11 Ways to Save Money in College


We all know college is expensive. Here are a few approaches — from random to obvious, big scale to small scale — that my friends and I used to save on university tuition costs, housing, academics, food, and fun.

Reduce tuition costs through solid academic planning.

If you’re serious about saving money and are on track with credits, slash your tuition bills by graduating early. Or consider enrolling as a part-time student for a semester or two — it’s typically cheaper. Maybe you can apply your AP credits or take an extra course here or there to study part-time for a semester. Tuition models vary by institution, so check with your academic advisor to see what’s most effective for you.

Move off-campus or find work that includes room and board.

Housing is another area where creative thinking can save money. Keep an eye out for university jobs, such as resident assistant, that provide free housing. Investigate if it’s cheaper to live off-campus than to keep a meal plan and room in your residence hall. If you have a kitchen, cook group dinners with your housemates and share groceries. Use a group cost-tracking app like Splitwise to make sure all is fair.

Buy used textbooks — and sell them back.

Expensive new textbooks aren’t always necessary. Buy your books from friends who took a class before you. Take the summer to peruse Amazon, online textbook resellers, and used bookshops for those fall lit class reads. Plan ahead, beat the last-minute rush, and you should have no problem getting cheaper, used versions of most of the books you need.

Raid the end-of-year dorm furniture dumps.

If your university is anything like mine, the end of the academic year trash pile becomes a mini- Bed Bath & Beyond. Students discard still-usable sofas, shower caddies, shelves, tea kettles, rugs, picture frames, chairs, and other dorm staples in a haste to move out after finals. If you aren’t too proud and have decent storage options, take this time to nab a few new-to-you furniture pieces for your apartment next year. I certainly did. You’d be shocked at what good stuff people pitch.

Limit transportation costs.

Arrange a carpool or rideshare with someone to save on fuel costs for trips home. It might be cheaper than a flight or bus. If you do fly home, book tickets early to lock in deals. Or consider staying on campus during a break — I found it peaceful to stroll the empty grounds and have a staycation while picking up extra work hours.

Invest in high-quality materials for your major.

If you’re going need specific, expensive things like a good calculator, or a fast laptop for your graphic design major, or good headphones for your music production degree, invest in quality products, once, your freshman year. Don’t skimp and then have to purchase an upgrade midway through your studies.

Use student discounts.

Student discounts abound! Netflix, Spotify Premium, the public bus, the movie theater, the art museum — if it’s a business students use, there’s probably a student discount. (Use it while you’re actually a student and not a washed-up alumni like me hoping that the cashier doesn’t notice how my college ID says I already graduated!)

Only spend on fun things that are truly fun for you.

College brings a myriad of new opportunities and, therefore, places for your money to go. You don’t need to say yes to every little thing that comes your way. Make sure you are investing only in experiences you want to have. Do you really want to rush a sorority? Pay dues to join the climbing club? Meet that guy for dinner? Go on a field trip with your art history class? Attend that show all your friends are going to but you don’t really care about? You can still be open to fun opportunities without having to do it all. You can still be social while limiting your outings eating meals on the town.

Go cash-only on nights out.

If you like to party, this one’s for you. Purchases made while drinking have a way of sneaking up on you in college. It’s old-school, yes, but if you just bring cash on nights out, you’ll save yourself the drunken splurge. When your money is gone, it’s gone.

Don’t just save money, make money.

Finally, flip the idea of saving on its head. What if your time is better spent earning money than cutting back? Say it costs $4 to take the bus to campus but you save 45 minutes of walking. You could take the bus every day but use the time you save to complete a freelance writing job that pays $20 an hour. Think of the skills you have that can give you some cashflow here and there: haircutting, making jewelry and selling it to your hallmates, face-painting students before game day.

Be patient.

Saving money takes time — especially with the expenses of college. Be patient as you wait to reach your saving goals. You’ll thank yourself when you have more financial freedom to treat yourself to things you love, like an epic spring break vacation! Or, even better, less student loan debt after graduating.


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