33 Useful Money Saving Tips for College Students on a Budget

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save money as a college studentWhether you like it or not, you’ll be spending quite a bit of money during your college years.

In addition to tuition, you’ll realize that there are many other costs and expenses related to being a college student.

To help you navigate your way around these matters, I’ve put together some very useful money saving tips for college students below.

College is one of the most memorable times in your life. You’ll finally be able to live like an adult. But, without all the responsibilities of being one yet.

For many college students, it will also be the first time you’ll be handling your own finances. This means that the cost of things can easily get away from you if you don’t monitor them carefully.

So, to avoid any money disasters that might make your parents freak out, here are some things that can help you.

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Attend Class

The bulk of the cost of college is your tuition. So, the best way to keep that money from going to waste it to make full use of the classes, the projects and your professors’ times. This will let you learn as much as you can.

Also, make sure to do a lot of networking. This is something I missed out until my junior year. And, it’s something I recommend every student do from the very beginning.

One of the biggest ways to get ahead in college is to network with current students, teachers, and alumni. The latter will help you land a great job or summer internship much better than just getting good grades. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen a lot when we graduated.

If you’re paying for college out of your own pocket, you know how much it costs. So, don’t waste a single minute of it.

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents pay for it, make sure you show them your gratitude by studying hard. When you graduate, you’ll quickly realize how much of a burden other students have it thanks to their student loans.

Rent or Buy Used Textbooks; Better Yet, Just Borrow from the Library

Textbooks aren’t cheap. If you look on Amazon or your college bookstore, you’ll quickly realize that the average textbook costs more than a regular book.

Not sure why? But it just is.

One of the ways I saved money during college was to buy used books. Upperclassmen are always very willing to part with their used textbooks. After all, you probably won’t need almost all of the textbooks after the semester is over.

In addition to buying used books, try borrowing it from friends who’ve taken the class. Friends don’t particularly mind that you borrow books for the entire semester.

For classes where the professor only uses a few chapters, I got those chapters photocopied. Definitely cheaper than buying the entire book.

If you prefer reading books digitally, you can scour the web. You’ll be surprised as to how many sites have free downloadable versions of textbooks. This includes the authors themselves especially if they’re teaching that class.

Skip Unnecessary School Supplies

If you have a laptop or iPad, you can save a lot of money by not buying school supplies. Notebooks, paper, and other supplies can now be done on your computer.

Whether it’s your daily schedule, calendar or to-do list, you’ll be able to find apps that help you with these things.

The same is true with note-taking. It is easier to take notes on your computer. And, the digital format makes it easy to share with friends or group mates.

Look for Scholarships and Grants

One of the best things about the internet is it helps you find scholarships and grants much easier. I can’t imagine how difficult it was back then when students had to find them by hand.

Today, you can do a search and go through an entire list of all the potential scholarships you qualify for. You’ll be surprised that they’re available in all shapes and forms.

I’ve seen scholarships for minorities, people with a certain interest or hobby and even specific gender preference. It just takes a little bit of creativity on your part.

Do make sure that you focus on grants and scholarships first. That’s because you won’t need to pay them back. And, don’t forget to read their entire document, including the fine print. The goal is to prioritize those that don’t have any strings attached to them.

This lets you minimize or eliminate the need for federal loans which can definitely be a burden after you graduate.

How to Save Money on Food as a College Student

Food is another thing that you’ll probably end up spending quite a bit on. The good news is, it’s one thing that you can easily save on as well.

Some schools will require freshmen to avail of meal plans. That is, you pay them in advance along with or shortly after your tuition.

This gets more lenient after your freshman year when you get to choose how much to get for meal plans.

Make Your Own Meals

For me, the best way to save on food during college was by cooking your own meals. No, not packed ramen. Well, maybe every now and then. But ideally, you cook something healthy.

If you cook your own food and do your weekly grocery shopping yourself, you’ll quickly notice how much more expensive food is in restaurants and fast foods.

