As a student, your schedule revolves around classes and activities, which can make it difficult to find time to earn a modest income. If you do have a job, an allowance, or a side hustle, you may have noticed that as soon as the money is deposited into your bank account, it seems to flow right back out to cover bills and other expenses. Despite all of the challenges, there is no time like the present to master your savings skills. We asked students from across the United States to share their best money saving tips. Here are 30 tips for saving money each month during your time at college.
1. Work hard in school
You should put your best effort into everything you do, but hard work is especially necessary when it comes to higher education. Your effort and attitude towards school can influence your grades, which may put you in a more favorable position for scholarships. The more scholarships you receive, the less money you’ll have to pay for college out of pocket. Hanna, a student attending Davenport University, offers her advice on saving money in college:
“My top tip to other students to help them begin to save money is to try your best in school. This may sound odd and completely out of context, but let me explain how these two are actually intertwined. Working hard in school usually results in better grades that pay off for that hard work. Along with good grades comes scholarships. Some students tend to put their work first, and then their schooling. However, I believe this is backwards. They can work as many hours as they want in their job, but by the end of their high school career, they will regret neglecting their grades. The dream college they were hoping to be accepted into may not accept them because of their poor grades. If they do get accepted, it may cost them a fortune to attend!”
2. Create (and stick to) a budget
In college, it may seem like you’re constantly paying for the next thing. Whether it’s tuition, textbooks, food, or housing, these costs can eat away at your savings if they are not properly accounted for. Having a budget in college is a great step towards being a better manager of your finances and saving money. A University of Central Florida student, Kendall, shares her budgeting tips:
“My biggest piece of advice to other college students (or any students for that matter) is to pick a budget that works for you. With so many budgeting resources out there, what works for some people may not work for others. I’ve found that I’ve stuck more to my budget when I’ve used an app to track my expenses. Also, when you’re budgeting, make sure to cover set expenses, but also leave enough money for entertainment! Especially in college, if you don’t budget enough for that, you may not stick to your budget.”
University of Central Florida
3. Establish your financial why
Saving money can become tiresome if you don’t have a reason for doing it. When you set a financial goal, your “why” can hold you accountable even when you don’t feel like saving. Having a goal can boost your motivation and decrease your chances of straying from your savings plan. Luke, a Messiah University student who loves Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccinos and saving money, shares how he decides between the two:
“My top tip for other students is to determine the “why” behind their financial decisions. Arbitrarily saving money is much harder than saving money for a specific reason. Whether your “why” is saving up for a car or financially supporting your family, having a goal to pursue gives purpose to your saving. My “why” of graduating debt-free makes saying no to that daily Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino an easy decision.”
4. Learn how to cook
As you become an adult, you might discover the value of preparing meals at home in order to expand your palate and save on food costs. Learn how to cook your favorite foods using ingredients from the grocery store or local farmers market. As your confidence in the kitchen grows, you can experiment with new flavors and ingredients. Saline shares how she saved money by learning to cook:
“My other weakness is food. I love eating out or ordering in. However, it’s a luxury I can no longer afford. I rolled up my sleeves and went through my spending history to see what kinds of food I was buying most often. For me, it was orange chicken and Indian food. Then, I taught myself how to cook the most delicious version of my favorite “eating out” dishes. Whenever I’m feeling the itch to eat out, I stop by the store instead. Once I have all the ingredients to cook what I want, it’s really hard to justify buying more food! Plus, I know I can make the dishes to my personal liking, adding all the extra spices and toppings that I want.”
5. Apply for scholarships
Scholarships aren’t just for high school seniors. There are many different scholarship opportunities available to students in college, like the 1st Financial Bank USA Financial Goals Scholarship®. If you spend a few hours each week applying for scholarship opportunities, the payoff could be enormous. Cassady of University College Cork shares her insight on scholarships:
“The biggest mistake I made in college was not continuing to apply to scholarships throughout my degree. Before I attended university, I applied to a few large scholarships but was discouraged by rejections and stopped seeking out more opportunities. I thought that scholarship applications were meant for high school seniors only. After doing extensive research into scholarships for graduate school, I know that this is false. Most of the scholarships I am applying for take students both before they start classes and at any time while they are enrolled. With this knowledge in mind, I created a spreadsheet of 60 plus scholarship opportunities that I qualify for and would like to apply to.”
