How to Save Money in College- Here Are 33 of the Best Ways

Jon Dulin

How to save money at college

It's no secret that college can be expensive. Books, tuition, room, and board all add up quickly. However, there are ways to save money while you're in school. With some planning and thinking outside the box, you can save more money than you think.

So whether you're a freshman just starting college or a senior about to graduate, read on for some helpful tips.

How To Save Money in College

#1. Start a Budget

A budget is crucial for the school year. Track how much you make, spend, and plan, so you only spend what you have. 

Setting up a budget and following it offers three significant benefits. First, you will recognize where you tend to overspend, which can help you self-assess ways to save money.

Second, it allows you to plan your spending. If you want something but need more money to pay for it, you can plan and cut some spending or find ways to bring in extra income.

Finally, learning to budget now will give you a head start after graduation. When you finally have a steady paycheck, you won't be as tempted to spend it all because you have the budgeting skills and knowledge that help you to spend wisely and save for the future.

#2. Get a Free Checking Account

Many banks have student accounts that minimize or even waive all fees. If your bank is charging you a monthly account fee or other fees, find a new bank.

While it might not feel like paying $5 a month in fees is a lot, it's a complete waste if you can bank and not have to pay the fee.

#3. Don't Overdraft Your Account

Do not overdraft on your bank account, in other words, do not spend more money than your checking account. With overdraft protection, the bank will still allow you to use your debit card or write checks, even if you don't have enough cash to cover it.

The catch is you get charged a fee for this privilege. The average overdraft fee is $33, which means if you overdraft your account five times a year, you are paying $165 in fees. Set up a budget and know how much you have in your checking account to reduce the risk of this unwanted fee.

#4. Look for Student Discounts

Being a student has its perks. Nearby businesses might offer student discounts. Restaurants, movie theaters, and other establishments might give you a deal if you show them your valid student ID card.

Make sure you always have your student ID card in your wallet just in case you find yourself somewhere you can save money.

#5. Seek Out Education Discounts

Many services also offer discounts. Amazon Prime has a special student price. You can even get a discount on a Spotify Premium bundle that includes Hulu and Showtime as a student.

Restaurants like Chick-fil-A and McDonald's offer discounts, as do a handful of clothing retailers and insurance companies. If you are a student, you should ask if you can get a student discount before signing up for or paying anything. This tip alone can save you thousands of dollars a year.

#6. Use The Library

The library is an excellent resource you can use to cut down on expenses and meet a college student's budget. Many college campuses have libraries with on-campus managers that can help you with assignments, recommend books for your leisure time, and offers resources and activities to help you excel.

#7. Renting or Buying Used Textbooks

There's rarely a good reason to buy brand-new textbooks. They are notoriously pricey, so if you can buy used textbooks rather than new ones, go for it!

If the course isn't part of your major but is still required, you might rent used textbooks, which can save you even more.

Once your class is over, you can sell your used books to get back money from your purchase and use that cash to cover the cost of the following semester's books.

When using this tip, avoid the campus bookstore as much as possible. You can get better deals by both buying and selling books online.

#8. Take Advantage of Your College

You should get a lot of free things that you otherwise would have to pay for simply by being a student. For example, if you have to mail a letter but don't have an envelope, go into one of the administration offices and ask for an envelope.

Feel free to take this idea to the edge of what you deem ethical. If you need printer paper, take some from a copier in the library.

#9. Use Career Services

This option is helpful to you as a junior or senior, though any student and even alums can participate. All colleges have a career services office to help you write your resume. There is no cost to you, so you should take advantage of it. It will save you the money of paying for someone to craft or edit your resume instead.

#10. Learn About University Services

As a college student, many universities offer a wide range of services as they know that college students struggle with money. That might be free mental health services or reduced health insurance. Every college offers different services, so be sure to see what low-cost or free university services your college provides so that you can save more money for things you might need.

#11. Buy Used

Used textbooks only scratch the surface when it comes to lowering your expenses. There are plenty of secondhand items that you can purchase to cut down on spending. Your university might offer discounts on used laptops as an example.

