Last Updated 3 weeks by Emily Standley-Allard
Learning how to manage money as a college student is a crucial skill. It is a vital habit that gives you the foundation for a lifetime of skills to manage your hard-earned capital for the rest of your life. As a college student, you have multiple things to experience, but the best time to start managing and saving money is right now. Here are 54 ways to help you tweak your spending and save more money while in college in no time.
Track all expenses as a college student
Did you know that a great way to manage money as a college student, or anyone for that matter is by tracking your expenses? After all, how can you know where your money is going if you don’t track it?
Start tracking your expenses for a month to check where your money goes and find ways to save more money.
By creating a budget and tracking your spending, you get insights into where your monthly income is headed.
Being a college student, you can take advantage of the help of several budgeting apps available to help you track exactly where your money is going.
Manage college student expenses
College is fun and expensive!
Here are the best ways to manage and save money on key college expenses like tuition, loans, books, food, entertainment, transportation and more.
Cook at home as a college student
Especially as a college student eating out is much more expensive than cooking at home.
When it comes to managing money as a college student and saving money, as hard as it is try your best to eat more meals at home. And no, you are not just limited to Ramen noodles.
It is not needed to cut dining out entirely. But stop having every lunch or dinner at cafes or restaurants.
When cooking at home, make sure you don’t waste food and make use of your leftovers. Also, visit the grocery store once a week to save money and time.
A service like Instacart can also help you save by limiting your purchase of impulse items in stores.
Of course, keep in mind that Instacart charges a hefty service fee and taxes. And tipping is optional but definitely recommended.
Here are some of the cheapest and easiest meals for College students to make from AllRecipes.
Cheapest Meals When You Have No Money
Save money on books as a college student
The cost of new textbooks is outrageous!
Buying second-hand or used books is an effective way to save a lot of money.
Brand-new books are often overpriced simply because they are new.
You can search for used books on Amazon and also sell your previously purchased books.
Make Use of the Library
One of the most under-used, but best free tools, on a college campus is the library. College libraries have everything – and it’s free if you’re a student.
They have books (or course), but they also usually have computers to use, videos, software, and more.
If you’re really trying to get through college on a budget, the library will be your best friend.
Remember, though, that quantities are limited at the library. Being effective in using the library typically requires prior planning – knowing your classes and books ahead of time, going at odd hours, etc.
Sell Back Your Textbooks When You’re Done
This could have been combined with minimizing your textbook expenses, but it’s a whole area on its own. When you’re done with your used textbooks, you need to sell them and get your money back.
It’s one of the best ways to save in college.
If you’ve just stuck to reselling your textbooks at your campus bookstore, you’re probably missing out on a significant amount of extra money.
15 Ways to Get Cheap TextBooks
Differentiate between needs and wants
Managing money as a college student can come down to – distinguishing the difference between a need, which is something required for survival & a want which is something that you desire.
So, as tough as it is stop making impulse purchases. To do this take 24 – 48 hours to determine whether that thing is truly a thing you must have. If the desire fades after that time you don’t truly need it.
When you need to manage your money, it is crucial to differentiate between what you really need and what you want.
That concert ticket, that ‘limited’ print, that outfit…determine if it’s worth really spending your hard-earned money on or would it be better worth investing elsewhere?
Set long term goals to save money.
What do you really want to save for? A car? A down payment on an apartment? Establish what that will take, how much time and what you will need to put aside.
Remember saving a buck or two will not make a difference today, but at the end of the year the difference will add up and you’ll be able to use it on the goal you’ve been saving for.
Open a high yield savings account
College students already live on a tight budget. So, it necessary for you to have a high yield savings account.
This takes some research because most banks offer less than 1% of a percent!
Bankrate.com offers some of the best rates for standard and online banks to get the best rates on return.
An online personal savings bank like American Express personal savings now offers a 1.0% annual percentage rate APY and Capital One offers 1.20%. It doesn’t sound like much but it sure beats traditional bank rates!
If you want to manage and take care of the finances, start by opening one of these savings accounts.
Many banks offer student savings account to young customers that don’t charge a minimum amount to open and zero fees.
Best High Yield Savings Accounts
Get a No Fee College Student Credit Card
Starting to build your credit early just makes sense. And using credit responsibly is important. We are strong believers in getting a credit card but treating it like a debit card.
Check out our list of the best student credit cards to find a card that matches your needs – with NO FEEs.
