17 Creative Ways to Pay Less in College

by | May 28, 2019

Just because you’re a strapped-for-cash college student, doesn’t mean you have to eat Ramen every day or forgo your social life. Charlie remembers getting creative to cover his education, living expenses, and adventures with friends like it was just yesterday. Always a thoughtful penguin, read on for wisdom on how to enjoy your college years without going (too far) in the red.

Minimize School Costs

With a 4-year degree program coming in at an average of $26,000 annually, finding ways to minimize this expense will do a lot to help your bottom line. To graduate for less, be sure to:

  • Have a clear plan: Determine what line of work interests you, what degree you need to break into the industry, and what courses are required to complete the program. Sticking to this plan will help you avoid taking unnecessary courses, saving you both time and money.
  • Try testing out of courses: If you can demonstrate proficiency in a subject, you may be able to skip over some prerequisite courses, potentially expediting degree completion and reducing your tuition bill.
  • Consider taking your prerequisite courses at a community college: Transferring credits to a four-year college can reduce degree costs by thousands.
  • Fill out the FAFSA annually: Doing so in a timely manner gives you the best chance at receiving any grants that you may qualify for.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants outside of the FAFSA:  Any dollar that you don’t have to repay later is a gift!
  • Score deals on textbooks: Buy them used, borrow them from a friend, or rent them online.
  • Use the amenities that you’ve already paid for: By taking full advantage of your meal plan, campus gym, and other school perks, you won’t need to pay for those goods and services elsewhere.

Reduce Living Expenses

While earning your degree should be a main focus, you still need to cover your living expenses. Here’s how to make this less painful for your wallet:

  • Take advantage of free stuff and events: As a student, you may be eligible for free things like a checking account, educational software, and on-campus entertainment. Depending on your situation, it may also make sense to pursue free housing with your parents or other relatives.
  • Whip out your student ID and ask for a discount: You may be surprised at how much you can save on clothing, entertainment, travel, and more!
  • Do your homework: We’re not talking about that English essay (but seriously, you should do that!). We mean that you should research local deals to find the best happy hours, restaurant specials, and budget-friendly events near you.
  • Stick to a budget: Shopping sales and buying used goods are two powerful ways to stretch each dollar further.
  • Ditch unfulfilling spending: Your discretionary income is limited so you’ll want to make each debit card swipe meaningful. This will look different for everyone, but consider implementing cuts like drinking less alcohol, nixing cable, and leaving your car at home.
  • Negotiate your bills: Service providers and insurance companies are often willing to haggle over your monthly rate. Shaving a few dollars off of each payment due will add up over the course of the year.

Manage Your Money Responsibly

Being a good steward of your cash flow will allow you to make ends meet a lot more easily. Here’s what you should do:

  • Pay your bills on time: This simple act will prevent you from incurring late fees and dings to your credit.
  • Have different savings buckets: A rainy day, or emergency fund, can help you deal with unpleasant and unexpected expenses. But, setting money aside for fun things like spring break can help you get ahead and pay for the experience without taking on debt.
  • Use windfalls productively: Receiving a tax refund, an inheritance, or some other large lump sum is a great time to assess your finances and allocate those resources where they’ll do the most good. That could mean paying off debt, replenishing your emergency fund, or being able to fly home for the holidays after all.
  • Generate additional income: Injecting some extra dough into your budget means you’ll have more wiggle room. To make your gig fit in well with your class schedule, consider tutoring, freelancing, or becoming an RA.

Final Thoughts

College and life can both be crazy expensive. But don’t worry — there are seemingly countless ways to slow the bleeding coming from your bank account. Charlie’s tips should have you well on your way to financial security during your college years.

Tell Charlie: What’s one clever way you save (or saved) money during college?

Please note: We don’t have an affiliation with or personally endorse any of the services linked to in this post. We’re just trying to give you some ideas.

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