how to save money in college
Updated April 17, 2020

How to Save Money in College: 35 Tips and Tricks for Students

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Saving money in college is much easier said than done. While it often feels like you spend more than you make when you’re in college, there are plenty of things that you can do to earn and save more money.

Whether you’re getting prepared for post-graduation or just want some extra spending money for the weekend, we’ve got you covered.

In our guide, you’ll learn how to save money in college, how to earn more, and what tools and resources you can take advantage of to make it happen.

How to Save Money in College – Our Top Picks

From saving money on your everyday purchases to earning income with a side hustle, here are Money Done Right’s top suggestions on how to save money in college.

Food

If you’re not careful, you can quickly go over your monthly food budget while in college.

Going out with friends, buying extra snacks throughout the day, and poorly planning your grocery shopping are just a few reasons that students often spend more than they planned for on food.

Don’t blow all of your money on food; with these tips, you can make the most of your budget without relying on ramen for every meal.

1. Take Advantage of Your Meal Plan

It’s typical for upperclassmen to simply not use the meal plan that they’re paying for as part of their tuition.

Whether it’s to avoid the busy meal hall or simply because they prefer to eat out, students that don’t use the meal plan that they pay for are wasting potentially thousands of dollars per year.

If you have the option to reduce your meal plan or completely eliminate it, consider how much your meal plan would cost per year versus your weekly grocery needs if you choose to go without a meal plan.

2. Stick to a Strict Food Budget

If you’re getting rid of your student meal plan and want to start making your own food, it’s important to create a strict food budget and stick with it.

Limit going out to eat as much as you can, as the cost of one meal at a restaurant can easily be the same cost as multiple meals that you make yourself at home.

Apps like Pocketsmith are great ways to keep tabs on your monthly budget in college, giving you free tools and resources to manage your money effectively.

3. Get Cash Back on Groceries

Ibotta is a revolutionary app that gives you the opportunity to get cash back on the things you buy every day.

With tons of categories to get cash back, including groceries (make those cheap college meals even cheaper), entertainment, and more, Ibotta should be one of the first apps to download if you are interested in saving money in college.

Not only does Ibotta offer cash back in tons of categories, but it also makes it easy to redeem your cash back.

Just upload your receipt and Ibotta will verify your purchase, automatically depositing cash back into your account. Even if you are buying ramen every week, why not get a little cash back along the way?

Pro Tip: You will receive a $10 bonus if you sign up for Ibotta using this link.

4. Ask for Care Packages from Parents

Getting a care package full of food and essentials is somewhat of a college student right of passage.

Even if you get a package sent from your parents once a month, those packages can quickly add up to some serious savings.

Housing

Housing costs can be a lot, especially for a college student and their parents.

If you rent an apartment or a home from a landlord, the cost of rent, utilities, and maintenance can be significant.

Living in campus-provided housing is often the most cost-efficient option, but we all know that living in an apartment or house is all part of the college experience.

Here are ways to save when you finally move out of that dormitory and into a place of your own.

5. Find Multiple Roommates

One of the best ways that you can save significantly on your housing expenses is to find multiple roommates.

If you’re renting an apartment or a house alone, you know just how expensive everything can be.

Get a roommate, and you’ve just cut your monthly housing expenses in half; get a third roommate, and it’s even more savings.

With average rent currently at over $1,400 a month in the United States, having roommates to share rent and utilities is an excellent way to save money in college.

6. Rent an Apartment Instead of a House if Possible

Renting an apartment is often more convenient than renting a house, but depending on where you go to school, a house may be less in rent per month.

Apartments are typically smaller than houses, but they also come with stress-free maintenance that you don’t have to pay for.

Pro Tip: Depending on your agreement with your landlord, you’re often responsible for the upkeep of a home’s lawn and you may not have free maintenance, but you may have a lot more space in a home.

Entertainment

When you’re not in class, and you’re not doing homework, chances are you’re looking for something to do.

With all of your new found freedom, it can be tempting to go out on the town every night.

Entertainment can be expensive, and if you’re not carefully planning your budget and researching inexpensive or free entertainment options, you’ll soon find yourself without extra spending money.

7. Find Free Campus Events

Most colleges and universities offer tons of free entertainment options, both on and off campus.

Movie nights, trivia, obstacle courses, and even street fairs are all common free entertainment options that may be offered on your campus, and taking advantage of these events not only saves you money in college, but allows you to get to know your fellow classmates even better.