These cards are great because you can get rewards and rebates for your regular spending – a great way to save money in college.
Protect the money you already have, don’t overdraft!
An overdraft is where you spend money in your account that you don’t have, and banks charge a fee to process the transaction.
So, not only are you going into debt a bit, but your bank is going to charge you an overdraft fee – which can be $25 or more!
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Managing money as a College Student – Use online coupons
Today, everyone and their brother shops online.
To save extra money on every purchase, use students’ coupons or online coupons when shopping.
If you are shopping online and don’t already have a coupon code, don’t worry.
Here’s a college coupon app program.
You can also find great deals in purchases in-store.
Use student coupons to get 1,000 active student discounts and reductions on educational products, retail and much more.
Use public transportation or ride a bike
Students who are on their own have to take care of tuition fees, food, and accommodation.
So, biking or using public transport can save you money.
You can also use carpool with your college friends to share the cost of rides.
Take advantage of buses to save some money for yourself.
Get yourself a second-hand bike (not new!) to reduce transport expenses.
You can also use student discounts on public transport.
Get a Side Hustle as a College Student
Look for a part-time job to dealing with debt and bills.
A part time job or a lucrative side hustle will help ease the financial burdens and stress and eliminate any debt you may have accrued.
It’s great for also putting away any extra money you earn into your savings or emergency fund.
Some colleges offer work-study programs.
This allows you to plan a work schedule around your schooling.
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Ask for College Student Discounts
As a student, you are more than likely living on a tight budget.
So, there are many student discounts available to help you manage and save money.
Make use of your student ID card.
Do you know many restaurants give a discount or special promotions to students?
You can purchase tickets for a movie, concert, museum, sports event, and more by asking for discounts on your valid student ID card. Also, top-rated cell phone providers offer student discounts.
22 Restaurants that Offer Student Discounts
Have A Solid Plan for Your Classes and Your Degree
One of the best ways to save money in college is to simply have a solid plan for your classes and degree program.
You should be going to college with a specific purpose – and ensuring that you’re taking the right classes and progressing to your degree on time is a great way to save money in college.
Every extra class and semester costs money!
Even better, if you can get college credit in high school – by taking AP or IB classes, taking community college classes in high school, or any other means – do it!
If you can knock out a lot of classes or credits early, you might even be able to graduate early (and save money).
Fill Out the FAFSA Every Year
The FAFSA is the key to your financial aid. If you don’t fill it out, you likely won’t be getting any type of financial aid (even student loans). That’s why you need to fill out the FAFSA every year you’re in school.
Filling out the FAFSA is very easy (here’s a guide to filling out the FAFSA).
But what most people don’t realize is that, even if you don’t get grants or scholarships year one, if your financial situation changes, you could get financial aid in future years. And so, if you don’t fill out the FAFSA, it could cost you money!
Bottom line – fill out the FAFSA every year.
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Watch Your College Student Loan Borrowing
If you do have to take out student loans, you need to be very mindful of how much you borrow as these debts will need to be repaid eventually.
A good rule of thumb is never borrow more than you expect to earn in your first year after graduation.
This will help keep your student loan debt manageable so you can afford it after college.
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Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Too many people think that the only time to apply for scholarships and grants is when you’re in high school, before you start your first year of college. WRONG.
You can apply for scholarships and grants every year throughout college.
Given that many scholarships go unclaimed (or have very few entries), if you dedicate some time to applying, you could find yourself getting a lot of money to pay for school.
Get Your Education Discount On Computer Hardware and Software
Another big expense for college is technology.
Many students want (or need) to get a new laptop, and with that comes all the trimming of software. Plus, some classes require their own specific software that you need to install.
If you’re getting any type of new computer or software, make sure you buy it through the education store and get your education discount. Most companies offer significant discounts to students – from Apple and Microsoft, to Adobe and more.
No matter what technology you need, you can probably find a big discount by purchasing their education edition.
Print on Campus
Printing is another area that can be costly, with papers eating up ink cartridges at home. And the ink’s what gets you! You pay $50 for a printer, but $60 for the ink!
However, many students gain access to on campus printing with their student fees.
If this is the case, take advantage of printing on campus – especially for your big papers. This can save you hundreds of dollars per year in printing expense.
Even better, if your professors allow electronic submissions, go paperless!
Save Money on Food and Drinks as a College Student
Live to eat or eat to live? But food can be quite expensive, especially if you start adding in drinks.