University College Cork
6. Get a job
In order to save money, you must have money to save. Getting a job is one of the best ways to make money in college, as many employers will work with you to accommodate your class schedule. A job will also give you a sense of accomplishment and allow you to put more money toward your savings. UC Davis student, Anna, shares her advice on getting a job:
“Some people might say that being a full-time student is just like having a full-time job but I believe that every student should work at least a few hours a week while in college. I started working part-time during my junior year in high school and having my own income taught me how to be independent and how to control my spending. It felt great when my first paychecks arrived and even better when I transferred a part of my earned money into my savings account. Ever since my first job, I have been adding funds there every month and I am proud that I have been able to save up some money that I know I will need so much in the future.”
University of California
7. Enroll in dual credit classes
One of the best ways to save money in college actually starts in high school. Taking a dual credit class, which is a class that counts towards both your high school and college degree, can allow students to complete their college degree at a faster pace. As long as the courses transfer to the college or university you’re planning to attend, you’ll be able to save on tuition and fees. Bryan, a student of Purdue University, shares his experience with dual credit courses:
"Taking dual credit classes is a great way to reduce the cost of a four-year degree. I took dual credit classes at my local university. I was able to take 24 credit hours, which was the maximum they allowed. Staying under 30 credits also enabled me to keep my freshman status for the school I will be attending in the fall 2022. This is important for freshmen scholarships….Another benefit of dual enrollment classes with college professors is they increase your confidence in your ability to handle college coursework.”
8. Buy in bulk
Have you ever noticed that a two-pack of an item at the store is usually cheaper than the price of buying the individual item twice? In general, larger quantities of food and other household products may cost less per item than their single-item counterparts. Buying in bulk is a great way to save on the product price, as well as trips to the store. Tyler from the University of Michigan shares his tips for saving money at the grocery store:
“After we finally got a membership around my sixth birthday, my family bought nearly everything at Costco. From paper towel rolls to meat to clothes, over half of the items in our house at any given moment were from that warehouse.…This tactic of buying in bulk is something I’ve used throughout my entire life and will continue using through college. While it does make each trip a bit harder on the wallet, the value goes through the roof. Buying in bulk is the way to go if you’re on a budget, as counter-intuitive as it might seem at first.”
University of Michigan
9. Utilize student discounts
Whether you’re ordering your daily coffee or shopping for dorm decorations, the money spent on your purchases can begin to add up. Many businesses offer a discount to students, which can help you save money on items you’re already buying. Usually, all you need is a valid student ID or a current school email address. A student from The City College of New York shares how she saves money with student discounts:
“As college students, there are many discounts offered to us. The top tip that I would suggest to other college students is to take advantage of these discounts. Wherever I shop, whether it be stores, restaurants, or even booking a plane ticket, I always search for and inquire about student discounts and offers. Plenty of establishments offer them even if they aren't advertised. You just have to ask.”
City College of New York
10. Pencil in your non-essentials
While budgets can be strict, budgeting is what you make of it. If nonessential outings, like a coffee date, is how you combine your studying and social life, don’t cut it out. Instead, plan it into your budget so you know to anticipate the expense every month. Just make sure you’re prioritizing your rent and monthly car payment before streaming services or caffeinated beverages. Grace from Palm Beach Atlantic University utilizes her planner to anticipate her non-essentials:
“This semester, my friends and I have a running Tuesday night tradition of getting $3 “pizookies” — giant individual cookies baked in a skillet and topped with ice cream. Furthermore, most Saturdays I meet with two of my English major friends for coffee shop study dates. While these are technically two examples of non-essential expenses, I have realized that these times are worth investing in over splurging on other non-essential things….By planning for these expenses ahead of time, I can incorporate fun into my schedule while still keeping track of where my money is going. College living can be expensive, but by budgeting and planning ahead, students can still live to the fullest while getting the most out of their dollar."
