20 Tips to Save Money During College
Saving money is difficult. It’s even more challenging as a college student.
Between midterms, final exams, and navigating new social waters, college is no walk in the park. With enough on your plate already, you shouldn’t have to worry about living expenses and how you’re going to cover your bills.
But don’t despair! We’ve put together a quick list of our top tips and tricks, so you can learn how to save money in college without skimping too much on your social life. Below, you’ll learn about several strategies that we used to get through college while staying financially afloat. Let’s get started.
Tips to Save Money in College
1. Max Out Your Financial Aid
College is expensive. Luckily for you, there’s a lot of money up for grabs via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Before starting your next school year, complete the FAFSA to vie for a chance at federal and state-level scholarships and grant money.
FAFSA is the US Department of Education’s primary financial aid service. No matter how much money you or your family makes, it’s worth applying. The more you receive in aid, the less you will have to drain your bank account to pay for school expenses. Not sure how much money you should save before enrolling? Check out our guide.
2. Graduate in 4 Years (Or Less!)
Spending an extra year or two on your bachelor’s degree can rack up a hefty bill. Your standard four-year degree at an in-state public college costs roughly $4,100 in tuition fees and about $14,500 for private not-for-profit colleges. This figure doesn’t include other fees and expenses, like room and board every semester.
In other words, the more time you spend at university the more debt you’re going to accrue. Simple, right? Well, more and more American post-secondary students are sticking around beyond the four-year mark to get their degrees. If possible, graduate on time—your bank account will thank you after graduation.
3. Take the CLEP Exams
The CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) is one of the fastest ways to accelerate your college education. Since 1967, the CLEP exams have helped thousands of college-ready students prepare for the next step in their education. CLEP offers 34 exams on intro-level college material, and passing a CLEP exam can earn you credits toward your degree.
If you want to graduate in the fastest time possible, consider taking CLEP courses before your freshman year. Not only will CLEP prepare you for success by covering material you will review in college, but it will grant you credits that may allow you to graduate sooner.
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Dishes
Eating out at restaurants can wreak havoc on your wallet. When you’re in school, skip on the take-out and fine dining and stick to the meal hall or your home kitchen.
Opting for home-cooked meals will save you money and you will learn an invaluable skill – how to cook (more than just mac and cheese, that is).
5. Borrow, Don’t Buy
A good rule of thumb is to skip out on your campus bookstore whenever possible. Why would you pay hundreds of dollars for a new textbook that can be purchased used for a fraction of the price? Plus, textbook editions often don’t change at all from year to year.
If you don’t want to spend money in excess, check out your local campus Buy and Sell group to see if any of your course textbooks are for sale. Alternatively, you may be able to rent your textbooks to save you some extra money. Ask your campus bookstore staff if rental options are available.
6. Search for Discounts
Student discounts can often be scored simply by asking for them. Next time you’re in the checkout line at the mall or grocery store, ask about student discounts. Chances are some of the places you regularly shop offer student discounts or other incentives if you can present a valid student ID.
7. Work While Studying
Although it can make life a bit more complicated while you’re at school, it never hurts to get a job to subsidize your living costs. Even a casual part-time job can earn you an extra $100 dollars a week. Over the course of a semester, this amounts to roughly $1,500!
Working a job on campus is not only a great way to stave off credit card debt, but it can also help you get out and socialize. Getting hired at the campus gym, coffee shop, or bookstore lets you meet hundreds of fellow students you otherwise would never get to know.
8. Move Off-Campus
It’s common for freshmen to want to get a dorm room on their school’s residence. However, after your first year, it might be a good idea to get an off-campus apartment. Plus, there are a host of drawbacks that come with life on a college residence. While the conveniences can be tempting, we suggest saving your money and getting a pad elsewhere.
9. Study Personal Finance
Knowledge is power, or so the saying goes. That’s why it’s always a good idea to acquaint yourself with the basics of personal finance. This way, you can learn about budgeting tips, credit cards, ways to save, and the all-important credit score. Plus, being financially literate will help you after graduation, too. In other words, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
10. Ditch the Ride
An increasing number of colleges and universities are offering subsidized or free public transit passes for students. This means there’s less of a need for a car to and from campus.
For those who live off-campus and don’t have a free transit pass, it’s often still a better financial investment to purchase a bus pass instead of a vehicle. After you consider the cost of car insurance, maintenance, repairs, and gas, it’s a no-brainer that cars are a bad idea for a student. Instead, consider opting for a bicycle or bus pass.
