How to Save Money as a College Student: Ways to Stretch Your Money in School

Nicolas Cesare  | 

College is supposed to be the best time of your life, but it’s hard to focus on your classes and unwind on the weekends when you’ve got to deal with the financial stress of going to school in the 21st Century. The average cost of tuition has tripled in the past 30 years. In the meantime, wages have remained stagnant making it harder and harder parents to contribute to their kids’ college funds. Rising tuition and low wages make the days of working a summer job and letting that income propel you through the school year sound like a fantasy.

These days, if you want to get through college financially unscathed, you’re going to need to break out every trick in the book. Here’s what you can do to save money in college.

Buy Used Textbooks

This isn’t the first time that someone has told students to buy used textbooks instead of new and it certainly won’t be the last. Buying used textbooks is such a big deal when it comes to saving money in college that there’s virtually no excuse for walking out of the bookstore with a new textbook.

Lots of college towns will have their own used textbook stores. Sometimes these stores are pop-ups that appear at the beginning of each new semester. If you can’t find the used textbooks that you’re looking for locally, there are plenty of online options. Big retailers like Amazon have a nearly endless supply of used textbooks for students looking to save.

Get a Student Credit Card

Using a student credit card for your purchases can be a great way to save money. With a cash back rewards program, you’ll be able to get rewards on all of the purchases that you make each month.

As a student you’ll want a card with no annual credit card fee and no minimum spending limit. An annual fee be hard to justify if you aren’t spending enough to offset that fee with your rewards and meeting a minimum spending limit will be difficult on a student budget. Cash back rewards are great for students because you can use that money anywhere, whether you need it for rent, groceries, or school supplies.

Since you won’t have as much stable income as a working professional, it’s very important you pay off your balance each month to avoid interest rates and late fees. If you use your credit card responsibly, you can save money in college and have a high credit score by the time you graduate.

Start Budgeting in School

Figure out how much money you can get away with spending each month. While doing this, factor in your reliable income if you are working in college, student loans, and other income like contributions from your family. Spread this money out over the school year to see what your monthly spending should be.

Once you’ve got this number, think about how you can break up the different kinds of spending that you do in order to stay within your budget. Unavoidable items like rent and groceries should be prioritized, while things like going out to eat or buying concert tickets should be the first to get cut if you’re over budget.

Creating a personal budget while you’re in school will help you save money in college, but it will also help you develop good financial habits that will be useful at any age.

Be Careful About Your Debt

In 2015 about 68 percent of graduating seniors left school with student loan debt. For many students, it seems like taking out some student loans is unavoidable these days. However, this doesn’t mean that you should open the floodgates when it comes to taking on debt in college.

When it comes to student loans, stick to federal loans. These will typically have better interest rates and more forgiving repayment options than student loans from private lenders. The amount you can receive in federal student loans is calculated based on how much you should have to spend to get through the school year, including non-education expenses like housing and groceries. If you find that the loans you’re getting aren’t enough to cover your costs, then it’s a good idea to go over your budget once again.

Above all, don’t fall predatory lending schemes like payday loans. These types of loans are designed to take advantage of people in tough financial situations, but becoming the victim of a predatory loan can damage your credit score for years to come.

Graduate Early If You Can

The longer you stay in school, the more time you’re going to spend paying tuition without a strong income. If you can graduate early, then you will be able to save yourself months or even years worth of college spending. Graduating early will also give you a head start on your career, which can make it easier to pay off your student loans or even help you retire early down the road.

College doesn’t have to be the most stressful time of your life. Budget responsibly in school, use a credit card wisely to get cash back, and don’t go overboard with student debt. Follow these tips to save in college so that you can have the best experience possible.


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Nick Cesare is a writer from Boise, ID. In his free time he enjoys rock climbing and making avocado toast.

This post was updated November 14, 2017. It was originally published November 14, 2017.