Palm Beach Atlantic University
11. Implement a waiting period
Sometimes when you’re online shopping, the urge to purchase an item impulsively may overtake even the strongest of savers. To combat this urge, try implementing a waiting period before you allow yourself to click “purchase”. This waiting period can be as little as 24 hours or as long as a month. If you find that you still want the item after waiting, then you can feel better about making the purchase. Kristen demonstrates how she exercises caution when buying online:
“Online shopping has made it easy to fall victim to impulse shopping. To stop myself from making these purchases, when there is a new product I am interested in buying, I save it to my wishlist and don't look at it for a few weeks. If I constantly find myself thinking about it and still really want to buy it after a few weeks have passed, then I will take the plunge and buy it. But in many cases, I realize that I didn't need the product and can save that money I would have otherwise spent."
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
12. Source your extras secondhand
In college, you may need some furniture for your dorm or apartment. You may also need a few nice outfits for presentations or interviews. When naming the costs of college, it’s easy to forget about items like decorations, furniture, and clothing. Utilizing your local thrift stores and online secondhand sites, like Facebook Marketplace, can save you a lot of money in this department. A University of Missouri student shares her experience with thrifting:
“Thrift stores, used bookstores, and online resale shops are a student’s best friends. Thrift stores sell many student essentials including desks, backpacks, and lamps. Used bookstores hold discounted and/or rental textbooks, which saves students hundreds of dollars per semester. Online resale shops contain a plethora of items that make a house a home, ranging from furniture and home decor to used cars and appliances. Not only is shopping secondhand cost-efficient, but it is also environmentally sound. Re-using and up-cycling are key elements to decreasing consumer waste. Secondhand items are inherently economical and environmental. Decreasing the price of everyday expenses allows one to put more funds towards tuition, rent, savings, travel, etc."
University of Missouri
13. Skip name brand items
Picture a scenario in the grocery store where the name brand green beans are $1.39 and the generic counterpart is 59¢. Although the name brand item might be popular, usually the generic brand is of the same or similar quality. In this case, you would save 80¢ for each generic can that you purchase. If you do this each time you grocery shop for a whole year, the savings will add up. These savings can be applied to groceries, clothing, and more. Christine, a San Jose State University student, shares her advice on purchasing generic items:
“Essential items, with them being essential, are things that cannot be simply removed from your life. However, you can cope with essential purchases by opting for generic brands when you can instead of recognizable name brands. In some cases, the quality difference between the two is not so noticeable, so at a lower price, a student is able to make do with just the generic brand of an item, such as with toiletries and the like."
San Jose State University
14. Do your research
Sometimes, the first deal you see is not the best value. Although it takes a little more effort than just clicking buy now, comparison shopping can save you money. When you take time to evaluate other options, you’ll know if you are getting the best price or if you can find a better alternative. A student from Stanford University suggests spending a bit more time on research to help you save money:
“If you are planning on going on a trip with friends, take a couple hours to do some research….If you are going to spend a night in a hotel, spend 10 minutes finding the cheapest possible rooms instead of picking something high end. If you are planning on going into the city, take the train for $4 instead of renting a car for a day for $100. If you are taking a flight somewhere, explore different options on Google flights, and maybe fly a redeye flight instead of a flight in the middle of the afternoon. The temporary convenience you get from spending the night in a nice hotel, renting a car, or flying at 2pm in the afternoon is not worth the financial hardships you will face in the future, rooted from these little decisions in spending."
15. Partake in campus activities and amenities
Your college likely offers many events to get students involved and engaged on campus. Usually, these events are free and might provide freebies, such as a keychain or t-shirt, for attending. Going to events on campus could significantly reduce your monthly entertainment budget and your transportation costs to get to off-campus events. Keynessa shares how she saves money on entertainment:
“I would take advantage of every free event that is being offered around campus. Not only can you get free food, clothes, and entertainment, but it's also a good opportunity to make friends, and network. Going out to free events is a chance to have fun, while maintaining your savings. Of course that doesn't mean you can't splurge on the weekends, but with the friends you've made, you all can split costs and still have a good time."