11. Don’t Splurge
It should go without saying that students shouldn’t go overboard on general spending. It’s crucial that every student budget wisely and watch their credit card expenses. After all, sky-high credit card interest (often around 20 percent) can cause a lifetime’s worth of financial stress all the way to your retirement. Save yourself the debt and stick to a tight budget every month.
If you have a hard time following a budget, then reach out for help. Apps like HiCharlie, Mint, and Goodbudget can help you calculate a reasonable budget and stick to it.
12. Look for Budget Apartments
When you move off-campus, you’re introduced to the wonderful world of paying rent. Wait, did we say wonderful? That’s not true at all. Quite the opposite, really. That’s why it’s important that you don’t splurge on luxury apartments with sky-high rent prices.
During college, living expenses add up quickly and can even cost you more than tuition. To help stay afloat, choose a modest apartment that’s not too far away from campus (remember, the key is to not need to own a car). To keep your checking account extra happy, we suggest finding roommates you can split your rent with for even more financial relief.
13. Watch Your Credit
As a student, the last thing you want on your mind is debt and credit. However, it’s a reality that needs to be addressed now that you’re an adult. Fortunately, you can avoid financial catastrophe by managing your credit wisely and not letting your credit card or line of credit get out of hand.
When it comes time to apply for an apartment, buy a car, or take out a mortgage, your credit will be among the first things reviewed. Therefore, you need to be mindful of your credit score from a young age. Here are some of the best tips to accrue a respectable credit score while away at school:
- Pay all your bills on time
- Only use your credit card for small, occasional purchases
- Use your student loans for college expenses only
- Pay off your balances on time
- Get a low-interest credit card and use it responsibly
14. Opt for Online Courses
Online and remote college courses are often hundreds of dollars cheaper than standard in-class courses. Budget-minded students would do well to seek out online courses whenever possible if you want to cut costs off your tuition bill.
Don’t overdo it on online courses though. If you stick to digital education, you can miss out on the social aspect of your college experience. To maintain a healthy social life, try enrolling in one or two online classes per semester. This way, you can achieve a healthy balance between budgeting and staying social.
15. Lean on Your Family
There’s nothing wrong with asking your parents or siblings for a little help when the going gets tough. In fact, living with family while in school can save you a fortune.
If you’re lucky enough to have a family that lives within commuting distance of your campus, consider staying home and buying a car to get to and from campus. Although we suggested not buying a car while in college, car insurance and gas is typically much cheaper than rent.
16. Slash Your Cell Bill
A high cell phone bill can make a huge difference over the course of a four-year degree. Instead of a $100 per month phone bill, consider opting for a family data plan or a cheaper individual plan. Use the money you save every month to build an emergency fund that you can tap into on a rainy day or when it comes time to pay interest on your loans.
17. Shop Your Local Thrift Stores
Department stores and boutique retail shops can cost an arm and a leg. If you’re looking for a new outfit, or even just regular school supplies, consider checking out a thrift store.
Most thrift stores are non-profit organizations that sell lightly used books, clothes, DVDs, and more at discount prices. Some thrift shops also offer student discounts to help you save even more. Check these stores out before you hit up the mall for a new pair of jeans or a classic novel that’s on your syllabus – chances are that they’ll have what you need.
18. Use Cash
Most people apply for their first credit card during their college years. While a credit card can be useful for building an impressive credit score, it’s crucial that you use it wisely. So, whenever you’re out at the bar, a restaurant, or your local campus coffee shop, pay in cash.
Student loan debt and lines of credit are borrowed money. Carrying cash is a good way of remembering that your financial resources are finite and is one of the best ways to save during your college years. Your credit history will thank you after you graduate.
19. Leverage Your Library
Libraries, both on-campus and off, are a godsend when it comes to saving time and money. Next time you need a reference text or novel for one of your college courses, consider checking out your local library to see if they carry it. At libraries, you never have to pay and there are no fees, which makes it a student’s best friend.
20. Get an Early Start
If you’re still in high school or have taken some years off before heading off to college, remember that it’s never too early to start saving for college. Now more than ever, it’s important that you apply for scholarships, grants, and bursaries to offset the costs of your college tuition. Invest in your future and start saving early and find ways to save.
Want More Tips and Tricks? Meet Charlie
For a college student, budgeting and saving money is an uphill battle. We’ve been there. Fortunately for you, Charlie’s here to help. For the latest debt relief strategies and tips and tricks for budgeting while attending college, sign up for HiCharlie today. And don’t worry – it’s completely free.