25 Money Saving Tips for College Students
Every college student needs money saving tips when they get out on their own. After all, for many, this is the first time in their lives that they are faced with making major monetary decisions. Unfortunately, there is too much inconsistency in the public school system with regards to financial literacy. While we cannot teach you everything that you need to know in the space of a blog post, we can give you several money saving tips to ensure that you are not falling behind and getting yourself into a financial hole you can’t get out of. In that spirit, here are the 25 Money Saving Tips Every College Student Should Learn. Let’s get started!
1. Don’t miss free student lunches.
Almost every college campus is filled with outside groups and organizations vying for your attention. Many times these take the form of campus church groups and their free lunch offerings. Talk about a wonderful time to get a home-cooked meal with little pressure!
While the non-religious among you may feel guilty taking advantage of free student lunches, rest assured that most people participating know they aren’t going to change anyone’s mind, and they are simply doing it as a service to students. Don’t fee badly about going with a friend and just talking to people.
Besides if you ever do feel pressured by one of these organizations to up the ante in a way that you feel uncomfortable with, you always have the option of going someplace else or grabbing a meal from the cafeteria.
2. Take advantage of free movie nights.
One of the first things you’ll notice as a cash-strapped college student is how difficult that it is paying $10 or more for a movie ticket along with another $10 to $15 for a single snack combo. While the movies may have been your favorite activity in high school, they become much more difficult to navigate financially when you have mounting student loans and massive textbook costs to deal with.
Therefore, keep your eyes peeled for free movie night opportunities. Many times student governing organizations will negotiate dates with local cineplexes, so if you’re hurting for money, talk to people in-the-know and mark the dates on your calendar.
3. Eat at the cafeteria more.
One of the hardest things to do for on-campus residents is to eat every meal in the school’s cafeteria. Believe us, we get it. The food is seldom up to par, and it can be tempting from both a culinary and social perspective to cut out and grab something from a Subway or other restaurant nearby.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.
You’re already paying for the cafeteria plans through your room and board whether you use the cafeteria or not. Every time you go out to eat, it’s like you’re doubling the cost of your meal. And a $7 to $10 meal every day can add up over the course of a semester!
4. Attend community college.
Here at 4Tests, we’re big proponents of doing your first two years at a community college. This helps in a number of ways. Right up front, there’s the cost. Many states have been kicking around the idea of free community college offered either at the campus itself or through programs available concurrently to high school students. But whether you have to pay anything or not, tuition rates are generally much cheaper than what you’ll find at a public four-year university and much, much cheaper if you plan on going out of state.
Another way that community college saves you money is that it causes you to focus on just the general education requirements, providing the opportunity to really consider what you want your major to be. Students who take the community college path generally switch majors much less frequently than those that jump into a four-year institution immediately. The less you switch majors, the less time you spend in school. The less time you spend, the less you pay.
5. Live at home if possible.
The College Board (hat tip CollegeData) reports that the average cost of room and board in 2015–2016 ranged from $10,138 at four-year public schools to $11,516 at private schools. Now obviously your ability to forgo that cost by staying at home will depend on your family structure, but even if you have to start paying for your own groceries, that’s around $3,600 per year—a mere fraction of what the data shows. And many of you may have parents that are willing and able to foot the bill without asking for anything in return. In that case, you’ve saved anywhere from $40,000-$46,000 over the course of the four years it will take you to earn that degree.
6. Create a budget.
There’s nothing fun about the idea of creating a budget, but you’ll be so glad you did if you simply take that step and run some numbers. It’s a financial literacy skill you will need later in life when the revenues and expenses start piling up and coming from different directions, so you might as well start now while things make sense.
Your income at this point will likely include any financial aid/awards that you received as well as a part-time job and (maybe) what Mom and Dad give you for ongoing spending money. Your expenses will include tuition, the cost of books, room and board if applicable (groceries and rent if not). If you live off-campus, you’ll have to throw in electric and/or gas. You may also want to add costs for streaming providers and/or cable packages so that you spend less money going to the movies.
Just make sure the expense side is lower than the revenue side, and you’ll be okay.
7. Stay away from credit cards.
Never buy basic necessities on a credit card. Try to pay cash for everything. If you must use a credit card, make sure you can pay it off by the end of the month. Credit cards are bad deals for college students because you don’t have previous credit to ensure a good interest rate, and you’ve likely had limited financial literacy training. Therefore, it becomes easy to just “put it on the card” and pay later. Meanwhile, those interest rates are adding up and creating a vicious cycle of debt accumulation that can haunt you long after you get out of college. If you must have a card, stick with just one.
