The idea of saving money in college might sound impossible - but it's totally doable!
For most college students, this is the first time really having to budget and manage money on your own. You might not know all the tips and tricks to make your money last. That's what this list is for.
Here's some of the best ideas on how to manage your money and save money in college. These all come from experience. If you have more ideas or suggestions, want to share your hack, or want to tell us how silly these ideas are, leave a comment below!
Let's dive in on the best ways to save money in college!
Budgeting And Money Organization Basics
Before we can even have a conversation about saving money, it's essential that you understand the basics of budgeting and money organization. This is something that can be new to a lot of college students, but it's essential for financial success.
Using your bank's website isn't going to cut it anymore as you get older. You're going to have more accounts, more bills, more to keep track of. You have to have a tool. Your personality plays a big role in your budget as well.
Just think, you have your checking account, maybe a savings account. You're going to probably have multiple student loans. Maybe a credit card. Hopefully you'll start investing in college and have an IRA. When you graduate and start working, you're going to have a 401k. The list of accounts goes on and on - and without a tool or system, you'll struggle to manage them all.
We recommend three tools that all do similar things - track your spending and help you monitor your accounts.
Personal Capital - Personal Capital is similar to Mint but not as robust with budgeting and goals. However, it's more robust when it comes to investing analytics. If you're an investor (or want to be), this is probably the best tracking solution for you. It's also free. Check out Personal Capital here.
You Need A Budget (YNAB) - YNAB is the top-dog when it comes specifically to budgeting, but it does come at a small price to pay. If you're looking for strictly budgeting software, this should be your top choice. Check out YNAB here.
Quicken - Quicken is another tool similar to Personal Capital, but its software based. Yes, it has a web app, but you get the most value by downloading the software and running it on your computer. It has a lot of budgeting and investment tracking features.. Check out Quicken here.
Once you have a solid handle on your money, we can talk about ways to save!
Saving The Money You Already Have
You probably already have a little money when going to college. It might not be a lot, but you need to protect the money you already have!
1. Have A Free Checking Account
If you already have a checking account, you might be surprised when you find out the fees involved. Many banks waive those fees for students, or if you have a direct deposit, or other account with the bank. But other banks don't.
You need a free checking account. This is a baseline to save money - you should never pay for banking. Banks have plenty of ways to make money and checking and savings accounts shouldn't be one of them.
If you're looking for other options, check out our full list of the best online banks.
2. No Fee Student Credit Card
Starting to build your credit early just makes sense. And using credit responsibly is important. We are strong believers in getting a credit card, but treating it like a debit card.
Check out our list of the best student credit cards to find a card that matches your needs - with NO FEEs.
These cards are great because you can get rewards and rebates for your regular spending - a great way to save money in college.
3. Work in College
Working in college is essential for every college student. Not only does it give you a little money, but it also teaches you invaluable life skills - such as problem solving and business communication.
But why is working in college on a list of ways to save money in college? Because if you're working, you're not out spending money - you're earning it!
If you don't know where to start, check out our massive guide on 100+ Ways To Make Money In College.
4. Never Be Late On A Payment
Late fees not only cost you money, but then your underlying balance continues to grow as well. If you want to save money, never miss a payment. It's as simple as that.
Each missed or late payment can cost you $30 or more (and banks keep raising this amount). That's a lot of money for a college student.
If you made a mistake, and want to see if you can get it back, check out a tool like Truebill. Truebill helps you find late fees and other bank charges, and helps you get them back (for a cut). If having a late fee is a rare or one-time thing, Truebill can probably help. Check out Truebill here.
5. Don't Overdraft
Finally, to protect the money you already have, don't overdraft! An overdraft is where you spend money in your account that you don't have, and banks charge a fee to process the transaction.
So, not only are you going into debt a bit, but your bank is going to charge you an overdraft fee - which can be $25 or more!
If you've been struggling with overdrafts, consider using a service like Earnin, which gives you cash to prevent your overdraft - and all you pay is a simple monthly fee. Check it out and if your monthly fee per year is less than what you've paid in overdraft charges, this could be a helpful service for you.
You can also check out other cash advance style apps here.
Save Money On College Expenses
College is expensive! Here are the best ways to save money on key college expenses like tuition, loans, books, and more. These are going to be topics specific to saving on your education expenses.
6. Have A Solid Plan For Your Classes And Degree
One of the best ways to save money in college is to simply have a solid plan for you classes and degree program. I'm a big believer that college isn't the time to "find yourself". It's too expensive!
