63 Quick Tips to Save Money in College

Mr. Coffee coffeemaker
Investing in a coffeemaker and a travel mug can save you big bucks if you start brewing at home. Photo: Porsche Brosseau

We know college is expensive, and every little bit you can save helps. That’s why we’ve put together a list of quick tips to save money in school:

Tuition & College Costs

1. Meet with your advisor regularly to plan your class schedule. This will help ensure that you’re taking the right classes at the right time — some classes you need might only be offered during a certain semester — and keep you from taking unneeded classes that don’t count toward graduation.

2. Know the fees associated with the classes you’re taking. Some courses might have higher fees because of the special equipment used or for other reasons. If it isn’t required, consider a more affordable course.

3. Apply for scholarships offered by your college and other organizations.

4. Fill out the FAFSA, the Federal Application for Student Aid, to see what types of financial aid you can qualify for.

5. Borrow your textbooks from your college’s library or a local library.

6. If you can’t borrow your books, try to buy them used at a secondhand bookstore or online before buying them new.

7. Keep your books in good condition so you can sell them when you no longer need them.

8. Consider attending a less-expensive school. In general, public colleges cost less than private colleges, and in-state tuition is lower than out-of-state.

9. Consider attending a community college your first two years to save money and reduce your student loans before transferring to a four-year school.

10. If you’re headed home for summer and not taking classes at your college, take a few classes at a local community college if they’re cheaper than at your college.

11. When taking a course at a college other than the one you plan to graduate from, confirm that the course credits transfer to your college and count toward graduation.

12. If you’re turning to student loans, opt for federal loans before taking out private loans. Federal loans will likely have a lower interest rate and better borrower benefits, like subsidization during school and the ability to explore student loan forgiveness.

13. Do well in class. Certain courses may require a specific grade to count toward your degree, and you might need to meet a grade point average requirement to enroll in a certain course or even graduate. Retaking classes you failed the first time means you’re ripping up money.

14. Visit your financial aid office regularly. It’s a great way to learn about scholarships, aid, grants, and personal finance issues. This is also a great place to ask questions about your financial aid, loans, or anything else related to how you’re paying for school.

Spending and Earning

15. Create a budget, and stick to it. This could help you avoid impulse purchases since you need to keep track of your spending. Plus, it’ll help control what you’re spending.

16. Get a credit card with cash-back rewards. Pay for items with your credit card that you’d normally be buying anyway, like groceries and gas. Pay off your balance in full every month to avoid interest and debt.

17. Never buy a thing without asking about a student discount first. Take advantage of the many student discounts available when you’re traveling, dining out, shopping, or even looking for cellphone plans and car insurance.

18. Take advantage of tax incentives for college students, such as credits for qualifying students and deducting anything you paid in student loan interest.

19. Choose a bank that offers perks for students, like free checking or a no-fee policy for low minimum balances.

20. Make sure your bank has ATMs readily available on and around campus to avoid getting hit with fees for taking out money at a different bank’s machine.

21. Keep track of when your bills are due, as well as the account balance for your debit card. Late payment fees and overdraft fees won’t help you save money.

22. When shopping for clothes, opt for practical, durable items you’ll get a lot of use out of. Plus, go for clothes that don’t require dry cleaning, which will cost more. Always check a store’s website for an email sign-up bonus, which is usually a percentage off your first purchase.

23. Work while you’re in school. You’ll earn extra money and, depending on the job, you may even get a discount on stuff you’d buy anyway, such as food or clothes. The extra money can also help you reduce the amount of interest you’re paying on student loans and on credit card debt.

24. Skip the credit cards if you can’t pay off your balance. You’ll end up paying more than you need to in interest or even late fees if you can’t make your payments.

25. Don’t be afraid to spend money on the right things. You want to spend as little money as possible in college, but some purchases might be a good investment to save money over time. A good pair of shoes might make walking everywhere easier and can save on public transportation or driving. A bike can can also reduce your cost of gas and other expenses associated with car ownership.

Food and Drink

26. Use your meal plan. If you’re already paying for a meal plan, utilize that before opting for fast food or restaurants.

27. When your meal plan is about to run out — if it doesn’t carry over from week to week or month to month — stock up on items you can easily store, like crackers and trail mix or foods you can freeze.

28. Cut back on drinking alcohol, especially binge drinking and heavy consumption. Not only are you helping your wallet, but your health will benefit as well.

29. Learn to cook to reduce the costs of ordering out or going to a restaurant.

30. Invest in a simple coffee maker instead of paying way more per cup at a coffee shop.

31. Take advantage of free food around campus. Many times you’ll find it at club meetings or at various events.

32. Utilize all the free or cheap resources on campus, like the health center, a student gym, the computer lab for printing, or even child care if you have kids.