American Academy of the Dramatic Arts
16. Set a purchasing multiple
When you have the money to buy an item, it can be hard to convince yourself that you can’t afford it. To avoid an item that may bust your budget or doesn’t align with your financial goals, set a multiple, like the number three. For example, if you want a new pair of shoes for $100, you won’t buy the item until you can buy it three times ($300). A Georgia Tech student, Dana, shares how setting a purchasing multiple can significantly reduce your expenses:
“For starters, I’d say my biggest rule and in fact my rule of thumb is that I can only allow myself to buy something I want if I can buy the item five times. I’d say that this is my top tip to other students because it keeps you from blowing through all your money, but also drives you to work hard to earn money. Keeping this tip in mind makes the process of buying something much more fulfilling because I feel as though I have earned whatever it is I wish to purchase. Not only that, but this mindset has pushed me to earn more money than I ever have before. It’s crucial to maintain a balance because it is important to me to be prepared in the possible scenario where a financial emergency may emerge."
Georgia Institute of Tech
17. Look around before you buy textbooks
While textbooks are often required for your studies, they also aid in increasing your beginning-of-the-semester costs. Before you purchase all of the materials that are listed for your courses from the bookstore, price check other sources. Whether it’s an upperclassmen who has already completed the course or an online book rental site, textbooks are often cheaper when you don’t get them from the campus bookstore. A University of Michigan student, Chiamaka, offers her advice on textbook savings:
“Books required for a course can cost hundreds of dollars when buying from your university’s bookstore or elsewhere. And the stress of needing an extra thousand dollars to buy books can be very debilitating for college students. I’ve learned from talking to many college students that sometimes books required for a course are rarely, if ever, actually used in the course. It is best to wait and see until the first day of classes and speak with the professor to determine if you will actually need to purchase a book. And if it does end up being necessary, try to rent the book instead of buying it. Finally, if the book is necessary, and you cannot rent it or buy it for a cheap price, try finding someone who has taken the class in the past and has no need for the book anymore. Many colleges have Facebook pages where students can find upperclassmen who have taken lower-level classes that are trying to get rid of their old textbooks."
University of Michigan
18. Start a side hustle
Your class schedule in college might not allow for a traditional part time job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money. Find a hobby that you enjoy and turn it into your income. If you like animals, offer to pet sit for cash. If you like crafting, make custom bracelets or other accessories to sell to students on campus. A Spelman College student shares how she makes money on the side:
“My tip that other students should adapt to help them save money is to develop a hobby. There are so many things students do nowadays that bring in an income. I have friends that do nails, hair, eyelashes and make jewelry. These are just some on an endless list of things to do that can make a profit. The best benefit is that one can make money doing something they feel passionate about."
19. Limit eating out to special occasions
After a long day at school, it can be difficult to find the energy to want to prepare a meal at home. Many students may find themselves eating out or ordering delivery more often than they should, which can cause a dent in your hard-earned savings. A student from NYU shares the rule he uses to overcome this temptation:
“The first thing I learned is to resist the temptation to eat out. As a student in the New York City area, it can be particularly difficult to resist this temptation. Simply walking around reveals the inviting facades of many restaurants as well as savory scents of various kinds of cuisine. Looking on Yelp, you can find countless restaurants rated 4 stars or higher. When I first arrived in the city, all this made me want to try every restaurant in the area. However, food expenses add up quickly. While $20 may seem reasonable for one meal, even eating one meal out per day leaves a $140 hole in your wallet after a week. As a general rule of thumb, I try to eat out only when it’s for a social event, and even then, I try not to go more than once per week."
New York University
20. Evaluate the life of your purchases
Purchasing clothing can be expensive, but choosing low-cost, poorly made items could cost you more in the long term. It can be beneficial to invest in well-made clothing if it’s something you plan to wear regularly, like a winter coat. In these instances, identify the cost per wear. If a coat costs $90, and you plan on wearing it all 90 days of winter, then the effective cost per wear is $1. Another evaluation method is to make a list of the costs and benefits to see if the pros outweigh the cons. Monica from the University of Florida uses her own cost-benefit analysis when shopping:
“I do have a small hint that helps me in my own cost-benefit analysis: I keep a checklist of my non-essential spending and determine how much I actually use the item and see if it was worth the cost given the analysis. It’s not bad to treat yourself, but doing so in excess can lead to a great burden in the future. Therefore, when I buy luxury items such as clothes, I ask myself if I would be willing to use the item three times a week. This tip again goes back to the cost-benefit analysis: does the benefit (i.e. the practicality) outweigh the cost? Once I have determined its cost to its benefit, then I will make a purchase. In doing the analysis, I prevent myself from splurging on unnecessary items, and therefore save money from nonessential items."
