College is difficult enough when you’re only worried about tests and papers, or about a crush or what you’re going to have for lunch. Worrying about money adds a level of stress that can have a dampening effect on all aspects of your life, including your grade.
Here, we’ve outlined 20 great money-saving – and earning – tips to help you reduce costs, increase opportunities, and have just that much less stress going into the semester.
You Need a Budget
Let’s start with something obvious but that many take for granted: You Need a Budget.
That’s right, not only is it true, it’s the name of some great budgeting software.
Regardless of how you prepare your budget: spreadsheet, paper, the envelope system, or an accordion file, you do need to track where your money goes if you ever hope to control it. Even if you don’t want to be frugal and utilize any other advice, we want you to manage your money in such a way that you have more to spend on the things you love by spending less on the things you don’t really care about. The only way to do that is to track and manage where you spend.
Luckily, YNAB is free for students for 12 months, rather than 34 days for the general public.
You can also use Mint for a less robust but very informative tool, or check out this list of 10 Best Budget Software Apps for more options.
Limit Credit Card Usage
In line with your budgetary efforts, you should limit your credit usage. Debit cards are better, but cash is king.
Studies have shown over and over that swiping plastic is less “painful” than handing over cash and can cause you to spend up to 15% more than you would with cash. Debit cards in particular come with nasty overdraft charges if you make a mistake with your account balance. Worse, these overdraft fees can rack up into the hundreds very quickly. If you haven’t, call your bank and turn off overdraft protection. Better to be face embarrassment and be declined than to pay for it later.
Credit cards are insidious for another reason. Not only is it easier to spend, it’s easier to spend money you don’t actually have. It’s tempting to throw those new sunglasses or that morning bagel onto a credit card and forget about it until the end of the month. But piling up credit card debt just adds fuel to the financial fire by charging you interest until the balance is paid. Even a small balance can turn into dozens of dollars a month in interest fees, not to mention late fees or overlimit fees.
Be careful and use cash whenever possible. You can’t overdraft your wallet.
Rent or Buy Used Textbooks
One of the most expensive out-of-pocket costs for a semester is textbooks. Even if you can bill them to your college tuition balance, the prices are astronomical for new editions and often even expensive for second-hand books purchased through your college. Textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars each and some classes require more than one. The problem is compounded if you’re in a science or technical degree program with new science textbooks costing upwards of $300. That doesn’t even include the lab book.
Thankfully for the budget-conscious student, there have been many changes in the secondhand textbook market.
First, there are textbook rentals. Amazon, the 800 pound gorilla, rents textbooks. Barnes & Noble rents textbooks, and many other sites do, too.
Second, there are a ton of used options out there. Check Craigslist, Facebook, or any social media or communication methods that students at your college use to find textbooks from last semester’s enrollees. Bonus opportunity points if you buy them at the end of the preceding semester, knowing you’ll be taking the class. Ebay, Amazon, and dozens of websites do this, as well. Check with your professor first, but a previous version will be significantly less expensive and have almost all of the same material, just organized differently.
Finally, you have the library option. Most school libraries keep a copy or two of each registered textbook on file for use within the library. Go ask – the librarians are there to help. It might feel like a cramp in your style to have to read your chapters at the library, but you might find it beneficial to your retention and attention span. You can also photograph important pages with your phone, or scan them to your email address.
No matter what you do, avoid paying full price for new textbooks!
Utilize the Library
Since we’re on the topic, your school’s library has tons to offer for budget-saving ideas. Most college libraries have lots of entertainment options, often hosting art galleries, movie nights, and other cultural events.
The campus library can be used as a quiet study area, perfect for concentrating or getting a class group or club meeting together without having to meet at Waffle House for a study session where you’ll end up spending money.
On the same token, most libraries have great hangout spots in general, where you don’t necessarily have to keep it down, but you won’t have to spend on overpriced lattes to enjoy a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity in the evening.
Best of all, your library often has tons of free entertainment you can borrow. Many have large collections of movies on DVD or even *gasp* fiction books for you to borrow rather than buying them on Amazon. Your school library, or even the local public library, will often even have ebook borrowing for your kindle or tablet.
Join a Club
Get a list of your campus-sponsored clubs and find one or two that interest you. First, you’ll meet new people who have similar interests. Second, you might make some new friends. Even better, you’ll get access to a hobby, pastime, or interest of yours that’s subsidized by the school itself.