8. Choose reasonable forms of entertainment.
Again, if you’re paying for Hulu and Netflix, then use them. If television and movies aren’t that important to you, then ditch the expenses and use your fun money on whatever it is that interests you. What you don’t want to get into is a situation where you’re creating expenses just because. This is the time to really care about what you are spending your money on. Everything else must go. Just make sure your tastes don’t include ziplining/skydiving every weekend and (for the over-21 crowd) massive amounts of alcohol or trips to the pub. Both get expensive in a hurry!
9. Know what you owe.
One of the dangers in financial aid—particularly loans—is that you tend to zone out once you’re certain the semester is paid for. Tuition, fees, room and board, textbooks and other miscellaneous expenses—know what you’re paying for each and every one of these items. Do not wait until you’re graduated to add up the till or you will miss opportunities to control costs in the present.
10. Flash that student discount card every chance you get.
Many colleges and universities work out deals with area businesses (i.e. restaurants, retailers, entertainment attractions, etc.) to offer student discounts with the display of a student ID. You won’t need much prodding to take advantage of these opportunities, we know, but this site would be remiss if we didn’t emphasize the use of such programs. It can often result in discounts of 10 to 20 percent off everything you buy. If you’re spending $100 a month out, that’s an extra $10 to $20 of “walking-around” money (or three to six Starbucks a month).
11. Get a part-time job.
Yes, working for minimum wage stinks, but a number of states have either raised those wages or are in the process of doing so, and many companies start you out higher than the minimums anyway. This may seem counterproductive to the recommendation that you get a job, but one of the best ways to find something that pays and gets you a leg up in your career is to start volunteering for companies or organizations that are in your field of expertise. While the money may not be there at first, it can lead to paid opportunities before you know it. Just make sure that you can fit it into your schedule and that the powers that be understand what your end goal is—”to be of service in any way that I can.”
It never hurts to do your job without complaints while dropping hints that you have a part-time job as well to help you make ends meet.
12. Buy used.
When we were in college, stores like Goodwill and Savers were godsends for books, clothing, and other miscellaneous items. Sometimes we went out of necessity; others we went for fun. There was always something interesting brewing. We also loved the occasional yard sale as well as seller sites like iOffer, eBay, and, to some degree, Amazon. You can generally tell if whatever your buying is acceptable, and if it’s acceptable to you, then it probably will be to others, so don’t sweat the “used” stigma.
13. Start a money-saving blog documenting your personal experiences.
If you feel like the stigma hasn’t vanished surrounding used and refurbished items, then make sport of it by starting a money-saving blog and documenting your personal experiences for classmates. Many times if you do things like penny-pinch with a sense of purpose, then people don’t think about the monetary necessity aspects of your motivation. As a result, you end up in “guru” territory instead of “poor college student.”
Plus, the act of starting a blog with a clear focus will come in handy later in life as you start a business or participate in the communicative aspects of a future employer.
14. Sell back your textbooks.
This is money saving tips for college students 101. They are already charging you more than should be legally allowed for textbooks, so anything you can do to defray some of those costs is essential. The good thing about selling back your textbooks at the end of a course is that you’ve already made peace with the expenditure, so getting money back—any money back—can sort of feel like found money. If you can afford the breathing room, treat it as such. If you can’t, fight the urge and put it toward something else that may be causing you a financial hardship.
15. Wait to rent/buy your textbooks.
The Internet has made it easier to source textbooks for your classes from cheaper places than your campus bookstore, and the world’s a better place for it. What’s been going on for several decades is downright criminal, so any chance that you have to rent or buy your textbooks cheaper online is a chance you should take. Also consider buying a previous edition of your class’s current textbook if you can swing it. Many professors are understanding of this scenario because they’ve been in your position, so whenever you can make it work, do so. But don’t do it at the sacrifice of your grades.
16. Share as many textbooks as you can.
If buying/renting used or grabbing an outdated edition isn’t possible, then partner with a classmate to share as many textbooks as you can. For those pristine $250 new editions, this is a vital money saving tip because as long as you can trust your partner, you can forgo the massive blow to your account and maybe even get a solid study buddy in the process.
17. Avoid getting a car.
Cars are tempting and for some students they’re necessary, but they also add another expense. While you probably won’t pay as much in insurance if you’re still getting by on Mom and Dad’s policy, some of you may be forced to get your own policy, and in that case, you can expect the costs to go up a great deal. By nixing the car, you can eliminate things like gas, car payments, and auto insurance.
