College is expensive! Between tuition, housing, food, and entertainment, many college students rack up debt that will take years to pay off.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are hundreds of ways to save money during school, and we’ve come up with 30 of the very best money saving tips for college students. Our tips go beyond the usual “apply for scholarships” and “get a job” (both of which we highly recommend, by the way!), and are actually feasible for the average young adult. Now get saving!
Don’t buy new textbooks.
Pristine, unmarked, maybe even shrink-wrapped textbooks can be mighty enticing — but resist! Brand new textbooks can cost an arm and a leg, but there are plenty of alternatives to buying new books. If a friend or neighbor doesn’t have a copy you can borrow, check with websites like Barnes & Noble and Chegg, both of which allow you to rent textbooks for the semester. If you prefer to highlight or make notes in your books, compare prices for used textbooks from the college bookstore or Amazon, or download a digital copy.
Take advantage of campus activities.
Going out to the movies or to concerts every weekend can drain your entertainment budget pretty quickly. To save some money, keep up with what’s happening on campus. Most colleges organize dozens of events throughout the semester, ranging from movie nights, to tailgating parties, to dances with live music.
Make your own coffee.
If your living arrangements allow it, replace expensive coffee shop coffee with coffee you can make yourself. These days, Keurigs and other affordable machines make getting that first bit of caffeine in the morning both easier and more affordable.
Be smart with credit cards and checking accounts.
There is a reason credit card companies set up booths on college campuses — college kids are easy targets! On one hand, building positive credit is important, but it can also be challenging to be both responsible and on a budget. If you take out a credit card, only use it for emergencies and pay it off as soon as possible by always paying more than the minimum due. To find the right checking account, search for one that doesn’t require yearly fees or monthly minimums. Credit unions, where you can also open a savings account that earns interest, are great places to start your search.
Test out of or transfer as many classes as you can.
A single college course can cost thousands of dollars in tuition alone, so if you took the same or similar class at a community college, ask the registrar about transferring that course in. You can also enroll in a nearby community college to take the less expensive equivalent during the regular semester or over summer. Similarly, if your core requirements include something you’re sure you already know, ask about testing out of it.
Don’t buy music.
$1.29 on iTunes might seem like a bargain initially, but those music purchases add up! Stick to using the free services from Spotify and Pandora, and leave the purchases for those times you have a gift card.
Apply to become a resident advisor.
If you are responsible and reliable, apply for the job of resident advisor. At most colleges, RAs get free room and board, and save a lot of money! Responsibilities range from situation to situation, but usually include keeping a general eye on those living in your hall or building, and maybe organizing a social activity or two.
Pass over the Charmin in exchange for the generic brand — it’s the exact same thing at a fraction of the cost. Buying generic instead of the name brands can save you tons of money over time. Buying in bulk, either by yourself or in a group, can save some additional amounts.
Eat out selectively.
On-campus food can get pretty repetitive, but going out to eat adds up fast. On the rare occasion you do go to eat at a restaurant, keep the cost low by going for lunch or during a happy hour, times when restaurants usually offer lower priced meals or deals.
You don’t need that gym membership.
Most colleges have athletic centers that are free for students to use. If your college doesn’t, sign up for a fitness class once a semester, join an intramural team, or go running.
Don’t become a chauffeur.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your car with you at college, resist the urge to drive everyone everywhere. The occasional ride is fine, especially if you’re headed the same place, but fulfilling every request for rides to and from random places will only eat up your time and gas money.
Save your spare change.
All those coins add up! At the end of every day, empty all of your pockets and put any coins in a jar or piggy bank. If there’s ever a time you’re in a financial crunch, a good stockpile of change can be a life saver. Otherwise, empty your change jar at the end of every school year and treat yourself to a fun evening out!
Limit your alcohol.
If you’re old enough to purchase alcohol, you know it’s expensive. In fact, every year college students spend nearly $6 billion on alcoholic beverages. Save your part by choosing not to drink at every social event. If you must drink, bring only enough money with you to buy a few drinks, or purchase cheaper beers.
Carry a water bottle around with you.
Do your part to save the environment, stay hydrated, and save money all by carrying around a water bottle. Skip the overpriced bottles of water, and simply fill up whenever you pass a water fountain.
Don’t buy a computer without a student discount.
