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“He (She) who will not economize will have to agonize.”
Saving money during college is a perfect way to develop good financial habits. Learning how to manage money on a tight budget, pay down debt, control spending, and make money may be among the best lessons they get in college.
Contrary to popular belief, college students are better budgeters than graduates starting their first job.
As a college professor, my students often share how they spend less on books, entertainment, and food. Many of the tips below come from those discussions. Being frugal is a badge of honor for my students and me who come from homes of modest means.
Parents, I encourage you to share our list with your college-bound students. Likewise, if you are on your way to college, there are ways your parents may be able to help you as well.
51 Ways To Save Money In College:
- You should be working during the summer to have some spending money.
- Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, if offered in high school. Make sure to do well on AP exams so that you can get full credit. Colleges are generally looking for a “4 or 5” score on the AP exam to reflect that you are “well or extremely qualified”. Some may grant credit for a score of 3.
- The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers 34 exams that cover intro-level college course material. With a passing score on one CLEP exam, you could pick up three or more college credits at more than 2,900 colleges and universities. Your learning of these topics could have been through a high school course, independent study, or on-the-job training.
- Apply for work-study, grants, and scholarships.
- Attend a community college for the first two years at lower tuition rates. It is an excellent alternative for many students. You might even be able to live at home, saving dorm and food costs.
Be Resourceful At College
- Don’t buy new textbooks. Instead, look to rent your books from Chegg, Amazon, or Barnes & Nobles. They may also sell your textbooks in ebook form. Rental and ebook prices have come down quite a bit in recent years. Ask your fellow students who may have free pdf resources. Even traditional text publishers have digital book offerings.
- Reach out to your classmates and ask around for used books as early as possible. Ask your professors as they may have a list of previous students interested in selling books. There are flyers all over your campus with offers. Buy the paperback version, which is significantly more affordable.
- Find out about amenities offered on and around campus. See if there are discounts for school supplies and laptops. Often computer labs on campus may be selling refurbished computers with maintenance provided for some time.
- Use your college library and the public library for your books, ebooks, music, and videos.
- Students should learn about respective school resources. Take advantage of free help like tutoring, writing, computer IT, and printing. There are probably free or discounted entertainment and food offerings at certain times, such as club fairs or special events. As a faculty advisor for one of the largest clubs on campus, I purposely buy extra food for students who attend our presentations.
- Be aware of the application and enrollment dates. You need to know the deadlines for dropping courses and getting partial or complete reimbursement.
Budget Your Living Expenses
- Live at home if you are near campus. At the very least, you may be able to do your laundry and pick up snacks in a pinch.
- Review your alternatives between living in the dorm, house, or an apartment. Look at safety, walking distances, affordability, and complimentary transportation between campus and home. When renting a house or apartment, consider your potential roommates wisely.
- Monitor your costs for utilities, food, snacks, and such. Don’t waste energy. Make sure to pay your bills on time and credit card balances in full. Don’t ramp up unnecessary late charges. Do your roommates share your financial values, like shutting the lights when they leave?
- Review your on-campus dining plans for healthy, affordable choices. Consider potential alternatives in your college’s vicinity—Cook for yourself. Make salads or even ramen noodles in a bind. There are far more options today.
- Buy non-perishable items in bulk. Unless you are cooking for a pack of students, it usually doesn’t make sense to buy food in size if it is perishable.
- Limit eating out and avoid alcohol which is more expensive in restaurants. Look for special deals for college students.
- Use coupons and rebate apps to save on groceries and other personal care items.
- Avoid Starbucks and invest in a cheap coffee drip pot or a one-cup Keurig.
- Having a car at school is expensive. Everyone will want you to drive them and will rarely pay you back for gas. Check out public transportation and look for student discounts. Walk, bike or carpool instead.
- Find the cheapest ride-share in your area if you need to go somewhere not covered by public transportation.
- Book trips early when you know you are heading home. Look for discounts or consider traveling on off-days.
- Make sure to use available Wifi on campus and at home to not go over budget on your data plan.
- Pick one streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Think of cable as a luxury you can have when you go back home. With more video streaming providers, competition may drive not prices. Look for lower prices.
- Look into Amazon for their deals called Prime Student. They have a free six-month trial that includes a ton of perks.
- Social events on and around campus or in nearby parks are usually free or cheap.
- Get free music from Pandora and Spotify. The ads are not that bad!
- Get discounts from businesses in your school’s neighborhood.
I gave my students a term project to go to every business within a 15-20 block radius of the campus and arrange student discounts. They filled out forms by the business, which pledged a discount (usually 5%-10%) for customers with a college ID. In return, the business name and address would be posted on the school website, generating some good traffic for them. The businesses included restaurants, a bakery, laundromats, groceries, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a bagel place.
With a few exceptions, many owners wrote us letters of gratitude and kept their discounts in place for students. One of my former students who had already graduated called to thank my students and me for the project profusely. Her family was the owner of the nearby bagel place. She told me business was booming.
Money And Banking
- Look carefully at offers for credit cards with the lowest interest rates and cashback rewards. Review their terms for what they charge in fees and penalty rates. Students are particularly vulnerable to these issuers. I believe a secured credit card is a great way to strengthen your credit score when you are under 21 years old. You can put down a security deposit of up to $500, which serves as collateral.