You should be going to college with a specific purpose - and ensuring that your taking the right classes and progressing to your degree on time is a great way to save money in college. Every extra class and semester costs money!
Even better, if you can get college credit in high school - by taking AP or IB classes, taking community college classes in high school, or any other means - do it! If you can knock out a lot of classes or credits early, you might even be able to graduate early (and save money).
7. Fill Out The FAFSA Every Year
The FAFSA is the key to your financial aid. If you don't fill it out, you likely won't be getting any type of financial aid (even student loans). That's why you need to fill out the FAFSA every year you're in school.
Filling out the FAFSA is very easy (here's our guide to filling out the FAFSA). But what most people don't realize is that, even if you don't get grants or scholarships year one, if your financial situation changes, you could get financial aid in future years. And so, if you don't fill out the FAFSA, it could cost you money!
Bottom line - fill out the FAFSA every year.
8. Watch Your Student Loan Borrowing
If you do have to take out student loans, you need to be very mindful of how much you borrow. If you borrow too much in student loans, you're going to struggle financially for your entire life.
When thinking about student loans, you need to consider the ROI of your college education. A good rule of thumb is never borrow more than you expect to earn in your first year after graduation. This will help keep your student loan debt manageable so you can afford it after college.
9. Apply For Scholarships And Grants
Too many people think that the only time to apply for scholarships and grants is when you're in high school, before you start your first year of college. WRONG.
You can apply for scholarships and grants every year throughout college. Given that many scholarships go unclaimed (or have very few entires), if you dedicate some time to applying, you could find yourself getting a lot of money to pay for school.
Make sure you read our guide on How To Find College Scholarships.
10. Use The Library
One of the most under-used, but best free tools, on a college campus is the library. College libraries have everything - and it's free if you're a student.
They have books (or course), but they also usually have computers to use, videos, software, and more.
If you're really trying to get through college on a budget, the library will be your best friend.
Remember, though, that quantities are limited at the library. Being effective in using the library typically requires prior planning - knowing your classes and books ahead of time, going at odd hours, etc.
11. Minimize Your Textbook Expense
Textbooks can be one of your biggest expenses every semester - with some math and science textbooks costing over $200 new. This is a big area where there's tons of potential to save.
The best two ways to save on your textbooks in college is to either buy used books, or rent your textbooks. There are lots of places to buy used textbooks - and we recommend these places to buy college textbooks online.
Renting college textbooks is also an option. You can simply rent the textbook you need for the semester you need it. Here's some of the best places to rent college textbooks.
12. Sell Back Your Textbooks When You're Done
This could have been combined with minimizing your textbook expenses, but it's a whole area on it's own. When you're done with your used textbooks, you need to sell them and get your money back. It's one of the best ways to save in college.
If you've just stuck to reselling your textbooks at your campus bookstore, you're probably missing out on a significant amount of extra money.
Here's our guide to resell your textbooks for a profit.
13. Get Your Education Discount On Computer Hardware And Software
Another big expense for college is technology. Many students want (or need) to get a new laptop, and with that comes all the trimming of software. Plus, some classes require their own specific software that you need to install.
If you're getting any type of new computer or software, make sure you buy it through the education store and get your education discount. Most companies offer significant discounts to students - from Apple and Microsoft, to Adobe and more. No matter what technology you need, you can probably find a big discount by purchasing their education edition.
14. Print On Campus
Printing is another area that can be costly, with papers eating up ink cartridges at home. And the ink's what gets you! You pay $50 for a printer, but $60 for the ink!
However, many students gain access to on campus printing with their student fees. If this is the case, take advantage of printing on campus - especially for your big papers. This can save you hundreds of dollars per year in printing expense.
Even better, if your professors allow electronic submissions, go paperless!
Save Money On Food And Drinks
You have to eat to live. It's a fact. But food can be expensive, especially if you start adding in drinks. Here's the best ways to save money on food and drinks in college.
15. Use Your Meal Plan To The Fullest
College meal plans either work out to be a great deal or a waste of money for most college students. If you're looking to save money, you need to take advantage of it to the fullest so that it's a great deal.
This means getting everything you pay for - breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. If you're not leveraging your campus meal plan, you still might want to consider dining in the dining halls as a lot of the food is typically priced really well.
Also, use your meal plan for snacks - take an apple or banana in the mornings, put it in your bag, and have it as a snack during the day so you don't spend a bunch on food at a coffee cart.
Food is expensive, so take advantage of what you can!
16. Keep Track Of The Best Happy Hours And Restaurant Promos
If you are going out to eat, save money when you do! A fun tactic is to take note of all the best happy hours and restaurant promos near campus, and sort by day.