Most colleges offer stipends to approved clubs that helps covers some measure of supplies and, often, food for their regular meetings. Play D&D, get into a sports club, join a martial arts club, or join a regular arts club! It doesn’t matter, there’s almost always something interesting to participate in. It will help you socialize a few hours a week without spending money on transportation, food, and drinks.
If you don’t like any of the clubs offered and just *love* knitting, find out how to start your own knitting club and get all of those crazy knitters to join you.
Attend Campus Events
In line with joining a club or utilizing the library is the fact that almost all colleges host great events regularly. In an attempt to be part of the community and show that colleges bring culture to students and neighbors both, you’ll find your college prepares a ton of events throughout the year – many of them at no cost to you.
These events range from barbecues to ballets, concerts to cello recitals. You’ll often find outdoor movies (or indoor), art galleries, and interesting talks by famous people.
Attending these has many benefits. You could:
- Get free food
- Get free entertainment
- Get some brownie points with a significant other
- Earn extra credit for a class
- Network with alumni and local movers & shakers
- Maybe absorb a little culture that isn’t at the bottom of a red Solo cup
These events are well worth your time. Get a school calendar and make sure you get updates for new events and enjoy the shows.
Ask for Student Discounts
Always ask for student discounts. Carry your student ID and always ask.
You may be surprised to find out who has student discounts. Often, you’ll find discounts at common attractions for students around town. Establishments like restaurants and movie theaters are common places to find some bonus with your student ID. Check with coffee shops, local attractions, theme parks, stores, and even transportation.
Your student ID could save you hundreds of dollars over the course of time.
It might seem obvious, but bring it with you and ask everywhere you shop. You’ll be happily surprised more than once.
Reconsider Your Transportation
Cars are expensive and, believe it or not, most students don’t actually need one. Almost everything you’ll need in your day-to-day life as a student will be provided on-campus. Exceptions exist for large or spread-out campuses or for students who have jobs to get to off-campus.
Most schools are situated in such a way as to provide very reasonable public transportation or walkability. Check out both your school’s and city’s transportation offerings – they may even be free as a student (see above). Making public transportation work for you can save a lot of money over registering a vehicle on campus and paying for a parking pass.
If public transportation doesn’t cut it for your particular circumstance, consider the humble bicycle. It’s good exercise, it’s often as fast or faster than a car inside city limits, and it’s free to use apart from very minor maintenance. Invest in a good bike lock or bring it inside with you and a single, inexpensive bicycle will last your entire college career. Some campuses even offer inexpensive bike-sharing programs to release you from the expense and liability of keeping your own bike on hand. Bicycles are provide exercise, are easier to own and operate than a vehicle, and are great for the environment.
Finally, if you really need that gasoline power to get where you’re going, consider a small motor scooter (50cc engine). You can pick one up used for under $1,000, the insurance costs are almost zero, maintenance is minimal, and they often get 90-100 miles per gallon fuel efficiency. More environmentally friendly than a car and less expensive, a small-displacement scooter comes with many advantages. For a start, many states don’t require a driver’s license to operate a small scooter while the rest only require a car license rather than a specialized motorcycle endorsement.Small scooters can reach in-town speed (generally up to 40 mph), sometimes accelerating faster than a car. They’re also fun and can be very cool. The main drawback is weather: in many climates, a scooter is only appropriate for 7-8 months out of the year. That’s if you don’t mind getting a little chilly later in the year. If you can make public transportation work for you, or you can get your hands on a car for the winter to make up the difference, a scooter can save you tons of money and add a little extra fun to your life.
Will Work for Food
Speaking of driving to work: do you have some sort of income-generating job during the school year? Having a paying job is a great way to avoid extra debt or even pay down your school debt so you can graduate with few to no loans. Additionally, where you work might help you spend even less than you normally would.
All else being equal (shift flexibility, pay), you should consider working somewhere that helps you offset some regular expense. That typically means working with or around food, since that’s a college student’s primary expense if he or she does not have a full meal plan. Consider restaurants, bakeries, and caterers. Food delivery can also be pretty lucrative, especially if you use that fuel-efficient scooter mentioned above. If all else fails, find a place to work that provides free meals during the course of business, or has a lot of catered meetings that you can ransack afterward. Hospital administrative wings have a lot of these opportunities.
The key takeaway is that it’s important to earn while you learn and to maximize the opportunities that can come with a menial, entry-level job.