Use Credit Cards Carefully
The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act, or the CARD Act, did not stop these vendors from marketing on college campuses to students. The issuers did make it more difficult for students under 21 to get a card without a co-signer. If you are between 18 and 21 years old, you can be an authorized user on your parent’s card, get a secured card, or a student credit card that is unsecured.
- Pay your credit card bills in full. Yes, I may have said it earlier. It’s that important. Do not carry any kind of balance or stop using your card, and use your cash more often. You are saving money when you don’t carry a costly balance
32. You should set up a high-yield savings account with a local bank. You should be able to get free checking as a new account holder.
- Make sure to track your spending to avoid any unnecessary checking overdraft fees. There are a few good budget apps (Mint, PocketGuard, Wally) or a spreadsheet.
- Check your credit report periodically. Monitor for errors you need to correct. Watch out for potential fraud. If you suspect fraud, you should address it immediately. Several of my students have been victims of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission website has instructions for you.
- Avoid impulsive shopping, which induces overspending. Do window shopping without money instead.
- Look for school discounts for a laptop. Consider what essentials you need in a computer and not necessarily what you want. There are a lot of choices, including refurbished computers, which may be suitable for college students. You don’t need a printer. Your school probably offers students a card every semester that provides free printing (e.g. 500 copies) at the school’s expense. Also, you can probably email your assignments to your professors.
37. You may even be able to get free anti-virus software to protect your computer and smartphone.
- Buy generic brands for over-the-counter drugs and groceries. You will be saving up to 35% over name brands without compromising on quality.
Health & Fitness
- See if your school provides free flu shots through their nursing department or medical school. There may be a local urgent care facility for basic medical needs that is affordable through your family’s insurance plan. In a post-Covid world, free vaccinations will be far more available.
- Rather than join an expensive gym, check out on-campus facilities and their track field. There may be discounts for a gym nearby. Our campus is known for massage therapy classes, and students always enjoy that free perk after classes. See if there is a pool on your campus.
As A Student
- It is essential you must attend class, read your book, do the assignments, avoid absences and latenesses. Reach out to your professors for help. They want you to do well.
- Do not take an “Incomplete” in any class without knowing the consequences—nine of 10 students who have taken an “INC” never complete the work required. The grade turns into an “F,” and you may lose the credits and have to retake the course. Losing credits may delay their graduation, reduce their GPA, and add cost.
A Saga About An Incomplete
- Talk to your professor and understand the time required for making up the assignment. One of my brightest students was on her way to an “A.” In early December, she let me know that she had a family trip coming up and would miss the term paper deadline.
We both agreed that an INC would be a placeholder for her final grade. She would complete the term paper in January when she was back. I gave her the new deadline, which was in the first quarter of the year. She even had a pretty good draft, and I was pretty sure she would do it on time.
To be sure she would stay on track and complete the class, I sent emails to remind her in January. I did not receive an answer. Worried, I phoned her at home, and she said I would have it soon. I never did get it. That Fall, she told me that her grade had turned into an “F,” but there was little I could do.
College students are huge procrastinators. Your professors know that and remind students in class and on school websites. Learn how to better avoid procrastination.
Work in College
- It is essential to do well in school. At the same time, it is crucial to work on or off-campus. The average full-time college student makes $195 per week. According to a 2016 Digest of Education Statistics, 43% of full-time students and 78% of part-time students worked. The majority of college students make between $7,200 – $42,000 per year.
- There are many types of jobs you can do part-time to add some money to your account. When you are busy, you often excel at time management. You can be a tutor, work in the learning or computer center. You can work at a restaurant or grocery. Many students consider working during January or during the summer to save more money.
- As a full-time student, you can become a resident advisor or assistant on campus. This position is desirable and looks excellent on your resume. The compensation varies, but you may earn free or reduced housing, a stipend, a meal plan, or dollars towards your tuition.
Pay Down Student Debt
- With all the money you may be saving and making, consider making small but regular payments to your student loans. Even $10-$20 per month helps to reduce the total amount. More importantly, it is a good financial habit. You may think it is early to think about student loan repayment, but it is good to be proactive with your student debt.
My Best Wishes On Getting A Good College Education
- Make the most of your college experience. Do it in four years.
Two more tips:
- Invest in Yourself. Become a sponge and learn everything you can. Develop soft skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Strengthen your communication skills. Get out of your comfort zone and take electives that you may not get a chance to do again. Join the Mock Trial Team, the Federal Reserve Challenge, or Debate Team. Join any worthwhile competition.
- Be ethical even if the world doesn’t always seem to value that trait. Your employers will.
- Before you know it, you will be meeting prospective employers for your first job out of college. Go to job fairs or any networking events so you can begin to speak to those who may become essential to your future. It is never too early to think about your next move. When looking for a job, consider the company’s benefit plan.
Saving money in college may be easier than you think. You need to make an effort to manage money on a tight budget, pay down debt earlier than required in small increments, control spending, surround yourself with like-minded friends, and make money when opportunities arise. Most of all, be a diligent student, so you don’t have to repeat courses unnecessarily.
And have some fun!
Thank you for reading. What kind of financial experience did you have when attending college? Any tips we left out you would like to add for our budding college-bound folks? Please share with us! We are happy to hear from you!
With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.