How to save money in college
College can be many things – fun, exciting, challenging, exhausting, rewarding – but “cheap” doesn’t usually make the list. And if you’re in college or about to be in college, I want you to be able to save as much money as you can so you can finance your degree and graduate with a future that doesn’t include student loan payments (yes, that’s really possible). Here’s the good news: You don’t have to have a full-time job or eat ramen noodles 24/7 to graduate with no debt. There are many simple, practical ways you can save big on college expenses.
you have to live, don’t you? But if you’re a college student, living can mean anything from a small apartment shared with roommates to a luxurious dorm with a hot tub and views of the city skyline. Let’s stay budget-friendly.
Live at home if you can
OK, all of you. I get it. You’re probably ready to get out of the house and bask in your newfound freedom, and living at home might be the last thing you want to do. And of course, living at home won’t be an option for everyone. But just remember, you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars a year on rent, utility bills, or groceries. All that extra money in your bank account will be totally worth it.
Compare the cost of living on campus versus off campus
Renting an apartment isn’t always cheaper than living on campus, and living on campus isn’t always cheaper than renting. You need to look at all the options available at your school and in the area to see what is the cheapest.
Find a roommate
If you’re renting an apartment, having a roommate (or two or three) will cut your expenses significantly. Make sure your landlord has approved each roommate and that everyone signs the lease so you don’t get stuck financially if one of them moves out.
Share meal expenses with roommates
You can save a lot when you shop for groceries, especially if you buy in bulk. You could even shop for groceries and cook together for some solid roommate bonding time.
Be strategic when eating out
It’s okay to go out with your friends once in a while, but when you’re constantly getting impromptu waffles at 2 a.m., it really adds up. Plan the amount of money you can spend on food each month.
Be smart with your meal plan
Meal plan costs can vary by school — cheaper ones can be around $1,000 per semester, but some can be three times that (or more). Some colleges may require a meal plan for your freshman year. So if you must have one, make sure you actually use it. But if you don’t have to, meal prepping and making food from scratch are your new best friends.
Buy used books
It’s crazy how much you can save by just buying your textbooks from Amazon or a used book store instead of the campus bookstore. You probably won’t find all the reading you need in these cheaper places, but even if you have to use the campus bookstore, they usually give you the option to rent rather than buy. Go with the rent.
Take classes at a community college first
You can save big on tuition by getting all of your general education needs at a community college out of the way before going to your school of choice because the price difference is insane. A school year at a private school costs on average more than nine times a school year at an adult education center.
Go to a government school
The average tuition at a public, state school is $9,349 per year, and the average tuition at a public, non-state school is $27,023 per year.1 That’s an annual difference of more than $17,000! If it’s an out-of-state private college, tuition skyrockets even further.
Apply for scholarships
It’s kind of a no-brainer: when you find scholarships, you don’t have to worry as much about tuition costs (and some scholarships even cover your books, food, and lodging). When I went to college, my family couldn’t help me financially, so I treated the scholarship application like a part-time job—and it really paid off. I know it’s a lot of hard work, but I promise it will make a big difference.
Nobody likes to spend money on gas. With bikes you don’t have to. Enough said.
Use public transport
This can be anything from the bus system to subways to ride-sharing services. Depending on how often you use public transport, you may want to buy passes instead of individual tickets – it costs more upfront but will help you save in the long run.
Do you have a part-time job or a side job
Don’t underestimate the effect a few babysitting or dog walking jobs a week can have on your savings. A part-time job (no more than 15-20 hours per week) is also a good idea for a regular income.
Find all student discounts and coupons you can find
We’re talking about Groupon. We’re talking about Yelp. We’re talking about all the restaurants, museums, and movie theaters in your area that offer discounts to college students. Wherever you go, don’t be afraid to show your student ID and ask if there are any offers!
Stay out of debt
If you really want to save money and build a solid foundation for your future, you won’t be in debt. No student loans, no credit cards—nothing. They will only weigh you down and keep you from achieving your financial goals.
These are just a few of my tips for saving money while studying. Remember, the right plan for your future starts with understanding all of your options!
After winning $500,000 in scholarships and graduating from her dream school with a bachelor’s and master’s degree, Kristina Ellis set out to help students create their own debt-free education plan. She is the bestselling author of Confessions of a Scholarship Winner and How to Graduate Debt-Free. She is a featured cast member on the 2021 documentary Borrowed Future: How Student Loans Are Killing the American Dream. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets including Fox & Friends, The Katie Couric Show, CBN, USA Today, Reuters, and Seventeen Money. As a Ramsey personality, Kristina helps thousands of families nationwide navigate the complex waters of college financing and graduate debt-free.