If you live off campus or in an apartment on campus, you can find used furniture and houseware items on sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Yard sales are also a great place to find quality items for cheap.

Be sure to check out platforms like Freecycle, where people offer free items instead of throwing them out. You should check out the dumpsters on campus at the end of the year. Many students will toss perfectly good furniture and other household items, so they can skip taking them back home.

Buying new items is optional, and used items work just as well. If you adopt this minimalist lifestyle now, it will serve you well for the rest of your life.

#12. Take Advantage of Your Meal Plan

Once you've made a budget, food is one of your most significant expenses. If you're committed to saving money, you should look into your college's dining hall meal plans.

Most colleges offer plans at various price points. For example, the most expensive plan would be three meals a day, seven days a week. But other options could include two meals a day for only five days.

I opted for one meal a day, five days a week. I ate lunch on campus during the week and then at my apartment on the weekends. If you do the math, you can make out ahead financially. That is especially true since you can go up for seconds.

Sometimes, I would even get seconds or thirds and pack the food in my bag to eat later.

#13. Cook Often

Limit your food budget by cooking at home. Food costs may be rising, but you can navigate this by looking for sales, joining local rewards programs to take advantage of discounts or get free items, and buying bulk to spend less on meals.

You can also save money by sticking with the staples. You can buy a lot of pasta for very little money, as well as canned vegetables. The more creative you can get with shopping, the more money you save.

#14. Be Smart When Dining Out

When you do go out to eat, be smart about it. Look for specials or only go during happy hour when you can get food at a discount. You might even consider splitting plates with others.

If you are trying to save, you can take leftovers others have left on the table if the server still needs to clear the table.

Buffets are another great idea since you can eat a lot of food for a set price. I usually went to lunch and ate one large meal, so I wasn't hungry for dinner. I also snuck some food out occasionally as well. There are many ways to get free food when you need more money.

#15. Avoid Expensive Drinks

College students spend way too much on coffee and alcohol. Rather than spending $7 on specialty drinks, invest in a good coffee maker and brew your own. Similarly, if you've got roommates who are avid coffee drinkers, then you can split the cost of your coffee machine and recurring drink-related expenses with other students.

When it comes to alcohol, buy the cheapest available. It not only lowers your costs, but when you look back years later, you will have great stories admitting that you enjoyed drinking a particularly low-end brand.

#16. Use Public Transportation

Having your car, while convenient, is another significant expense. There are maintenance costs, gas, and insurance to consider for something you're probably not using much now. Most college students don't need a car.

Public transportation is your friend in college and a great way to save money in college. Taking the bus to and from places is much more cost-effective than having your car.

There's also the option to get a student pass. Many colleges partner with local transit authorities so that you can get a discount on the bus, subway, or trolley anytime you need to get somewhere, and it's certainly less expensive than owning a car.

Finally, you can barter with someone that does have a car. If you need a ride, offer to clean their dishes or help them with a class they are struggling with in exchange.

#17. Walk or Bike

The best option to get around is to walk or bike. Not only is it 100% free, but it also improves your health. If your campus is within walking or biking distance from grocery stores, cafes, or other places you frequent, consider making the trip on foot or by bike.

#18. Use The Campus Gym

A gym membership can cost you a lot each month, and at most colleges, you can go to the school gym for free and have complete freedom to attend whenever you please.

You might also have access to amenities like the basketball court, swimming pool, and more that most gyms don't have or charge extra for you. Your college might even offer free fitness classes too.

#19. Attend Free Events

On or off campus, there are always great places to attend events or participate in free activities to keep you from getting bored and save money.

Most colleges schedule events all the time for their students. Just visit your college website's student life section to get a list of events happening around campus.

Additionally, most towns offer free events too. Whether it is a street fair or community day, there usually is something to do that doesn't cost any money. You should check neighboring towns, too, as they will have events for you to enjoy.