8. Never Pay Full Price

If you do have to pay for entertainment, you can download some great apps to help you save money on your entertainment by either giving you discounts or giving you cash back on your purchase.

Rakuten (formerly Ebates) can earn you some serious cash back on your purchases, with offers as high as 70% or more.

When you sign up for your free Rakuten, you’ll get access to an impressive dashboard of cash back offers at many of your favorite stores.

Click the offer on Rakuten to be taken to the external retailer’s site and your cash back will be applied automatically.

It’s important to always start shopping through Rakuten, otherwise you won’t get your cash back.

Good to Know: You won’t need to pay full price at your favorite store if you shop through Rakuten. Additionally, you will get $10 for free when you sign up.

9. Join Clubs and Groups on Campus

Clubs and groups on campus are a great way to get to know other students with similar interests.

You’d be surprised at just how many clubs your school may have, meaning you can find the perfect group to have fun with.

Some groups may require a small membership fee, while others are completely free and are much more casual.

Contact your school administration to see if you can obtain a list of official clubs on campus.

Books and Tuition 

When it comes to paying for books and tuition, even small savings can go a long way.

Books and tuition take up a large majority of your college expenses, and here are some of the top ways that you can save on both books and tuition so you can have more money to save and spend elsewhere.

10. Buy Used Books

Textbooks can feel like they’re as expensive as tuition, but Chegg is here with the solution.

Offering cheap college textbooks and the ability to rent cheap textbooks, there’s no need to buy textbooks at full price again.

In fact, you can save as much as 90% on your textbooks, which is a huge savings over the course of your college career.

11. Rent Books

Renting books can significantly cut down on the cost of your textbooks.

There are tons of places that will allow you to rent textbooks instead of purchasing them, and your campus bookstore may also provide a rental option.

When compared to purchasing the book, renting a book costs 50% less on average; just be sure to return your book at the end of the semester or quarter to avoid additional fees and charges.

12. Buy Books from Other Students

Your fellow students are another great resource for getting discounted textbooks.

We all need cash in college, so offering to buy a textbook off of a student who took the class previously in their college career not only gets you a book for less, but also helps out a fellow student.

Pro Tip: Search popular social media sites to see if there are book buying groups set up on your college campus, or browse online marketplaces to see if books are being listed.

13. Apply for Scholarships

Applying for scholarships as early as possible in your high school career can save you significantly on tuition throughout college.

Scholarships are competitive, and if you don’t receive a scholarship through your college directly, it can be even more difficult to obtain scholarship money from outside sources.

With so many online databases of scholarships, you should start your scholarship research early in high school to get ahead of the competition.

14. Finish on Time or Early

If possible, finishing your degree early can potentially save you thousands of dollars in books, tuition, housing, and other expenses.

While finishing early is not a possibility for all of us, it’s a great way to not only save on expenses while in college, but also save in overall student loan costs.

If you’re not able to finish early, you should focus on finishing your degree on time. Switching majors late in your college career, failing or dropping classes mid-semester, and not focusing on your academics are just a few of the ways that many college students get off-track.

Going to college longer than you need to costs a lot of money, and with so many great tools and resources at your fingertips, you can tap into the support you need to finish on time.

15. Understand the Impact of Interest on Your Student Loans

Depending on the kind of student loan that you secure, interest may start accruing from the moment your loan is dispersed.

While it’s much more fun to spend your extra money on a night of going out, making small payments toward your loans while in school can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.

When your full repayments begin after you graduate, you may have options to adjust your payment schedule if you took out federal loans.

Good to Know: Payment options may include income-based repayment plans or extended payment plans to help you manage your student loan payments.

Transportation

No two college campuses are the exact same, meaning transportation needs can vary depending on where you live and what you like to do for entertainment.

Transportation is one way to cut down on your expenses in college without missing out on fun.

16. Purchase a Used Bike

Most college campuses are very bike-friendly, which means the areas surrounding campus are often bike-friendly as well.

There are a few fantastic local marketplace apps that you can use to quickly locate a high-quality used bike.

OfferUp and Letgo are two extremely popular apps that you can use to find a bike to get to where you need to go.

17. Use Public Transportation

If possible, use public transportation if you need to travel off campus.

Public transportation can be much cheaper than riding in an Uber or a Lyft, especially if you need to leave campus regularly.

The bus or subway systems in most major cities offer discounted passes that will get you to where you need to go without breaking the bank.

