It’s no secret most college students are on a budget. Between paying for tuition, housing and other expenses, college can drain your wallet, leaving you looking for new ways to earn some extra cash.
The good news is there are actually many ways to save money while in college. From adding a side hustle, to making a few changes to your everyday routine, saving money in college is actually much easier than you think.
If you’re looking for quick ways to begin saving, check out these 10 tips to get started:
1. Buy Used Textbooks
Everyone knows college textbooks are expensive. And while there may be some advantages to buying new books, if you’re looking to save cash, this is an easy way to do it. The price difference between a used and new textbook could be more than $100 (or more), and if you do this across four years of school, this one move can save you thousands of dollars.
You can typically find used textbooks in your college bookstore, as well as from online retailers. In most cases, expect the books to be marked up, highlighted, or have tattered edges. To find even cheaper deals, talk to students who may have already taken your class and no longer need their materials.
2. Be Selective When Buying Food
Everyone has probably heard about the “ramen noodle diet.” And while you don’t have to only eat 25 cent noodles to save money in college, being cautious about where you eat and how much it costs, could save you a lot over the course of your college career.
It’s natural to want to eat out, but when you do, consider opting for budget-friendly restaurants, limiting how much you order, and not buying expensive drinks. By cutting out one drink, an appetizer and desert, you may be able to save around $20. Do this each time you eat out, and it’s possible to save hundreds each month.
For the times you decide to cook at home, make sure you plan affordable meals. If possible, figure out how much it costs to make each meal, and confirm that what you’re cooking is actually cheaper than what you’d pay at a restaurant. Remember to always save your leftovers and try to stretch what you make last for multiple meals.
3. Consider Off-campus Housing
Depending on where you go to school, housing may be one of the most expensive parts of paying for college. Though living in dorms and on-campus housing can have its advantages, it’s often much cheaper to live off-campus in your own housing. If you’re allowed to live off-campus (some colleges require students to live on-campus for a certain period of time), check out local real estate listings to see if there are apartments or houses that are cheaper than the dorms. To save even more money on housing, find an empty room for rent, or find several roommates you can share an apartment with. This can drastically reduce your costs, and save you hundreds or thousands each month on living expenses.
4. Cut Back on Expensive Drinks
You may not notice it, but it’s easy to spend $20 or more each day just on beverages. Whether you drink coffee, energy drinks, juice or even water, if you don’t pay attention you can easily rack up over $100 in weekly beverage costs. If possible, try to never buy drinks when out of the house. Bring a reusable water bottle when you leave home, and get a travel coffee mug so you can bring your coffee with you. You can also buy pre-packaged drinks in bulk from the supermarket or online, and take these with you. Even though it may be hard, doing this can help you save over $1,000 each year.
5. Always Plan Ahead Before Leaving Your Home
A lot of wasteful spending comes from forgetting things at home. Taking five minutes to make sure you have everything you need before leaving will save you from making expensive last-minute purchases. Try writing a list, or packing your bag the night before if you tend to forget things. Also don’t overlook small things, like chapstick, gum and your water bottle, as these little expenses can add up if you’re constantly replenishing because you forgot them at home.
6. Take Advantage of Campus Amenities and Entertainment
One thing is true about almost all colleges: There is always a free event happening on campus, whether sponsored by the university, student groups or external organizations. For students looking to cut back on the cost of entertainment and eating out, relying on free campus events can be a good way to save.
Instead of going to the movie theatre, you may be able to find an on-campus screening, which can save the $20-$40 you would have spent by going out. Similarly, free campus music or other performances can save you the cost of buying concert or show tickets.
Check campus newsletters, social media, posters and on-campus advertising to figure out what’s going on each week. Put these events in your calendar to stay on top of any entertainment you can take advantage of.
7. Look Into Your Banking Options
You may think your bank account is only good for holding your money—but the right one may actually be quite helpful. First, depending on where you bank, they may offer special student accounts featuring low or nonexistent monthly fees (these fees can add up over time). Second, choose a bank with a good mobile app, so you can deposit money on the go and check funds directly from your phone.
If you’re working on a tight budget, being able to check your account while out can prevent you from racking up overdraft fees (these fees can be upwards of $50 and may be charged multiple times until your account balance is replenished).
Finally, check to see if your bank offers peer-to-peer payments, either through Zelle, Venmo or instant transfers. This allows you to send and request money instantly with your friends, which can keep your budget on track if you split a bill.
8. Manage Your Credit Card Spending
Though it may seem counterintuitive, using a credit card can actually help you save money. Depending on the type of card you get, you can earn cash back or valuable reward points for purchases you would have made anyway.
Credit cards work just like debit cards; the only difference is when you use credit cards, you’re borrowing money from a lender. Since lenders charge interest (a fee based on how much you borrow) in order to save money using a credit card, you need to pay the balance in full each month.
Managing your credit card debt can be easy, just make sure you don’t use the card to buy things you can’t afford. That means if your monthly spending budget is $500, never put more than that on your credit card. At the end of each month, use the money from your checking account to pay off the balance on your credit card. If you do this consistently, you will not only benefit from the rewards you earn, but you’ll boost your credit score as well.
9. Become a Resident Assistant
A resident assistant, commonly known as an RA, is a student (typically a junior or senior) who works as a peer advisor/organizer for a floor or area in a dormitory. These positions are often paid, and sometimes may include free or discounted housing. In addition to their normal class load, an RA organizes student events, acts as a sounding board for the other students in the dorm, and helps enforce the college’s dormitory rules.
While being an RA is technically a job, it’s an easy way to reduce housing costs and possibly put some money in your pocket. In some cases, students have saved upwards of $10,000 on their annual tuition by being an RA. And since this position is offered by the college or university, the role should never interfere with your class schedule—giving you the flexibility to go to class and make money by working in your spare time. To find out more about becoming a RA, contact your school’s office of residential life to see how you can apply.
10. Apply for Scholarships
If you don’t think you’re eligible for a scholarship, you may be surprised at how many funding opportunities there are. Beyond the scholarships offered by your school, independent organizations often offer funding for students that meet certain criteria. Some of these scholarships are based on need, others on merit; and still others award funds to students in specific majors.
Finding a scholarship will take a lot of research and many applications. But the payoff could be worth it, especially if you’re relying only on student loans to pay your tuition, housing and other costs. To find scholarships you may be eligible for, start by thinking of local organizations in your hometown and see if any offer funding for local college students. You can also check out this list of over 2,000 scholarships organized by CollegeBoard.
Our Two Cents
It’s easy to spend without thinking while in college. But don’t forget, if you’re using student loans, you’ll eventually have to pay it all back. Even though being frugal in college isn’t glamorous, you’ll thank yourself later if you’re able to do it well.
Also remember that saving money while in college doesn’t mean the fun is over. On the contrary, if you’re able to save using one or two of the above techniques, you may have even more flexibility to do the things you really enjoy.