If you aren’t confident enough in your public transit system to strictly utilize it in place of a car, then start tracking how much you’re driving. It could be possible to reduce costs by borrowing a friend’s car in exchange for gas money or by renting a car whenever there is no other option. Be careful in both cases, though. You don’t want to be going against the terms of your friend’s insurance policy, and if you have need of a car too often, then renting one may not be cost conducive.
(Also, and this is one that didn’t exist when we were around, consider using Uber for those necessary times.)
18. Pay any bills that you have on time.
Missing your due dates can create a cycle of falling behind that results in more service charges and late fees, thus further sinking your budget. While we’ve all been in that place before where there simply wasn’t money in the account to cover an expense, most of the time missed due dates are the result of sheer forgetfulness. Don’t let it happen to you. With all the smart devices we have at our disposal to help us keep up with stuff, there really is no excuse to miss a due date. If you’re not confident in your own tracking abilities, consider setting up a bill payment arrangement with your bank.
19. Have a roommate if living off campus.
In places like California, the monthly cost of a small apartment is often 80 to 90 percent of a person’s income. In other areas of the country, costs are more controlled. However, in either case, you can save yourself a lot of money (and trouble) by taking in a roommate or two. Just make sure you vet the person well before doing so, and set the ground rules for getting along.
Most of your potential roommates just want to have some peace and quiet as well, so it helps to open up a dialogue with the person before bringing them in to any agreements. Make sure your personal chemistry is compatible as well.
20. Track your consumption and pay only for what you use.
You would be surprised by how much money you can save just by paying better attention to the things that you eat or watch/read for entertainment. Cable is a great example of this. When we realized that between basic cable services, streaming providers and the necessary Internet connection to run all of it, we were paying $150 per month, it became easier to hone in on the things that we used and the things we didn’t. While the $60 Internet bill was a must-have, the $20 basic cable package was not, nor was the Netflix Instant we only watched for a couple of shows per year.
Adopting a pay-as-you-go mindset for stuff like that can shave significant amounts of money off your yearly entertainment costs. The same logic and principles can be applied to your grocery and other bills as well.
21. Find alternatives to expensive spring breaks and summer trips.
Yes, it can suck when all your friends, whose parents pay for everything, go off for a spring break or summer vacation trip to somewhere exotic, but if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. (And no, just putting it on your credit card is not affording it.)
To avoid the boredom that often comes with missing out on big trips, consider volunteering for something you’re passionate about or taking on more hours (and earning more money) at your part-time job.
22. Avoid the $3 Starbucks.
Yes, Starbucks is delicious. But for every basic black coffee that you’re buying, there goes $2 to $3. (Depending on if you’re a tipper or not.) Over the course of a month, that coffee alone can add up to anywhere from $60 to $90. How thin are your margins? Would you notice an extra $60 or $90 at this point if someone gave it to you? Well, there’s good news. Just making coffee yourself will allow you to deed that money to yourself.
23. Look into becoming a RA.
By RA, we are referring to “resident assistant.” This is also often referred to as a dorm babysitter, and while the work isn’t the most glamorous and you can start to be seen as the “bad guy,” it’s easier than swinging a hammer or tearing shingles off the roof of a house in the middle of summer. Beyond RA work, your college may also offer other work-study jobs to give you a little extra money throughout the semester. Check with your college or university’s financial aid office to see what is available and how much it pays.
24. Buy generic.
This addition to our money saving tips for college students is a bit of an extension to the “Buy used” recommendation. You will primarily be utilizing this tactic in your trips to the grocery store. Seek out the “store” brands, which are usually just the same product licensed from the overstock of a major company. If the generic brand names aren’t immediately obvious to you—Rainbow, Save, etc.—look for descriptive text such as “Compare to Tylenol.” Same thing, different label.
25. Attend class.
Attending class is probably the most important way that you can save money and earn money. That’s because it keeps you from having to retake classes and it also helps to ensure you don’t waste two years of your life with a major that you end up hating. While there is a temptation to think, “I’m paying for this, I don’t have to go if I don’t want to,” don’t fall into that mindset. You’re right. You are paying for it, and that’s exactly why you should go—so you don’t have to keep on paying for it both now and years down the road.
We hope that you’ve found these money saving tips for college students useful, and we also want to invite you to participate by sharing some tips of your own in the comments section. The fall semester will be here before you know it, so it’s time to start pinching those pennies!
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