University of Florida
21. Determine your transportation needs
Transportation is one of the most customizable expenses, depending on your needs and lifestyle. If you’re a student who has a meal plan and job on campus, you may be able to make do by using public transportation. However, if you work off campus or visit home often, you may need a vehicle. Eleanor from Minnesota State University - Mankato shares how she has evaluated her transportation needs:
“One piece of advice I have is regarding transportation, another everyday expense. I don’t own a car and will not be buying one before college starts. The university I will be attending has a bus that brings students all around town, so there really is no need for a car my first year. This decision will save me money on gas, parking space, insurance, and repairs…I will evaluate the need for a car during my sophomore year after I complete my freshman year."
Minnesota State University
22. Practice self-control
Many students may fall victim to impulse purchases. Your favorite clothing store might be having a sale, or a friend might invite you on a last-minute weekend trip. In these scenarios, it can be beneficial to show some financial restraint. Implementing financial discipline into your life could save you a lot of money throughout your college years. A Middle Georgia University student shares his line of questioning for practicing self-control with money:
“If we feel the need to spend, we should ask ourselves several questions. Does this help me stay within my budget? Will I have to borrow money to make this purchase? Why is this purchase important or necessary? If the answers do not make sense, do not spend. Taking a moment to answer these questions shows that we are implementing self-control and can help avoid future hardship. Avoidable financial hardship should not take away from our college experience and set us up for future financial strain. In fact, it should be about meeting new people, reaching academic goals and preparing for the real world."
Middle Georgia University
23. Be honest about your wants and needs
While treating yourself is beneficial from time to time, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what is considered a want versus a need. While food is a need, eating at Dairy Queen every time you crave it is not. Chantel, a student at Ivy Tech Community College, offers her advice on putting spending into perspective:
“Can I live without food? Of course not; however, I can choose to make myself breakfast before school instead of grabbing something from a restaurant which would cost more. Can I live without another pair of shoes? Yes, unless the only pair I owned just wore out. Can I live without spending money at an amusement park? Yes, instead, my friends and I could find a free activity. Going to amusement parks might feel like a need, but my life can be full and happy without expensive entertainment. If you are looking for ways to save money as a student, remember to differentiate your needs from your wants."
Ivy Tech Community College
24. Try imitation shopping
Once in a while, you’ll get the urge to go into a store or browse online, even when you’re not in need of anything. Often, you’ll find yourself purchasing things that aren’t on your list or aren’t necessary. To avoid this impulse shopping, try Rachel’s version of shopping that allows you to put the money you were going to use for a non-essential purchase towards an essential one:
“I go to my favorite store, pick out the items that I would want to purchase that day, add up the cost in my phone as if I were going to purchase these items, and then put that money either towards my credit card bills or towards other bills. This is something that has really worked for me and makes me feel good. What I've learned is that you have to find what works best for you when it comes to being financially responsible."
25. Plan out your grocery trips
Have you ever gone grocery shopping, purchased some items, and then were surprised by how large your total was? Instead of picking up whatever item catches your eye, make a list beforehand. You can save several dollars each week if you plan your meals around what’s on sale. A Chicago School of Professional Psychology student, Cheyenne, shares how she reduces her grocery spending each week:
“Another thing that has helped me clamp down on spending is switching up how I shop for groceries. I’ve really liked doing curbside orders at places like Walmart or Aldi. For one, these stores are (generally) cheaper than alternatives in my area, like Publix or Target. Additionally, when I order ahead or have a set budget and a set grocery list, I find that I spend less because I’m not just grabbing whatever catches my eye. I’m able to spend around $30-$40 a week on groceries and eat comfortably. This was something that I really struggled with last semester, but this new approach has been incredibly helpful."