That way, if it's Tuesday, you know where to go to get the best deal.
You'd be surprised at the amount of free and discounted food and drink you can find around town if you know where to look. This can also be a great way to save when going out with friends!
17. Attend Events With Food
There are so many events that take place on college campuses, and many include food. I can't even count how many free pizza events I went to when I attended college.
The trick here is, look for signs and promotions around your campus. These signs usually promote the free food in an attempt to get students to come.
If you do this regularly, you can probably get your lunch taken care of most days! And maybe you'll even learn something!
18. Learn To Cook
It's almost always cheaper to cook than it is to go out and buy pre-made food. While a dinner for $5-6 may sound cheap, it really does add up over time. And you can probably cook the same meal (and prep for future meals) for about half the price.
Cooking isn't hard, but it does take some practice. Getting started with easy meals like crockpot recipes can really be a boost.
To mix things up, you can even have potlucks with friends where you share food!
19. Cut Back On The Alcohol
Let's face it - alcohol is a part of most college student's experience. But the cost of booze can add up quick, especially if you fancy fruity mixed drinks.
While having a beer with friends can be fun, don't let drinking break your budget. Stick to beers on sale, split costs with friends, and if you're at the bar, order well drinks or the happy hour specials. If you don't name your alcohol, you might find yourself surprised when your bartender used a top shelf booze for your rum and coke.
20. Use Yelp Regularly And Get The Deals And Promos
If you're not a Yelper yet, you should strongly consider it in college. First, many bars and restaurants have promos where, if you check in, you get something free - usually a free drink or appetizer.
Second, if you Yelp and review regularly, restaurants might invite you to special events (with the hope you promote it). This can add up to free food and drinks!
It's a great way to have fun and save money in college.
Save Money On College Entertainment
Everyone wants to have fun - especially in college. While the education is key, networking and building lifelong relationships is just as important. Here are some key ways to save money on entertainment in college.
21. Attend Free Events on Campus
There's a lot of events going on campus at any given time. We already talked about free events with food, but there are plenty of other entertainment events that could keep you from getting bored.
Most campuses have live music, concerts, shows, sports, and lectures that could all be free and entertaining. The hard part is, it can be tough to know when things are going on.
Make sure you're always looking at your Associated Students calendar to find fun events, and check out flyers around campus to see if anything is going on.
22. Use Your Campus Gym
Working out and staying fit is important, especially in college. While the freshman 15 is a thing, you can lose the weight and stay in shape for free.
Most campuses have great athletic and gym facilities for their students, and your fees each year cover membership as a student. Take advantage. And definitely don't go spending more money for an outside gym membership when you get it for free on campus.
23. Cut Cable And Watch Online
It doesn't make sense to have cable TV anymore. There are so many great options online, some of which aren't even available on cable TV. And cable TV is expensive! Even basic plans can cost around $60 per month, which is a lot of money in college.
A better alternative is to cut cable and still watch your favorite shows - online!
There are so many options these days to watch TV online, including Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. Plus, there are some "illicit" ways to get new movies and more right in your dorm room. But even being legal, apps like Hulu or Hulu Live TV can really be game changing for cost and what you want to watch.
The bottom line is, stop paying for cable TV.
24. Share Gaming Expenses
Maybe TV isn't your thing, but gaming is. Gaming can be a lot of fun, especially if you have multiplayer games you can play with friends in your dorm or apartment.
If possible, try to share the cost of games. If you're always playing multiplayer setups, maybe split the cost of the game to save money. It can be a communal game that lives in your family room for everyone to share.
New games are expensive, so anything you can do to lower the price is great.
25. Ask For Student Discounts
So many places offer student discounts, but so few people ask for them. These include restaurants, shops, movie theaters, theme parks, and more.
Before you pay, see if there's a student discount. Typically, you just have to show your student ID and you're good to go. This is a simple way to save some extra money in college for just going to school.
26. Start A Free Hobby
Too many people think that hobbies have to cost money - they don't. There are a lot of free activities that you can do to keep you entertained. From running and hiking, to drawing and more, there are definitely things that you can do in your spare time to stay entertained.
Here's a list of 15 free hobbies that require no money to start.
27. Read For Free In The Library
One of the best sources of free stuff is the library, especially since you're a student and you can get library access for free. Want to read a book? Want to read a magazine? Want to check out a video? Your library on campus likely has all of those things.
Some libraries even have video games and board games that students can check out as well! The bottom line is take advantage of your campus library.
