Saving money might seem like the last thing you want to do in college, but starting responsible spending habits early on can give you a financial head start.
Imagine being able to pay off your student loans or other debt and enter the job market debt free. Imagine starting your retirement savings early or letting your money grow in the stock market. Imagine having enough for a down payment on a house by the time you graduate! If you start saving early you can take full advantage of the compound interest that most retirement savings accounts and investments offer. Starting early allows you to accumulate wealth with less initial investment.
While college may come with a low income and tons of associated costs, saving money is doable with a little sacrifice and by being financially savvy. It’s by no means easy, but making small changes to your lifestyle can reward you in dividends.
Easy Ways to Save Money in College
The best way to start saving money in college — whether for retirement, your first house, or some other large purchase — is to cut costs in smart ways. Learning what you can live without or substitute for something less costly can be challenging, so we’ve come up with 66 small changes you can make to save more money.
1. Buy used textbooks. Textbooks are a necessity, but buying them new is not. Buying used textbooks or renting them is one of the easiest ways to save money right off the bat.
2. Cook your own food. Many college students are on meal plans, but if you aren’t lucky enough to have your meals paid for cooking your own food is the way to go. Eating out can be expensive and add up quickly.
3. Split rent with roommates. If you live off campus, living with one or more roommates can help cut costs significantly. Enjoy the most savings by renting a house with several rooms and splitting the rent with as many roommates as you can find.
4. Brew your own coffee. While bistro coffee may seem like a small expense, it can add up quickly. The average price for a standard cup is $2.70, which adds up to almost $1,000 a year. Brewing your own coffee cuts these costs significantly. Plus, you can split pots (and costs) with your roommates!
5. Use all available campus amenities. Campus amenities, like free or discounted healthcare and counseling, free activities, childcare, and the library should be utilized whenever possible. Why spend your own money on services offered for free?
6. Buy a bike in lieu of a car. Having a car can be convenient, especially if you don’t live near campus. If you’re able to, however, using a bike to get around can save loads of cash. Not only are you not paying car payments or footing the bill for repairs, but you won’t need to pay for gas.
7. Use your student discount whenever possible. Many companies offer student discounts on things like activities, clothing, and food. Take advantage of the discount whenever possible and save the difference.
8. Buy food that is in season or on sale. Many people don’t realize this, but fruits and vegetables that are in season are often less expensive. Sticking to foods that are local, in season, or on sale can offer you significant savings.
9. Ditch bottled water in lieu of a water filter. Bottled water isn’t necessarily expensive, but drinking filtered water from the tap is significantly cheaper. In fact, drinking three bottles of water a day can add up to $1,095 a year. That same amount of tap water would cost you less than a dollar per year.
10. Buy discounted electronics. We mentioned student discounts for smaller expenses, but there are also discounts students can take advantage of at companies like Apple, BestBuy, Dell and Microsoft. Use your discount for larger expenses to really see a significant cost difference.
11. Use freeware and shareware for your applications. There is software that is made free for all users (freeware) and software that is initially distributed free but later costs money for extras or upgrades (shareware). Many commonly used applications have free or shareware substitutes that can be used free of charge.
12. Buy your clothes at thrift stores online or in person. When you’re trying to save money in college there is no need to buy brand new clothes. There are many online thrift and consignment stores that offer high-quality, brand name, and designer used clothing. If you’d rather shop in person, there are usually thrift stores located near college campuses you can explore.
13. Get on a family cell phone plan with your parents. Most wireless carriers offer an option to add a line to an existing plan. If you aren’t already, jumping onto your parents’ family plan is much less expensive than opening your own. Simply pay your parents the monthly difference (usually between $15 and $50).
14. Use the school gym to work out. The campus athletic center can be one of the best perks of being in college. A gym membership can cost anywhere from $20 to $100 a month, so use the school gym and put that money into savings instead.
