Living On A College Budget: 21 Tips That Won’t Wreck Your Fun!

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: July 1, 2021

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we will get a commission (at no cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase. Please read our affiliate disclosure for more information.

If you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to survive living on a college budget when your studies get underway, you’re not alone! 

The truth is, being a student is one of the toughest times you will face financially in your whole life. It’s that transition period between leaving home and getting a job, and for many students across the world, financial uncertainty can cause real anxiety. 

But, it’s not all doom and gloom!

Living on a college budget isn’t impossible.

It just requires you to make smart financial decisions and compromise on certain luxuries that you can return to later in life. 

Regardless of your financial situation, these twenty-one top tips for living on a college budget will help you navigate your way through your studies. In fact, they may help you end up with a decent amount of savings when you graduate! 

Living on a college budget: 21 tips that won't wreck your fun! | Be The Budget

1. Get Some Roommates

One of the most enjoyable things about college is living with other people.

It’s also an excellent way to split utilities and other costs, as living on your own can be super expensive.

Plus, college roommates often become friends for life, as you experience so many awesome times with them.

Even if you don’t get on like a house on fire with the people you live with, remember it’s not forever!

Your bank balance will certainly thank you for splitting the bills with fellow students.

2. Buy Used Textbooks

How can textbooks be so expensive?

One of the biggest shocks to the system when you arrive on campus as a freshman is the exorbitant cost of textbooks. If you don’t plan ahead, you could end up spending hundreds [or even thousands!] of dollars on textbooks that you might only use for one semester.

Therefore, if possible, get your reading list in advance, and head online to a site like CampusBooks and save yourself a fortune. 

3. Apply For Scholarships

If you’re particularly brainy, think about applying for the various scholarships that are available to you.

A simple Google search will reveal the scholarships that are available, and you will find some that are income, location, or area of study dependent.

Spend a little bit of time reading through the application criteria and consider submitting applications.

Seriously, scholarships will save you from a whole heap of debt in the long run.

Looking for more awesome budgeting tips? Check out a few of our other posts:

4. Get A Job

Don’t be too proud to get a job while you’re studying.

Mop the floors of your halls of residence, wait tables at the local Outback Steakhouse, or input data for a multi-national corporation.

The paychecks and tips [depending on your industry] will help you enormously through college.

When your future self looks back on the work you put in to complete your studies, you will give yourself a pat on the back and be proud of your sacrifice! 

5. Start A Side Hustle

It’s never been easier than it is now to start a side hustle.

Whether you’re a skilled writer, talented graphic designer, or competent at coding, you can spend some of your evening downtimes earning money by freelancing and side hustling.

Instead of partying every night of the term, consider blocking out a couple of evenings a week exclusively for your side hustle and watch the money roll in.

Want to start a successful side hustle? Read these first:

6. Ditch The Credit Cards

No matter what you might have heard, there’s no such thing as good debt. Ultimately, you’re just making somebody else rich and limiting your own ability to build wealth.

And seriously, credit card debt is the worst kind of debt you can carry. So, when you’re in college, avoid credit cards. I know this might go against the things you’ve probably heard throughout your life.

I mean, how many times per day do you hear people telling you to build your credit? Way too many!

But you know what’s better than building credit? Building a big ol’ pile of savings and wealth!

Let me put it this way, would you rather have a credit score of 800, or $100,000 of savings?

I’m going to assume you went with the 100 Grand.

Plain and simple, when it comes to spending money, try to live by this simple mantra: if you can’t afford to pay for it with cash, you can’t afford it.

7. Look For Student Discounts

Fortunately for students, companies across the US and further afield recognize that college students are usually pretty broke!

As such, they offer so many discounts on products and services in every sector imaginable.

From major events to local restaurants, check for student discounts before you head out. You will almost always save yourself some money.

8. Take Advantage Of Campus Amenities

Most university campuses are much more than just places of learning.

From discounted food halls and coffee shops to cheap gym memberships, you will be able to save a heap of money by exploring all of the campus amenities at your disposal.

If you’re not sure where to begin, check your university’s website and look at all of the services and amenities listed on campus. 

9. Cook At Home

Eating out while at college is sure to burn a hole in your wallet.

So, if you’re planning a night out with friends, consider eating before you head out. If you only have to pay for your drinks, it can cut the check in half.

While you can enjoy a nice meal out once in a while, don’t make a habit of it if you’re living on a college budget.

10. Split The Cost Of Food With Your Roommates

Grocery shopping will be one of your most significant expenses as a student.

So, if you’re on good terms with your roommates, consider pooling your cash together and doing a weekly shop. While you don’t have to split everything with the people you live with, consider chipping in for main evening meals and large items that you can buy in bulk.

Truly, shopping for four or five works out considerably cheaper than shopping for one, which is fantastic when you’re living on a college budget.

11. Stop Paying For Cable

Why on earth would you need cable in your college room in this day and age?