#20. Save on Video Games

A video game can cost $60 or more, which is more than any college student should spend. To get around this, see if other students have the game and ask if you can borrow it.

Buying a used video game is another excellent way to save money. You can often find them at garage sales, thrift stores, or online retailers like Amazon and eBay. Just be sure to check that the game is compatible with your gaming system before you buy.

Finally, check out the local library, not your campus library. They might carry video games for you to rent. Chances are they won't have the newest releases, but you never know.

#21. Keep Track of Your Borrowing

Taking on debt is inevitable when you enter college, but one major step you can take to help you manage your college money is to track how much you have borrowed.

Generally, you only want to borrow what you can earn in your first year after graduating.

Recognizing and cutting back on your borrowing wherever possible will save you a massive looming debt when you graduate and let you progress with your career and life goals more easily.

You will be amazed at how well seeing a running total of your student debt affects your future choices. It may even inspire you to find ways to take on less debt for your remaining time in college.

#22. Don't Miss Payments

Another critical way to avoid wasted spending is not missing payments on your credit card or tuition. When you miss a payment, you pay additional fees and sometimes a higher interest rate.

Do whatever you need to track when bills are due to ensure that you make payments on time.

This tip also extends to your post-college years when you start paying back your student loan debt. If you pay on time, they will not harm your credit score.

#23. Work in College

How does working in college save you money? There are a few ways. First, it can help you to pay for tuition, so you have to take out fewer student loans. Next, if you are spending your free time working, you have as much time to spend money.

Lastly, you can put money into a savings or investment account that will grow into more significant amounts thanks to compound interest.

Of course, you need to make sure your classes come first, so make sure you find a job that has flexible hours so you can still get your studying done. These are under-the-table jobs that allow you to work nights and weekends.

If you can, try to structure your class schedule that frees up the most time possible to work. For example, if you can schedule your classes early in the morning, you'll have the afternoon to study and work nights and weekends.

Finally, be sure to take advantage of school breaks around the holidays. If you stay near campus or head home over break, chances are you can find temporary work to earn some extra cash.

#24. Complete The FAFSA Each Year

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form you must fill out to get financial aid for college. Even if you don't think you'll qualify, you must fill this out yearly.

Most people think you fill out this form to qualify for student loans. While this does help with that, it also allows you to be eligible for Federal grants, which you don't have to pay back.

Another benefit is work-study, which is an on-campus job that helps you with having some spending money.

#25. Apply for Scholarships

Apply for scholarships and look for available grants that you can use to cover tuition, housing, and school supplies. While grants can be somewhat limited, there are often plenty of scholarship opportunities to apply for before the next school year rolls around.

You might be surprised at how many places offer scholarships, many of which are not dependent on having high grades. For example, you can get a scholarship if you are left-handed or even if you read specific personal finance blogs.

Spend a weekend searching online, and you should be able to find and apply for many scholarships.

#26. Establish Your Career Goals

One of the biggest mistakes people make in college is simply taking courses that have no impact on their future or are a requirement for graduation. The sooner you know what you want to do after college, the sooner you can focus on taking the classes you need to graduate.

If you don't know what career you want to pursue, the best college money-saving tip you can get is to go once you're ready or attend a community college, which is always significantly less expensive.

That will help you to figure out what you want to do so that when you go to college, you can keep expenses to a minimum.

#27. Work With Your Advisor To Streamline Your Education

Those who took Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school may have credits that they can apply to their college degree to spend less time and less money in college. However, if you didn't take AP classes, you can still accomplish the same thing.

Visit your student advisor to see how you can complete all your needed classes and graduate early. Even if you can graduate one semester early, this will save you thousands of dollars. If you can land a job right away, this will put you that much further ahead financially.

#28. Make Friends You Can Be Roommates With

Socialization is essential in college. It's not only because it's good for your mental health or crucial to networking but because you can find potential roommates. The more people can pitch in on an apartment, the easier it will be for you to afford rent and split most living expenses.

It's also essential to make sure you're making friends with reliable people who will be good roommates instead of potentially leaving you in a precarious situation later on. The last thing you want to do is have a roommate who always parties.

