The Best Ways to Save Money During College

When people talk about things that cost the most money, college is one of the first examples on their mind. Universities are expensive, and even community colleges rack up costs eventually. College is so well-known for being way too expensive that it’s become a running joke that college kids are broke and surviving off noodle packets.

The reality of this isn’t very funny. College students need to save money just like everyone else, but it’s more of a struggle. There are costs and fees for everything now. It can lead students to feel like surrendering to the massive amounts of debt they’re going to accrue. The truth is that it is possible to put away some cash for the future even in college, if you analyze what you’re spending and how you spend it.

Be Smart About Your Textbooks

Every semester when classes start, you’re going to get a list of books required by each professor for their class. Depending on what classes you take, this list could be really pricey. Courses focused on reading may assign one book of short stories, while a science or math course could ask you to buy a textbook that requires an expensive online code to access the necessary website.

When it comes to those textbook codes, there’s not much you can do but pay the full price. They’re not reusable, so you’re not going to get one from a student who took the class last year. However, you can find cheaper versions of textbooks online. There are some great websites you can check to find discounts on your books. You should also consider buying the e-book version for a cheaper price and an easier return process.

Keep an Eye on Deadlines

Any institution, whether you go to a state school or community school, will have an office ready and waiting to help connect you with scholarships and other financial aid. The expense of college is no secret, so there are resources available to help you breathe a little easier next time you check your bank account. Contact your financial aid office and let them know you need help and you’re not sure how to get it. They’ll walk you through the necessary steps.

Only Buy Necessities

Outside of paying for classes and books, you’re going to have living expenses. That means food and gas, if you drive a vehicle. Another running joke with college students is that when you start school, you’re going to gain the “freshman 15.” You’ll want to pig out on pizza and beer, which only leads to quick weight gain and less money in your pocket.

Think about what you’re going to need to eat at school before it starts up again, or look at what you’re currently eating if you’re already enrolled. Focus on spending money on the necessities. Sandwich supplies, fruits and vegetables are a great and inexpensive place to start. Then make a list of what you don’t need to get all the time. Yes, that means booze.

Of the 17 million students in college, 8.5 million of them struggle with binge drinking. This can be because they’re peer pressured, or they like it and want to have fun. It’s not as fun for their wallets, though. Instead of spending your money on booze every weekend, pick a couple of nights out of the month to relax and have fun without drinking. You’ll still get to enjoy some off time without worrying about running out of food money for the month.

Look for Good Housing

Another area where college students pay a lot of cash is with their on-campus housing. Depending on what school you go to, you may end up paying more for housing than for tuition and books combined. To figure out which kind of housing is right for you, think through some easy steps to get a better idea of how much it’d cost to live off campus.

Think about things like combing rent, utilities and Wi-Fi, on top of any costs of public transportation or gas for your car. Then, add in the cost of a parking pass, if applicable. Is it cheaper than living on campus and walking to class? That all depends on what city you’re in. Take some time to go through this process for yourself to relieve a little more financial stress.

Don’t Buy Food on the Go

The college lifestyle is busy, stressful and constantly on the go. It’s tempting to eat convenient grab-and-go foods you can scarf down between classes, but that habit can really make a dent in your budget. Even something as simple as buying coffee every day can cost you $14 a week, which adds up to just over a grand a year.

Tomorrow, skip going to the coffee shop and get yourself a coffee machine, a toaster or a frozen box of egg muffins. Whatever you’re typically grabbing from a drive-through window on the way to class is what you should attempt to make for yourself. You’ll end up with more money to put in savings, and most likely a healthier version of whatever you would have bought before.

Saving money in college is hard. Like, really hard. Universities will charge you an arm and a leg for just about everything. Depending on which school you go to, you could be overcharged for simple things, but everyone can relate to feeling ripped off when buying your textbook at the campus bookstore or leaving that coffee shop feeling like your homework stress forced your hand.

When it comes to putting cash away for future use, you have to start by thinking small. Analyze where your money is going right now, and decide what expenses are absolute necessities. On required expenses, see if you can cut down how much you spend, and on those that aren’t, try to stop spending that money altogether. You’ll find your savings will begin to grow slowly, giving you more peace of mind about your current situation and any future ones you might end up in.


Anum Yoon started and maintains Current on Currency, where she shares her hard-earned insights on money management.

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