15. Get your hair cut by beauty school students. Many cosmetology schools offer free or discounted haircuts to let their students practice. Many times these students are toward the completion of their training and are already quite skilled. If you’re willing to risk it, this can be a great way to save money.
16. Use generic brand makeup and beauty products. Beauty products can get expensive, especially when you’re buying high-quality, name brand products. When you’re on a tight budget, using generic branded hair, makeup, and beauty products can save a ton of cash.
17. Use Amazon’s textbook service. You can now rent, buy and sell books on Amazon. They claim you can save up to 85% on textbooks after proving you are a student. You can also get Amazon Prime Student to receive free and fast shipping. It’s free for six months (and $6.49 a month after that).
18. Print on campus whenever you can. Most campus libraries offer free or extremely discounted printing services. Use these rather than buying your own printer, paper, and ink.
19. Limit your alcohol or buy cheap drinks. While alcohol-centric activities are usually a large part of college life, the unhealthy habit can add up quickly. If you want to save money it’s best to abstain, limit your drinking, or only drink discounted or free drinks.
20. Opt out of cable. With streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Sling, and Amazon Prime Video there is almost no reason to pay for cable. Choosing one or two and cutting the cord can afford you significant savings.
21. Hit matinee showings at the movies. One inexpensive activity you can enjoy is going to the movies. However, night showings can be pretty pricey. Attending a matinee showing instead can cut costs. Just be careful not to spend too much on expensive movie theater snacks.
22. Spend spare time in nature. If you have a park, river spot, beach, or hiking trail near your campus you should utilize it. Spending time in nature is not only good for you, but it’s usually free or very low cost.
23. Check the local newspaper or event websites for free events in your area. There are often free events offered in college towns that you can take advantage of. Whether it’s a concert, meet up, or neighborhood event, these can be great places to pass the time and meet new people. Local event websites or the campus newspaper will usually have a list you can browse.
24. Use public transportation for longer treks. If you need to get farther than your bike will take you, look into public transportation in your area. Although it usually takes longer, it’s usually inexpensive to take the bus home for the holidays or to visit a friend in another city.
25. Carpool home for the holidays. If public transportation isn’t an option or you have a friend from the same hometown, carpooling home for the holidays can be a great option. Driving a long distance is usually more fun with company and you can split the cost of gas.
26. Skip spring break or expensive summer trips. While taking trips for spring break or summer is a fun college tradition, it’s also expensive. If you are serious about saving you can forgo these trips and put that money into savings instead. During the break you can participate in low cost activities around campus or visit your parents.
27. Join clubs and attend events that offer free food or tee shirts. Many campus clubs offer perks like free teeshirts and free food at events. If you find one you’re interested in you might as well join an enjoy the benefits.
28. Find cheap housing close to campus. While living near campus is sometimes more expensive, many times you can get lucky and find affordable housing there. This situation is optimal because if you live near campus you can pop home for meals rather than buying them or head home in between classes rather than spending money on an activity. Living close to campus is also necessary for biking and walking for transportation.
29. Use local classified ads to buy furniture and home accessories. When you’re on a budget, secondhand furniture and home accessories can help you save a bundle. Free services like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and LetGo can help you locate items in your area to buy at a discount.
30. Always pay your bills on time. Many landlords, utility providers, and services charge fees for late payments. These can add up over time, so it’s best to ensure your bills are always paid promptly. If you’re able to set them up on automatic payments, that’s a great way to make sure bills are always paid promptly.
31. Conserve energy. Keep the A.C. or heater turned down and always turn off the light when you’re leaving a room. Not only is it good for the environment, but it will save you money.
32. Split memberships with your friends. Whenever possible, pitch in for memberships like Netflix, Hulu, or Costco with your friends or roommates. Usually, several people can share an account without penalties, but do your research to make sure before choosing to share.