In general, establishments need to tack 3 to 4 times their cost to make money. That’s because of their rent, overhead and employee salaries.

If you eat a lot, the school dining halls may be your best bet. That’s because most campus dining services now offer AYCE or all you can eat. So, the fixed fee of the meal plans comes out much cheaper than your groceries.

Don’t Waste Your Meal Plans

Speaking of meal plans, if meal plans are mandatory or at least some of them are, make sure you use them. Do ask dining services on how their meal plans work. Every school seems to have its own rules about them.

Some meal plans can be carried over from week to week or even to the next semester. However, other meal plans are wasted once the week passes. So, if you skip meals that week and have extra meal plans left over, you’ve wasted them because they don’t carry over to the following week.

Stop Buying Water

Bottled water is great. It makes sure what you’re drinking has been purified.

That said, tap water is safe as well. And, it’s free.

Can you imagine how much money you save if you don’t buy bottled water?

This is especially true if you live in a hot climate city or play a lot of sports.

Cut Down on Coffee

Coffee is another expensive habit, especially for college students. In college, coffee and energy drinks get you through the wee hours of the night.

Like it or not, they’re going to be your energy source when all-nighters come around. That’s the reason why you’ll see tons of coffee shops or stands in and around college campuses.

What does that mean?

It means that where you get your coffee and how much you consume on a regular basis makes a huge difference.

Say for example you get one $3 cup of coffee every morning. That comes out to over $1,000 a year. That’s a lot of money you could use for something else.

But, if you drink 2, 3 or 4 cups a day, think of how much more you’re spending.

One way to cut back on the cost of coffee is to make your own. Better yet, cut down on coffee if you can.

Limit Alcohol

In addition to coffee, alcohol is another beverage that can cost a pretty penny. Every time you make a beer run or chug one down, you’re spending extra cash.


Recurring bills are another thing that will cost you during your college stint. Some of this will depend on where you live. And, depending on whether you live in a dorm on campus or rent your own place, the costs can vary significantly.

Track Your Cell Phone Usage

Check your cellphone plan. You’ll probably be tempted to use your phone a lot while in college.

The thing is, with all the apps around, you can cut down on usage quite a bit.

One of the biggest advantages of college is that you get free Wi-Fi. This means there’s no need to get a huge data plan anymore.

Similarly, apps like Skype and FaceTime let you call home for free. This will save you the extra fees.

Other ways to save money on your phone plan is to use your parents’ family plan and pay them for your share. Or, you can chip in with some friends and get a group plan.

These plans come out much cheaper than if you were to have your own.

Only Do Your Laundry With a Full Load

Weekly laundry also means paying the machine. So, it’s a good idea to only do laundry on a full load.

Don’t go to the dorm’s laundry room just for a few pieces. It will cost you more in the long run.

If you go to a college where the washer and dryers are free for use in dorms, then lucky you!

Always Turn Off Unused Lights, Water or Appliances

If you rent your own place or share an apartment with friends, always make sure that all the appliances and lights are turned off when you’re not using them. Also, don’t keep the water running when you’re not using it.

This is one way to save a lot of extra cash on utilities.

Even if you stay in a dorm where you’ve “pre-paid” the cost of utilities, do make it a habit to close all electric appliances when you leave the room. It’s a good habit to have for safety. And, something that will help you save more money when you get a place of your own after graduating.

Listen to Free Music Services Instead of Paying for iTunes

Thanks to free music services, you don’t really need to keep buying songs from iTunes.

Sure, songs on iTunes aren’t that expensive. They definitely beat having to pay for records and CDs which people did back in the day.

But, why not just enjoy the music for free when you can.

If You Have a Credit Card, Use It Wisely

If you have a credit card, only use it when needed. It’s easy to abuse the credit card. Or, believe that paying for things is as easy as swiping the card into a machine.

The bad news is, you need to pay for them in 30 days.

