Young man looking at a laptop researching how to save money in college

College Success

45 Easy Ways To Save Money In College

05.05.2022 • 14 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

Here’s an overview on saving money in college, why it is important, and 45 easy ways to do it.

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In This Article

  1. Why Is It Important To Save Money as a College Student?

  2. 5 Ways To Save Using a College Budget

  3. 10 Ways To Save on Educational Expenses

  4. 5 Ways To Save on Living Expenses

  5. 5 Ways To Save While Having Fun

  6. 10 Ways To Earn and Save Extra Money While in School

  7. 5 Ways To Save Money Through Purchases

  8. 5 Ways To Save Before Starting College

  9. How Much Money Should You Save for College?

Money is probably the most difficult thing to figure out how to manage in college.

With so much else to manage—class schedule, social relationships, assigned readings—it’s no wonder that many college students graduate with a mountain of student loan debt.

This doesn’t need to be the case though. Knowing how to save money in college can help you avoid this.

Many college students have managed to create a budget that relieves a lot of the financial stress that comes with being in school. In the same way that students need to commit to their study strategies in college, committing to a budget requires some planning and discipline.

You could figure out how to work full-time and go to school full-time, but learning how to manage your money will get you far no matter what you choose to do for work.

By learning the art of personal finance, you develop a skill that you can take with you throughout your life. This skill will give you confidence in making decisions and alleviate perhaps the largest source of stress among adults today.

Why Is It Important To Save Money as a College Student?

As a college student, you are taking the initiative to learn about a field that you are strongly interested in. The hope is that once you are done, you will ‌find a good job that makes all the energy, time, and money that you put into college worth it.

When it comes to paying for school, you may be opting to just take out loans and pay them back after graduation.

Well, as it turns out, it really is not that simple. In reality, tens of millions of Americans have current college debt that they are eager to pay off. This debt is gaining interest constantly and leading many Americans to take decades to pay it off.

The problem is that after graduation a lot of things happen. People get good jobs, of course, but they also get married, buy houses, and fill those houses with a lot of stuff and a family.

This leads many people to put their low-interest rate college debt further down on the priority list. And there it sits, accruing interest for years.

Let’s be clear that student loans are a great thing. They enable people from all walks of life to have access to quality education and pursue a career that interests them.

Filling out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) provides students with low-interest loans and helps them find grant opportunities for free money to help pay for their college education. This should be the first step for any prospective student.

By figuring out how to save money in college, you are reducing the number of loans you have to take out to pay for it. Allowing you to graduate with less debt and live more freely for the rest of your life.

Any amount of money saved is worth that.

Remember, anything you save now you will not have to pay back, with interest, later.

We broke down this list of ways to save money based on several areas:

  • College budget

  • Educational expenses

  • Living expenses

  • Extracurricular expenses

  • Extra income

  • Purchases

  • Before school ideas

5 Ways To Save Using a College Budget

1. Make a List of Monthly Expenses

Putting all of your expenses into a spreadsheet is not a lot of work, but it may seem like it sometimes. Make sure to take the time to put them in there.

You can start this by documenting what you spent money on last month. Sit down and write out everything; yes, everything. Create categories for each of your expenses—school costs, food, fun, transportation, clothing, etc.—and add them up.

One way to manage your money is using the Intuit Mint app. It consolidates all your spending and financial accounts by importing your account data. With personalized insights, spend tracking, and customization options, you can reach your saving and budget goals easily and learn money-saving skills that will last far beyond college.

It’s true that most people don’t do this, and that’s why most people struggle with money. Be willing to reevaluate your budget when needed and be honest with yourself.

2. Reduce Costs Where You Can

Look at the list of costs that you made. Think to yourself, Where can I reduce? If there are things you are spending money on that you regret, just cross them off.

For those annual expenses, divide the total by 12 so you know what it costs you per month. You want to break down your costs to the most accurate amount.

3. Set Up Realistic Spending Goals

Make a spreadsheet in Google Sheets or Excel with each of your expense categories as columns. Put a realistic amount of money to spend on each of your categories at the bottom of the column. Then set up a simple addition formula that will calculate the expenses you put into the spreadsheet.

4. Create an Emergency Account

Open up a student checking account and put $1,000 in it. Leave this extra money there for when something goes wrong and you need the cash. Let’s say your car breaks down or you break your leg. There is money there to pay a deductible or get you out of a jam. Don’t touch it and replenish it if you spend it.

5. Adopt an Envelope System

Still having trouble with excessive spending? An envelope system may be an effective solution. This money management tactic has been around for decades. It’s a way to track how much money you have in each category of your monthly budget by keeping cash in separate, labeled envelopes. Once you have spent all the cash for an envelope, it’s gone until the next month. The idea is that you feel the drawback of spending more with a cash system than when using a debit or credit card. In other words, it’s a lot harder to hand over tangible, green cash than pay using an invisible digital transaction.

10 Ways To Save on Educational Expenses

Go through the strategies below and think about which to take on. Try a few out and keep coming back. Saving money in college is a delicate dance of school, work, and social life. You need to figure out what financial goal will work for you and your well-being.