33. Learn how to hand wash clothes like silk and wool. Some clothes require special care to clean, but dry cleaning is expensive. Learn how to hand wash these wears yourself to save money and preserve your nice clothing.
34. Take care of the things you have. Avoid buying new items and make what you have last. Hand wash your clothes, keep your furniture clean, and treat your computer with care. If you take really good care of your belongings you might even be able to sell them later.
35. Use alternatives to disposable items. With the zero waste movement growing in popularity, more and more people are saying no to disposables. Buying dish towels and dishes that you can wash (rather than paper towels and disposable cups and plates) will end up saving you money.
36. Learn to tailor your own clothes. The main problem with second-hand clothes is that they may not fit as well as ones you buy specifically for yourself. If you learn to hem your jeans, tailor your dresses, or upcycle t-shirts you can breathe new life into used clothing.
Food and Goods
37. Buy in bulk with your friends. Supplies like toilet paper and cleaning products are significantly cheaper when bought in bulk. Find a friend with a Costco or Sam’s Club membership and split the cost of bulk items like these.
38. Limit the times you eat out monthly. Eating at restaurants can be one of the most costly items in a college student’s budget. To cut this expense drastically, determine how frequently you can eat out and still stay within your budget. After making the change, you might be surprised how much more money is in your bank account each month.
39. Make dinner with your friends. Large amounts of food are usually less expensive than smaller amounts, meaning it’s more economical to share home-cooked meals with your friends or roommates. You can rotate who buys and cooks or simply split the bill — either way, you’re sure to save.
40. Make one large meal and eat it all week long. Sticking with the rule that food is less expensive when cooked in large amounts, it can also be helpful to cook one meal and eat it all week long. You can cook soup in a crockpot, make a casserole, or bake a whole chicken to eat throughout the week.
41. Freeze food that’s nearing its expiration date. Many people don’t realize that you can freeze foods like casseroles, cooked meats, soup, berries, baked goods, and even butter. To save money (and prevent food waste) freeze things that are nearing expiration and enjoy them later.
42. Grocery shop smart. Going to the grocery store hungry makes it much more likely that you will buy items you weren’t planning on buying. Make sure you eat before shopping and stick to your grocery list to avoid purchasing unnecessary items.
43. If you do eat out, do it for lunch or happy hour. When you’re eating your monthly allotted restaurant meals, try to go for lunch or happy hour when restaurants are likely to be offering specials.
44. Pack snacks and drinks for class instead of buying on the go. Snacks and drinks from vending machines and convenience stores can add up. Buy snacks at the store (or in bulk) and bring them to class. For drinks, use a reusable bottle and fill up at home or at the water fountain.
Financial Best Practices
45. Avoid overdraft fees by proactively managing your money. Banks will often charge fees for accounts that are overdrawn. Monitor your account closely to ensure this doesn’t happen often.
46. Join a credit union. Credit unions usually offer lower fees, better interest rates, and more personal service than other banks. They are a great choice for anyone trying to watch their budget and get the most out of their banking services.
47. Choose a bank that offers perks for students. If you choose to go with a bank instead of a credit union, you can find several that have benefits for people in school. Perks include lower fees and convenient locations.
48. Use budgeting apps. There are numerous apps that can help you make a budget, plan savings, and keep track of spending. Many of these tools are extremely low cost or free, so there is no reason you shouldn’t be using one.
49. Avoid interest fees. If you have credit cards, pay them off in full every month to avoid interest fees. Credit cards, if left delinquent, can get out of hand quickly. If you can’t pay the card off in full monthly you may want to hold off on getting one.
50. Shop around for things like insurance. Always compare prices for costly purchases like car and renters insurance as different places will offer different pricing. Figure out what kind of coverage you need and choose a company that works with your budget.
Creative Ways to Save Money
51. Make your own presents. Birthdays and holidays can often mean spending money on gifts. Making your own gifts can allow you to spend time rather than money on your loved ones.
