How to Save Money in College
College can be a difficult time for young adults. You’re handling a lot of responsibilities — academic, social and personal — for the first time, as well as thinking about how you’re going to pay off expenses related to your education. According to a study conducted by Ohio State University, seven out of 10 college students feel stressed about their personal finances, and money-related anxieties put them at a greater risk of dropping out of school. While it can be a great idea to get a part-time job in college, making money with a full-time course load can be a challenge, and it doesn’t mean much without smarter spending habits. Here, we’ll let you in on our top tips for how to save money in college.
1. Manage Your Budget
The first step to reducing your expenses and increasing your savings is creating a budget. Start by writing down what you both make (or have in savings) and spend currently every week and month. Don’t focus on creating a budget for the future just yet; this is an informational exercise to get you thinking about your finances in the present.
Once you have your current budget written down, start making strategic decisions about how you can lower your expenses. What can you cut out altogether? Are there free (or cheaper) alternatives to your most frequent purchases? Can you buy cleaning supplies in bulk from Costco, start a family plan with your friends to lower your monthly phone bill or share a streaming service subscription with your roommate? Services like Truebill and Mint can connect with your bank account to let you know your recurring bills and subscriptions and help you manage your spending by showing you detailed income vs. expense reports on a monthly basis.
The most important thing about a budget is that you are able to access it on the go. Put it in your phone for quick reference. Budget decisions are made in fast moments — for instance, when you’re at the grocery store, or out walking and feeling like a snack.
Budget Hack for Compulsive Spenders: If you’re having a hard time scaling back on spontaneous purchases, make a virtual debit card with Privacy that you can load with a set amount of money so you can control online spending. You can also start a separate checking account that you load a set amount onto every week or month that you take out with you when you’re with friends so you don’t overspend.
2. Spend Less on the Unessentials
Spending less isn’t only to help you pay off any potential debt more quickly or have a rainy day stash, though both are important. If you’re planning on taking advantage of your school’s study abroad program or thinking about moving cities after college, you’ll need to plan ahead to build up a fund so you don’t charge everything to your credit card. Here are some ways to cut back on your costs in college:
- Shop at stores that offer a student discount.
- If your family lives locally, see if you can take the bus or carpool instead of flying. (If flying is your only option, set up flight monitoring so you can get in on the best deals and flash sales.)
- Buy things secondhand, or wait for holiday discounts.
- Sell your textbooks once you’re done.
- Explore your campus’s free events and resources (whether it’s the printer, a movie night, guest speakers, cookouts, the library, free career counseling or more).
3. Take Care of Your Living Space
Housing — whether it’s a dorm or an off-campus apartment — often comes with hefty security deposits or damage fees that can take a chunk out of your savings if you scuff up the walls and floors, chip a window, stain the carpet or break the blinds. To ensure that you’re not losing money needlessly, take good care of your living space and find roommates who are tidy. Though it’s a great idea to personalize your apartment, opt for Command hooks where possible to avoid nailing holes into the wall. And if an accident does happen, see if you can DIY the repairs (especially if it involves a stain or scuff) as soon as possible.
Pro Tip: Apartment leases, even in college towns, tend to span the entire year (not just the nine-month school year). See if your landlord can offer a nine-month lease, if you have plans to return home for the summers. If not, make sure you start searching for (and interviewing) potential sublets early on.
4. Cut Down on Travel Costs
The balance between living cheaply and living close to campus can be difficult to manage. Due to the demand for living space, housing closer to your campus may end up costing more in the long run. That said, when you’re considering those costs, remember that expenses such as gas, vehicle maintenance, parking and even bus passes can significantly drain your finances. Check to see if your school offers parking passes (and how much they cost) as well as any public transit discounts or free shuttles. It may ultimately be cheaper to pay a little more for housing within walking or cycling distance of campus.
5. Buy Used Textbooks
Textbooks are an unavoidable expense, but buying new textbooks can often double or even triple the amount you’re spending. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to shell out for bookstore prices to get ahold of the study materials you need. Not all courses update their textbooks every year, and even if they do, the changes are often minor. Talk to a professor and see if you can get by with an older edition.
Students going into a new school year often sell the previous year’s textbooks at a discount in order to make some extra money. Used textbooks can also often be found in used bookstores around colleges or through online vendors, so it’s a good idea to check around for the best options.
6. Plan Your Meals
Campus meal plans are convenient and time-efficient — after all, there’s unlimited food in the dining halls, and you don’t even have to do the dishes. That said, full meal plans can be expensive, and if you’re not big on meals like breakfast or lunch, you may be paying top dollar for something as simple as a bowl of cereal or a sandwich.
While getting to the grocery store might not be easy depending on where you live during the school year, consider preparing a third or even half of your meals and downgrading your meal plan. In addition to fruits, cereal, yogurt and other breakfast items that are often on sale, you can plan out homemade lunches and dinners by buying sandwich ingredients and storing them in your dorm-room mini fridge.
If you already live in your own apartment and are making all your meals from scratch, look up healthy recipes with cheap ingredients like rice, vegetables and whatever meat happens to be on sale. You can often check a store’s sales online and build a recipe with reasonably priced ingredients before you go shopping.