33. Shop smart. Before heading to the grocery store, check what’s on sale, look for coupons, and sign up for grocery loyalty programs.

34. If you’re going to a restaurant, check its website for coupons, promotions, or incentives for signing up for its email list, such as a percentage off your meal or a free entree.

35. When going out to eat, opt for lunch or happy hour, which will be cheaper than the dinner menu.

36. Find coupons and deals for restaurants on Restaurant.com, Yelp, Groupon, and Living Social.

37. Instead of meeting up at restaurants, hold a pot luck with your friends once a week or month.

38. Stock your dorm pantry. If you’re in the dorms and don’t have access to a stove, stock up on foods that don’t require one: oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, cereal, sandwiches, salads, and microwavable pastas, rice, and dinners. This way if your meal plan is used up or the cafeteria is closed, you can still eat without ordering out or picking up fast food.

39. Use a slow-cooker. It’s an easy way to prepare a good meal, and it can turn cheaper, tougher cuts of meat into a tender dinner. You can make enough food to have plenty of leftovers, and it will all cook while you’re in class.

Entertainment and Resources

40. Attend free events on campus — like concerts, movie showings, speakers, sporting events, and art shows — to reduce what you’re spending on entertainment.

41. Put your Facebook and Twitter accounts to work. Your college might post information on free events or deadlines for scholarship applications. The city or town you’re living in might post information on free things to do. Follow local businesses, like restaurants or grocery stores, for coupons and deals.

42. Ditch cable and watch shows and movies online or in your community room while you’re in the dorms. Sign up for text alerts and e-mail alerts from Redbox for free movies.

43. Opt for low-cost hobbies, like running or reading (just borrow books from the library), or hobbies that can even save you money, like sewing.

44. Read your free college newspaper. Most likely, you’ll find information on free events and things to do along with coupons and discounts at local businesses.

45. Skip the gym membership. Take advantage of fitness classes on campus and join intramural sports.

Transportation and Travel

46. Sell your car or leave it at home if you can. You’ll save on parking permits, gas, maintenance, and a car payment if public transportation is easily accessible or it’s a walkable campus.

47. Walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation whenever possible instead of using your car to save on gas and parking.

48. Carpool whenever possible. If you need to take a cab home from the bars, split the fare with a few friends.

49. If you own a car, don’t become the resident taxi driver. An occasional lift to help a friend is one thing, but constantly driving people to classes or around town is going to increase what you’re spending on gas.

50. Resist the urge to max out your credit card for a pricey spring break trip. Consider cheaper destinations and other ways to save.

51. Take advantage of student travel discounts. Don’t forget there are plenty of travel-related discounts for students at companies such as Greyhound Bus and Choice Hotels.

Cost of Living

52. When furnishing an apartment or dorm room, use what you have before buying anything new. You’ll have plenty of time for nicer, newer things once you graduate and are earning more money.

53. When in need of furniture, ask family members and friends for any hand-me-downs.

54. Shop secondhand whenever possible, including for furniture and clothes. But whenever you’re buying something used, be sure there are no signs of mold, bugs, or other harmful materials. And always thoroughly sanitize and clean anything once you buy it.

55. Coordinate with your roommates before shopping so you’re not double-buying items or buying something that’s not needed.

56. Know what’s already provided in your dorm or apartment. Some dorm rooms come with a microwave or fridge included in your unit or an ironing board in the laundry facilities. An apartment might already come equipped with a microwave or basic furniture.

57. Know what’s not allowed in your dorm or apartment, so you’re not wasting your money. Candles, toaster ovens, a hot plate for cooking, or certain electronics might not be allowed.

58. Compare rents when you’re apartment hunting. Also factor in what utilities are included. Another cost to consider is how far away from campus it is. If an apartment is cheaper but farther away and would require you to drive to campus or pay for a bus, the higher-priced but closer apartment might be more cost effective.

59. Get good roommates. Split the cost of rent and utilities with roommates, and choose responsible roommates you can trust.

60. Take good care of your apartment so you don’t forfeit your security deposit (i.e., limit those crazy parties).

61. Conserve electricity. Once you start paying your own electricity bill, make sure you unplug devices when not using them, use sunlight whenever you can, and always turn off lights and electronics when not using them.

62. Apply to become a resident advisor to save money on housing. Many schools offer free or discounted lodging and/or a paycheck.

63. If your college is close enough to your parents’ home and living with your parents during college is an option for both parties, living at home might save you money.