Navigating the challenges of managing money, covering education costs, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle is a common struggle for many students.
However, amidst these hurdles, valuable tips and tricks exist that can significantly ease the burden and set you on the path to financial success.
This article delves into 13 practical and simple strategies on how to save money in college. From effective budgeting to smart decisions on housing, transportation, food, and entertainment, these tips offer a comprehensive guide.
By implementing these strategies, you not only reduce expenses but also open avenues to increase your income, allowing you to savor the college experience without breaking the bank.
13 Tips for Saving Money in College
College is a transformative time filled with learning, growth, and adventure, but the accompanying financial stress and potential for debt can dampen the experience.
To avoid falling into debt and a tight budget, follow these tips —
1. Create a Comprehensive Budget and Set Financial Goals
Before starting the college semester, sit down and thoroughly go through the patterns of your regular income and spending habits. Jot them down in your notes, then identify your needs and wants.
- How much do I make each month? How much does it cover the whole semester?
- What are my non-negotiable expenses for each month?
- How much free-spending money can I allow myself every month?
This will help you narrow down to a rough budget. When you finally settle on a fixed budget, stick by it throughout the semester.
A budget can also help you identify areas where you can save money, such as reducing unnecessary purchases, finding cheaper alternatives, or taking advantage of discounts and deals.
Alongside setting up a budget, make sure to give yourself financial goals. These will motivate you to not only adhere to your budget but save money for other important things, such as paying off student loans, buying a new laptop, or traveling.
2. Track Income and Expenses and Set Realistic Spending Limits
Throughout your time in college, meticulously keep track of every expense and every flow of income. This is going to help you see where your money goes and how you can cut corners and save more.
Spreadsheets, notebooks, or digital expenditure tracking apps can be used to keep a constant record of your expenses and income. When you’ve settled on where to keep your records, categorize them by type, such as:
- Tuition fees
You can also compare your actual spending with your budgeted spending, and identify any gaps or areas for improvement. Setting realistic spending limits can help you control your spending and avoid overspending on things that you don’t need or want.
You can pick where to save and set limitations once you’ve broken down your costs into several categories and taken a few months to observe the average amount you spend on each one.
For example, you can designate a monthly budget of $50 for entertainment, $100 for meals, or $150 for travel.
3. Use Budgeting Apps or Spreadsheets
Spreadsheets and budgeting apps are easily accessible tools which can help you create, manage, and regularly check your budget.
You can sort your income and spending into categories, and view how much you have saved each month. They can also be used to track your expenses, set saving goals, and alert you when your spending is getting near to a limit.
The apps most popularly used for keeping track of budgets are —
This is a free app which lets you sync all your bank accounts, credit cards, invoices, etc. and view your financial status in one platform. It allows you to track your spending, make customized budgets, and receive financial guidance and ideas.
Mint also sends you notifications when you have upcoming bills, low balances, or unusual transactions. You can also access your credit score, investment portfolio, and savings goals with Mint.
Also called ‘You Need A Budget.’ Using information from your income and spending, this app assists you in creating a budget. It may be used to give each dollar a task, such as investing, saving, or spending.
YNAB also helps you deal with unexpected expenses, such as emergencies, by creating a buffer or a rainy day fund.
However, YNAB costs $11.99 per month or $84 per year, but it offers a 34-day free trial and a student discount.
This app is another example of a zero-based budgeting approach, which includes allocating a purpose to each dollar and ensuring that your income and expenses balance out to zero.
It is used to track your spending, make monthly budgets, and determine how much money remains in each area. Additionally, EveryDollar assists you in reaching your financial objectives, including debt repayment, retirement savings, and home ownership.
A budget monitoring spreadsheet can be made with Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel in addition to applications. This is the most convenient for most college students as they are easily accessible from any device, free of cost, and simple to update.
If you don’t have the time to create your own personalized spreadsheet, you can find hundreds of free templates on Google just by searching “spreadsheet budget template.” You can choose from a variety of different layouts, including weekly, monthly, and yearly templates.
4. Minimize Textbook Costs (Buy Used or Rent Textbooks and Ebooks)
Textbooks can get quite costly, particularly if you have to purchase new ones each semester. Still, there are methods to get textbook prices down.
When it comes to textbooks, renting or purchasing old might save you a lot of money. You can find used or rental textbooks online on platforms such as:
- Campus Book Rentals
You can even find old textbooks at your campus bookstore, library, or a student exchange. At the end of the semester, consider selling your textbooks back to recoup part of your costs.
Textbooks may be accessed digitally on a computer, tablet, or smartphone as e-books. These offer several benefits over printed textbooks, such being lighter, searchable, and interactive. They are also usually less expensive.
You can buy or rent ebooks from your textbook publisher’s website, or various platforms, such as:
Other than second-hand books and Ebooks, you can also consider using open educational resources (OER).
OER are free and openly licensed educational materials that anyone can use, modify, or share. They include textbooks, courses, lectures, videos, quizzes, and more.
