15 Ways To Save Money In College

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

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How to save money in college | Be The Budget

Getting a higher education is expensive, but many people don’t realize that there are plenty of easy ways to save money in college. In fact, by getting a little creative and making simple changes, you can avoid the many financial struggles and debt traps that college students face. 

And since the financial decisions that you make during this stage of your life are critical and will have lasting effects, the more money you save in college, the better off you’ll be.

Here are some great examples of money-saving techniques to significantly reduce the costs of tuition, books, housing, and other living expenses while pursuing your educational goals.

1. Work While You’re In School

Between tuition, books, housing, and other living expenses, you’re going to be spending money left and right when you enter college. So, getting a source of income is the first (and most important) thing you can do if you want to cover those expenses and save some money. 

Now, I understand that the thought of working and going to school at the same time may seem overwhelming, but don’t let this scare you. 

Despite what you may have heard from friends and family, it is very common for students to work while pursuing their education. In fact, one study done by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 81 percent of part-time students and 43 percent of full-time students work while pursuing an undergraduate degree.

The key is to figure out what works best for you. Not everyone can handle working a full-time job while going to college. You may prefer to work part-time during the evenings, weekends, or during summer or holiday breaks.

There is a wide range of job options for college students. From working in restaurants to retail, there are plenty of job opportunities out there. You can also create your own side business walking dogs, tutoring, teaching music lessons, or even blogging.

The options are limitless.

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2. Find Some Roommates

It’s shocking how much schools charge students to live in tiny dorm rooms. After tuition, housing will be your most expensive cost. 

Fortunately, you can save a significant amount of money by finding a place off-campus and getting a few roommates to help share the cost.

First, check with your school to see if there are any rules around living off-campus. Many schools require freshman or sophomore students to spend their first years on-campus.

When weighing your options, consider that this approach doesn’t just help reduce your rent payments. Having a roommate (or two) can also reduce the other costs associated with housing such as utilities, food, and other household expenses.

Be sure to evaluate your potential roommates carefully. The last thing that you want is to have irresponsible roommates that move away in the middle of the school year–leaving you and the remaining roommates with the responsibility of paying the bills on your own.

15 Ways To Save Money In College | Be The Budget

3. Buy Used Textbooks

After tuition and housing, textbooks will likely be your next highest expense. Fortunately, there are many strategies to reduce or eliminate this cost.

First, talk to your professors. Now and then, you may catch a break and discover that the course textbook isn’t even necessary. Most schools require professors to have an “official” textbook for every course, whether they intend to use it or not. There is nothing worse than spending $300 on a textbook that just sits on a shelf.

Second, publishers are constantly making updates to their textbooks. Many of these updates are superficial, like changing the graphics on the cover and some minor details inside. Ask your professor if the last edition of the textbook will be sufficient. 

In many cases, you can find older editions for pennies on the dollar.

As a last resort, buy a used copy of the textbook. Websites like BookFinder.com will typically help you find textbooks that are cheaper than the used copies at your school’s bookstore.

When you no longer need your textbook, sell your book online or to another student to recoup as much of your original cost as possible. The sooner you do this, the better. Once the next edition is released, your textbook will lose most of its value.

4. Take Classes Through A Community College

Many students decide to start their college education at a community college before transferring to a four-year university. This is a great way to get the credits you need for your degree without paying four-year university prices.

If you go this route, be sure to confirm that the community college courses will transfer to your school of choice. The last thing you want is to put time and money into classes that don’t transfer.

5. Apply For Scholarships

Scholarships can help you pay for most if not all of your education. And the best news is that there is a wide range of educational, athletic, and demographic-driven scholarships available. 

Some scholarships require a simple application, while others are more extensive and require an essay or interviews to qualify. Regardless, if you want to save money in college, you should apply for as many as possible.

There are dozens of scholarship websites available online. You can also check with the financial aid offices at your school, state grant agency, local foundations, religious organizations, or your employer.

Your goal is to apply for as many scholarships as you can. 

To quote the famous hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.

6. Go To An In-State School

If you want to save money in college, you should weigh the costs of attending an in-state school versus an out-of-state school. Many schools incentivize their state’s residents to attend local colleges and universities. And depending on the school, the savings can be up to $10,000 or more each year.

For students looking for a specialized degree, you may have limited options when selecting a school. Though, for more common majors such as business or accounting, you may have more choices and opportunities to find an excellent in-state program.

7. Live At Home

I understand some people might cringe at the thought of staying at home with their parents during their college years. However, it’s a great way to save a significant amount of money on housing.