52. Ask for practical gifts for holidays and your birthday. Occasions when you receive gifts are the perfect opportunity to load up on essentials. Ask for things like clothes, socks, cookware, and supplies so you don’t have to buy them yourself.
53. Don’t buy school supplies you won’t use. Most people these days use their laptops for taking notes in class. In fact, most papers and tests are taken digitally these days. Avoid buying school supplies like pens and paper if you don’t really need them.
54. Test out of classes. Programs like CLEP allow you to take exams and test out of intro-level college classes. Testing out of just one class can save you 100+ hours of time and thousands of dollars. If you can test out of several classes you could end up saving bundles.
55. Become a resident assistant. College dorms usually employ a resident assistant (usually an upperclassman) to help younger students and keep the peace. You will have to live in the dorm, but the rooms are almost always private. These rooms are often free or heavily discounted — sometimes R.A.’s are even given a monthly stipend!
56. Apply for scholarships. Scholarships award money to students based on merit or need. Find out which scholarships you are eligible for and apply early. You never know, a large portion of your semester could be paid for!
57. Don’t fail classes. If you fail a class you will have to pay to retake it. Avoid flunking out as much as possible by showing up for class, turning in your homework, and studying hard for tests.
58. Share textbooks with friends. If you have a friend in the same class as you and plan to study together, it can pay off to share textbooks. Split the cost of renting textbooks and stow the money you save.
59. Keep your valuables safe. Unfortunately, theft is a problem on many college campuses. Keep an eye on your valuables if you are in public (like at the library or a coffee shop). If you live in a house with multiple people, it’s usually best to keep your expensive things hidden or locked up. You never know who your roommates might invite over.
60. Attend a community college for the first two years. Community colleges cost significantly less than state schools or private universities. Many students choose to get their “basic” classes done at a community college to save money. After the first or second year, they transfer to larger schools to take their more specialized classes.
61. Learn how to make minor auto repairs. Auto repairs can be extremely costly. If you decide to own a car during college, learn to do minor maintenance and repairs yourself. Convenient skills to have include knowing how to change your oil, brake pads, and battery or how to replace a headlight.
62. Purchase discounted gift cards. Services like Cardpool, Raise, and RetailMeNot sell discounted gift cards to department stores, restaurants, and clothing stores. While they aren’t heavily discounted, the $4 or $5 you save when you buy these cards can add up. It’s basically free money!
63. Wait on large purchases. Wait a week before making any large, unnecessary purchases. This will give you time to think the situation over and ensure you actually want whatever you are buying. Sometimes, you will realize the purchase is not as essential as you thought it was.
64. Live at home. If you can live at home with your parents (at least for the first couple of years) you can save large amounts of money. While this isn’t what most people imagine when they start college, it can help you get ahead in the savings game. Living at home can go hand-in-hand with the community college strategy.
65. Start a side hustle. Having a side gig is a great way to make extra money while keeping yourself busy so you aren’t spending money. You can drive for a ride share service like Uber, deliver packages for Amazon or Postmates, clean houses, or launch a profitable website. There are infinite options for all skill levels and expertise.
66. Adopt a minimalist lifestyle. The minimalist philosophy preaches that less is more. Minimalists decorate their homes simply, have a limited wardrobe and eat basic meals. Naturally, minimalists spend less money. Other benefits are also said to include decreased stress and a clearer mind.
By saving small amounts often, you should be able to save some money during your college years. Once you have a decent amount saved, you will need to decide how to make that money work for you. Chat with a financial advisor to determine the best long-term financial strategy for your situation.
After you choose the option that is right for you, sit back and watch your money grow. You’ll be grateful you started you invested in your future early on!
Sources: Investopia | The Simple Dollar | Best Colleges Online | 20 Something Finance | Her Campus | HuffPost | Forbes | Deliciously Organic | The Balance | Good Housekeeping | WikiHow | Scholarships.com | WiseBread | Side Hustle Nation