These are available from various sources, such as:
- OER Commons
5. Find Affordable Housing
One of the largest costs for college students is housing, particularly if they reside in off-campus flats or dorms. Nonetheless, there are a few strategies to locate less expensive accommodation, including —
Living Close to Campus
By living nearby campus grounds, you can cut costs on transportation, gas, parking, public transit, and more. Biking and walking can also help you save time and money.
You can look for housing options near your campus on websites such as:
- College Student Apartments
Living with Roommates
Taking in other tenets can lower your rent and utility bills, as well as provide you with social and emotional support.
You can find roommates who share your interests, values, and lifestyle on websites such as:
Use apps such as Splitwise or Venmo to split and pay your bills easily and fairly.
Applying for House Grants
Some scholarships or grants can cover part or all of your housing costs, depending on your academic performance, financial need, or other criteria. You can search for scholarships or grants on websites such as:
You can also ask your financial aid office, academic department, or student organization for any housing-related opportunities.
Negotiating Your Rent
Try negotiating your rent with your landlord if you reside in an off-campus apartment, especially if you have a strong credit score, a history of timely rent payments, or references.
Additionally, you can look for any special offers, discounts, or promotions from your landlord. For example, you might find a reduced rent for extending your lease, making an upfront payment, or recommending a friend.
Try services like Rentometer or Zillow to compare local rent costs and get the best bargain.
6. Use Public Transportation or Alternative Modes of Travel
Transportation is another major expense for college students, especially if they own or rent a car. However, there are some ways to reduce the cost of transportation, such as —
Particularly in cities, taking the bus, train, metro, or tram can be more affordable, quicker, and convenient than using a car. Additionally, you may save costs on maintenance, parking, insurance, and gas.
Apps like Citymapper, Moovit, and Transit can help you with route planning, real-time updates, and trip planning. You can also look for student discounts or passes that can lower your fares.
Using Your Car Wisely
If you own a car, you can make good use of it and cut costs by doing the following:
- Drive less and combine trips: You can do your banking, laundry, and grocery shopping in one trip rather than many.
- Regularly maintain your vehicle: Check the fluid levels, oil, and tires and replace them as necessary.
- Compare the costs of gas and insurance: By comparing these two, you can find the best offers for your vehicle.
7. Utilize Campus Resources and Support Services
Almost all colleges offer facilities to help students with their personal, academic, and professional needs. They are known as campus resources and student support services.
Using these facilities can help you save money in a lot of ways, as they provide valuable service for little to no cost.
Some examples of campus resources and support services are —
The library holds an abundance of educational tools and supplies such as books, databases, computers, and more. Instead of buying books, you can borrow them from here for no cost.
If you need help with research for your assignments, you can also ask the library staff to assist you.
This is where you can get help for all your academic needs, such as courses, tests, and assignments. There are tutors available to help you personally and in study groups.
You can get feedback on your work, clear confusions, and sign up for additional courses to expand your knowledge and prepare for exams.
You can ask for assistance with career planning, job searching, and resume writing here. If you need help to figure out your career goals, where to start, and which steps to take first, the career center counselors can assist you.
Check out your college’s career center to find and apply for internships, part-time jobs, and full-time jobs. You can use job boards, go to career fairs, and attend networking events through the career center.
You can consult medical professionals for little to no cost to help diagnose and treat your physical issues.
Additionally, you can improve your physical and emotional well-being with wellness programs including stress management seminars, nutrition workshops, and exercise classes.
8. Cook Meals at Home
Eating out, ordering in, and buying snacks are actually doing more damage than good to your budget and health. Instead, cooking meals at home can help you save money and improve your nutrition.
Cooking at home gives you the freedom to choose your ingredients, the caloric content of your meals, and serving sizes. This eventually leads to better eating habits.
Plus, you can learn new recipes, try out different cuisines, and have fun making your own meals. This can be a creative, productive, and calming hobby.
When cooking at home, you need to make sure you’re shopping for groceries wisely. Using coupons and discounts, finding the best deals, and only buying what you need are some ways to help you tackle overspending on food.
Also consider frequenting the farmer’s market or local market for in-season and fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only can you buy groceries at significantly lower prices, you can also buy cheaper exotic snacks.
Plan Meals in Advance and Cook in Bulk
Last-minute cooking, impulsive spending, and food waste all come down to lack of meal-prepping. To avoid these issues, you need to always have a plan of what you are going to eat each day of the week.
First, make a list of all the ingredients you need to buy for your meals for the upcoming week. Then, do some research online if those ingredients are on sale or have special offers before heading to the store.
You can also save yourself time and energy by reducing the amount of times you cook per week by cooking meals in bulk and preserving leftovers.
For example, several servings of meals, such as pasta, soup, casseroles, etc. can be prepared in advance and frozen for later use.
Consider investing in convenient kitchen appliances such as slow cookers and air fryers. These are easy to use, prepare a lot of food quickly, and help you save time from cooking manually.
