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17 Quick Tips for Saving Money in College

Kimberly Hirsch

November 1, 2022

Being broke all the time stinks!

Money isn't the key to happiness, but it sure does make life a little easier. But you're a busy college student with a part-time job or decent side hustle, at best. After paying your monthly bills, you're hardly left with any extra cash in your wallet for the finer things–like a latte on your way to class or an upgrade from those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you've been eating every day for lunch (and sometimes dinner). Thankfully, you can incorporate some super simple things into your daily life that may help you save big.

1. Ibotta - A free app you can use after shopping for groceries or online. You download the app, make an account, and select the stores where you shop. After grocery shopping, save your receipt, upload a picture, and you'll get cash back for some of the items you bought. Your money goes into an account, and you can do a bank transfer or cash in for gift cards to anywhere you shop. One year I got cash back for an entire Thanksgiving meal! Plus, there are referral bonuses if you get your friends to shop with Ibotta too. I love it because it's free to use, and you don't have to figure out what you're shopping for first; you upload the receipt after you get home from the store.  

2. Meal plan- When you live at college, one choice you will face is whether to buy a meal plan or not. Some colleges require first-year students living on campus to have a meal plan, but after that, it's often a choice, which many upper-level students opt out of for different reasons. I suggest rethinking the meal plan! While you may have limited food options and the yearly eating routine in the same dining hall may be getting old, it's a great money-saving option that will restrict your takeout expenses–because those can add up fast. 

3. Rent Textbooks or Buy Used- College textbooks are one of the most significant unexpected expenses when entering college. There's no way around buying them for your classes each semester. Buying used is nice if you want to keep the book afterward, but sometimes professors want you to have the newest edition. Renting is a great option and can save you up to 90% per book! When you spend $1000 or more every semester on textbooks, that savings can make a big difference.

4. Grocery Delivery- The idea of using grocery delivery services seems expensive. It's like hiring a personal assistant to do your shopping and deliver it to you. The truth is, these services if used correctly, can save you a ton of money. Whenever I go to the grocery store for five items, I come home with 20. It's inevitable! There are too many distractions, and you buy things you don't need. A grocery delivery service is excellent because you will only get the items you need and will only spend what you planned. Plus, you can see your total as you add items to your cart, rather than blindly adding them and not knowing the sum until you've already overspent.  

5. Keep Track of Your Spending & Budget- What would I find if I looked at your expenses in the past month? How about the past six months? There is no better way to save money than to look closely at how much you have been spending. Forcing yourself to track that $8 latte or that $14 burrito makes you think twice about how much you've spent on individual items. Monthly subscriptions and mindless spending can add up and force you to go over budget unintentionally. Keep track of how much income you have each month and set a strict budget for yourself. Determine your "must-have" items, which will let you know how much extra you have to spend on everything else. You will be surprised at how much you can save when you're mindful of your money. Using a budgeting app can be a lifesaver. Mint is an app that has a free version and is great for college students wanting to track and budget their money. 

6. Pack a Lunch- If you don't have a meal plan, lunch can be an essential thing that adds up fast. Stopping for fast food or a sandwich five days a week can quickly put a college student into debt. Find some simple recipes that you can make in your dorm and pack yourself a lunch each day. A few snacks will keep your hunger at bay and keep you from the temptation of ordering out.  

7. Ask about a Student Discount- Did you know that students get many discounts? There are digital discounts available like Amazon Prime, Audible, Apple Music, and Spotify, and discounts on services like the train, bus, and car insurance. When shopping, always ask if they offer a student discount. Stores like Apple and Best Buy. GoodWill and Toms are just a few of the stores that do. When you're in town, there are discounts for students when visiting local venues, concerts, and sporting events. This is only the tip of the iceberg! Check out here for the complete list of student discounts available. If you are still determining who offers a deal, my motto is it can never hurt to flash that ID and ask!