Volunteering is an under-rated free way to stay entertained. Not only are you contributing to a worthy cause, but you're likely gaining skills that you can use for the rest of your life.
There are tons of options to volunteer around most college campuses, from national organizations to small local charities that are looking for help. Poke around online or speak to some campus clubs to see if there are any volunteering opportunities you can help out with.
29. Start A Side Hustle
Instead of paying for fun, what if you got paid to have fun? That's the idea behind starting a side hustle in college. Starting a side hustle doesn't require much money to start, but it does take time. And if it's something you enjoy doing, then it will be entertaining to start.
The thrill of earning money on the side is also a huge motivator and can be a lot of fun! If you don't know where to start, check out our list of the 50+ Ways To Start A Side Hustle.
30. Become The Entertainment
Finally, you could become the entertainment. This isn't for everyone, but if you're inclined, you could put on a show. Maybe you play an instrument? Maybe you start a band? Maybe you join a theater group? Maybe you practice comedy?
All of these things take practice, are fun, and you could even get paid for gigs. So, instead of searching for entertainment, consider creating it for yourself.
Save Money On Transportation And Travel
You will have to travel places, even if it's just from your dorm room to class, and back. But you'll likely be traveling a lot more than that - here's what you need to know.
31. Sell Your Car
Most college students don't need a car. And cars are expensive - you have gas, maintenance, insurance, and probably a car payment. All of these costs are pointless if your car is just sitting on campus for most of the year.
Instead, sell your car, take the money, and use it for ridesharing, or even renting a car with a service like Zipcar. With Zipcar, you can just rent a car when you need it, instead of maintaining a car you don't need all the time.
If you can't stand the idea of parting with your car, look at renting it out when you're not using it. There are services like Turo that allow you to rent your car out and get paid!
32. Use Free Transportation If Possible
If you need to get around, use free transportation if possible. Many college campuses have free buses and shuttles that help students get around campus and even to nearby apartments.
Some apartment complexes even have shuttles for students to get to campus.
Depending on your school, see if you can leverage free transportation to get around.
33. Get A Student Pass For Public Transportation
If you need public transportation to get around, see if you can get a student pass. Many colleges partner with their local transit authorities and offer student discounts and student passes for busses, subways, trolleys, and more.
This can be a huge savings for college students who need to get around, and it's usually cheaper than owning a car.
34. Use Travel Websites To Find Amazing Deals
Every college student wants to travel (or at least most do). But travel can be really expensive unless you find great deals. This can be a full time job in itself, but if you're diligent, you can find great travel deals and take advantage of them.
Checking the main travel sites will give you a great baseline as to where to start your travel search. These sites include:
- CheapFlights: This searches most of the major travel sites for you
- Hotels.com: The is one of the best hotel search engines
- Orbitz: Another good overall search engine
Check out our full guide on 5 Easy Steps To Get The Cheapest Vacation to get started.
35. Find Student Travel Tours
Students have a slight advantage when it comes to travel because there are a lot of companies that cater to student travel. For example, Contiki Tours offers student travel tours for cheap!
These tours are specific to 18-35 year olds, so you'll be with a group of young adults who are all interested in the same type of trip. There are trips almost everywhere, with awesome destinations that any student would enjoy.
Check out Contiki here and see if there are any tours that make sense for you.
36. Learn How To Travel Cheap
Have you ever heard of the term travel hacking? This is the mindset to "hack" your travel to get it as cheap as possible - usually by leveraging deals and points.
However, it's hard to travel hack without doing some learning about how to travel for cheap. This could include shopping for trips, using points and miles, and more.
Check out our basic guide to college students and travel hacking. It's a great starting point to save money on travel in college.
37. Setup Flight Monitoring For Regular Flights
Do you have a "regular" flight in college? This might be your regular flight home - the one you take at Christmas, and home for the summer?
If so, use Google Flights to setup a price monitor for your main flight and dates you know you want to fly. This can help you save money by alerting you when prices change, and saving you money on the flights you know you're going to be making.
38. Consider Alternatives To Flying
Do you have to fly? There are alternatives to flying that you might consider - from driving and carpooling, to taking a Greyhound or an Amtrack train.
Depending on where you're going, how much time you have, and your comfort level, taking one of these alternatives could save you a lot of money over the cost of flying.
When budgets matter in college, these alternatives can be a great way to save on travel.
39. Use Credit Card Rewards
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to use credit card rewards. As we talked about earlier, using a credit card can earn you bonuses and rewards for your normal spending. Plus, many cards offer a sign up bonus that can get you free travel pretty quickly.
