How to Save Money in College: Easy Tips for Students
Everything about college is expensive — from the tuition to the textbooks to housing and food. It can be difficult figuring out how to save money in college, but with a few simple steps, you’ll be on your way toward spending less and saving more.
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If you’re a college student, you’re probably paying more in tuition costs than you’ve ever spent in your life. College isn’t cheap, and it takes up most of your time, making it difficult to earn much of an income.
With the staggering expense of these four years, every effort to save money counts. Looking for smart ways to put away a few extra dollars here and there really adds up. And saving money in college is a great way to keep your head above water as you take on student loan debt. You’ll be especially grateful for the head start later on in life when you’re repaying your student loans.
Here are some tips to save money in college.
In this guide:
- Reduce College Expenses
- Choose the Right Bank and Credit Accounts
- Be Smart About Banking and Financing
- Save on Food
- Take Advantage of Your College ID
Reduce College Expenses
One of the best ways to save money in college is to reduce the overall cost of college itself. Here are a few ways you can do that.
Keep Your Grades Up
If you’re at school on a scholarship, you probably have specific GPA requirements to meet. Make sure you’re studying hard to meet those requirements so you don’t lose out on the extra tuition money. If you need to, seek out tutoring or talk to your professors to come up with a plan to keep your grades up.
Some schools even offer discounts to students with good GPAs. You can ask your school’s financial aid office if any programs like that exist at your university.
Find Obscure Scholarships
Hopefully, you’ve already filled out your FAFSA and received all the federal student aid for which you were eligible for the current semester. In addition to federal aid, there are tons of scholarships for all sorts of students (minorities, people with certain specialties, good academic standing, and more). Research the options available to help pay for your education expenses, so you have access to more cash during the semester.
Here are a few options to get you started:
- Gates Millennium Scholarship Program: Provides the opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial need.
- Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund: The nation’s largest nonprofit provider of college scholarships for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.
- American Indian College Fund: Invests in Native students and tribal college education to transform lives and communities.
- Create a Greeting Card Scholarship: Offers the winners of a greeting card competition a college scholarship.
- Redfin Scholarship: A general scholarship available to all freshmen, sophomores, and juniors with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
- Asparagus Club Scholarship: An affinity for green vegetables is not required, but an interest in the food retail industry is.
- Check out our directory of university scholarships to find more you may not know about.
Rent Your Books or Buy Them Used
Buying textbooks is incredibly expensive. It makes more sense to rent them through sites such as Amazon, Chegg, or CampusBooks. If it’s not possible to rent the textbook you need, then the next best option is buying a secondhand version (and then selling it back to the campus bookstore at the end of the semester). You can also check to see if a digital version is available. Another money saving tip is to share books with another student who takes the class at a different time.
Get a Discount on Computer Hardware and Software
Technology for college will put a large dent in your bank account (think laptops, calculators, external hard drives, Microsoft and Adobe suites, and even cell phone plans). Both companies and educational institutions offer special discounts to students, so make sure you purchase your gear through your school’s website, or ask about a student discount before you buy.
Compare the Cost of Dorm Rooms to Apartments
Some students assume they’ll live in a dorm room, while others will do anything to be off campus. Ultimately, your options depend on your school’s policy, but if you’re short on cash, you should compare the costs and choose the option that allows you to save the most.
If you have roommates, you might end up saving more money living in your own apartment or house off campus. Just make sure you add in the cost of utilities, dorm or off campus renters insurance, and other expenses.
On the other hand, if living on campus allows you to forgo owning a car, that could end up being much cheaper in the long run.
Lastly, if you’re an upper-classman and you do decide to live in the dorms, consider becoming an RA to get a discounted rate on room and board.
Choose the Right Bank and Credit Accounts
The financial products you pick will determine how much you pay in fees and how much interest you’ll earn. Keeping a close eye on your accounts and choosing the right ones will help with saving money in college.
High-Yield Bank Accounts
Did you know that there are new online-only banks that offer high-interest savings accounts? You can earn up to five times more with an online bank than through a traditional bank. Even though you may not have a lot of savings at the moment, if you start tucking away a little bit at a time, you’ll see it grow much faster in some of these accounts.