Here’s the best ways to save money on food and drinks in college.
Use Your Meal Plan to the Fullest
College meal plans either work out to be a great deal or a waste of money for most college students. If you’re looking to save money, you need to take advantage of it to the fullest so that it’s a great deal.
This means getting everything you pay for – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. If you’re not leveraging your campus meal plan, you still might want to consider dining in the dining halls as a lot of the food is typically priced really well.
Also, use your meal plan for snacks – take snacks in the mornings so you don’t spend a bunch on food at the coffee cart or vending machine!
Keep Track of the Best Happy Hours and Restaurant Promos
If you are going out to eat, save money when you do! A fun tactic is to take note of all the best happy hours and restaurant promos near campus, and sort by day.
That way, if it’s Tuesday, you know where to go to get the best deal.
You’d be surprised at the amount of free and discounted food and drink you can find around town if you know where to look.
This can also be a great way to save when going out with friends!
Attend Events with Food
There are so many events that take place on college campuses, and many include free food.
The trick here is, look for signs and promotions around your campus.
These signs usually promote the free food in an attempt to get students to come.
If you do this regularly, you can probably get your lunch taken care of most days! And maybe you’ll even learn something!
Cut Back on the Booze
Let’s face it – alcohol is a part of most college student’s experience. But the cost of booze can add up quick, especially if you fancy fruity mixed drinks.
While having a beer with friends can be fun, don’t let drinking break your budget.
Stick to beers on sale, split costs with friends, and if you’re at the bar, order well drinks or the happy hour specials.
If you don’t name your brand of alcohol, you might find yourself surprised when your bartender used a top shelf booze for your margarita.
Ladies, please watch your drinks carefully! It’s unfortunate I have to even say this but it’s a sad but true statement that many a sleazeball will take advantage of a young girl out drinking.
If you’re going to drink, go out with gal pals you trust. Travel in packs and have each other’s backs!
Dudes – watch out for other low life dudes and protect the ladies out there!
Save Money on College Entertainment
Everyone wants to have fun – especially in college.
While the education is key, networking and building lifelong relationships is just as important.
Here are some key ways to save money on entertainment in college.
Attend Free Events on Campus
There’s a lot of events going on campus at any given time. We already talked about free events with food, but there are plenty of other entertainment events that could keep you from getting bored.
Most campuses have live music, concerts, shows, sports, and lectures that could all be free and entertaining. The hard part is, it can be tough to know when things are going on.
Make sure you’re always looking at your Associated Students calendar to find fun events and check out flyers around campus to see if anything is going on.
Use Your Campus Gym
Working out and staying fit is important, especially in college. While the freshman 15 is a thing, you can lose the weight and stay in shape for free.
Most campuses have great athletic and gym facilities for their students, and your fees each year cover membership as a student. Take advantage.
And definitely don’t go spending more money for an outside gym membership when you get it for free on campus.
Cut Cable and Watch Online
It doesn’t make sense to have cable TV anymore. There are so many great options online, some of which aren’t even available on cable TV. And cable TV is ridiculously expensive! Even basic plans can cost around $60 per month, which is a lot of money in college.
A better alternative is to cut cable and still watch your favorite shows – online!
There are so many options these days to watch TV online, including YouTube TV, YouTube Premium, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon.
Plus, there are some “illicit” ways to get new movies and more right in your dorm room. But even being legal, apps like Hulu or Hulu Live TV can really be game changing for cost and what you want to watch.
The bottom line is, stop paying for cable TV.
Maybe TV isn’t your thing, but gaming is. Gaming can be a lot of fun, especially if you have multiplayer games you can play with friends in your dorm or apartment.
If possible, try to share the cost of games. If you’re always playing multiplayer setups, maybe split the cost of the game to save money. It can be a communal game that lives in your family room for everyone to share.
New games are expensive, so anything you can do to lower the price is great.
Start A Free Hobby
Too many people think that hobbies have to cost money – they don’t. There are a lot of free activities that you can do to keep you entertained.
From running and hiking, to drawing and more, there are definitely things that you can do in your spare time to stay entertained.
Here’s a list of 15 free hobbies that require no money to start.
Volunteer as a College Student
Volunteering is an under-rated free way to stay entertained. Not only are you contributing to a worthy cause, but you’re likely gaining skills that you can use for the rest of your life.