Chicago School of Professional Psychology
26. Prioritize your expenses
When you buy unnecessary items, like a new handbag or the latest video game, you might have to go without an essential item. Always pay your essentials before your non-essentials. This way, your bank account will accurately reflect how much money you have available. An Auburn University student, Victoria, shares her advice on how to prioritize expenses:
“The biggest tip I’d suggest to fellow college students is to truly prioritize your expenses. Though it sounds simple, there have been several times where the choice gets difficult. At the moment, it can be easy to justify misprioritization and that’s why I find it very beneficial to make necessary purchases early. By using this method of “forced prioritization” (though the name could admittedly use some work), I’ve been able to optimize my savings for college, and cover most of my living expenses to take the financial pressure off of my parents."
27. Learn to say no
College life is full of new and exciting experiences, but most of these experiences have a price tag. When you’re having fun and hanging out with friends, you may not realize how much your activities are negatively affecting your bank account. It can be hard to miss out now in order to build up your finances for the future, but your friends will likely understand. Cradler, a George Washington University student, relays how he learned the art of saying no:
“There is a lot of pressure to keep up with your friends and not miss out. At George Washington University, in particular, many of my friends come from much wealthier families than mine and have a lot of access to their funds. When they want to go out and do activities or go to dinners that are well within their financial means sometimes, I have to say no because they are not in mine. This was initially hard for me because, as many in my generation can relate, the fear of missing out is challenging. However, once I stopped and realized how much I was hurting myself financially while they were doing just fine, I had to start saying no without feeling poorly about it."
George Washington University
28. Research your housing options
Some colleges require freshmen students to live in the dorms their first year of college, while others leave it up to the student. Whatever the situation, shop around for the most economical dorm or move off-campus with friends to reduce the cost. Natalie observed significant savings when she compared the costs of her housing options:
“At a recent college tour, I compared living at home housing expenses with staying in the dorm. Over the period of one school year, it was $6000.00 dollars cheaper to stay at home and commute to school! For some, the college of choice may be very far from home, but if there are education options near to home, living at home rather than on campus would significantly save money. Another option if one is not able to attend college near their home is to find off campus housing and share the cost with others. This could save a considerable amount of money."
California Baptist University
29. Learn the art of sharing
Although there are certain benefits to living alone, such as privacy or paying only for what you use, living with roommates distributes living expenses among more people. Grocery costs can now be split between you and your roommates. You could also carpool if you and your roommates have class at the same time. Benjamin, a student at Georgia Southern University, shares how he saves costs by sharing:
“I would suggest that students “share” when possible and take advantage of all benefits that are out there for the taking. For example, sharing transportation with others that are making the same commute to save on gas and parking is a smart and easy way to save. It is also valuable to go in with others for purchases that can be split or shared, such as books or bulk packaged items.”
Georgia Southern University
30. Allow yourself a reward to stay motivated
Staying motivated on your financial journey can be a struggle. Saving money in college is very important, but it shouldn’t make your life miserable. Instead, when your financial motivation is low, opt for a small, one-time reward, like going to the movie theater. Allowing yourself to indulge in a fun expense can keep you on the right track to achieving your savings goals. A student from the Concorde Career Institute encourages students to stay motivated:
“My final tip for my fellow college students is stay encouraged!...One way you can do this is by allowing yourself an award every time you accomplish a financial goal. Keep the awards inexpensive, but effective. You might need to get creative with this one but allowing myself a reward for doing good has helped me tremendously! It’s a helpful reminder that I am proud of the hard work I am putting in and one day it will all be worth it. It may be hard, but just remember that everything in this world worth having or doing takes hard work."
Concorde Career Institute
Whether you’re saving money for a specific reason, like paying off your student loan debt or contributing to an emergency fund, it’s smart to start saving now. These 30 college and university students from around the U.S. offer unique advice on how they save money in their own lives, but the best way to be successful with your savings is to make it personal to you. The savings lifestyle is not always the coolest while you’re young, but in a few years, you’ll thank yourself for your frugal ways and appreciate the sacrifices you made as a college student.
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💳Are you ready for the next step in your financial journey after saving? Check out 10 Reasons to Get a Credit Card in College.