Money Saving Tips

How to Save Money in College

How to Save Money in College
Written by Irina Vasilescu

After working so hard on your college essays, you finally got into your dream university. You’re about to embark on your first year at the university or college of your choice, and your things for the dorm are packed. You’re excited about the prospect of living your own life as an unofficial adult – which is something that you’ll only tag yourself as once you finish your course.

In the meantime, there’s sleepless nights’ studying that you can look forward to, along with meeting new friends and partying occasionally. The one thing that you should not take for granted, however, is your finances.

Most college students take on loans to pay for their college tuition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that graduating deep in debt might prevent you from pursuing your financial goals once you are out of college.

Let’s say that you incurred a total of $25,000 in student loan debt. Once you get accepted for an entry-level job at a company, you have to straighten out your finances and probably have to pay up your student loans for up to ten years.

If you need to buy a car, rent an apartment or buy a house, you cannot necessarily push through with such major investments because of your student loans.

This means that while you are a student, you have to live within your means – no matter how meagre they might be.

Reducing the debt that you will incur, taking advantage of career opportunities presented by your college or university, and boosting your savings will help ease the burden of paying off your student loans later on.

Here, we will take a look at the different aspects of your life as a college student where you can save money.

Different Aspects of Your Life as a Student Where You Can Save Money

If you’re heading off to college, here are the different aspects of your life as a student where you can save money:

Your tuition fees

When you were first sending out your college application essays, did you consider how much it cost to go to a particular school? If not, receiving your acceptance letter is the best time to do it.

If you have more than one option for a school, you may want to compare the tuition fees charged by public in-state colleges offering two-year courses and those which offer four-year courses.

A good way to slash a chunk off your college tuition is to take the Advanced Placement classes for college credits, or apply for a scholarship. You may also want to consider applying at the community college in your area, which will save you thousands of dollars in tuition.

If you are already enrolled in college and you have not received any kind of financial aid yet as a student, be persistent in hunting. There are scholarships for college students which offer financial aid for the semester, money for educational group trips, special access to resources that they would otherwise have to pay for, etc.

If you have good grades and you keep on applying for scholarship programs each semester, you just might get accepted for one!

Your rent

Next to the tuition fees, room and board is actually what makes going to college such an expensive endeavor. This is especially true for students who are attending out-of-state schools.

According to, public colleges and universities charge each student more than $9,200 per year for room and board. This figure applies if you are flying solo.

However, if you are willing to live in cramped quarters, simply sharing your room with another student will allow you to save half of this humongous expense.

Your food

During your freshman year in college, you will be living in the dorms and probably spend too much money on dining out. Even dinners on campus can cost you anywhere from $10 to $20.

Although there are university cafes and canteens which charge cheaply for the food that they serve to students, you will realize lots of savings simply by preparing your own meals.

A healthy sandwich, some rice with a hearty meat dish and an apple which you prepared in your dorm room or shared apartment will save you lots of money in the long run, especially if you make it a habit to prepare your own food.

Your transportation expenses

If you’re travelling home from school for Thanksgiving, there are plenty of ways that you can save on fares. Take advantage of student discounts. Book in advance so that you can take advantage of lower rates.

Instead of flying domestic, is taking the bus or the ferry cheaper? If your parents gave you a second hand car as a graduation gift, think twice before using it to drive yourself to and from school. This is because you’d have to spend on gas, insurance premiums, maintenance and parking.

If you must drive, share the ride with a friend who is willing to chip in for gas money.

Your school supplies

Another aspect of living as a college student where you can save money on is your school supplies. Instead of running to the campus bookstore every time you need something, head off to the superstores where you can get discounted rates on spiral notebooks, pens, bond paper, printer ink, etc.

Go on a shopping trip with friends so that you can share the bill and divide the school supplies equally.

Your textbooks and other studying materials

College textbooks do cost a lot, especially when you consider the costs of all the other reading and studying materials that professors require. So how do you save money on these without falling behind on your studies?

One option is to sell back old textbooks to the bookstores, or to other students who need it. The money that you will earn can be used for buying new textbooks.

The Internet is also a goldmine for great deals on textbooks. Visit sites like Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and Slugbooks where you can find the titles you need. Or, you can simply head out to the university library and do your research the old fashioned way. You won’t believe how many students simply rely on online research.

Those tomes of books in the library are frequently left untouched, and you will usually have the place all to yourself.

Your entertainment expenses

Your years in college are spent studying and mostly, socializing. This means that you would have to spend on entertainment expenses as well, but there is no need to burn a hole in your pocket for this.

If you must grab drinks with friends, make sure to do it during a local bar’s happy hour. Instead of spending money on movie theatre tickets, catch free screenings, outdoor concerts and on-campus events.

When you’re first getting acquainted with the campus facilities, check out if you can have discounted rates or even free use of the gym, the swimming pool, the sports courts and recreation center.

When spring break arrives, save your money or go on a budget-conscious educational trip instead. Better yet, sign up for a short program or internship that will give your resume a boost and increase your employment or business opportunities once you graduate.