18. Review Your Car Insurance Rates

If you own a car in college and pay for your own insurance, regularly reviewing your car insurance rates can lead to some serious savings.

When your car insurance is set to renew at the end of the policy period, shop around and get quotes from multiple insurers to see if you’re getting the best rate possible.

Pro Tip: Zebra is a fantastic site that quickly matches you with multiple car insurance companies, providing you with customized quotes to save you money.

Student Loans

With the current student loan debt in the U.S. at over $1.5 trillion, chances are you’ll have to take out a loan to cover part of your college expenses.

Whether you’re taking out loans by yourself or you’re getting help from your family, it’s important to understand how student loans work, your obligation to pay them back, and ways to save on student loan costs.

19. Shop Around for the Best Rates

Shopping around for your student loans is a simple way to not only get the best interest rates on your student loans, but also save significantly when it comes time to pay those loans back.

Pro Tip: Local banks and credit unions often offer better rates than national lenders, so don’t be afraid to check your rate with multiple lenders if you do need to take out private student loans.

20. Refinance After Graduation

If you do need to take out your loans without a cosigner while in college, chances are the interest rate isn’t the best it can be.

Building your credit can take time, but can lead to savings on your student loans if and when you decide to refinance.

Unless your interest rate is extremely low on your private loans or if you only have federal student loans, refinancing is a great way to save money by lowering your interest rate and potentially lowering your monthly payment amount.

21. Connect with Refinancing Lenders Across the Country

If your credit isn’t the best, as is typical with most college students, or you don’t have a cosigner to help you secure your loans, looking at major national lenders is a good option to get loans at fairly decent rates.

Rather than applying at multiple lenders, which can lead to multiple hits to your credit, you can get free rate quotes at multiple lenders on one site without impacting your credit.

Sites like Credible make it easy to check your rates and choose the right refinancing terms for your financial situation.

22. Look Local for Refinancing Needs if You Have Good Credit

If you do have good credit or you have a cosigner with good credit, connecting with local lenders will often secure you a better rate on your new student loans or your refinanced loans.

Local banks and credit unions typically have better interest rates and better customer service, but also require higher credit scores to be approved.

Check out Lendkey to get personalized quotes from local lenders.

Even a small difference in your interest rate can lead to thousands of dollars in savings over the life of your loan. Get started with Lendkey to check your personalized rates.

23. Help Your Parents Refinance Parent Plus Loans

Parents that have taken out loans to help you pay for your college deserve a break too, and everyone involved can save money by refinancing Parent Plus Loans.

With rates the lowest they’ve been in years, now is a great time to help you and your parents save money by refinancing.

SoFi is a trusted Parent Plus refinance provider, with over $30 billion refinanced to date.

Financial Tips and Tricks

There are some financial tips and tricks that every college student should be using.

Whether it’s learning how to save money in college or to set up your financial future, here are some tips you can use while in college to save even more.

24. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Most universities have negotiated deals and discounted with local businesses, and you can often snag some sweet deals at your favorite major stores and retailers.

Whenever you go shopping, go out to eat, or see a movie, you should always bring your student ID and ask if they offer a discount.

The worst thing that can happen is that they say no, but you’d be surprised at how many places offer significant discounts for students.

25. Focus on Building Your Credit

We recommend that you start building your credit early.

Start out with a credit card with a low limit, such as $500 to $1,000, and be diligent about using it wisely. Use it for small, regular purchases, and always pay off the balance at the end of the month.

Good to Know: By building your credit now, you can improve your credit score and save significantly on interest in the future by securing low interest rates on future loans.

26. Regularly Check Your Credit Score

Saving money in college can really be as simple as checking and understanding your credit score.

If there are errors on your report and you apply for a student loan or another loan product, errors will lower your credit score, leading to higher interest rates on your loans.

If you don’t regularly check your credit score, you won’t know if there are errors on your score or if there are strategies you can pursue to boost your score.

Check out sites like CreditSesame and Credit Karma to get free access to your credit reports all year long.

27. Don’t Supplement Your Income with Credit Cards

We all know the feeling of getting our first credit card.

It feels like the sky’s the limit, but if you’re supplementing your income by using your credit card, you can quickly get into trouble.

With high-interest rates and often too-generous balances, credit cards should be used sparingly and only when you’re confident you can use them correctly.

Use your credit card for small, regular purchases, and always pay off your balance at the end of the month.