Credit cards can lull you into buying things you don’t really need. Or make you want things instead of purchasing things you actually need.

…And, Pay the Bills on Time

When you do use your credit card, always pay on time. Card companies tack on a late fee if you pay after the due date.

More importantly, always pay in full.

Credit card companies like tempting you by showing you the minimum amount due. Yes, that’s the minimum amount you need to pay so you don’t get charged a late fee.

But, if you only pay that, you still get charged interest on the remaining balance. The worst part is, the interest they charge is very high. And, that unpaid balance will keep accumulating interest until you’ve paid it in full.

Don’t Subscribe to Cable

Cable is great in that you have tons of channels to choose from. But, they also cost more than most other options. That’s a luxury you can probably do without.

The good news is, there are a lot of free alternatives online. If you really like premium movies, then try Netflix or Hulu. They charge a much cheaper monthly fee.

Money Saving Tips on Transportation and Housing

Transportation is something everyone has to deal with. That is, unless you somehow spend all your time within campus, which is very unlikely.

Here are some ways to save on housing and transportation in college.

If You’re Lucky Enough to Have a Car, Don’t Keep Driving Your Friends Around

You’re going to be tempted to be the nice guy or girl and chauffeur your friends around. That’s a no-no. Especially because gas can really be expensive.

And, don’t forget about parking. You’re the one who has the car. So, you’re the one who’s going to be paying for gas and parking.

Use Rental Car Services Instead

During longer breaks or weekends when you want to go somewhere away from school, rent a car instead.

Most colleges have car rental services nearby. And, they have offers for students.

Services like Zip Car will charge you by the day or meter it by the hour which makes it significantly cheaper than having your own car.

If you’re going somewhere where parking can be an issue or cost a lot, use Uber or Lyft instead.

Don’t Fly Home or Vacation Every School Break

Staying round school during breaks can be boring. And, if you’re homesick, you may want to take advantage of every chance you get to go home.

This isn’t much of a problem if your parents live nearby.

But, that’s rarely the case for college. Part of going to college is to get away from your parents to discover yourself. That’s why most students pick a college that’s at least far enough from home to give them that freedom.

Flying home every time there is a school break can be really expensive. Even if you ride a train instead of fly, it can still add up.

Choose Your Housing Carefully

After your freshman year, you’ll likely have the option to choose between staying in one of the residence hall dorms or getting your own apartment.

Having your own apartment is more fun. There’s no question about that. But, It is also much more expensive than living in a dorm. You not only have to pay for rent but also all the other things that come with it like utilities and repairs.

If you choose to do so, one way to significantly cut your housing budget is to get a roommate. And, depending on how much larger rooms cost, maybe share with 2 or 3 other people you get along with. This lets you split the rent and cost of the bills.

One great way to get room and board for free is becoming a resident advisor. This saves a big chunk of your annual school costs.

Room and board are the second-biggest expense for most college students, just behind tuition. So, it can go a long way.

Saving Money on Entertainment Expenses While in College

Having fun is part of the college experience. I know that college was one of the most fun times in my life because I had the freedom to be on my own. Yet, not be burdened by all the grownup responsibilities.

That said, not being careful with your entertainment expenses can make them add up. Here’s how to save on college and still have fun.

Take Advantage of Free Events

Sure, it’s fun to attend concerts or go to a bar. But, they’re also expensive.

One way to cut down on them is to attend free events in and around campus. You’ll be surprised as to how many offerings there are that don’t require any money.

Everything from plays to comedy shows and free movies happen all of the time. The trick is to figure out when they do and find the ones you enjoy.

Only Buy a Computer If You Can Use Your Student Discount

Many colleges will require you to have a computer for school work. This is especially true for some courses like engineering and those that are computer related.

But, for the most part, you’ll likely need a one to get your reports done and share work with your group mates.

If you don’t have an old computer you can bring, make sure to only purchase a computer that offers students a discount.

Computers are big-ticket items, so that small percentage discount quickly turns into a substantial sum.