1. Apply for Grants

Grants are a great way to get free money to pay for your college expenses. Since most grants are needs-based and awarded by the government, you can apply for thousands of dollars just by filling out the FAFSA each year.

2. Apply for Scholarships

There are many organizations, institutions, and private entities that award scholarships each year. This is free financial aid that you can use for any expense and your college has a designated office to help students access this money.

3. Get an On-Campus Job

Many students think of work-study opportunities based on financial need as the only college jobs. This is not true. There are many on-campus jobs that offer a flexible schedule to students.

4. Become a TA Within a Department

Many on-campus departments hire TAs (teaching assistants) to help with departmental tasks like answering the phone and responding to emails. TAs also provide support for teachers in a variety of capacities. These positions usually lead to great references after college as well and sometimes come with tuition assistance.

5. Take Classes Online

With the access to education online now, there are many options to work toward the degree you want. With programs like Outlier’s College Certificates, you can have a semester of college courses completed before stepping foot on campus. This saves you both money and time.

6. Buy Used Books or Rent Books

Buying used books or renting books through programs like Amazon Prime can save you hundreds of dollars per semester compared to the campus bookstore. Think of the annotations and highlighting as a way to save you time as well.

7. Use Your Student Discount

From cell phone plans to streaming services, many companies offer student discounts. You’d be surprised what you could save money on by just asking and having your student ID handy.

8. Use Free Software

Most schools offer their students all the software programs they need as a part of school fees. Take advantage of this and get off that annual bill cycle.

9. Utilize the Library

The school library has many resources for students—books, magazines, movies, video games, copy machines, printers, scanners, etc. Make good use of these free resources.

10. Commit to Your Classes

No matter what you have on your plate, make sure to put your schoolwork first. Having to retake classes is a huge time suck and will cost you a lot more money.

5 Ways To Save on Living Expenses

1. Live on Campus

As exciting as it is to live off campus with roommates you choose, the perks of living on campus are unlimited. This cuts transportation costs down, gives you access to many resources and activities, and campus housing usually includes internet, utilities, and a meal plan.

2. Use the Campus Gym

Not only is the campus gym a great way to meet people, but it also has everything you need. Don’t waste money paying for yoga classes or a gym membership, utilize the resources you’re already paying for.

3. Cook Dinner With Friends

Invite friends over to share a meal instead of going out to eat. You can cook it together or have a potluck-style meal. Make it a regular occasion and switch locations, you’ll look forward to it each week.

4. Get a Bike and Ride It

Of course, having a bike is key to a college lifestyle. It’s low-cost and gets you to exercise while you travel to class or to work. Take a free bike maintenance class at the local bike shop so that you can keep your wheels turning.

5. Study at Different Places on Campus

Instead of going to a coffee shop to study, try taking advantage of all the great study spaces on your college campus. Move around and mix it up. By changing locations, it will always seem like a new experience.

5 Ways To Save While Having Fun

1. Take Advantage of Happy Hour

Many great restaurants offer tremendous deals on food and drinks during happy hour. This is the perfect time to meet friends and enjoy going out on a tighter budget.

2. Create an Outdoor Hobby

Spending time outside is a great way to enhance well-being and a free alternative to many costly activities. Taking up hiking, running, biking, birding, rowing, paddle boarding, or any other nature-based sport, you are guaranteed to feel better while saving money.

3. Meet Up With Friends Outside

It’s a bonus if you can add some good conversation with people you enjoy while doing your favorite outdoor activity.

4. Keep Track of Free Community Events

Many communities have an events calendar online that tells people about free events that may be of interest to you. Put something new on your calendar and give it a shot.

5. Volunteer With a Local Organization

Volunteering is a great way to build community, help others, and gain some new skills. Some organizations compensate with meals, lodging or even cash. An added bonus is that volunteering can build your network and your resume after graduating.

10 Ways To Earn and Save Extra Money While in School

Even though you’re a student, you can still get a job while in college. Here are several ideas.

1. Get a Job in the Library

The school library is an amazing place to work for college students. You can cater your schedule to work for you and help others with a variety of tasks while at work. With many resources and core faculty accessible to you, this job is sure to help build connections for future employment.

2. Make Tips

Working at a coffee shop or in a restaurant as a part-time job will keep you moving and social. These are jobs where the harder you work the more you get paid. Allowing you to put money aside for future expenses as well.

3. Substitute Teaching in the Schools

Schools are desperate for dependable and responsible help while teachers are out. Many schools have an online database and apps for substitute teachers to sign up for the classes and days they want to work. This gives you a lot of flexibility.

4. Work During the Summer

Summer jobs, both at your school and for private companies, are available in a variety of capacities. The convenient part about summer employment is you can work a lot and save up money. This ensures you start the school year with enough money in your account to get the things you need.

5. Get a Job at the Bookstore

Working at a bookstore can give you tons of discounts on things that you need to buy already like school supplies. This way you can reduce the amount of money coming out of your account while putting money in.

