10 Money-Saving Tips for College Students

College tuition has never been more expensive, as every student knows. Then, you add on housing, food, books, gas…the list goes on and it really adds up.

If you’re like most students, then you’ll probably need to take on some debt in order to pay for college and living expenses while you attend school. However, minimizing the number of student loans you need to take out means you’ll spend less time paying them off once you graduate.

So, how can you cut down on costs as a college student? Here are 10 money-saving tips.

1. Apply for Financial Aid & Scholarships Every Year

This should be the first item on your list when you get your acceptance letter. Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), even if you think you won’t qualify for much financial assistance. You might be surprised by the grants, loans, and work-study options you can get from the federal government. Be sure to submit your financial aid applications every year you’re attending school.

You should also consider applying for scholarships that you qualify for. Even small scholarships can help offset the costs of college, especially if you’re awarded more than one. In fact, the competition for smaller, niche awards are often lower, making them easier to get.

2. Make a Budget

If you’ve got money in your bank account, it’s the easiest thing in the world to spend it. However, you need to be practical about how you’re using your money if you want to get through college with minimal debt. That’s where a budget comes in.

Making a budget will help you track your money and limit overspending. You’ll know your fixed expenses and you’ll become more aware of your spending habits. You can still have fun— just make sure you budget for it!

You can make your budget manually on paper if you want, but there are also convenient online budget tools and apps that are easier for some people to use and stick to. Find what works best for you!

3. Buy Used Textbooks and Sell Them Back

New textbooks can be incredibly expensive, and if you’re taking multiple classes at a time, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars a semester on books you’re probably never going to read again after your class ends. It makes a lot of sense to buy used when you can (sometimes this isn’t an option if the textbook has been significantly updated).
Your school’s bookstore might offer used copies of the textbooks you need, but you can also shop for used textbooks online. Just make sure you’re buying the right edition and that the book will actually arrive in time for the first day of class.

You should definitely sell your textbooks when you’re done with them. You’ll get some of the money you paid back, and you’ll be helping another student save money too!

4. Use University Services & Facilities

You pay fees to help support all the services and facilities that your school offers, so why not use them? Work out at the campus gym, do your printing at the library, and make an appointment with the school’s health center when you don’t feel well.

Many students don’t know just how many campus services their school offers. Do some digging and discover new ways to save money by leveraging campus resources.

5. Cook for Yourself (or Use Your Meal Plan)

If you live on-campus in a dorm, then you probably don’t have much more than a microwave and a mini-fridge. However, if you do have housing that gives you the option of cooking, take advantage of the savings! Cooking at home is much cheaper (and healthier) than eating out.

No kitchen? Use your meal plan and limit eating out. You’ve already paid for your meal plan, so you’re essentially paying for meals twice when you eat out. Treat yourself occasionally, but use your meal plan as much as possible.

6. Use Public Transportation

Depending on where your school is located, you might be able to use public transit to get to campus. Even if you need a car to drive home or to make grocery trips, minimizing your driving will save you a lot in gas and wear and tear.

Many transit authorities offer students cheaper fares on buses and trains, so make sure you’re getting the reduced rate. You might also be able to avoid paying a parking fee on campus, which could save you hundreds each year.  

7. Check for Student Discounts

There are perks to being a student, including discounted rates for everything from museums to retail stores. Don’t pass up the savings whenever they’re available and keep your student ID in your wallet if you need to show proof. Student discounts aren’t always posted, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you don’t see a reduced rate posted!

8. Consider Low-Risk Investments

College isn’t the time to make big, risky investments with your money, but starting to explore low-risk investments can be a great way to start building your wealth and portfolio for the future. Investing in index funds or an IRA won’t pay for your tuition, but it could help you get a financial leg up later on.

9. Take Advantage of Free Entertainment

Entertainment can be expensive, but you can still find cheap or free things to do in your spare time. Look around campus for events, check out free concerts, and stay up-to-date on what’s happening nearby. You can also walk, hike, or bike if your school has nearby trails.

10. Get a Part-Time Job

When you’re busy with school, a job might be the last thing on your mind. But if you can swing a part-time job, either on or off-campus, you’ll be able to significantly offset some of your expenses.

If you’re attending an online program you’re likely to have more daytime flexibility, but on-campus students can usually find something that works with their schedule too. Employers in college towns know that students have to put their schoolwork first and can often accommodate different scheduling needs.

Being Frugal Pays Off

Although many of these tips won’t save much money on their own, they can really add up when you put them together. Over four years of school, being frugal can really pay off and make your life easier post-graduation. Always be on the lookout for ways to save—both big and small.

Sophia Carlisle
Sophia Carlisle is a professional writer.
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