Student Credit Cards
Signing up for a student credit card while you’re still in school is a good idea because it will help you build your credit history and improve your credit score (which will be useful later on in life when you want to take out loans to buy a car or a house).
And if you sign up for a cash back card, you can save a little extra cash on everyday purchases, too. Thebest student credit cards such as the Discover It Student Cash Back card lets you earn as much as 5% back on your spending with no annual fee or strings attached. Just make sure you pay your balance off in full every month or you’ll get stuck with high credit card interest rates (and your credit score will suffer). And at the very least, always make the minimum payment to avoid late fees.
Be Smart About Banking and Financing
Avoid Overdraft Fees
This one may seem obvious, but overdrafting can happen to anyone. It’s important to always know how much cash is in your checking account so you don’t run the risk of getting hit with an overdraft fee. The fee will depend on your bank, but it’s often more than $30, and one you don’t want to end up paying.
Fortunately, most online banks offer apps that allow you to keep an eye on your balance from your phone.
It’s also never too early to start investing toward your future goals, especially if you have to fight the urge to spend that extra cash in your savings account. You may think you need a large amount of money to start investing, but apps such as Acorns or Stash are built for students, and they don’t require a lot of money to get started.
Set Up A Piggy Bank
Sometimes the oldest methods are among the best. If you have loose change, put it in a jar and watch your extra coins grow all semester. At the end of the semester, you’ll be surprised by how much you saved through this simple trick. This method works best if you have a specific expense in mind for the change you’ve saved.
Save on Food
In addition to the cost of college itself, another major expense is food. You can save more money by monitoring how much you spend on groceries and eating out.
Take Advantage of the School Cafeteria
A lot of students sign up for a meal plan, but then end up getting their own meals from other restaurants even though their lunch is already paid for. If you have a meal plan, make sure to use every last penny of it. Otherwise, you’re paying for lunch twice.
Colleges usually offer multiple levels of meal plans, so think about the one that will be best for your needs. Don’t just take the option with the most meals. Consider how often you’ll actually end up eating in the dining hall before you commit to paying for it.
Learn to Cook
Few college students actually cook their own meals. However, if you’re really thinking about how to save money as a college student, learning to cook is a great option. Instead of going to Chipotle for the third time this week, pick up some veggies or pasta sauce and try out a new recipe. Your wallet (and your body) will thank you. And if you do have to order food, pick it up yourself instead of paying the extra delivery fee.
Be Strategic About Grocery Shopping
If you’re grocery shopping on an empty stomach, it’s going to be hard to refrain from buying those Oreos or the six boxes of mac and cheese. To avoid spending more money than you mean to, make sure you eat before you go. Also, make a list of what you need throughout the week and stick to it.
Buy Ugly Produce
You don’t have to pay premium prices for the Instagramable produce. Instead, get the veggie rejects at a discount price. They taste just as great, even if they don’t look as appealing, and they help limit spending and food waste. Ask your grocery store if they have any such discounts, or check outMisfits Market or Imperfect Produce.
Get a Coffee Maker
When anyone is trying to save money, one of the first things to go is that $4 latte. Buy your own coffee maker and skip the coffee shop to keep more cash in your wallet.
Take Advantage of Your College ID
From clothing stores to ski resorts to online subscriptions, tons of businesses offer student discounts. Even if it’s not advertised, always ask about student discounts before paying. Here’s a list of a few:
- Amazon Student
And if you keep your student ID after you graduate — well, we won’t tell.
Skip the Movies
Going to see the most recent release is fun every now and then, but it gets expensive if you’re going multiple times a month. Consider skipping the theater and going to a movie showing on campus instead. And if you really want to save money, consider canceling Netflix and Hulu and renting DVDs from your school library or a local Redbox instead. A movie night in with friends can be just as fun, and a lot cheaper.
The Bottom Line
There are many ways to save money in college, but it really comes down to being more aware of your spending habits and taking a proactive approach to trimming expenses. If you follow these steps, you’ll have extra dollars in your bank account in no time.
>> Read More: How much can you save by working part-time during college?
Author: Jeff Gitlen, CEPF®