How to Save Money in College: 6 Tips for Students

Graduating from high school is a definite rite of passage in the younger years – so much accomplishment and an entire future of promise ahead of you. However, those heading off to a university will find that it is now more expensive than ever, with college costs rising around 5% each year. This far outpaces the rate of inflation and dramatically dwarfs wage growth, making it difficult for many to afford not only the tuition and books, but the steep living expenses as well. With many students taking out hefty loans to pay for their education, it is extremely important to be smart with your money during the college years. Increasingly, students are looking for any way possible to save money while attending college. If you’re prudent, you can find ways to trim spending that can add up to big savings over the long haul, and this article is meant to be a springboard for ideas on how to do just that.

Below are six tips to get you started on stretching your budget while furthering your education.

  • Create a Budget
  • Take Advantage of Student Discounts
  • Buy a Used Car
  • Work Part-Time
  • Avoid the Meal Plan
  • Rent or Buy Used Textbooks

While there are many avenues to take to maximize your money during college, taking advantage of these tips will have you on the path to sound financial planning in no time.

Create a Budget

The most impactful step to saving money is to know where you are spending it. Many people have no idea where their money goes. Research show that only about 41% of Americans say they use a budget. Setting up a budget can be a bit of a project, but the process will give you a big leg up in controlling your college finances and having some leftover money in your bank account. If the idea of building your budget seems overwhelming, you can follow these basic steps to get you going:

  • Identify your income and spending: take stock of all money coming in and going out with financial planning software or a simple log kept with pen and paper. Gather this information for the past couple of months so you have historical data on where you’ve been spending.
  • Track your expenses: track your spending for a couple more months, taking care to log every penny. This includes even small items like ATM fees and that drive through you picked up the other day. Every dollar counts.
  • Determine your goals: Depending on your financial situation, your only goal may be to make ends meet. Some may have the goal of keeping their student debt down to the absolute minimum. Still others might be working to depend as little as possible on their parents.
  • Adjust your spending: Making tweaks to your budget in order to reach your goals is the final step in the budgeting process.

Remember, setting up your budget is only half the process. The crucial next step is to stick to it as closely as possible. You may need to reassess your budget and goals from semester to semester or year to year. You’ll also need to explore further ways to keep your spending within your means. Read ahead for useful information on doing just that.

Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Your student ID is a ticket to student discounts on and around your campus and even with a host of major retailers and services. While you might not save a lot of money each time you use a discount, the savings are sure to add up over time. A simple Google search will yield tons of websites that list out general student discounts. Your school may offer a website or other platform for listing local discounts. Some places you might want to research include:

You’ll find discounts from such names as Apple, Banana Republic, The New York Times, Subway, State Farm and much more!

One thing to remember, though, is that you won’t save any money if you’re shopping needlessly, student discount or not. Make sure you don’t use the discount as an excuse to spend money when you shouldn’t.

Buy a Used Car

While a vehicle may seem like a perk more than a necessity, having a reliable set of wheels can be an important factor if you end up living off campus or need to get to and from work. If you need to spring for a car during college, you can save thousands buying a used car instead of a brand new one. Most dealerships carry certified pre-owned vehicles or you can visit a reputable used car dealership in your area. Another option in purchasing used is to go for a late-model vehicle that may still be under manufacturer’s warranty. You’ll want to make sure that the vehicle has a clean Carfax if at all possible. This will give you added peace of mind with buying used. There’s sure to be plenty of options to choose from. Just do some research and make sure you consider other items that affect your budget like fuel efficiency and expected maintenance costs. There are also a host of vehicles out there that are a perfect fit for college students and recent grads.

Work Part-Time

While it depends on your financial situation, a part-time job might be necessary to offset some of your school expenses. If you’re lucky enough to have a scholarship or to have had a nice college fund, you probably won’t have to consider this. However, there is some research out there that suggests working part-time during college is not a bad thing. US News and World Report published research from Professor Laura Perna of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education that shows that “students who work a modest number of hours per week (10-15 hours), on campus, are more likely than other students – even students who do not work at all – to persist and earn degrees.” If you’re wondering what types of jobs pair well with taking a full course load, career and jobs website Monster.com has compiled a list of part-time jobs for college students, along with the approximate hourly rate of each opportunity. So even if working is not a necessity to help pay for your education, taking a part-time job could boost productivity and help you feel a little more tied to your college community. Just try not to work so many hours that studies fall by the wayside.

Avoid the Meal Plan

Many colleges require freshmen to live on campus and sign up for a meal plan, and if you don’t have a vehicle and live on campus, a meal plan might be your only option. Beyond these constraints though, it will definitely be better for your budget if you purchase and cook most of your meals. Campus meal plans are known for being overpriced – and you may end up purchasing a plan that is either too much or too little for your needs. Some students end up running out of meal plan credits before the quarter or semester is over, forcing them to then use their own money to purchase food – after already paying for the expensive meal plan. A bonus of cooking your own meals is that you can also adjust for any special dietary needs you may have, such as a gluten-free or vegan diet. Cooking also prepares you for life after college, when you’ll be forced to do your own grocery shopping and food preparation. It’s another rite of passage to take care of your own meals. But the bottom line is that avoiding the meal plan will save you money, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish, isn’t it?

Rent or Buy Used Textbooks

Putting some research and thought into how you acquire your textbooks is a great way to save a big chunk of cash on a big college expense. The easiest and quickest way to save money on textbooks is to buy used. New textbooks, even from discount retailers like Amazon, are pricey and while you do recoup some of the cost if you sell them at the end of the semester, it’s usually a fraction of what was paid. A used version of a brand new book can save you 20-40% on average. Another option is to rent your textbooks. Rental prices are going to be the lowest, but you won’t recoup any of the cost when you turn it in. However, if you just want the cheapest price up front and don’t plan on holding on to the book for future reference, renting college textbooks is the way to go.

The best way to make sure you get the a killer deal on your college textbooks is to do a quick online search from a source like this search tool. You just enter the name of the book and it brings up prices for all your options – buying new, buying used and renting. The internet age again enables you to virtually guarantee you’re getting the best deal possible on your textbooks.

College costs can definitely be overwhelming, but hopefully the information provided above will stir up even more ideas on how to save money in college. After all, as you are finding your independence, taking care of your finances and learning to save money even in a difficult circumstance is a valuable growth skill that will prepare you for your life post-graduation.

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