48 Ways to Save Money When You’re a Broke College Student
Between your studies and your social life, there’s a lot competing for your time and attention in college. Still, you can’t forget about your finances.
You’re not in high school anymore; you’re an adult in charge of your financial future. And if you want to master this adulting thing, you’re going to have to dedicate a little of your focus to proper money management.
By saving money instead of spending it, you could end up graduating with a positive net worth instead of being one of the millions of young adults bogged down with debt right at the start of their working lives.
While saving money in college may be challenging, it’s not impossible. It just takes some determination and drive.
It’s time to shatter the stereotype of the broke college student with these 48 tips on how to save money in college.
Save Money on College Education Expenses
Getting an education isn’t cheap. But there are ways to save money by cutting down the costs of tuition, books and supplies.
1. Consider attending community college and then transferring to a four-year school to lower your cost of tuition. Or look into attending a public university instead of a private one to save money.
2. Complete the FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid — each year to find out what financial aid is available to you.
3. If you have to take out student loans, make sure to meet with a financial aid counselor, who can help you understand the terms of your loans and how you’ll be expected to repay them.
4. Apply for scholarships and grants to help cover the costs of tuition, room and board.
5. Get textbooks online instead of at the (often overpriced) campus bookstore. You can buy or rent books for less on sites like Amazon or Chegg. Ask your professor if you can use an older version of the textbook, which will likely be cheaper than the latest edition.
6. Buy, rent or borrow used textbooks from former students. Or share textbooks with students who are currently taking the same courses.
7. Check if your campus library has the book you need before buying or renting it.
8. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours instead of paying for a tutor to get extra help, or form a study group with your peers.
9. Shop for school supplies during tax-free holidays before school starts. These tax-free days usually occur in July or August. In 2018, 16 states held back-to-school tax-free holidays.
10. Look for special deals for students when purchasing laptops or other electronic devices or software. Apple and Dell offer discounts for college students, and Microsoft provides students with a free version of Office 365.
Save Money on Living Expenses
Living on your own for the first time can be exciting — and expensive. Whether you’re living on campus or off, here are some tips to lower your cost of living.
11. Don’t assume living on campus will be cheaper. Crunch the numbers. If you want to live off campus, don’t forget to factor in the cost of utilities, cable and internet when comparing. Or if you attend college near your hometown, live at home to really cut costs.
12. Become a resident assistant to get your living expenses covered. Some schools even pay resident assistants a small stipend
13. Instead of buying wall art or desk accessories, make your own DIY dorm decor. If DIY isn’t your thing, make sure to shop for dorm room decor during back-to-school sales or a tax-free shopping holiday if your state holds one
14. Share big-ticket items with your dorm roommate. You probably don’t need two minifridges or microwaves in your small space.
15. Create a graduation registry so that loved ones can purchase needed dorm supplies for you as a high school graduation gift.
16. Reduce the cost of monthly bills, like cable and utilities. Instead of signing up for a cable package, watch shows and movies on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime for much less. Lower your utility costs by conserving energy.
Meghan Prusinowski, a graduate student at West Virginia University, said she saves money by keeping the lights off and rarely turning on the heat or air conditioning. Her monthly electric bill is between $25 and $40, while other residents in her apartment building pay over $200 for their high energy use.
17. Get a roommate — or roommates — to split the cost of rent and utilities. You may even find an apartment complex that gives residents separate leases, even if they live together in the same unit.
Make sure you discuss from the start how you’ll divide the costs — both bills and household expenses like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and any shared food. You should also make sure you’re on the same page on things like utility use and having guests over.
18. Get renters insurance. Though it’s an added expense now, having renters insurance can save you from having to spend hundreds or thousands if your property gets damaged or stolen. Shop around for the best deal by getting quotes from multiple companies.
19. Buy personal care products, like toilet paper, soap and shampoo, in bulk. Check the cost per unit to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Saving Money on Food in College
Gone are the days when your parents filled up the fridge and cooked you dinner. Hopefully, they’ll send you a care package every now and then, but in the meantime, here are some ways to save money on food.
20. Evaluate your meal plan to make sure you’re not overpaying at the dining hall. If you always skip breakfast, or if you can’t make it to the cafeteria for lunch most days because of your class schedule, you’re wasting money if you pay for a three-meals-a-day plan
21. Bring your own snacks with you when you’re out for the day. You’ll avoid overpriced vending machines or convenience store treats.
