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13 Money Saving Tips for College Students

Stressed about budgeting in college? Here are 13 tips on how to save money as a college student.

Apr 11, 2024
  • Student Tips
13 money saving tips for college students

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2021, 87% of full-time, first-year students received financial aid. So naturally, many college students often fall into the same predicament: "How do I save money in college while still getting the most out of my college experience?"

In this article, we’ll offer you 13 tips to save money in college to make your college years stress-free.

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How much does college actually cost?

Many students get confused by how much college is going to cost. This is because college and university tuition prices can vary on many factors like room and board, meal plans, and grants/scholarships. Let’s review some key terms you should know the difference between when referring to the cost of college.

Cost of attendance (CoA): The CoA refers to the aggregate cost of college. This includes tuition, board, transportation, books, personal expenses, etc. You may hear people refer to the CoA as a college’s “sticker price.” This is the price a student who doesn’t have any financial aid should expect to pay.

Net price: the net price of a college is defined as the cost of attendance - (grants and scholarships). This is the number you should pay attention to when budgeting and trying to save money as a college student.

Note: If you are applying to public schools, be sure you are looking at the correct tuition rate depending on if you are applying in-state or out-of-state.

3 tips to save money before college

If you already know that college will be a big expense for you, why not start saving early? Save some stress by getting a jumpstart in increasing your income while decreasing your expenses. Doing both at the same time will optimize the money you can earn and save before college.

1. Get a high school job

Having a job in high school can make a huge difference for your future as a college student. It’s not only a financial advantage but a professional one as well because you are gaining experience in the workforce.

Especially over the summers, if you worked full-time for eight weeks at a $15/hour wage, you would earn $4,800 (before taxes).

That could cover personal and textbook expenses for a whole year or more if you budget it correctly. 

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are the two types of funding that don’t have to be repaid. They are the best option to help you pay for college.

Some scholarships may be based on merit, financial need, sports performance, volunteer work, ethnic background, professional interests, and more. Although it is important to apply for scholarships before you go to college, you can also apply for scholarships while you are currently in college. 

Half the work is finding scholarships you are eligible for. Check out our Scholarship Directory to help you find the right scholarship for you! Some of our standout scholarships include:

3. Fill out the FAFSA forms every year

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application determined what need-based scholarships, grants, and federal student loans you would be eligible for depending on your financial situation.

If you are already receiving aid from the government or university, you may have to fill out the forms again every year to stay eligible for that aid or even receive more.

If you tried to apply in the past, you can reapply to see if your current financial situation makes you eligible for aid.

College students smiling

Save money in college: 4 tips

If you didn’t spend time before college saving money, don’t worry - it’s not too late! There are many seemingly small ways you can save money as a college student that will make a huge long-term difference.

1. Pick up part-time work

Just like getting a job before college, having a part-time job while at college can help you increase your income. On-campus jobs have many advantages because they are conveniently located and help you get personal and professional connections.

  • If you apply for the Federal Work-Study program through FAFSA, that can help you get a job on campus. If not, a simple job at a cafe, restaurant, or retailer work.
  • If you have a car on campus, consider becoming an Uber, Lyft, or DoorDash driver for some extra cash.
  • Another option for some side jobs is an app called Rover where you get paid to take other people’s dogs on walks; get paid to get some exercise and meet cute dogs!

If you’re an international student, be sure to check the visa limitations on your work hours and/or industries you're considering. For example, international students in the US generally aren't allowed to work during their first year of studies, and are very limited in their sophomore year.

2. Don't buy new textbooks

Undergraduates spend $1,200 on average on textbooks a year but you can minimize these costs.

  • Rent or buy used books
  • Compare the price of the online version of the textbook
  • Buy previous editions (but be aware of possible major or minor differences that may have been made)
  • Check the campus library and see if they have copies there
  • Ask someone who took the course the year before how often they used the book and determine if it is worth buying (consider asking to buy it from them!)

