It’s been nearly 20 years since I was in college. I loved the freedom and was excited to start the next chapter of my life. The last thing on my mind was findings tips to save money in college. I had student loans, a little bit of money from my parents, and credit cards. I was going to be good, right?
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I graduated college with close to $50,000 in total debt that took me years to pay off. College is no doubt expensive, but you still want to have fun while in school.
Thankfully, there are ways to cut down the cost without sacrificing the experience. Whether you’re just starting college or have a few years under your belt, here are the best ways to save money in college that I wish I would have known about when I was in school.
Best Ways to Save Money in College
Ditch the car. Walk, bike, or use public transportation. Not only are they healthier options, but they save you a big chunk of money.
Apply for scholarships. This one is a given. Even if they’re in small amounts, that’s less money you need to pay out of pocket.
Fill out your FAFSA. You’re too late for the 2021 – 2022 school year but you can start on the 2022 – 2023 school year as soon as October 1. It never hurts to see what kind of aid you qualify for.
Don’t buy high priced books. I worked at the bookstore in college and it’s crazy how much textbooks are marked up. There are several ways to save on college textbooks, such as:
- Renting textbooks through eCampus
- Buying or renting textbooks through Amazon
- Borrowing from a friend
Don’t forget to keep the textbooks in good condition so you can resell them at the end of the semester.
Use the library. Speaking of textbooks, if you only need it for a short period of time, check it out at the local library and spend nothing.
Avoid cable. Really, how much time will you have to watch TV? Not only are there many things to do besides watch TV, you’ll also be busy with classes and other activities.
Staying away from cable will save you easily $50-$100 per month. If you want to watch TV, Hulu is a great option at $6.99 per month.
If you must have cable, you can use Trim to negotiate your bill. Trim can not only cancel unused subscriptions, they also negotiate bills so you can lower your monthly cost. Not bad for a free app!
Watch the binge drinking. It’s college, I know, but binge drinking is a huge drain on a budget, not to mention unhealthy.
*Related: Looking for other ways to save money? Check out our guide on the best apps that give you free food you need to download today.*
Pay your bills on time. This is another no-brainer. Pay your bills on time to avoid interest or late fees.
Sign up for free stuff. It doesn’t take long to sign up for free product samples from either Super-Samples or ShopGala. You must be at least 18 years old to sign up with either company.
You’ll have to give them some personal information to build your profile. But, in return, you can get free stuff, save money, and have fun trying new products.
In some cases, you may even qualify to get a free laptop for college to help with your class work.
Get a credit card. I know this one is controversial. Credit cards accounted for half my debt when I graduated from college. However, you can get a credit card with a small limit and use it once a month and pay it off each month.
Not only will it help build discipline, but it will build your credit. This will save you money in the long run. If you haven’t built up your credit yet, a secured credit card may be your best option.
Here are some of the best available to get you started.
Get a student bank account. Banks love to charge fees. Many local banks offer student accounts that require lower minimum balances that help you avoid fees.
Ask for student discounts when you buy anything. Many local businesses offer freebies and discounts to students. The best freebies for college students help you save money for other needs.
It may not be much but if you have to buy something, it doesn’t hurt to save a little money.
Learn how to cook. I know cooking seems difficult; it really isn’t. Cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to save money in college.
You can find recipes online, many of which only require a handful of ingredients. Buy a crockpot – it’ll be your best friend and provide several meals instead of one.
Make sure to use a grocery rebate app like Ibotta to receive cash back on your shopping and stretch your grocery budget.
Find a part-time job. Working in college is not only a great way to make extra money, but it can also help you offset costs. You might also pick up valuable skills that you can put to use later in life.
Live with others. If you live off campus, this is one of the best tips to save money in college as you can split housing, utility, and food costs.
Attend campus events. Why pay to see a movie if you can see one for free, or greatly reduced, on campus? The same goes for concerts and other social events.
Don’t put spring break on the credit card. This is one of the stupidest money mistakes I ever made. It sounded great at the time, but paying for the trip for months after wasn’t any fun.
There are many cheap options out there if you do a little homework.
Go to class. No-brainer, I know. But every class you skip is money out the window.
Start a budget. Budgets aren’t for everyone but you won’t know until you try one. Start a simple budget by tracking what you make and how much you’re spending.
It’ll help you control your spending so you’re not always out of money. Consult our printable budget worksheet for new grads that is simple to manage and helps you stay on top of your money.
Go to happy hour instead of going out for dinner. The menu is usually cheaper, but you still get the fun of going out.
Become a Resident Advisor. If you live on campus, this can be a great way to get free room and board and maybe even a paycheck.
Make your own coffee. Coffee shops are fun to hang out in, but the costs can add up. Buy a cheap coffee maker on Amazon, invite some friends over, and save money.
Skip the gym membership. Your campus likely has one you can use for free (well, it’s likely part of your fees and therefore you’re already paying for it) so you might as well use it.
Take as many classes as you can. I’m not saying you should burn yourself out because that’s the last thing you want. However, every extra class you take each semester accelerates your time to graduation – thus saving you money.
Consider community college. If you’re not certain what you want to major in, or you simply want to knock out a few basic courses, community college can save you thousands of dollars.
*Related: Need a cheap place to make copies? Read our guide on the best printing services near me to find the cheapest options to save money.*
If you’re looking for how to save money as a college student, this can be a great way to lower costs with little effect on the quality of classes.
Save money every paycheck. Assuming you have a job, take a portion out of your check each month and put it in a savings account.
It doesn’t matter how much it is, just get in the habit of saving regularly. Chime is a great option that rounds up each purchase to the nearest dollar and places it in your savings account.
Read our review of the fee-free financial app to learn more.
There are other discount sites like Groupon that offer savings, so don’t overlook those options.
Don’t buy new. This is especially the case with decorating your apartment or dorm room. You pay a premium when you buy new. Buy used or even borrow from your parents or other family members to save money.
There are many other tips to save money in college; you just have to be creative and look for savings opportunities. Yes, you do want to enjoy your time in college, but you don’t need to spend a lot to do that.
What are some other tips to save money in college? What’s one thing you can’t believe you bought in college? Do you think it’s important to work while in college?
I’m John Schmoll, a former stockbroker, MBA-grad, published finance writer, and founder of Frugal Rules.
As a veteran of the financial services industry, I’ve worked as a mutual fund administrator, banker, and stockbroker and was Series 7 and 63-licensed, but I left all that behind in 2012 to help people learn how to manage their money.
My goal is to help you gain the knowledge you need to become financially independent with personally-tested financial tools and money-saving solutions.