In general, desktops are cheaper than laptops. Unfortunately, they’re less practical because you can’t carry them around. They’re also a pain when the semester end and you need to move out of your dorm.

You Probably Don’t Need a Printer

In most cases, you won’t need a printer. At least not one for yourself.

While you’ll be printing a lot of documents, papers, and reports, most colleges will have printing stations scattered around campus for students to use.

This includes dorm study rooms and the library. Most study halls will also be equipped with shared printers that allow students to print from them.

So, that means using them instead of your own printer is much cheaper. This saves you from having to buy a printer, paper and refill the ink or toner.

Sell the Things You Don’t Need or Use Anymore

When you get to college, you’ll probably be excited to decorate your room with all sorts of new things. This is why many college students find themselves in Target or Walmart during the first few weeks of the semester.

The problem is, a lot of these things are extras. And, they will cost you.

They’re not necessarily bad especially if the décor makes you feel more at home. But, if you don’t need them after, be sure to sell them when you go back home or graduate.

This is also true for textbooks you’re done with. Don’t keep them around to gather dust. Instead, sell them to students who’ll be needing them.

Choose a Good Bank

Don’t keep your money in your dorm room. Use a bank.

More importantly, visit the local banks near your college to see if they offer savings and checking accounts for students. These accounts designed for you.

They won’t have any minimum maintaining balance and come with lower fees. It will also let you use your ATM without getting charged with all sorts of transaction fees.

If it’s possible, make sure to sign up for their online banking service as well. This lets you check your balance and do other things online. Thus, saving you the trip and waiting in line for the tellers.

Start Paying Off Student Loans While You’re Still in School

If you have student loans, do try to start paying them off while you’re in school. This will help ease the burden when you graduate.

You can pay any amount, which makes it easy. And, chipping away at that debt early on gives you a head start.

Also, as a side note, be sure to check the type of student loans you get.

Be sure to get those that don’t start accruing (counting) interest until you graduate. Some loans start counting interest the moment you sign on the dotted line and processed. This gives you four years of accumulated interest even before you start earning any money.

Always Ask for Student Discounts… for Everything

Most stores in and around campus will offer student discounts. This is true for mini-marts all the way to eateries.

These stores make their living mostly from college students. So, they know they need to treat you well. This makes you more likely to you’ll tell your friends about them.

Student discounts may not look like much because they often end up being worth just a few bucks each. But all together, they can add up quite a bit by the end of each semester.

Keep Your Belongings Safe

Always keep all your belongings safe. Keep your drawers locked if you have valuables there. And, lock your dorm room door every time you leave.

Dorm rooms are less of a problem nowadays because many colleges use key cards or your ID and passcode for access. That said, never share your codes with anyone else.

A lot of thefts happen in colleges. Everything from shoes to clothes and laptops is swiped by others.

If you use a bike to get around campus, make sure to lock it safely against the rail, not the bike itself. People can easily swipe your entire bike with the lock on it and later just use a bolt cutter to get rid of the chain.

Bike thefts happen a lot in college. Trust me from experience.

Use Your College’s Free Gym Services If They Offer It

Some colleges offer free gym services. If they do, it’s a great way to save on gym memberships.

If it doesn’t, do check their rates and compare them to the gym in town you plan on joining. Odds are, the campus gym is cheaper because they often keep prices lower for students.

Don’t Discard Loose Change

We all like leaving spare change anywhere. Then, forget about them. This is one way to spend money without even realizing it.

Sure, it may just be a few cents here and there. But sometimes, the change can be a couple of dollars or more. Add all of them up and soon enough you’re above ten bucks.

Over the course of a year, your loose change can add up to something worthwhile.

One way to keep all your loose change is to have a system. For example, you can bring a coin purse with you.

If that makes you less cool looking, then just pocket the change at the counter. But, always remember to put them in a receptacle when you get back to your room. This can be a piggy bank, coin jar or even just a small box.

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