8. Shop Second Hand- Second hand used to get a bad rap. Nowadays, it's synonymous with vintage and eco-friendly, and those two things are definitely in style. Thrift stores can be a lot of fun to shop at. If you're finding your closet dull and need new pieces, find a local thrift store and comb through the racks. Second-hand does not mean old and ugly; it wasn't suitable for someone else, but it may be perfect for you. And what's better, you can score 4 or 5 pieces at a thrift store for the cost of 1 item at a regular store.

9. Pay Bills on Time- While you probably don't have many bills in college, pay the ones you do have on time. Even paying the minimum on credit cards will prevent late fees from piling on unnecessarily. Late fees are sometimes $30 to $45 per month. If you were late one month, try calling the number to explain your situation and see if they will remove the late fee. Often if it is your first time, they'll be understanding but don't make it a habit because they may not understand a second time. Set your phone or calendar a week before your bill is due, so you can avoid scrambling at the last minute and forgetting to pay. 

10. Stop Buying Bottled Water- One small investment in a nice reusable water bottle and possibly a purifying pitcher for your dorm, and you will save a ton (and step up your hydration game!). We all know how harmful plastic is to the environment, but did you know the damage it is doing to your wallet? Save your money and refill, especially since most colleges have water bottle refilling stations attached to water fountains. Buying a reusable water bottle should be on everyone's to-do list.

11. Buy a Bike- If you are constantly taking the bus or train or calling for an Uber. It might be time to invest in a bike. Or if you have a large campus and tend to drive your car from one side to the next, then it's time. Search Facebook Marketplace or yard sales, and you can likely pick up a nice one for around $20. You will save a ton on gas, car repairs, oil changes, and, well, the cost of a car! 

12. Workout at the School Gym- I hope college students aren't wasting money on a gym membership! Did you know colleges have campus gyms that you can use for free? You don't need a fancy membership to get in a good workout. Use the resources you have to stay in shape and save money on campus. Pocket that extra cash each month for something you need. 

13. Family Cell Phone Plan- Just because you don't live with your family anymore doesn't mean you can't share a cell phone plan. A family plan benefits everyone. Get everyone on the same program and save. Remember to see if they offer a student discount too.

14. Invest in a Coffee Maker- Being a coffee lover is expensive. The warm, comforting smell and taste of delicious java get many people through their day. For some, it's a need, not just a want! Unfortunately, coffee shops can be expensive. Stop there multiple times a day, and you'll be spending all that extra cash on your caffeine habit. Instead, invest in an excellent coffee maker, and you can brew your cup before you go. The money you save will pay for the coffeemaker in no time, and that extra cash can go towards other things.  

15. Ask For Things You Need (for the holidays)- When Christmas approaches and family members start shopping, they may ask what's on your list this year. Don't be afraid to tell them what you need. Add items you might need next semester to avoid paying out of pocket. This could save you a big chunk of cash. Instacart gift cards, a gadget for cooking in your dorm, gas cards, school supplies, and a reusable water bottle all make great yet practical gifts. Start an Amazon wish list and share the link if anyone asks.

16. Graduate Early- Add an extra class each semester if you can handle it. The additional credits will add up fast, and by the time senior year rolls around, you may have enough credits to graduate a semester earlier than planned. Doing this can save you an entire semester of expenses like tuition, textbooks, room and board, and a meal plan. 

17. Fast- At first glance, fasting can seem controversial. But there's a real science behind why fasting for short periods is good for most people. It can have all kinds of benefits for your body, improve your brain power, and save you time (less cooking) and money since you are eating fewer meals. Intermittent fasting is a regular part of many healthy individuals' diets and became popular in the early 2000s with Dr. Fung and his best-selling book The Complete Guide to Fasting. Like any new dietary change, always consult your doctor first. 

Sometimes you need a change of thinking, a tweak of your schedule, or some simple knowledge to save money. When you're a student in college, money doesn't come easily, but when you know the tips and tricks, saving it can. Which of these tips will you incorporate into your life to put a little extra cashback in your pocket?  

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