Cook Your Own Food
Let’s stay on the food thing for a few minutes. If you’re not working in a food-plentiful position, and you’re living off campus with no meal plan, stop eating out. McDonald’s is not actually cheaper than cooking for yourself, though it feels cheaper in the moment. The same goes for nearly any prepared food.
Instead, you should cook for yourself. You may not know how to cook, but there are tons of benefits to learning and utilizing this important life skill. You can:
- Customize your food to your preferences
- Impress your date
- Create healthy foods
- Impress your date
- Eat any style of cuisine you like
- Save money
- and Impress your date
Did we mention that having one or two delicious go-to dishes can really impress a date, be they male or female? It works like a charm and is never a wasted effort.
For daily food, you really don’t have to be that impressive. In fact, we recommend prepping a week’s worth of meals ahead on Sunday to save time and money. Also visit /r/EatCheapandHealthy for great, budget-minded healthy meals.
Don’t Shop While Hungry
This probably sounds like your mother’s advice that she got from her mother. But, like most sage wisdom, it’s just plain good sense.
Shopping while hungry will inevitably see you putting junk in your basket that has nothing to do with all of the planning you did at the subreddits above. Those Oreos you just had to have will undo your entire week’s gym duty.
Instead, have a snack before you go into the grocery store. Take all that you learned above and have a hard-and-fast list ready in your hand (or on your phone. Google Keep is good for this). Don’t stray from your list unless it’s for non-edibles. Really, try not to forget the deodorant.
The list is law, it’s what helps you stay on budget and healthy at home. The list decides what goes in the basket and what stays on the shelf in it’s attractive,advertisement of a box.
Have a snack, take the list, and take control of your menu at home.
Save on Coffee
We know: sometimes you want to escape to a coffee shop and work or study, write your screenplay or code. We wouldn’t deny you that luxury, but that doesn’t give you free rein to get a $6 Starbucks every single day before class, or go out to get late-night coffees for your weekly all-nighters.
Instead, we’re going to recommend you start making coffee at home or in your dorm. Arguably better and definitely cheaper, homemade coffee can give you the caffeine a college student needs without breaking the bank.
That same $6 can buy you a whole pound of coffee – enough for a couple of weeks. Spend a couple of bucks more to get some better quality stuff if you want.
If you have easy access to a stove or an electric kettle, you’re going to want a french press or an Aeropress for hot coffee. They’re inexpensive and pretty much foolproof while turning out a consistently great cup of coffee.
If you have a microwave to heat water, an Aeropress would still work just fine. Another inexpensive option is a one cup pour over filter.
Follow the instructions on any one of these and you’ll have a better cup of coffee than Starbucks can offer in less time than it takes to get through the morning line, all while saving dozens of dollars per week.
Kick the Soda, Energy Drink, Health Drink Habit
Soda is terrible for you. Knock it off. You don’t need to be spending money on poison. If you want the fizz, grab a sodastream and add some lime juice.
Energy drinks are terrible for you. Not only that, they’re expensive! Knock that off, too. Plan ahead, get proper sleep, and take your vitamins. If you need a caffeine shot, use your Aerorpress (above) to knock out a strong cup of coffee for a few pennies worth of grounds.
Kombucha is, they say, good for you. But it’s crazy expensive. This isn’t just for kombucha or kefir, but for any trendy health drink. Wheatgrass shots, acai berry smoothies, all of it. Cut it out. Get good nutrition by cooking for yourself and cut these out. If you really need kombucha, stop buying it bottled and make your own. It’s better for you and significantly less expensive if a little more involved.
This might be a little obvious, but if you’re off-campus, try to get a roommate, or an additional roommate. If you don’t live off-campus, look into living off-campus to save money over dorm living.
Some roommates are awesome. Some are not. The keys to a good roommate experience are communication and setting expectations.
Let them know what to expect for expenses and how to split them, when they’re due, and the process for paying them. Let them know the expectations of what they’ll take as chores, what their portion of the bills are, and any other roommate responsibilities everyone might have.
You will also want to establish rules about food sharing. Splitting food isn’t generally recommended, as someone always feels like they’re being taken advantage of. Rather, it’s best to have separate shelves in the fridge and cupboards in the kitchen to keep as your own and avoid that friction.
With some guidelines like these for roommates, you have a better shot of working together and sharing expenses, a win-win all around.
Cut the Cord
Cable TV is a nightmare. You pay to watch content real-time, or time shifted if you pay extra for a DVR, and the show is 20-30% advertisements. Almost a third of your money goes to paying to watch ads. You can do that for free on YouTube.