There are tons of options to volunteer around most college campuses, from national organizations to small local charities that are looking for help.
Poke around online or speak to some campus clubs to see if there are any volunteering opportunities you can help out with.
Become The Entertainment
Finally, you could become the entertainment. This isn’t for everyone, but if you’re inclined, you could put on a show. Maybe you play an instrument? Maybe you start a band? Maybe you join a theater group? Maybe you practice comedy?
All of these things take practice, are fun, and you could even get paid for gigs. So, instead of searching for entertainment, consider creating it for yourself.
Save Money On Transportation and Travel
You will have to travel places, even if it’s just from your dorm room to class, and back.
But you’ll likely be traveling a lot more than that – here’s what you need to know.
Sell Your Car as a College Student
Most college students don’t need a car. And cars are expensive – you have gas, maintenance, insurance, and probably a car payment.
All of these costs are pointless if your car is just sitting on campus for most of the year.
Instead, sell your car, take the money, and use it for ridesharing.
If you can’t stand the idea of parting with your car, look at renting it out with when you’re not using it.
There are services like Turo that allow you to rent your car out and get paid!
Use Free Transportation If Possible
If you need to get around, use free transportation if possible. Many college campuses have free buses and shuttles that help students get around campus and even to nearby apartments.
Some apartment complexes even have shuttles for students to get to campus.
Depending on your school, see if you can leverage free transportation to get around.
Get A College Student Pass for Public Transportation
If you need public transportation to get around, see if you can get a student pass.
Many colleges partner with their local transit authorities and offer student discounts and student passes for busses, subways, trolleys, and more.
This can be a huge savings for college students who need to get around, and it’s usually cheaper than owning a car.
Use Travel Websites to Find Amazing Deals
Every college student wants to travel (or at least most do). But travel can be really expensive unless you find great deals.
This can be a full time job in itself, but if you’re diligent, you can find great travel deals and take advantage of them.
Checking the main travel sites will give you a great baseline as to where to start your travel search. These sites include:
- CheapFlights: This site searches most of the major travel sites for you
- Hotels.com: The is one of the best hotel search engines
- Orbitz: Another good overall search engine
Find College Student Travel Tours
Students have a slight advantage when it comes to travel because there are a lot of companies that cater to student travel.
These tours are specific to 18-35 year olds, so you’ll be with a group of young adults who are all interested in the same type of trip.
There are trips almost everywhere, with awesome destinations that any student would enjoy.
Check out Contiki here and see if there are any tours that make sense for you.
Learn How to Travel Cheap
Have you ever heard of the term travel hacking? This is the mindset to “hack” your travel to get it as cheap as possible – usually by leveraging deals and points.
However, it’s hard to travel hack without doing some learning about how to travel for cheap. This could include shopping for trips, using points and miles, and more.
Setup Flight Monitoring For Regular Flights
Do you have a “regular” flight in college? This might be your regular flight home – the one you take at Christmas, and home for the summer?
If so, use Google Flights to setup a price monitor for your main flight and dates you know you want to fly.
This can help you save money by alerting you when prices change and saving you money on the flights you know you’re going to be making.
Consider Alternatives to Flying
Do you have to fly? There are alternatives to flying that you might consider – from driving and carpooling, to taking a Greyhound or an Amtrack train.
Depending on where you’re going, how much time you have, and your comfort level, taking one of these alternatives could save you a lot of money over the cost of flying.
When budgets matter in college, these alternatives can be a great way to save on travel.
Use Credit Card Rewards
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to use credit card rewards. As we talked about earlier, using a credit card can earn you bonuses and rewards for your normal spending.
Plus, many cards offer a sign up bonus that can get you free travel pretty quickly.
If travel is important to you, then consider checking out the Best Credit Cards For Travel Rewards. These cards will earn you the best bonuses and rewards that can get you closer to free travel.
Live Close to Campus
Finally, one of the best ways to save money on daily travel expenses is to simply live close to campus. That way, you can walk to school and save the most money.
Living close to campus might be more expensive rent-wise, so do the math and make sure the savings of living closer offsets the cost of higher transportation father away (hint: it usually does).
Living off campus is another big change and it can be expensive if you’re not careful.
Here’s how to save money living off campus.
Live With Roommates as a College Student
The idea of living alone is great, but it’s so much more expensive that living with others.