22. Avoid eating out at restaurants or ordering takeout food. Instead, make the most of your meal plan. If you live off campus, make meals using simple ingredients like rice, potatoes, frozen vegetables and beans. Buy them in bulk for additional savings. Ramen noodles, PB&J and oatmeal are other classic cheap meals.
23. Eliminate the need for a bunch of kitchenware by cooking one-pot meals or meals you can make in a slow cooker.
24. Save money on beverages. Drink water instead of buying soda or juice, and invest in a filtered water bottle that you can refill whenever you want. Make your own coffee. If you’re of legal drinking age, buy your own alcohol to avoid bar prices.
25. Take advantage of events on campus offering free food. The complimentary drinks and refreshments served may be substantial enough to cover a meal — or, at the very least, a snack that you don’t have to buy.
26. If you do dine out, visit restaurants or bars during happy hour or when they have special discounted prices. Some establishments may provide discounts for students, so make sure you bring your college ID. You can also find deals on Groupon to save some money on your bill.
27. Get a side gig as a mystery shopper to get paid — or at least reimbursed — to dine out.
Save Money on Transportation
Having your own car on campus may buy you popularity points, but it also may not be the most economical choice. Here are some tips to save money on transportation.
28. Walk, bike, take campus shuttles or use public transportation instead of bringing a car to school. Your student ID may score you discounted bus or train fares.
29. When you take Uber or Lyft, use the shared ride function for a lower fare.
30. If you have a car at school, find ways to help cover your expenses. Share rides with other students to split the cost of gas and parking. Rent out your vehicle when you’re not using it to get extra cash. Also, make sure to keep up with maintenance. Cars that aren’t well-maintained may face more expensive repairs down the line.
31. Use apps like Gas Buddy to find cheaper gas when you fill up.
32. Limit trips home if you don’t live close to your college campus. When you’re planning on going home for Christmas or spring break, monitor websites for cheap flights and plan to book at least two months in advance. Or take a bus or train instead of flying home. Riding Greyhound could significantly lower your travel costs.
Save Money on Entertainment
Some say college was the best four years of their lives — and that isn’t because of the time they spent studying. Here are a few ways to save money while also having fun.
33. Take advantage of your local library. Public libraries offer more than just free books. You could check out passes to museums or stream your favorite movies or TV shows with your library card.
34. Attend free events on campus or in your town. Visit the student center or check out your local or campus newspaper to learn about upcoming events.
35. Have fun at home. Indulge in cheap entertainment by hosting movie nights or game nights.
36. Make the most of student discounts. A variety of places offer student discounts, from chains like AMC Theatres to your local art museum. Make sure you carry your student ID with you, and ask businesses you visit if they offer student discounts.
Make Money to Increase Your Savings
Your No. 1 job is keeping up with your studies, but having a source of income in college can really boost your savings. Here are some options for earning cash while you’re in school.
37. Get a part-time job on campus or close to school. Scott Henderson graduated from the University of Utah in 2017 with no debt and money in the bank by working a part-time job on campus, starting a side business detailing cars and saving between 30% and 50% of his income.
39. Tutor other students on campus or students at a local high school or middle school.
40. Get a gig as a babysitter or nanny over Christmas break or during the summer.
42. Start a blog and monetize it.
How to Stay on Top of Your Finances
Start adulthood off on the right track by being smart about how you save money. Consider these tips a crash course in personal finance.
44. Learn to track your expenses and stick to a budget. It can be easy to swipe your debit card without thinking, but having a budget will help you avoid overspending.
One popular budgeting method is the 50/20/30 budget — where half your money goes to bills and essentials, 20% goes to savings and debt and 30% is for spending on fun stuff. You can use a free tool, like Mint, to track your spending and keep you on budget.
45. Avoid overdraft fees by linking your student checking account to a savings account and signing up for overdraft protection. Just make sure there’s money in your savings account to cover any needed overdraft transfers.
46. Be responsible about credit cards. Don’t sign up for all the credit card offers that come your way. Try to get the lowest interest rate you can. Having a secured credit card — one that’s backed by your own cash — can also help you establish a credit history and build up your credit score.
47. Automate your bill payments, so you don’t have to worry about remembering due dates. You don’t want to forget to pay your cell phone bill and get hit with a late fee.
48. Don’t give in to the peer pressure of spending money just because all your friends are paying for tickets to an event or going out for drinks every weekend.
Know the difference between wants and needs, and focus on having a solid financial future.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.