In addition to savings on rent, there are other benefits to staying at home versus having regular roommates. These benefits might include home-cooked meals, access to the family car, and if you are lucky, free laundry service.

8. Stay Away From Credit Cards And Other Debt

Going to college is a great way to boost your career potential. But what is the point in earning a higher salary out of college if you are going to spent years paying off the debt you accumulated to get there?

Whatever you do, stay away from any form of debt, including credit cards, student loans, and car payments. Paying for these items now may seem difficult, but trust me, it’s significantly more challenging to pay off a loan once it’s accrued thousands of dollars in interest.

9. Live On A Strict Budget

We live in a world where you can simply swipe your debit card every time you want something. And these habits unchecked can add up to significant amounts of money. 

Sadly, most people don’t realize how much money they waste until they sit down and look at their bank statements. By establishing a budget, you can set guardrails to protect yourself from mindless spending.

You will likely be surprised if you were to sit down and calculate how much money you spend on trips to Starbucks or unnecessary items from Target.

As you create your budget, think about each item on your list. Identify areas where you can cut back. The more aggressive you are with your budget, the more significant the impact you will make on your expenses and your ability to save money in college.

10. Make Your Own Meals

Cooking your meals is not only cheaper but usually healthier. 

Don’t worry; we’re not suggesting ramen noodles every single night. There are plenty of terrific websites to find recipes for budget-conscious people. 

Look for ingredients that can be used across multiple meals. You can also split the cost (and cooking responsibilities) with your roommates.

11. Don’t Drive A Car

Even if you don’t have a car payment, there are still many costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle. Insurance, gas, registration, and maintenance can easily cost hundreds of dollars each month.

Think about the transportation alternatives that you have available in your area. Riding a bicycle is a great way to get exercise while saving money. Public transportation is another cost-effective solution. 

In addition to cost savings, public transportation also gives you the ability to spend that time working on other tasks like studying for an upcoming exam, reading a book, or listening to your favorite podcast.

For some students driving a car may be your only option. If that’s the case, think about how you can reduce costs by carpooling to campus with a roommate or another student.

12. Look For Student Discounts

If you’re going to spend tens of thousands on higher education, you might as well take advantage of the perks. Lots of businesses and restaurants offer discounts to students on food, clothing, and other essentials.

Some of these discounts are easy to find, but you should also keep in mind that many businesses don’t advertise their discounts. So, it never hurts to ask. Just remember to carry your student ID with you wherever you go. You may need to show it to get the discount.

A word of advice: don’t fall for the trap of buying things you don’t need just because there is a discount. If the item is not in your budget or on your shopping list, you don’t need it.

13. Sell Your Unwanted Stuff

Do you have an old set of golf clubs, but you don’t play anymore? How about the juicer that you were sure you were going to use for more than a week? 

You likely have some things lying around that you don’t want or use. 

Rather than let them collect dust, post them for sale on Craigslist, OfferUp, or LetGo. The extra cash you make from selling these unused items can be a nice little savings bonus.

Tip: Always ask for more than you want to get. It’s very common for buyers to try and negotiate or offer a lower price.

14. Don’t Get A Pet

Many people don’t realize how expensive pet ownership can be. Between food, immunizations, emergency vet bills, toys, and other accessories, the cost of owning a pet can be hundreds of dollars a year. In fact, according to Rover.com, the annual cost for a dog is between $600 and $2000. And cats aren’t much better, averaging $800 per year. (PetCoach)

Also, keep in mind that your pet will be with you for many years. Over the life of your pet, you can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars.

As an alternative, you might consider pet sitting. It’s a great way to spend time with a furry companion while also allowing you to make a little money on the side.

15. Shop At Second-Hand Stores

If you want to save money in college, consider shopping at second-hand stores where you can find items like furniture, clothing, and other housewares at a steep discount. 

The great thing about second-hand stores is that new donations are constantly refreshing their inventory. So, be sure to check back often if you are looking for something specific.

Just be cautious of certain items like electronics that you can’t test out before you leave the store. I mean, who wants to spend money on a DVD player that doesn’t even work? (Do people still use DVD players?)

Along the same lines, Spring and Summer are also great times to find garage sales. Like second-hand stores, you can usually find items for a fraction of the cost. However, to sweeten the pot, at garage sales, prices are usually negotiable. So, don’t be afraid to haggle a little bit.

Final Thoughts

Going to college is hard enough without struggling to figure out how you are going to pay the rent. 

The good news is, if you put a plan in place and utilize the tips in this article, you can not only save money in college but set yourself up for a lifetime of financial success. 

Remember, building a solid financial future is all about taking small, positive steps. And the earlier you start taking those steps, the brighter your financial future will be.

Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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