For example, you could probably rent a one-bedroom apartment for $1,500, but a two bedroom is just $2,200. (Depending on your geography)
If you had a roommate, your personal cost would now just be $1,100 – a $400 per month savings versus a one-bedroom apartment.
That’s a huge deal over time – $4,800 per year really adds up.
So, while you might want to escape the roommate situation, living with roommates is a great way to save money in college (and even after college).
Shop Around For Renters Insurance
You likely need renters insurance when you live off campus. Beyond taking care of your own stuff, most landlords require it.
Make sure you shop around for the best deal on renters insurance. There are a lot of options and things to consider.
Cut Your Cell Phone Bill
You cell phone is probably another area that you can save a lot of money on when you’re in college.
Too many people don’t compare their cell phone plans very often – resulting in higher prices than you should be paying.
In fact, if you’re paying over $60 per month for your phone, you’re paying way too much.
There are a lot of great options to save when you’re in college.
Don’t Decorate as a College Student
While you might want to make your place nice and cozy, decorations are expensive, and they don’t really have any value beyond looking pretty.
If you’re trying to save money, just don’t be wasteful throwing money at Pottery Barn.
Too many people spend hundreds decorating their apartments and houses, just to toss it all and redecorate when they move.
There’s plenty of cheap ways to make your space homey without going all out.
8 Cute College Decorating Ideas on a Budget
Be Mindful Of Utilities as a College Student
Another off-campus expense that can get you are your utilities.
You need to be mindful of your utilities and how much it costs to run your air conditioning, how much your internet costs, and more.
If you’re not paying attention, you could find your electric bill skyrocketing from $50 per month to $400 per month!
It happens, and it can seriously harm your college student budget.
Get Your Rent Payments & Boost Your Credit Score
This is one thing that will save you money down the road, not immediately. But one of the keys to saving money on loans, getting a good rent, and more is having a great credit score.
Using a service like Rent Track can enable your rent payments to count on your credit report, thereby boosting your score if you make all your payments on time.
The end goal is to have a great credit score when you leave college so that you can save money in the future.
Location Is Important
Where you live is so important! But there are tradeoffs in every location. A great goal is to live as close to campus as possible, so that you can save on transportation.
But you don’t want it to be so expensive that your savings from transportation is lost to rent.
You need to find a solid balance of location and price. And you should probably skip the amenities like a gym if you get a gym on campus.
These amenities raise the price that you’re going to pay in rent, and you might not even use them.
Buy Used or Secondhand If Needed
If you do need something for your house, buy it used or secondhand. There are a lot of great ways to get couches, beds, and more for cheap – just look online.
You can use apps like OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace to see items available in your area.
If you don’t have a car, you can probably hire someone online to help you move! There are lots of moving service and delivery services in different cities.
17 Apps to Sell Anything for Quick Cash
Protect Your Security Deposit
Your security deposit is one of your biggest “investments” in college. You usually have to pay $1,000 or more to ensure you don’t mess up your apartment. That’s a lot of money that you can lose if you’re not careful in protecting your apartment.
So, make sure you protect your security deposit by keeping your apartment in great condition.
An alternative to your security deposit is using security deposit insurance. This is an alternative where you pay a company and never have to worry again.
Live At Home
Finally, one of the absolute best ways to save money in college is to simply live at home.
You can eliminate the vast majority of this list if you simply live at home, save on rent and food, and watch your other expenses.
Even if your parents will charge you a nominal rent, that’s probably going to save you so much more than trying to live on or off campus.
And while you’ll have some commuting expenses as well, you’ll still probably realize significant cost savings.
This can be a great way to save money in college so that you can springboard your life after graduation.
Take control and become responsible
Becoming a financially responsible person is one of the biggest challenges in life. No matter what your age.
Students need to be responsible for their expenses. So do adults. But the younger you are the easier it is.
Take charge of your personal economy and try not to be dependent on your parents or guardians for all your expenses. You’ll feel better about yourself for doing so.
Avoid unnecessary shopping, stay organized, pay bills on your credit cards on time, regularly keep track of and check your expenses and bank balance, do a little savings every day and invest monthly (no matter how small).
The best things in life are free. It may not seem so in our capitalistic society but as you grow older, you’ll eventually realize this is true. Buying things doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. However, money is a necessity in our culture, and it also brings certain freedoms to make life easier.
Managing finances takes discipline and with some consistent behavior you can learn to grow and control your money instead of letting it control you!
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