College life doesn’t mean Ramen noodles and water all the time. If you budget right and learn how to save money in college, you can have the clothes, household items, and food you want without going over your budget.
If you aren’t sure where to start to save money in college, check out our 30 helpful tips.
1. Buy used textbooks
New textbooks are expensive and unnecessary. You get the same information in a used textbook, yet leave more money in your bank account. Check your college’s bookstore first, but do it early because the used textbooks go fast.
Don’t forget when the course is over, sell your used textbooks back to one of the sites above and make a little money back.
2. Open a bank account for college students
Standard bank accounts aren’t free. Consumers pay $5 – $25 a month or more just to have a bank account. Granted, many banks waive the fee if you have a certain balance, but it’s usually high and unattainable for college students.
Fortunately, most banks offer free bank accounts for college students. You just have to prove that you’re a college student by showing your ID and providing your personal college email address.
Some of the top banks offering free college student bank accounts include PNC, Chase, and Bank of America. Before you sign up, make sure there are no fees including ATM withdrawal fees, minimum balance fees, or monthly maintenance fees.
3. Pay your bills on time
It may seem like no big deal to pay your credit card bill a day or two late, but when you get your statement, you’ll change your mind quickly.
The average late fee is $36! That’s enough for 5 or 6 visits to Starbucks and certainly not worth it. The fees don’t stop there. Interest accrues daily on the balance, and if you didn’t pay anything, you’ll accrue more interest charges.
Budget so you can pay your bills on time and if you don’t trust yourself to remember, set up autopay, but make sure you have enough in your bank account to do so.
4. Skip eating out
Eating out can quickly use you up your budget. Instead, split the cooking responsibilities with roommates or friends. Everyone picks a night that they are responsible for creating the meal and feeding the group. If you alternate nights, you’ll cut down on your food costs and share the responsibility of cooking.
5. Look for happy hour deals around campus
On those nights you just don’t want to cook or you and your pals want to go out, look for happy hour deals in and around campus. Most college towns have great deals, especially for college students.
If you aren’t sure who has the hottest deals, ask around, chances are most people will know. Also, check out this list of the top 50 college bars and see if your college made the list.
6. Don’t buy the largest meal plan
If you live on campus, you’ll likely take advantage of the campus meal plan. The good news is you don’t have to cook or grocery shop (except for little things). The bad news is, you have to pay for it and it can get costly. College meal plans can cost anywhere from $1,000 to as much as $8,000 for two semesters.
Don’t automatically choose the largest plan. Even if you think you’ll eat as much food as it offers, you won’t. Most college students regret spending all that money on food and then not eating it.
7. Make your own coffee
College students thrive on caffeine, especially coffee. Pulling an all-nighter is common, but that doesn’t mean you have to blow $5-$6 per coffee at Starbucks. If you have a daily Starbucks habit, you’ll end up spending $25 – $30 a week and $900 – $1,080 per school year just on coffee.
Instead, invest in a decent coffee pot and look up your favorite latte and espresso recipes on Pinterest.
8. Invest in a water filter and skip bottled water
Bottled water may not seem expensive per bottle, but when you add up the cost, you’ll see how much you spend a month just on water. The average bottle of water costs around $0.70. If you drink 3 or 4 a day, that’s $2.10 – $2.80 a day. Over a school year, you could spend over $700 on water.
9. Buy snacks and toiletries in bulk
Items you and your roommates use often, try to buy in bulk. You can catch good prices on Amazon or if your family/friends have a Sam’s or Costco membership, see if you can shop with them. They may even be able to put you on their membership.
Even though it feels like you’re spending more money to buy the products, look at the per item price – buying in bulk usually saves you quite a bit of money.
10. Ditch cable
Even if you spend a lot of time in your dorm (especially during COVID), a cable subscription isn’t worth it. Instead, subscribe to a streaming service, which is usually a fraction of the cost.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Hulu are popular options, but look at what they offer before choosing. For example, if you love old reruns of network shows, Hulu is a great option, but if you’re more of a movie buff, Netflix may suit you better.
11. Split subscription costs with friends or family
If you want to cut your costs down even further, split your subscription costs with friends or family. This is easiest if you have roommates, you can split the bills down the middle. If you live alone or your roommates can’t contribute, consider sharing an account with family members and splitting the bill (or maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll cover the bill for you).
Netflix, for example, costs between $8.99 – $17.99 depending on the package you choose.
12. Watch your phone’s data usage
You may not need as much data on your phone as you think. College students usually have access to free wi-fi on campus, at the library, and even at local coffee shops or restaurants.
Get a feel for where you could get data and use it to your advantage. Then knock your cell phone bill’s data plan down as much as possible.
The average cell phone bill for one person with 10GB of data is $56 a month. Imagine if you had unlimited data. At college, unlimited data is usually an unnecessary expense.
13. Don’t drive a car to college
You can get around most college campuses on foot, bike, or scooter. Don’t make the mistake of bringing your car.
Not only do you need to pay for gas and insurance, but you’ll need to cover the car’s maintenance, not to mention the cost of parking on campus.
Parking on campus can cost anywhere from $80 – $2,500 a year depending on where you attend college. If you attend college in a larger city, you’ll likely pay toward the higher end of this range.
14. Live with roommates to split the bills
Living with people you don’t know yet may not be high on your list of things to do, but when you can split the rent, utilities, and food bills down the middle, it certainly makes it easier.
Before you move in with anyone, make sure you discuss how you’ll split the bills ahead of time.