Additional Ways to Save Money in College

As you can see, there are many aspects of your life as a college student where you can save lots of money. To make sure that you are not spending any more than what you can actually afford at a meagre student’s budget, make a list of your expenses.

How much do you have to pay for tuition, room/board, food, transportation, etc.? Next, where are your funds coming from? If your parents are sending an allowance for your expenses and you find that it is not enough, you may want to apply for a part-time job.

Take full advantage of student discounts, especially when going grocery shopping. Food is naturally on top of a college student’s list of necessities because they need sustenance for all that studying.

But being wise with your college money means that you should learn how to make do with supermarket brand food items which are typically cheaper. You probably won’t notice the difference in taste, anyway, and you will be saving some hard-earned bucks in the process.

Use comparison sites when buying any item so that you can take advantage of the lowest rates. If you do have part-time work, take advantage of employee discounts. Always be on the hunt for freebies and product samples.

Do a thorough research when looking for an affordable mobile phone plan that fits your needs. Be creative with your leisure time, and always say no to pre-approved credit cards. Visit a local bank and ask them about any free checking or savings account that you can set up for yourself as a student.

There are actually lots of ways that you can cut back on your college expenses. By using your imagination and thinking of the long-term savings instead of always going for convenience, you can save a huge chunk off your college money.

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our money-saving and DIY expert and also the editor-in-chief as she's always on the lookout for the latest online deals.


  • This is such an important article! I relied on loans during my college years and now I have debt I am dealing with. I don’t regret going but I wish I had been more frugal at the time. The textbooks tips are great. You can even rent them now and save a bundle.

    • Yeah the loans are what you should avoid. Even now that I can support myself financially I still would dare get a loan on anything.

    • I’m in the same boat. If I could have avoided taking out loans I would have. I had to take a few years off due to my fathers illness, and I will be going back to school soon. I’ll be putting these tips to use. Anything to save money.

  • Cool tips! I wish I was still in college when I read this. Another best way you can do, this doesn’t apply to everyone though and I don’t every college offers this but if they do, apply for a scholarship.

    I applied for this scholarship program, all you have to do is pass this test and you have to be sure that when the school needs your services you would help out. I got half off my tuition fee but some of my best buddies who are really geniuses never paid a cent. So I guess you can try for that.

  • I definitely saved a lot of money in college by living off campus. Living on campus was useful for meeting new people but after I added on room and board and meal plan costs it was cheaper to live off campus with friends as roommates. Definitely look into it.

    I also saved a lot with your tip of buying my textbooks used online. They were less expensive than the used versions at the campus bookstore. Just be sure to check for the right edition.

    • Textbook prices are out of control. It really is much cheaper to buy used editions online. I went a step further and searched for free PDF files of my textbooks. If I could find one of those, I didn’t have to rent or buy them.

  • What a gem of a post. I wish someone had let me in on a lot of these secrets when I was in school. College is naturally a very stressful time especially when young people are first learning to handle their limited finances on their own without the constant help from their parents. I think it is imperative that we teach children everything we can about surviving on limited funds before they are forced to have to learn the hard way. The better we can prepare them the less likely they are to fail.

  • Wish I had seen this back in college! Saving money on entertainment is so easy, though. There’s plenty of free film screenings, plenty of parties and festivals going on year-round, often plenty of cookouts… I also really suggest checking within your department for seminars and journal clubs over lunch. They’re a great tool to learn more about your field, network with students and professors, and sometimes give you extra credit for attending — and they almost always have free food at them!

  • I agree with most things in there, except the first. Comparing universities according to their prices? We’re not talking about shopping a new watch here, but of making a commitment to a place to be educated there for the following years. It should NOT be chosen on the price, but rather on the quality of the programs and the reputation of the teachers and of the overall education. You can save money on rent, on food, on going out, on school material, you can resell a lot of old junk, but you should not choose a college or university based on whether you’d save a hundred bucks or not.

    Of course, I also think that tuition fees should not exist or be very low, but for the time being where uni is not free, I still think it’s preferable to choose the best quality even if it means having less money.

  • Getting by into college life is the first thing that I ever known the meaning of independence. I do not have much money to buy my own text books or buy my school supplies. My parents are not wealthy. There comes a time when they can no longer send money for me to continue college and I do not know how to make a loan for myself, so I look for a job, get myself surrounded with like minded people who can understand my predicament and ask help from them or borrow their books or even share their meals. Good God, I made it to college with nothing but my desire to finish it, though I finish it two years longer than the usual, still, I’ve made it.

  • I think that it is very important that you are sensible when buying things like textbooks, because so many people will pay for things that they don’t really end up reading, or things that they could have got from the library. If you will only ever be reading one or two chapters from a book that you buy, then it is a waste of time getting them really, as you need to consider a better way to spend the money. On the whole, I think that if you take the time to think before you spend, you should find that it is a lot easier to save money, even when things are tight during your college years.

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