The Best Ways to Save Money in College: A How-To Guide for Students

Jaron Pak
A college student holding up a piggie bank for savings.

It can be frustrating trying to figure out how to save money as a college student. If you feel like you just want to throw your hands up in despair and stop monitoring your spending altogether, we feel your pain.

The good news is, you don’t have to let your college experience ruin your fledgling financial status. In fact, practicing things like thoughtful spending and budgeting can have a huge impact on your college expenses without tampering with your overall academic plans. With that in mind, here are a few of the best tips to help with saving money in college.

Table of Contents

1. Limit Eating Out

If you’re looking for ways to save money in college, it’s a good idea to start with your stomach. When you’re neck-deep in academic responsibilities it can be tempting to swing by a local fast food joint or nab a quick pre-prepared meal at the local grocery store in order to save yourself some meal-prep time.

On the surface, this might may make sense as a time-saver, but when you break it down, the time it takes to travel to and from a restaurant can make it a wash. On top of that, though, eating out regularly can be very bad for your health and it certainly doesn’t have a good effect on your finances. While fast food exudes the aura of being a “cheap meal,” the truth is, it’s called fast food, not cheap food. In fact, in 2017 it was estimated that the average American spent a whopping $1,200 on take-out meals.

Instead of dropping so much cash on fast food, take the time to create a food budget aimed at healthy eating at low costs. You’ll feel better, and you’ll save some money, too.

2. Be Careful With Subscription Services

Once upon a time, streaming services were hailed as the great opportunity to finally break away from those exorbitant cable bills. Nowadays, though, people regularly rack up incredible monthly fees in order to stay subscribed to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and a laundry list of other streaming options.

In addition, we live in an era of subscriptions, in general, with everything from your clothing to your coffee capable of being delivered on a schedule right to your front door.

If you find that you’ve over-subscribed, you can easily save dozens and even hundreds of dollars per month by cutting things down. For instance, only use one or two streaming services at a time. If you find that you like the content on more than two services, cycle them out every few months.

After you’ve canceled the services you don’t want at the moment, it’s also a good idea to check your bank statement every few weeks for a while. Make sure that everything canceled properly and you’re not still being charged for a service you think you don’t have anymore.

3. Set a Budget

If you’re serious about figuring out how to save money in college, start by setting a budget. A budget is a cornerstone of any successful financial endeavor. It gives you an informative window into both your income and your expenses and it gives you a sense of control over your financial decisions.

4. Take Advantage of Campus Resources

It’s easy to shrug and accept the costs associated with college, but before you do so, always take stock of your options. Often colleges will provide amenities on the cheap or even for free.

This can apply to everything from utilitarian services like laundry, showers, or WiFi, to health-related concerns like a nurse’s station, dental discounts, and professional counseling. Even a college library can be used as a free studying location, saving you from the need to spend money on a cup of coffee in order to use the local coffee shop.

5. Save on Textbooks

Never buy a brand new textbook until you’ve looked for an alternative. While settling for an older edition is always a bad idea, you can still look for used versions of the current edition at a fraction of the price, or even rent your textbooks using Amazon.

If you find that you can’t avoid purchasing a new copy, make sure to sell it at the end of the semester. Also, always remember, if you’re tight on cash, you can typically use your student loans for textbooks as well, rather than putting them on a credit card.

6. Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Remember the old saying, you have not because you ask not. This applies to your school expenses, as much as anything else, which is why you shouldn’t short change yourself when it comes to scholarships and grants.

It can be very much worth your time to apply to as many scholarships and grants as possible in the hope that something will pan out in your favor.

7. Set Firm Goals

If you have solid goals from the minute you fill out your college applications, you’re much more likely to graduate with less overall debt. Hesitant or uncommitted students often end up staying in college longer as they delay their school, take things slowly, or even change their major along the way.

If you enter college with a plan in place, you’ll be much more likely to power through your academic career at minimal cost to yourself.

8. Network

If salesmen should “always be closing,” students should “always be networking.” Building a network of relationships both on- and off-campus is always a critical piece of the college journey, and the effects are more than just academic.

Solid friendships can also open up opportunities for things like carpools, free study-locations, and insider information about ways to save money while on campus. Always. Be. Networking.

9. Get a Job

Just because you’re in school doesn’t mean you can’t work. Sure, a full-time job may be too much to handle along with a full class load, but if you have extra time, consider picking up a part-time job on the side.

If possible, look for a side hustle that allows you to work remotely, too. This can save you commuting time and even enable you to work from your dorm. However you choose to go about it, if you can manage to bring some money in while you’re at college, it can go a long way in offsetting your overall expenses.

10. Be Frugal With Transportation

A car payment can be very expensive. Unless absolutely necessary, consider looking for ways to ditch your vehicle and the prohibitive costs that it brings along with it. Instead, consider:

  • Walking.
  • Biking.
  • Carpooling.
  • Utilizing a ride-hailing service.
  • Using public transportation.

If you absolutely need to use a car, shop around for a deal. New cars are notoriously pricey. However, don’t just settle for a junker, either, or you’ll be dealing with the cost of repairs in no time.

11. Choose Housing Carefully

When it comes to your living arrangement, it’s critical that you do your homework before making any decisions. Each area is different. Sometimes living on campus will make more sense while, at other times, renting a local apartment might be more financially advisable. Make sure to account for details like utilities or commuting costs.

Either way, if you can’t come up with the cash for your living expenses upfront, remember that student loans can be used, even for off-campus living. Just make sure to account for the borrowed money in your budget.

12. Use Credit Cards Responsibly

Finally, if you find yourself in a pinch, it can be tempting to put “temporary spending” on a credit card. If you do so, though, strive to remember that credit cards should always be used responsibly.

Get a credit card with a low limit, use it thoughtfully, and pay it off on time. If you can do this, your credit score will be benefitted in the long run. If, however, you let the money sit on your card or you miss payments, you’ll do more damage than if you’d never opened one up in the first place.

The Power of Saving in College

If you take anything away from this article, remember that there is always a way to save money if you try. Making an effort to keep your costs down and your credit up throughout your college experience may feel difficult in the present, but it will pay you back in spades once you graduate and move on to launch your career, start a business, or accomplish whatever comes next in your professional journey.

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