💡 Pro tip: When you’re done using your textbooks, sell them to your younger peers. You can list your books on Facebook or any local online reselling site. This way you can get some (if not all) your money back, and you'll be helping someone else not overspend on textbooks either!

3. Save on housing

Housing is usually a college student’s biggest expense. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, on average a student pays $11,000 to $13,000 a year depending on if you live on or off campus.

  • Research the surrounding neighborhood of your school and determine whether it would be cheaper to rent an apartment off-campus or stay on campus
  • Find multiple roommates – living with just one roommate already cuts your expenses by 50% and adding a third person reduces the net cost even more.

Note: Make sure you are factoring in other expenses, like transportation, utilities, and food, in your calculations for off-campus housing research.

4. Take advantage of student discounts

Carry your Student ID with you everywhere! You can get discounts at all sorts of places.

  • Stores, mass transit providers, museums, and restaurants
  • Your college might even have a list of local businesses that offer student discounts

Be careful not to get tricked into spending more than you would without a discount. Businesses feed off this common economic pitfall!

Financial strategies: 3 tips

1. Chip away at interest on your student loans

You don’t have to make student loan payments while in school, but your unsubsidized federal loans or private loans will accumulate interest as soon as they are dispersed

The interest rate for unsubsidized loans for undergraduates is 4.99% and 6.54% for graduate students, according to Forbes Magazine, but it can vary on where you take out the loan and your credit score.

  • This means if you take out a student loan of $5,000, after a year you will now owe $5,249.50 because of the interest fee.

It is best to try paying off your loans as soon as possible to chip away at the interest you accumulate. Otherwise, you will end up spending more than you originally borrowed!

2. Build up your credit score

Start building up your credit score with a credit card that has a low limit ($500 to $1,000 a month) and use it wisely.

  • Use it for small and regular purchases and stay under the limit.
  • Always pay off the balance at the end of the month.
  • If you don't pay off your credit card or are late for a payment, your credit score can take a hit.

Having a good credit score is important for securing low interest rates on future loans. Make sure you are confident that you can use a credit card correctly before you start.

3. Be strategic about where you store your savings

Saving money is a great goal, but there are ways to maximize the money you save and minimize depreciation by being strategic about where you deposit it. Here are different bank account options you should be familiar with when deciding where to store your money.

  • Checking account: Ment for everyday spending and doesn't offer much, if any, interest on the money held in it. The best option for money you want quick access to and plan to spend soon. 
  • Savings account: Typically earns more interest than a checking account but is less accessible. It may have limits on how many withdrawals you can make per month. This is a good option for money you may use within three years, saving for a short-term goal or building up an emergency fund. 
  • Roth IRA: This individual retirement account can be valuable for college students and offers tax-free withdrawals in retirement (certain requirements must be met), but gives you the flexibility to make penalty-free withdrawals of any contributions you made before retirement. However, you can only contribute as much into it for the year as what you earned (if you earn $1,000 at a job you can only deposit that much even if the limit is higher for the Roth IRA). if you don't earn any income in a year, you can't contribute anything. This account is best for students with jobs to consider.
  • 529 account: Tax-advantaged savings plan that allows you to set aside money for education. They can be withdrawn tax-free for qualified education expenses and may offer the ability to deduct contributions (varies by state). This is a good option for funding future education or paying student loans. It would be best if you assessed your entire financial picture because you may be better off paying off loans now than contributing to a 529 depending on comparative interest rates. However, it is worth considering.

3 bonus tips

Here are a few last quick tips to save money as a college student:

  • Sublet your housing during the summer if you are not using it yourself. Or use it, take summer classes, and possibly graduate earlier.
  • Buy a used bike or use public transportation.
  • Join clubs on campus and go to free entertainment events

Final tip – our last, and possibly most important, tip for college students is to not let your budgeting affect your college experience! It is okay to allocate some money to spend on a night out with friends, new shoes, or a sweet treat. Don’t forget to leave room in your budget for college experiences!

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