These days, a laptop at college is a must. But if you’re buying a new laptop before the first day of school, don’t buy one without taking advantage of the myriad sales that exist around the beginning of each academic year. Apple, Dell, and Hewlett Packard all offer something to customers purchasing laptops, whether it’s money off, free items, or both.
If you don’t need a printer, don’t get one.
At many colleges, costs for printing are included in your general student facilities fees, but even if that’s not the case at your school, purchasing your own printer may not be worth it. Library copies are usually fast and cheap, while personal printers can cost an arm and a leg when it’s time to replace the ink cartridge.
Choose your apartment or dorm room wisely.
If you have any say in the matter, choose the floor on which you live wisely, as heating and cooling your space can be expensive. If you’re attending a college with a long winter, choosing an apartment or room on a higher floor could naturally keep you warmer (though this higher room will get hotter in the summer). Use fans or space heaters (if allowed, sweaters if not) when you can, to save on utilities costs.
Fill your birthday wish list with needs.
Fill your birthday (or Christmas or Hanukah) wish list with more needs than wants. Think of the things that will save you money in the upcoming year or semester, such as gift cards to the places you shop, eat, buy gas, or buy your textbooks.
Don’t feel the need to tip anyone and everyone.
Every to-go counter has a tip jar, but don’t feel like you always need to add to it. The guy who pours your cup of coffee or delivers your pizza is already making an hourly wage, so a minimal tip or a tip only for truly exemplary service is perfectly okay. They might be poor college students, but so are you.
Always do a full load of laundry.
Chances are you’ll have to pay to do laundry while in college. Laundry machines can cost over a dollar a load (and more to dry), so always make sure you’re washing as many clothes at one time as you possibly can.
Skip the salon.
It’s important to take care of yourself, but if you’ve ever dyed your hair or gotten a mani/pedi, then you know how these luxuries can add up. To save a bit of money every few weeks, skip the salon and invite some friends over for a few hours of manicures and pedicures. If you left a favorite hair stylist back home, ask if they’ll send you your favorite hair dye. Then touch up your hair with the help of a friend.
Protect your stuff.
Things like surge protectors, bike locks, and anti-virus software are cheap. Replacing computers and bicycles are not. Do what you have to to protect your things, whether that’s locking them up or making sure you aren’t leaving them around in places where they can be stolen.
Grab a snack on your way out of the dining hall.
Before you leave the dining hall after each meal, grab a piece of fruit or a packet of peanut butter that you can enjoy later. This already-paid-for snack is much better than buying something to satisfy that midnight hunger.
Always ask about the student discount.
Do not buy anything without asking about a student discount! Many stores have them, even if they aren’t advertised! As long as you have your student ID to show, it’s possible to save 10-15% on your purchases at your favorite stores.
Get a library card.
Netflix and Hulu may be cheaper than cable, but if you’re serious about saving money, even those can be ditched in lieu of a library card. College libraries are often chock full of DVDs to check out for free. In the rare event you want to watch something newer, utilize Redbox (just make sure you return the movies back on time to avoid costly late fees).
Opt out of some student services.
At the beginning of each academic year, you send in all kinds of money for all kinds of things, including a variety of student services. Because some of those services include things like health and dental coverage — coverage you likely already have if you are part of your parents’ insurance plans — you can opt out of these services and receive money back.
Pay off your student loan interest while you’re still in college.
Whenever you can, make payments on your student loan interest. These payments can be in any amount, and no amount is too little. Paying less than $100 per month towards your student loan interest can save you thousands of dollars later.
Carry only large bills.
This mental trick can go a long way in saving money. First off, only bring cash when you go out with friends or to the store (leave the debit and credit cards at home). Not only are large bills harder to break, but generally, people have a harder time spending them, meaning that those large bills are used more for necessities and less for impulse buys.
Don’t hang out with spenders.
Not every college student is in the same financial boat, and if you’re trying to save money, it can be very difficult to spend all of your free time with those who aren’t as worried about spending money. Make sure your friends know that you are on a tight budget, and don’t be afraid to opt for a night in instead of going out. It’s more than likely that your friends will be understanding, and wouldn’t want you to feel stressed about keeping up financially.
Do well in school.
This particular money-saving tip can save you thousands. As you already know, college is expensive, and the total bill only increases with every semester spent working towards your degree. Work closely with your advisor to figure out which classes you need to take and when, then do well in those classes the first time. You can’t afford to re-take classes that you tried to sail through.