Pro Tip: If you use your credit card make sure you pay off the full balance; otherwise you’ll spend more on interest and have a harder time paying off your credit card.

Planning for Post-Graduation

Set yourself up for financial success after graduation by making smart money decisions while in college.

Aside from building up your credit while in college and getting the best possible interest rates on your student loans, here are a few more things you can do to prepare for life after graduation.

28. Take Advantage of Career Resources

Most schools offer excellent career resource services, allowing you to work one on one with a career counselor to get help with your resume, interviewing tips, and job placement.

Not only can these services help you land your dream job after college, but they’re also typically free, meaning there’s no need to pay for career coaching or a professional resume writing service.

29. Thoroughly Clean Your Apartment to Avoid Damage and Cleaning Fees

Before you move out of your dorm or your apartment, clean thoroughly.

Cleaning fees and damage fees can be excessive, and taking the time to thoroughly clean before you move out can potentially save you money.

Pro Tip: Take pictures of your space before you leave and keep any and all itemized charges that you receive after you move out.

30. Shop Around for your Cap and Gown

The average cap and gown set can cost $100 or more when purchased directly through university bookstores.

Just by shopping around online can lead to savings, and if you aren’t sentimental about your cap and gown, you can find used ones for much less.

Making Money While in School

Making additional money in school makes it even easier to save. Check out these simple ways to make money in your spare time.

31. Make Money Driving

One of the most popular side gigs in the world, Uber makes it incredibly easy for students to earn money in their free time.

You can sign on and off of the app whenever you want, and if you’re in a major metropolitan area, riders are almost always available.

Driving the right hours can earn you as much as $25 per hour, making it one of the best ways for college students to earn and save money.

Take your driving earnings to the next level by also signing up for Lyft, the main competitor of Uber and a second great source of earning through driving.

Pro Tip: With Lyft, you can earn even more by driving during specific hours, completing fun challenges, and driving in specific areas.

32. Walk Dogs Around Campus

Rover is a simple way to earn money while having fun and exercising. You can get paid to walk dogs and take care of pets, either in their home or your own.

You can set your own rates and hours, and even get personally requested from your regular clients.

Rover requires a simple background check and you’ll need to know some basic dog safety information, but the signup process takes just a few minutes.

Take your dog walking earnings even further by signing up for Wag, another popular way for students to earn money walking and petsitting neighborhood dogs.

College students do a lot of walking, so why not make some extra cash along the way? Just like Rover, you can set your hours and customize your rates right through the Wag app.

Good to Know: When you sign up for Rover, you’ll get a $20 signup bonus.

33. Take Surveys Right from Your Phone

Let’s face it, we spend a lot of time on our phones; so why not get paid for it?

There are tons of apps out there that will pay you to take surveys about the things you use every day, and when you have some time in between classes, taking surveys is a great way to earn extra money in college.

Swagbucks is one of the largest paid survey sites in the world, with over 20 million users and tons of ways to earn online.

You can earn reward points that you can redeem for gift cards and cash by taking surveys, watching advertisements, and even browsing the Internet. You can earn money for the things you do online every day.

Pro Tip: If you sign up for Swagbucks using this link, you’re eligible to receive a $10 bonus.

Survey Junkie is another very popular survey site, with new surveys uploaded virtually every day.

Offering competitive payouts and personalized surveys sent to your inbox every day, it’s easier than ever to earn money online through Survey Junkie. When you sign up, you’ll receive a $10 bonus immediately.

Good to Know: With Survey Junkie, you can cash out your points as gift cards or cash in your PayPal account.

34. Consider Campus Jobs

If you aren’t part of the federal work-study program, you still may be able to find available on-campus jobs.

A part-time job on campus is a great way to make some additional money and connect with faculty and staff.

While campus jobs don’t typically pay much more than minimum wage, if you’re eligible for the federal work-study program, you should take advantage of the opportunity.

35. Go For Tutoring Opportunities

Get paid for your advanced education by tutoring in your community.

Whether you tutor high schoolers or even lower classmen at your college, you may be able to earn a decent amount of money on the side by tutoring.

According to Payscale, tutors average $17.50 per hour, so even tutoring just a few hours a week can quickly add up.

Sites like Care.com connect tutors with students on a simple, easy to use platform.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of our top tips on how to save money in college.

As you can see, there are tons of options, but at the end of the day it takes practice and discipline to earn more money and save more money while in college.

Have more tips on how to save money in college? Let us know in the comments below!

Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in July 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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