9. Embrace Student Discounts
Many services and brands offer student discounts for college-going individuals. To claim these offers, students might be required to give information regarding their student ID, email, and credit card.
These discounts can save money in a number of ways.
- Travel: You can travel the world, explore new places, or visit your family and friends at cheaper rates with student discounts. Websites or apps such as StudentUniverse, STA Travel, or Eurail can help you find and book student discounts on flights, hotels, trains, buses, or tours.
- Education: Bookstores, libraries, tutoring centers, and other educational facilities tend to give out discounts to students for their services and products. Even online learning platforms, such as Udemy, Skillshare, and Coursera, offer slashed prices on their courses for students.
- Technology: You can upgrade your technology, buy new gadgets, or access software and apps at discounted prices with student discounts. Apple, Microsoft and Adobe all offer student discounts on laptops, tablets, phones, or software and apps.
- Shopping: You can save big on accessories, books, clothes, and other items on student discounts. Many shopping malls give out offers to students on their items, which can range anywhere between food to furniture. Some examples of brands that give out discounts to students include ASOS, Amazon Prime Student, and Barnes & Noble.
10. Avoid Unnecessary Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt is one of the greatest financial struggles you can get into as a student. It includes interest and fees, which makes it even more challenging to pay off.
Missing the timely payments or going past your credit limit can plummet your credit score, which can affect your future financial opportunities.
To avoid these issues, remember to —
Use Credit Cards Wisely
To select the best credit card, explore choices with low interest rates, no annual fees, or rewards through platforms like NerdWallet or Credit Karma.
Additionally, make timely and full payments every month to steer clear of interest charges and fees. Utilize apps like Mint to keep tabs on your spending and handle bills efficiently.
Maintaining a good credit score involves staying within your credit limit, ideally below 30%. Avoid maxing out your card to ensure a healthy credit utilization ratio.
Use monitoring apps like Credit Sesame to track and manage your credit score effectively. These practices contribute to responsible credit card use and financial well-being.
Avoid Credit Card Traps
Resist impulse buying by planning and budgeting to prevent unplanned purchases. Utilize cash or debit cards as a strategy to control your spending and avoid unnecessary expenses.
Avoid costly cash advances with high interest rates and immediate accrual by using them only as a last resort. This helps you sidestep additional fees and financial strain.
Be careful with balance transfers, considering potential fees and limited promotional periods. Prioritize paying off the transferred debt before any increase in interest rates occurs. This approach ensures a more secure financial standing and responsible use of credit.
11. Explore Part-time Employment Opportunities
Jobs that demand less labor than full-time hours, usually 20 to 30 hours per week, are classified as part-time opportunities. They can help you in learning new skills, gaining useful job experience, or generating more income.
Some examples of part-time employment opportunities include —
Students who require financial aid can apply for part-time work through these state-funded programs. Work-study programs might assist you with living expenses, student loan repayment, or school costs.
The occupations are typically associated with your area of study, your professional aspirations, or your interests in volunteer work. They are also helpful, convenient, and flexible since they let you work on or close to campus, modify your schedule to fit in with your studies, and get advice from mentors or supervisors.
Jobs that let you work independently and remotely are known as freelance opportunities. They may support you while you follow your passions, demonstrate your skills, or make additional money.
These types of occupations, which can include writing, designing, coding, teaching, and consulting, are typically dependent on your talents, abilities, or passions.
Freelance employment is also gratifying, flexible, and diversified because they let you establish your own fees, pick your own clients, and work at your own speed. You can also start a business in your college to earn some extra cash.
12. Seek Entertainment Options within Budget
Finally, you can save money in college by enjoying entertainment within your budget. Entertainment includes activities that bring fun, relaxation, and socialization. Going out frequently, buying tickets, or paying for snacks can add up, so it’s crucial to stay within your budget.
Here are a few tips on how to do this —
- Utilize Student Discounts: Access special offers on movies, concerts, museums, theme parks, and more with your student ID. Websites like Student Beans, UNiDAYS, or ISIC can help you find these discounts.
- Explore Free or Low-Cost Options: Take part in low-cost hobbies and activities like riding, hiking, camping, picnicking, reading, traveling, or swimming. This enables you to enjoy yourself, interact with others, and make priceless memories all while being mindful of your financial well-being.
- Host or Join a Potluck or Game Night: A potluck or a game night is a social gathering where you and your friends or family bring food or games to share and enjoy together. It can help you save money by splitting the cost, the work, or the food. Plus, you have fun, bond, and create memories with your loved ones.
Final Thoughts: Money-Saving Secrets for College Students
Learning how to save money in college may seem tough, but it’s worth it.
These tips can help you spend less, earn more, and enjoy college without money worries. Following these ideas also helps you understand money better, be responsible, and become more independent – all things that will help you in the future.
Remember, saving money in college doesn’t mean missing out on fun. It’s about making smart choices that fit your money goals.
- Good Ways to Save Money in College (May 14, 2022) by Bay Atlantic University
- The Habit of Savings among College Students (February 2020) by David Doe Fiergbor