or need the item that badly after all. Pro tip: Instead of saving 20% or 40% during a sale, you can save 100% by leaving the store or closing the browser tab and thinking about it further.
38. Thrift clothes and household objects
Buying new clothes, household decorations, and other objects can be very pricey. Local thrift and secondhand stores are a great way to buy quality items at a low cost. There are plenty of treasures in your local thrift stores that just require a little bit of extra searching. Of course, there will still be some clothing items you’ll want to buy brand-new.
39. Sell items you no longer use or need
You can purge the items that are taking up space in your closet and home and sell them on Facebook Marketplace. You could also take your items to a local consignment store so you wouldn’t have to worry about advertising, but could still make some of the profit. Thrifting for secondhand clothes is becoming more popular, so you may be surprised at how much money you could make from that name-brand dress you haven’t worn since freshman year.
40. Ask for practical gifts for your birthday
Instead of leaving the birthday gifts your family will give you up to chance, ask for a practical gift instead. For example, when you move into an apartment for the first time, you will need kitchenware. Asking your family members for pots, pans, and silverware is a smart choice because you’d have to buy them anyway. Plus, every time you use them, you will think of the person who gifted them to you.
41. Take care of the items you own
Taking care of the items that you have is extremely important. That means washing clothing according to the care labels, cleaning your home and objects regularly, and practicing more regard for the items that you get to call your own. This care will increase the life of the item to stretch the dollars you originally used to buy them.
42. Don’t fall for the free shipping trap
Too often, you see a promotion for free shipping on orders of $75 or so. When you add the items that you want to your cart, you realize that you are just a few dollars short, encouraging you to go find another item to make it to the free shipping price. Most of the time, the item that you had to add to your cart to make it to the free shipping price costs more than the cost of shipping itself if you just purchased the items you originally needed.
Save on Transportation
In college, you need to be able to get from place to place. Although it depends on how far away you live, you will have more options for saving money on transportation the closer you get to campus.
43. Take public transportation
When you live in a large city, public transportation is usually accessible. Public transportation can save you dollars because you don’t have to pay for gas or parking. Plus, you get to see the city or take care of emails while you ride. If you do decide to get a bus pass, make sure you inquire if there is a discount for students to save even more money.
44. Use your car the right way
Accidents happen, but If you are intentionally engaging in reckless activity, like speeding or racing, an accident is more likely to occur. The consequences can then be very expensive. The costs for auto repairs, speeding tickets, car insurance deductibles, or hospital bills in extreme cases can take a huge chunk out of your savings.
45. Learn how to make minor auto repairs and maintenance
Taking your car to the shop can be costly, even for minor maintenance like changing your oil or replacing the air filters. Consider learning how to conduct this maintenance yourself to save money on parts and labor at the shop. This can be done through online resources or an experienced friend.
46. Fill up with gas on Mondays
USA Today along with GasBuddy, a fuel-savings app, found that Mondays are generally the best day to fill up your car with gas. This can differ from state to state. However, gas stations usually have less traffic towards the beginning of the week and adjust prices accordingly. Prices may increase on the weekends, making Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the worst days to fill up.
47. Ditch the car
When you live close to campus, you can get away with walking to a lot of places. You can save money on a car and all of the expenses that go with it if you don’t have one. Chances are that if you need a ride, your friends will be willing to pick you up if you pitch in for gas from time to time. Plus, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint.
Avoid Expensive Entertainment
College is a fun time to be with your friends and to experience events that you have never been to before, but entertainment doesn’t need to break the bank. Use these tips to save money in college and have fun.
48. Look for Free Events
Some of the best perks of attending college are the free events. Sometimes clubs will host events with free food. In addition, there are sporting events, movies, student concerts, lectures, poetry readings, and many other events that happen each year on campus at no cost to you. You just have to flash your student ID and enjoy the show!
49. Skip expensive spring breaks and summer trips
Even though it might seem like everyone you know is going somewhere for spring break or summer vacation, don’t feel pressured to do the same in order to create experiences that social media deems “cool”. There are plenty of local adventures that are just as fun and less expensive. You can paint in your local park, spend a day in a retro diner, or volunteer for a meaningful organization.
50. Don’t buy a gym membership
The fees included in your total college cost cover a lot of amenities, including the campus recreation center. You can workout in the rec center instead of paying for an off-campus gym. Plus, you can meet a lot of cool people who are into fitness, too.
51. Evaluate your cell phone plan
Having a cell phone in college is seen as a necessity, but you may be paying for a larger plan than you really need. Since much of your time is spent on campus, you can utilize your college’s WiFi instead of cell phone data. Check into the details of your plan, and compare it to your actual usage habits to see if there is a smaller plan that will satisfy your needs.
52. Minimize subscriptions
Staying up to date on your favorite shows and movies seems like a necessity. In reality, you can get by without subscribing to Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. Evaluate which streaming service you utilize the most, compare prices, and decide which ones you can eliminate. In addition, make sure that you’re not still paying for any subscriptions that you no longer use.
Practice Sustainability on a Budget
Saving energy often leads to saving money. In college, there are many ways that you can be sustainable and spend less at the same time.
53. Use a reusable water bottle
Not only is using a reusable water bottle good for the environment, but it also saves you money on drinks at the grocery store or from the vending machine. You’ll only have to buy it once, and you can personalize it with fun stickers. Stay hydrated, express yourself, and help the environment at the same time.
54. Conserve energy
Monitor your utility bills to help you see where you can conserve energy and reduce monthly costs. Try shutting off the lights when you leave a room, making sure that you only wash a full load of dishes or laundry, unplugging your devices that are not in use, and turning down the thermostat.
55. Use alternatives to disposable items
Dishes can seem to pile up day after day. This causes college students to opt for disposable plates, cups, and silverware to avoid the hassle of washing, drying, and putting them away. When you buy paper and plastic tableware, you do save time on not washing dishes, but you are creating more waste and adding an unneeded cost to your budget.
56. Go green; skip the machines
Before you purchase an air purifier, try growing a few plants indoors. Plants like cacti or a Peace Lily can help naturally clean the air in your space, rather than buying a man-made machine to do it for you. Plus, they can serve as a cute decor element!
Save Money on Other Expenses
There are a couple of areas where you can save money that aren’t in the categories listed above. Always be on the lookout for new ways to reduce your spending and random ways to save money in college.
57. Make your own gifts
Sometimes you want to show appreciation for someone with more than just an Instagram post. Around the holiday season and on birthdays, it is common for friends and family to exchange gifts. You can save money by making your own gifts for these occasions. In addition, the person receiving the gift will cherish the extra effort you put into it.
58. Don’t overlook beauty school students
A new hairdo is one of the fastest ways to upgrade your style, but professional salon services can cost a pretty penny. You can save money by getting your hair trimmed or nails manicured by students who are studying to be cosmetologists.
59. Make a wish list
Saving money is not about never spending money at all. You can budget room for your purchases and still be a responsible money manager. Those desired purchases are best kept on a wish list, so that you can refer to it whenever you have a little bit of extra room in your budget or someone asks what you want for your birthday.
60. Don’t quit cold turkey
If you have a bad money habit that you are trying to break, don’t just try to cut your budget cold turkey. Phase out the unnecessary spending habit by 10% each month. That way the change won’t be as drastic, and you won’t feel bad if you give into human nature and buy another iced coffee.
By implementing some of these money saving tips for college students, or money hacks, into your daily life, you can begin to see positive changes. You will have more money to pay for your college-related expenses and maybe even a little extra money leftover to add to your savings goals. Practicing good money management in college will help you become better equipped to manage your finances even after you graduate.