15. Use your student ID to get discounts
Your school student ID is your ticket to many discounts. Retail stores, restaurants, and online establishments all offer discounts for students. You may even find deals on travel and financing products.
16. Don’t go overboard on school supplies
No matter how excited you are to start your new adventure in college, don’t blow your budget on all the latest school supplies. Wait until you’re in school and get the syllabus and hear what you need. Oftentimes, especially today with many colleges remaining remote, all you need is your computer and an internet connection.
17. Buy discounted computers or electronics
Speaking of computers, there’s little chance you’ll get through college without at least a laptop, but you may even want a PC. This doesn’t mean you have to pay full price, though.
18. Participate in campus activities instead of going out
College campuses normally have plenty of activities for students to do so you don’t have to spend money. The activities are usually free and safer than going out exploring the town.
During the pandemic, there may be fewer activities, but campuses have been great about keeping students engaged even during the pandemic. If your campus is still remote or limited on the activities they offer, consider some of these virtual ideas to keep you busy and keep money in your wallet.
19. Fill out FAFSA annually
Don’t go to college before filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid every year. This is your ticket to any type of financial aid to pay for college and its related expenses.
Exhausting all options for scholarships, grants, and low-cost student loans first will keep your costs minimized. Remember, though, you must reapply for FAFSA every year.
20. Use the library
Don’t pay for books, even literary books you have to read for class. Instead, check out the campus library. It’s usually full of opportunities both for academic work and pleasure. Most college campus libraries offer free wi-fi, access to free printers, and other technological support that you’d otherwise have to pay for if you went to a store like Kinkos/FedEx.
21. Use the campus gym
Don’t pay for an expensive gym membership. Even with your student discount or joining a ‘cheaper’ gym like Planet Fitness can run you $120+ per year. It doesn’t sound like much, but every dollar adds up when you’re a college student.
Most college campuses give students free access to the campus gym. Take advantage, and who knows, you might have friends who will go with you or you may make new friends there, which may motivate you to work out even more.
22. Start a side hustle
If you are coming up short on cash, there are plenty of side hustles college students can do. Drive for Lyft or Uber, shop for Instacart or Shipt, or even start your own gig. If you’re crafty, sell your goods online or if you have a special skill, like voice overs or web design, start a gig on Fiverr.
23. Use coupons when you shop
In college or not, using coupons when you shop is a great habit to get into because you can save a significant amount of money. Today it’s easier than ever to find coupons online and automatically get a discount. It takes a few seconds of your time and you could save a significant amount of money.
24. Watch your utility usage
Remember all those times your mom yelled at you to shut the lights off or to not touch the thermostat? Now you’ll understand – utilities are expensive, so any opportunity you have to cut back, take advantage.
Make a habit out of unplugging appliances you aren’t using, shutting lights off when you aren’t in the room, and using other methods to stay warm or cool rather than running the furnace or A/C too often.
25. Use the local beauty school for hair cuts and other beauty services
While you can’t skip haircuts and eyebrow waxing, you can save significantly on these services by going to a local beauty school rather than a full-priced salon. Do a quick search online for ‘beauty schools near me’ and see what services they offer.
You’ll save money on the services you need and you’ll help beauty school students get the experience they need to graduate.
26. Carpool rides back home
It’s exciting to go home for the holidays, but it’s expensive too. If you take a bus or train, the tickets can get expensive, but keeping your car on campus may cost even more.
Instead, partner up with others who attend your college, but have the same hometown, or one near you and carpool. You’ll save money on transportation by sharing the gas costs, and may even have a little more fun on the long drive home.
27. Go to movies on discount days
Most large movie theaters have discount days or student discounts. For example, Marcus Theater has $5 Tuesdays for anyone and Student Thursdays, which are $6.
28. Skip expensive home decor
It’s tempting to make your dorm or apartment feel like home with all your favorite decor, but it only adds to the cost of a temporary home. Remember, you’re only there for 9 months out of the year. At year’s end, you have to take everything down and out of your dorm or apartment as you’ll likely start fresh in a new building the following year.
29. Buy used clothing
You need clothes, that’s a given, but you don’t have to break your budget buying them. Use coupons when you’re buying new clothes at a retail store, but take advantage of thrift shops in your area, such as Plato’s Closet or ThredUp.
30. Shop clearance sales or at the end of a season
The best time to buy clothing and household goods is at the end of a season for next year. Some stores start marking prices down on in-season items about halfway through the season too, so they have room for the next season’s items.
Stores like Target clearance new items every day of the week. Find out the clearance schedule at your local Target and wait a few days after they first mark the products down. Most Target clearance items that don’t sell right away end up on discounted for as much as 90% off the retail price.
FAQs on Saving Money in College
How much money should college students save?
It’s always a good idea for anyone, college students included, to have an emergency fund of $1,000. This should get you through the average emergency situation without causing a financial crisis.
What is a reasonable food budget for a college student?
According to the USDA, the average college aged student spends around $60 a week on food. That comes out to around $240 a month for groceries if you don’t have a campus food plan.
How can college students save on textbooks?
Most college students need textbooks, but that doesn’t mean you have to overspend. Always look for used books first, both on campus and online.
How much money do college students spend per month?
Every person is different, but in general, college students spend around $200 a month on the low end. That’s why learning how to save money in college is so important.
Every College Student Should Know How to Save Money in College
College life is fun, but it’s a learning experience too. Consider your endeavors to be frugal but still have what you want as a lesson in adulting.
When you graduate college and are out on your own, you’ll want those money saving lessons in your back pocket because life gets expensive real fast.