That, and cable TV offers few benefits to streaming or using an over-the-air antenna. You can always head to a sports bar, a friend’s dorm, or a campus event to watch any game you would otherwise miss, and everything else is available on Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go or Now for less than the price of cable. You should be using your parents’ accounts for those subscriptions, anyway!
This applies to every recurring expense: find it and kill it.
If you’re in an apartment, call your cable company and drop your internet speeds as low as you can possibly go without making it unusable. If you’re paying for your own cell phone, call the company and try to reduce your plan. Even better, switch to Straight Talk, Google Fi, or <http=”http://www,ting.com”>Ting and save even more money without losing sacrificing service.
Be ruthless. You don’t need a Birchbox, Ispy, or Popsugar subscription, and are you really playing World of Warcraft that much? Shouldn’t you be studying?
In line with cutting the cord, we want you to negotiate every account possible. If you can’t or won’t reduce your plans, call the company and ask for promotional pricing. Be firm but polite – almost every company has some leeway in pricing for customers who are willing to cancel their services.
This also applies to rent – when looking at apartments, don’t be afraid to haggle, especially if you have good references and proof of steady income. A good tenant is worth their weight in gold, and maybe even a $50-100 monthly discount on rent! This works especially well when it’s time to renew your lease and you’ve been a great tenant.
One final note: negotiate with credit cards, especially if you’ve had them a little while. Call and ask to have your interest reduced if you haven’t had any late payments or late fees. If you have, call and ask them to waive the fees. The same goes for any other account. Remember: it never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is ‘no.’
Related to negotiations, you can save yourself time, frustration, and money by avoiding fees in the first place. Starting with You Need a Budget, take control of your money and direct where it goes. Then build yourself a small reserve of cash in case something gets away from you.
From there, it’s simple; pay everything on time. Set up automatic payments for your credit card, your phone, your fuel-efficient/inexpensive vehicle, everything. Make sure you have cash in your account to cover them, and make sure your savings is ready in case you screw up. Don’t worry, it gets easier as you get used to it.
Any accounts that don’t have automatic payments available should be set up with reminders on your calendar app a day or two before its due. You might want to set up alerts for recurring payments to make sure there’s cash enough for those, too.
This is a big one because overdraft and late fees are just pure waste. If the company won’t refund you, you received nothing for your money other than lining their pockets.
Stay ahead on payments and avoid account-draining fees.
The same advice goes for tickets – parking, inspection, registration, speeding, seat belt, and cellphone-while-driving tickets are pure revenue generators for your city. You can’t afford to flush hundreds down the drain because of these infractions that are completely under your control.
Read the Fine Print
Your college probably means well, but there are a lot of fees and charges flying around when you account for the whole school year.
Comb through your packets and your fee schedules and see if you can reduce or eliminate anything. Often, schools will automatically include a health fee for on-campus health services, but you can opt out of this if you have health insurance – personally or through your parents’ coverage.
If you live off campus, you might be able to reduce or eliminate your campus meal plan. Even on campus, you may be able to reduce your meal plan if you’re not an early riser and tend to skip breakfast in the cafeteria.
The same goes for any bills or payments you have – eliminate all unnecessary and unwanted features and fees that you can.
Become a Resident Advisor
Becoming a Resident Advisor can offer a ton of benefits. Rather than getting an apartment, becoming an RA generally gets you:
- Free, private living quarters on campus
- Free parking
- Free annual meal plan
Then there are the myriad ways to spend money in an apartment: utilities, cleaning supplies, snow removal, lost security deposits, etc.
There is a time commitment as an RA, but the rewards may far outweigh the costs. Apply to be an RA and save yourself some money, earn experience that can be applies to work (and works on your resume!), and help your fellow students.
Apply for Scholarships
Don’t forget about this crucial task. Apply for scholarships every semester.
Thousands of scholarships and millions of dollars go unclaimed every year. Applying for scholarships efficiently can earn you thousands of dollars toward tuition or expenses. It’s nothing to sneeze at.
Check out an article titled How I won $100,000+ in College Scholarships for a great resource on the “whys” and “hows” of scholarship applications.
After applying for a few, you’ll find that you can even start to recycle your awesome essays, saving you time and increasing your productivity. Beyond that, do things that don’t scale: go to your career center and get a list of scholarships and apply to each one, don’t blanket email a bunch of online applications. It doesn’t work in the career world or the scholarship world.
It doesn’t matter who you are, there are scholarships just waiting for you to write in and claim them.