If you’re desperate to watch TV in your downtime, subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime and save yourself a fortune.

If you’re a big sports fan and want to catch live games on ESPN, plan to go to a student bar and sink a few beers with your buddies while tuning in. Not only is this more enjoyable, you only need to spend money on the games you actually want to watch. 

12. Use Public Transportation

There’s no doubting the convenience of having your own car at college. But the truth is that cars are extraordinarily expensive.

You have to think about things like tax, insurance, gas, repairs, and maintenance, and it can be a huge drain on your financial resources.

Most college campuses have excellent public transport links to the nearest towns and cities and offer students discounted travel passes at the same time. So, if you’re living on a college budget, consider leaving your car with your parents and riding the bus or a bike instead. 

13. Live Off-Campus (Where Rent Is Cheaper)

Accommodation options on campus are nearly always more expensive than looking for a place off the beaten college track.

While living on campus is undeniably convenient, if you look for a place off-campus, your rent will be considerably cheaper.

14. Reduce Your Car Insurance

If you really want to keep your car, look for ways of reducing your car insurance payments.

When renewal time comes, shop around using a tool like Insurify or EverQuote and look for deals with different companies.

You can ask the company for higher excess payments and perhaps take advantage of low mileage discounts if you’re only using your car in and around the college.

Whatever you do, spend some time doing your research and never accept the first offer you’re given. 

15. Sell Your Car (Ride A Bike Instead)

As we’ve already mentioned, maintaining and driving a car while you’re at college will be a significant drain on your financial resources.

If your car’s in good shape, think about selling it before you start your course and buying a bike instead.

Most campuses are bike-friendly, and you will improve your fitness at the same time.

You can always save some of the money that you received for your car for when you graduate, so you can buy some new wheels straight out of college

16. Cut Down On Utility Usage

Utility bills can get out of control quickly if you aren’t careful with how you manage your home or rental property.

Simple things like turning the lights off when you’re not in a room, reducing your bathroom water usage, and cutting out expensive bills like cable will help you keep on top of your utility payments.

If you live with roommates, make sure you talk about the importance of efficient utility usage, as one person’s carelessness can drive your payments through the roof!

17. Save Before You Spend (A.K.A. Pay Yourself First)

If you’re living on a college budget, one of the best habits you can adopt is saving money before you spend it.

In other words, whenever you get a paycheck, transfer the amount of money you’d like to save into your savings account before you spend a single dime. Then, live off the remaining amount.

This is known as the “pay yourself first” method, and it is the key to building wealth. Seriously, if you want to become a world-class saver, then this is a habit you need to adopt.

Want to get better at saving money? Give these a read:

18. Avoid Late Fees

When you’re living on a college budget, one of the worst things you can do is miss a payment. Whether it be a utility payment, rent, or anything else, late fees are almost sure to bust your budget.

The good news is that you can completely eliminate late fees by being organized.

Whether that means setting up automatic payments, setting reminders on your phone, or using a monthly checklist to make sure everything is paid on time, all it takes is a little bit of organization.

19. Sell Your Textbooks At The End Of Each Summer

Unless you’re motivated to stock a personal library to rival that of your university [and we wouldn’t recommend this], sell your books when you’re done with them.

Even better, make the most of sites like CampusBooks and rent the textbooks that you need for each semester.

As long as you return them on time, this can be an excellent way of saving yourself money. 

21 tips for living on a college budget | Be The Budget

20. Live With Your Parents

Although you might see college as the perfect opportunity to gain your independence, don’t rule out living with your parents for some or all of your studies.

If you attend a college that is close to your family home, and you have a great relationship with your folks, ask them if they’re happy to continue hosting you while you complete your studies.

You might not have to pay rent, utilities, and a whole host of other expenses that your fellow classmates will incur.

While this tip might seem a little ‘uncool,’ living with your parents can be a great way to save money when you’re living on a college budget.

21. Shop At Second-Hand Stores

Thrift shops and online marketplaces should be your first port of call when buying certain goods when you’re at college.

You can furnish your home, buy your books, and even clothe yourself by shopping at second-hand stores.

Seriously, you’d be amazed at how many deals you can find!

While you don’t have to do this forever, it’s an excellent way to cut your spending when you’re living on a tight college budget.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, these twenty-one tips for living on a college budget aren’t rocket science.

They just require some common sense and a little bit of planning.

Remember that budgeting and looking after your money is a skill, and just like other skills, you need to develop and hone them over time. 

As such, the more you practice budgeting and the more time you spend researching good ideas and discounts, the better you will become at managing your money.

Hopefully, this guide will help you save some money at college all while allowing you to have some fun and enjoy the college experience!

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.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
30-day Financial habit tracker bundle | Be The Budget

Download Our Free 30-Day Financial Habit Tracker Bundle

These easy-to-use habit trackers will help you stay accountable and motivated on your journey to financial success.