7 Smart Tips to Keep You From Going Broke Your First Year of College

How to save money in college
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You’re on your way to college… OMG!

Although this is probably one of the most exciting times of your life, don’t let it be an excuse to get into debt. You’re already gonna have enough of that when you graduate.

Unfortunately, personal finance is one thing they don’t teach you at college — unless you go into personal finance — and though we have tons of helpful content on this site (examples here, here and here), let’s focus on one thing at a time.

Like, how to save money in college — and not go broke.

1. Go Minimalist With Your Dorm

How to save money in college

I get it: It’s your first time living on your own, and you couldn’t be more excited to get ALL THE THINGS for your new abode.

But pause a sec… do you really need that Himalayan salt crystal lamp?

Spoiler: Half the crap you want to buy is totally unnecessary. This post tells you exactly what you do (and don’t) need for your dorm room.

And if you absolutely must let your Martha Stewart shine, do it yourself; here are 21 DIY blogs to inspire you.  

2. Buy Used Textbooks — or Rent ‘Em

How to save money in college

One of the first lessons you’ll learn in college is whoever prices textbooks is pretty much the Cersei Lannister of the book world: pure evil.

Because textbook prices are absolutely outrageous, I highly encourage you to skip your campus bookstore and head online instead.

My favorite site is Bookscouter, a service that searches more than 200 booksellers to find you the lowest price. Even better, it allows you to rent textbooks for the semester, which could save you 50% over bookstore prices.

3. Make Stores Compete for Your Biz

How to save money in college

You don’t need to take Econ 101 to know competition lowers prices. But that’s of no use if you don’t know which stores are cheaper than the others.

Enter Retale, an easy-to-use app that lets you compare the weekly ads from hundreds of local stores. You can either scroll through the ads, or search for your favorite brands and products.

And, if there’s something you just can’t live without, Retale lets you set an alert so you know when it goes on sale. Because buying things full price is such a high-school move.

Here are the links to download it for iPhone and Android.

4. Always Ask for Student Discounts

How to save money in college

Who cares if the photo on your student ID is terrible? That little piece of plastic is pure gold.

It can get you all sorts of discounts — on everything from computers to cell phone bills, movie tickets and flights. You can even get a discount on uber-expensive Apple products!

Many restaurants and clothing stores offer discounts, too. In addition to your local favorites, you could save 10% at national chains like Subway, Pizza Hut, Banana Republic and J. Crew.

For more inspiration, check out this list of 21 awesome discounts every college student should know about.

5. Apply for Scholarships

How to save money in college

Just because you’re in school doesn’t mean you’re out of the scholarship game. You can apply for them throughout college, and winning one will go a long way in helping fund your expenses.

Between his senior year of high school and his senior year of college, this student won more than $100,000 of scholarships — allowing him to pay for college and graduate completely debt-free.

And you don’t have to be a math genius or musical prodigy to win one, either. This list of 100 weird college scholarships includes awards for tall people and ice cream lovers, among many others.

6. Don’t Fall for the Credit Card Trap

How to save money in college

I got my first credit card when I was 18, and it’s been an essential part of building my credit for the past 10 12 years. BUT, before I got it, my parents sat down with me and discussed the importance of responsible credit card use.

If your parents don’t teach you, it’s up to you to educate yourself. Credit cards aren’t evil, but they’re not for the faint of heart — and definitely not free money.

Credit card companies target college students who don’t know any better, hoping they’ll run up big balances and pay interest for the next zillion years.

Don’t fall for that trap — only apply for a credit card if you can control your spending and pay off the balance in full each month.

7. Get a Job or Internship

How to save money in college

You can scrimp and save all you want, but likely the only way to save more money is to make more money. I’m not recommending you sacrifice your studies for a few extra bucks, but I do think a part-time job can be a valuable part of the college experience.

By working at a sports bar during college, I made some awesome friends — and some awesome money. And the only thing I missed? Some drunken nights. (Though I still had plenty of those.)

Having a job teaches you fiscal responsibility and time management, introduces you to people you might not otherwise meet and gives you skills that will serve you well in your future career.

Alternatively, you could grab a paid internship in a field that interests you. Not only will you quickly discover whether that career path is a fit, but you’ll also make valuable connections and earn extra dough.

College is a wild ride — get ready for it.

And although your priorities should be getting an education and having fun, it’s also essential to set yourself up for future success by making smart financial decisions during your four (yes, four!) years.

Your Turn: What are your best tips for surviving freshman year on a budget?

Disclosure: We don’t hesitate to pick pennies off the sidewalk when we spot them. But the affiliate links in this post help our earnings grow even quicker. Plus, it’s a lot cleaner than sidewalk money.

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.