6. Become an Online Tutor

There are many online companies out there that hire students to work with other students. By signing up and making a profile, you can work the hours that you’re available and make a difference in the lives of others.

7. Freelance Writing

Knowing how to write can make for a great side hustle. By freelance writing, you are choosing the work you want to do in a timeframe that is convenient for you. For example, you can do content writing, such as writing social media posts or articles for company blogs. Also, if you’re good at persuasive writing, you can possibly become a copywriter writing ads and sales copy. Pick the topics that interest you and make money writing between going to classes.

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8. Teach English Online

With our connected world today, there are hundreds of companies looking to hire native English speakers to have conversations with students around the world. You can work for as little as 2 hours per day and no license or credential is needed.

9. Deliver or Drive

Working in your spare time as a driver is a great way to earn some side cash. You can do this work on your own and make tips while you do it.

10. Blog

Think about the hobbies and interests that you have that set you apart from others. Write about them! There is a whole world of people who are looking to learn something new. By creating a high-traffic website, you will earn passive income through affiliate programs and advertising.

5 Ways To Save Money Through Purchases

1. Get Renter’s Insurance

Over 34% of on-campus crimes consisted of burglaries. If you live on-campus, or even off campus, renter’s insurance is a hidden gem to take advantage of, especially if your parent’s homeowners insurance policy doesn’t cover your possessions. For less than $200 a year, you can insure all your stuff. Imagine having your bike stolen from a bike rack outside, renter’s insurance will cover it.

2. Earn Points With a Credit Card

Having credit cards can be dangerous for many impulsive people, but if you budget your spending habits, you can make money with one. Many cards allow you to build up points for each of your purchases.

If you pay your bills with a credit card each month, you may have enough money in points to go out to a nice dinner with a friend for free.

3. Earn Points and Save at a Grocery Store

Earning customer rewards at a grocery store has several advantages. You can easily sign up and use your customer number to save on items and earn points. When you shop, keep an eye out online or in the store’s magazine for deals and BOGO (Buy One Get One Free) items. This is a great way to save and stock up on your favorite items. Some stores also offer fuel points that turn into saving on the gallon.

4. Pay Your Credit Card Off Each Month

Credit cards can be a huge asset, but you have to pay them off each month. Don’t let them start to accrue interest and then be an extra bill you have to pay. This will only lower your credit score and make things harder for you in the future.

5. Buy Used

This works for more than just textbooks. Buying used clothes, furniture, skis, etc. on sites like Facebook Marketplace will save you tons over new name brand stuff. Turn it into a game when you need something by trying to get the best deal you can.

5 Ways To Save Before Starting College

Whether you’re a high school student or an adult going back to school, there are ways to save up your money before starting college.

1. Earn Job Income

If you don’t work already, you can look to find a part-time job or even work full time. For high schoolers, working a full-time summer job while you are still living at your parents’ house is a great way to save money for college. Put the money that you make away until you go to college. Then you can figure out a budget for how you should spend it when you get there.

2. Volunteer

There are many organizations out there doing good things. Some even offer paid volunteering opportunities where they compensate you with meals or cash. Take the time to help a few out when you can. By doing this in high school, you are also building professional references and gaining valuable experience for scholarship applications.

3. Take AP, Community College, and/or Online Courses

For Working Adults

If you’re an adult already working and planning to attend college soon, check to see if your company helps employees pay for classes. This can help cover the cost of initial coursework, and you may want to take these financially-covered courses beforehand. One example of an employee program is Amazon’s Career Choice program in which Outlier provides Amazon employees access to for-credit higher education.

For High Schoolers

The more classes you take for college credit in high school, the less you will have to pay for your college degree. Usually, these courses are extremely cheap or even free in some cases. For example, Outlier partnered with Digital Ready to offer College Algebra, Precalculus, and Calculus I courses at no cost to high schoolers in Boston Public Schools. They can earn up to 9 college credits from the University of Pittsburgh, helping to make college more accessible and affordable.

4. Use a Roth IRA

After making money at that summer job or saving graduation money, put it in a Roth IRA savings account. These accounts gain interest (free money) for you with no risk and allow you to take out money without penalty for educational costs when you need it.

5. Network

Talk to professionals who do jobs you may be interested in doing. Find out how they got their start. If you know what the job is like before going to college, you will know if it is a good fit for you. This saves you the time and money from changing majors or getting multiple degrees.

How Much Money Should You Save for College?

It would be great if there was some magic formula to figure out what college costs, but there isn’t. The truth is that it’s hard to figure out, and there always seems to be extra expenses.

Having a good budget for college students that works for you is by far the most important part.

Take the time to sit down and really go through your expenses so you know what your costs are each month. This way you will know what to be prepared for.

Use caution and discretion, don’t work too much, and make time for the things that are truly life-giving for you. Practicing good self-care will get you farther than anything else and help you be more productive as a result.

In the end, college is an investment in your future. While it’s great to cut your college costs and reduce your student loans quickly, you also can move forward with confidence knowing that you’re headed toward a bright future doing what you want to do. Enjoy it.

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