If travel is important to you, then consider checking out the Best Credit Cards For Travel Rewards. These cards will earn you the best bonuses and rewards that can get you closer to free travel.
40. Live Close To Campus
Finally, one of the best ways to save money on daily travel expenses is to simply live close to campus. That way, you can walk to school and save the most money.
Living close to campus might be more expensive rent-wise, so do the math and make sure the savings of living closer offsets the cost of higher transportation father away (hint: it usually does).
Save Money When Off Campus Living
Living off campus is another big change and it can be expense if you're not careful. Here's how to save money living off campus.
41. Live With Roommates
The idea of living alone is great, but it's so much more expensive that living with others. For example, you could probably rent a one bedroom apartment for $1,500, but a two bedroom is just $2,200. If you had a roommate, your personal cost would now just be $1,100 - a $400 per month savings versus a one bedroom apartment.
That's a huge deal over time - $4,800 per year really adds up.
So, while you might want to escape the roommate situation, living with roommates is a great way to save money in college (and even after college).
42. Shop Around For Renters Insurance
You likely need renters insurance when you live off campus. Beyond taking care of your own stuff, most landlords require it.
Make sure you shop around for the best deal on renters insurance. There are a lot of options and things to consider.
We have an Ultimate Guide To Renters Insurance that will help you make the decision.
43. Cut Your Cell Phone Bill
You cell phone is probably another area that you can save a lot of money on when you're in college. Too many people don't compare their cell phone plans very often - resulting in higher prices than you should be paying.
In fact, if you're paying over $60 per month for your phone, you're paying way too much.
Here's our guide to the Best Cell Phone Plans To Save Money. There are a lot of great options to save when you're in college.
44. Don't Decorate
While you might want to make your place nice and cozy, decorations are expensive, and they don't really have any value beyond looking pretty.
If you're trying to save money, just don't decorate. Seriously! This sounds weird, but too many people spend hundreds decorating their apartments and houses, just to toss it all and redecorate when they move.
Save the money up front and don't decorate.
45. Be Mindful Of Your Utilities
Another off campus expense that can get you are your utilities. You need to be mindful of your utilities and how much it costs to run your air conditioning, how much your internet costs, and more.
If you're not paying attention, you could find your electric bill skyrocketing from $50 per month to $400 per month! It happens, and it can seriously harm your college student budget.
46. Get Your Rent Payments To Boost Your Credit Score
This is one thing that will save you money down the road, not immediately. But one of the keys to saving money on loans, getting a good rent, and more is having a great credit score.
Using a service like Rent Track can enable your rent payments to count on your credit report, thereby boosting your score if you make all your payments on time.
The end goal is to have a great credit score when you leave college so that you can save money in the future.
47. Location Is Important
Where you live is so important! But there are trade offs in every location. A great goal is to live as close to campus as possible, so that you can save on transportation. But you don't want it to be so expensive that you savings from transportation is lost to rent.
You need to find a solid balance of location and price. And you should probably skip the amenities like a gym if you get a gym on campus. These amenities raise the price that you're going to pay in rent and you might not even use them.
48. Buy Used Or Secondhand If Needed
If you do need something for your house, buy it used or secondhand. There are a lot of great ways to get couches, beds, and more for cheap - just look online.
You can use apps like OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace to see items available in your area. If you don't have a car, you can probably hire someone online to help you move! There are lots of moving service and delivery services in different cities.
49. Protect Your Security Deposit
Your security deposit is one of your biggest "investments" in college. You usually have to pay $1,000 or more to ensure you don't mess up your apartment. That's a lot of money that you can lose if you're not careful in protecting your apartment.
So, make sure you protect your security deposit by keeping your apartment in great condition.
An alternative to your security deposit is using security deposit insurance. This is an alternative where you pay a company and never have to worry again. Check out Jetty for their security deposit insurance.
50. Live At Home
Finally, one of the absolute best ways to save money in college is to simply live at home. You can eliminate the vast majority of this list if you simply live at home, save on rent and food, and watch your other expenses.
Even if your parents will charge you a nominal rent, that's probably going to save you so much more than trying to live on or off campus.
And while you'll have some commuting expenses as well, you'll still probably realize significant cost savings. This can be a great way to save money in college so that you can springboard your life after graduation.
Final Budgeting Tips
Experiences are more important than things. And experiences (especially in college) can be free or very cheap. You don't need to spend more money than you have to impress people.
What's more impressive is if you can save money in college, invest it, and become financially independent in your early thirties. That's a great goal right there.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.
Editor: Clint Proctor