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How to Save Money in College: 10 Tips for Students

College is a time of discovery, exploration, and freedom. For many students, it’s also a time of financial insecurity. You may be coming out of high school with no idea how to save money in college—and that’s okay! With a bit of self-awareness and discipline, you can enjoy this new life chapter on a smart budget.

Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your money during your college years:

1. Attend a Community College First

Deciding where to go to college is a big decision. These days, many high school graduates attend community colleges for the first two years to save money. Consider getting your general education classes out of the way at a junior college for a fraction of the cost. Then, transfer to your dream four-year university to focus on the courses required for your major.

2. Live at Home

After factoring in expenses, students pay over $10,000 per school year to live away from home. Independent living involves many expenses:

  • Rent
  • Food
  • Utilities (Internet, electricity, gas)
  • Transportation (and sometimes parking fees)
  • And more!

While moving out is part of the college experience for many, it can be expensive if you aren’t prepared. Some people choose to live at home for a couple of years after high school so they can save money with a part-time job before going off on their own. Plus, they can learn budgeting from the best financial educators out there: mom and dad!

3. Apply for Scholarships

You may be thinking, “Scholarships? There isn’t anything for me.” But you’d be surprised by how many are out there. And the best part? They are free to apply for and can help you pay your way through college. Countless scholarships exist for every type of student: athletes, minorities, children of first responders who lost their lives on duty—you name it! Check with your school’s financial aid office or check out websites like FastWeb and Scholarships.com to find more information about scholarships that fit your interests, skillsets, and needs.

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4. Coupon Clip When Grocery Shopping

Food prices are going up, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. So, more people are turning to coupon clipping to save money. Give it a try! You might find yourself getting hooked on this frugal way of shopping. See whether your local grocer has a mobile app that you can download to find digital coupons for your favorite items. Coupons are also available online, in newspapers, and at grocery stores.

5. Enjoy Homemade Coffee

If you’re a coffee lover, then you know there’s nothing better than the smell and taste of freshly brewed coffee. But if you want to save money in college, it’s time to learn how to make your own. A few bucks every day add up fast—and much faster than you might anticipate. Instead of blowing all your cash on fancy lattes and frappuccinos, invest in an espresso machine. It may seem like a greater upfront cost than the daily latte habit, but it will pay for itself and then some over time.

6. Limit Eating Out

Eating out is expensive these days, and inflation isn’t helping. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money by eating at home:

  • Buy groceries and cook yourself. Not only will this save you money, but it will also give you control over what you put in your food (like limiting fat and sodium). Nourish your body with fresh meals without breaking the bank!
  • Bulk cook on a designated day (Sunday, perhaps?) so that meals are ready when hunger strikes.
  • Stock your pantry with healthy snacks. Protein bars are perfect on-the-go fuel!

7. Live Off-Campus with a Roommate

Saving money as a college student is much easier if you live in an off-campus apartment with a roommate (or two)! By splitting rent and utilities, you can live for less than half the cost of living on campus.

Many students prefer to live with one roommate. But if you’re willing to share your space with three or more people, you’ll save even more money by splitting the communal costs (like utilities, furniture, and even groceries).

Living with others can take some getting used to. You must adjust to your housemates’ quirks, lifestyles, and daily habits—and vice versa! It may be challenging at first, but it’s worth the initial discomfort. Soon before you know it, you’ll make new best friends and create fun memories to last a lifetime!

8. Get a Part-Time Job

You have several options for work in college. Work-study positions provide practical work experience in an academic position such as tutoring or being a research assistant. They can even pay pretty well depending on the job! The caveat with these opportunities is that they are often competitive and require a minimum GPA.

Don’t qualify for any work-study jobs on campus? No worries—you can get a part-time job off-campus or a paid internship. The compensation may not be life-changing, but having even a small income can go a long way in offsetting college expenses. Most students work part-time so they can juggle their classes and other responsibilities.

9. Walk Whenever Possible

Walking is better for the environment and amazing for your mental and physical health. Get those steps in and soak in the sunshine without paying for a gym membership or worrying about gas and parking fees. And who knows? You might even meet cool people by walking regularly.

10. Shop Pre-Loved Clothes, Furniture, and Textbooks

Buying secondhand items is one of many great ways to save money while getting what you need:

  • Clothing: Thrift stores are treasure troves of fashionable, wallet-friendly items. Sometimes if you’re lucky, the clothes are even new with tags!
  • Textbooks: Score used books for a fraction of the retail price on AbeBooks, Chegg, or Facebook Marketplace.
  • Furniture: Local yard sales, flea markets, and Craigslist are fun places to find unique home goods at affordable prices.

Budgeting in College Prepares You for Life

While in college, you’ll see how quickly a few dollars here and there can add up. Use an app like Mint to divide your bank account into categories so it’s easier to keep track of where all your money goes:

  • Food
  • Entertainment
  • Socializing
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities
  • Miscellaneous expenses

Record everything that goes into each category, then total them up at the end of every month. After getting a handle on how you’re spending money, you can figure out where to make budget cuts if necessary. Spent too much socializing this month? Try cooking at home with friends more often next month.

Tip: Don’t forget to set aside money for a rainy day. You can develop a robust savings account during your college years by saving small amounts often.

Be Thrifty and Enjoy College

Making ends meet in college is not easy, especially with rising tuition costs and living expenses. But that doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself of the quintessential college experience. Follow these money-saving tips for college students, and you’ll be well on your way to building a strong financial future!

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