I made this mistake my sophomore year. I roomed with the guys I partied with on the weekends. When we lived together, it turned out we partied almost every night. Our grades suffered, and a few of my friends dropped out. The following year, I roomed with my other friend, who what a great student. While we also had a lot of fun, my grades were the best when I lived with him because he showed me how to structure my time better.

#29. Focus On Accumulating More Permanent Items

Fast fashion and other cheap items seem like they save you money upfront. They do, but you'll notice that you often go through these items faster than you should.

For example, if you buy a $20 pair of running shoes, you might only get a few months of use out of them. You'll then need to purchase these shoes several times throughout the year, costing you a lot of money.

On the other hand, you could invest in a good pair of shoes that will last several years and save you more money over the long term.

While it sounds good to buy the cheapest item, make sure you also think long-term, as this is where the actual savings are. Of course, you should always choose the most affordable item for one-time-use items.

#30. Use Cash Back, Rewards, Coupons, and Discounts

Saving money is relatively easy in the digital age. There is no shortage of websites and apps that will help you cut down on spending for some of the essentials you need.

Are you going to the grocery store? Look for in-store coupons or join their rewards program. They pay attention to the sales fliers, so you know when an item on sale is selling at the lowest price.

Are you shopping for electronics online? Look around for discount codes to apply to get money off your purchase. If you can wait until next year's model comes out, take advantage of the lower price on the old version. You can also find a store selling an open-box version to save.

Do you need to make a purchase you might not be able to get a discount on? See if any financial apps offer a cash-back promotion for that purchase. At the very least, ask the cashier if there are any discounts. You might be surprised they have a coupon or can offer you 5% off just because you asked.

#31. Earn Free Gift Cards

Another option to help offset the cost of things is to earn gift cards. Many sites, including Swagbucks and MyPoints, allow you to play games, answer surveys, watch videos, and more.

You can redeem your points for cash or gift cards to your favorite retailer.

Then you use the gift cards to pay for the things you buy, saving you money. As a bonus, these sites often run sales, so you can get a gift card for fewer points than usual, helping you get more gift cards.

#32. Benefit From Credit Card Rewards

Credit cards are where consumer debt usually starts. But if you are careful with your spending, credit cards are a great way to save money.

First, you can use a card that offers cash back or points every time you purchase. You can redeem these points for cash, a statement credit, or discounted travel.

Another way credit cards help you to save is by getting the lowest price. Some credit cards will monitor your purchases, and if the cost of the item drops after you buy, they will give you the lower price. Usually, there is a time limit of 30 or 60 days, but it saves you time from monitoring prices.

Finally, many offer great signup bonuses, allowing you to earn hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash back or points when you hit a specific spending limit.

If you decide to go this route, make sure you only charge what you can afford to pay back each month, as the interest you pay on any credit card debt far outweighs any benefit you get.

#33. Sell Items You No Longer Need To Recoup Costs

Do you have things lying around you no longer use? If so, you can sell them and earn a few dollars. Just take a few pictures and list the item for sale on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

While you won't pay for college with this tip, you can earn enough money to get some free pizza once in a while.

If you do this and find it enjoyable, here is a way to earn extra money. Go to yard sales, buy items, and flip them for a profit.

I did this in college and made decent money. I only bought things I knew, like video games, that I could resell for a higher price. But you can resell anything if you find a great deal.

Once I bought a bike for $5. It was in excellent condition, just dirty. I cleaned it up and sold it for $40.

Finally, at the end of the year, check out the dumpsters around campus, as many students toss perfectly good items. You can sell these things and make money.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to save money in college, and saving money today is easier than ever.

But because it is so easy, it can feel overwhelming to some people. Take some time to figure out what options listed here interest you the most, and make it a point to use them to help you lower your costs.

Then you can add more tricks as you go. Not only does saving money help you now, but it will also help you in the future. The more you know how to save, the further ahead financially you can be for the rest of your life.This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.

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