27 Ways to Save Money at College


College is expensive! Tuition, room and board, fees, books and more can set you back big time. But, those expenses are largely uncontrollable — at least once you see what your tuition and room costs will be and choose to rent your textbooks instead of buying them.

Beyond these factors, you’ll be spending a mint day in and day out just for living expenses. Most expenses may seem hard to manage, but you do have options available to you.

Let’s take a look at some money saving ways for you to save while you’re at college:


1. If you commute, then your costs are pretty much fixed. Besides driving a car, would taking a bus or train be an option for you? Some colleges whack students with huge parking fees, making mass transit worth considering if offered.

2. Yes, consider car pooling. Aligning schedules to car pool can be difficult, but not impossible to do. This option is especially attractive if your commute is a half-hour or more and likely to cost you two or more gallons of gasoline each day. With gas retailing at $3 per gallon, you can split those costs with another student.

3. When it comes to servicing your car, your college’s auto tech department is worth using. If not offered, check out the chains including Quick Lane which offers standard service on a variety of vehicles.


4. Some schools offer students laptops or tablets as part of their tuition – you have to take whatever the school gives to you. If required to buy a computer, pay the extra bucks to buy a Mac – that computer will last you throughout college, be relatively trouble free and won’t seize up on you as you study for exams.

5. Open source software is all that you need. If you have a PC, you can download OpenOffice and have access to a writing program, spreadsheets and more. Lots of colleges have gone with open source, a proven way for them to save money too.[1]

6. Cell phones are a must, but must you have your own plan? Stay with the family plan and ask your parents for maximum or unlimited minutes. Explain to your mom and dad that the premium plan is far cheaper than to have a landline and cell phone. Sign up for Skype to keep in touch with people around the world – Skype to Skype calls are usually free.


7. Yes, the cafeteria food plan is probably the most economical one at your school. If the food is decent, then go with it. If you prefer to eat in your dorm or off-campus apartment, then the cafeteria isn’t an option for you.

8. Invest in a coffee maker. You like good coffee, but those trips to Starbucks will set you back by several dollars. Instead, invest in a very good coffee maker, purchase a premium brand of coffee and keep condiments handy. Buy yourself a travel mug and you’ll be ringing up the savings all year long.[2]

9. Eat the basics. What do students like to eat? Whatever fills their tummy and is easy to make. You’ll be stocking up on all of the cheap stuff including ramen noodles, mac and cheese, oatmeal, peanut butter and juice, so find a local supermarket you like, get their coupon card, and snap up their weekly specials. Check out the store brands – they’re cheaper and often just as good as what the national brands offer even in their basic packaging.

10. Bottled water is pricey and you don’t feel particularly good about disposing of plastic bottles. Invest in a filtered water system if tap water tastes bad or is of questionable safety.

11. Yes, splurge on pizza once each week, pooling your money with your dorm mates to order multiple $5 pies. Order big, save the leftovers and don’t forget to tip the poor soul who has to come out in bad weather to deliver your order.


12. You’re certainly not rolling in cash, which means you want to hold onto what you as much as possible. When it comes to banking, some banks offer free checking for college students. That’s a no-brainer – keep your account at that bank.[3]

13. Online banking is usually offered with a checking account and may be free especially if you manage a savings account with it. Keep some money in both accounts and, if you need a debit card, ask for one too.

14. Credit cards are convenient and very easy to use…and abuse. Be careful about opening up an account – you could end up with enough debt after you graduate to make it difficult to pay off your student loans later on. If you must use credit, pay off your balance monthly.

15. If possible, open up a rainy day account to cover life’s emergencies or at least funds to have available if you want to travel or pay for gifts.


16. Assuming that you’re living in dorm, you may have institution provided furniture filling up your room. If you need additional items, visit your local thrift shop. Never buy a used mattress unless bed bugs are of no concern to you.

17. If furnishing an apartment, scour Craigslist for deals. Also, check out local garage and yard sales, ask your parents and other family members for their old furniture and avoid buying anything new. You don’t want to be tied down by your furnishings which you may want to sell, give away or dispose of when you leave college.

18. Utility costs can add up quickly, so keep the heat low and the air-conditioning off as much as possible. Besides, you’ll be in class, studying in the library or otherwise engaged outside of your place for a large part of the day. In the winter, wear a sweater and put plastic on those leaky windows.[4]

19. Avoid signing a long term lease for your apartment. If you have a roommate then get one and split your costs. You want your off-campus living to be the same price as your dorm living if possible.


20. Clothing can get expensive especially if your tastes are correspondingly high. Find a local thrift shop offering gently used clothes to check out recent designer items. The big box retailers are very good places to shop for shirts, shorts, underwear, socks and more; if you get a Target card you can get 5 percent off of all your purchases.

21. Hair maintenance is a big deal, especially for the women. College town salons will sometimes offer student discounts which can extend to nails and facials, if offered. If you’re brave, visit the local hair salon academy to allow students to work on your coiffure. You may end up with the ideal style for just a few bucks.

22. Should you join a warehouse member club? If you’re living by yourself, probably not. However, if you live in a home with three or four students, then pooling your buying through a warehouse club may make sense. Enjoy excellent deals on large quantities of laundry detergent, soaps, pretzels, drinks and more. You’ll pay $40-$60 for an annual membership, but should get that money back within two or three visits. Some clubs offer special membership deals for students too.[5]


23. Everyone loves to have some fun while at college, but entertainment costs can add up. Instead of going to the movies, why not rent a movie (and a DVD player) and stay in? If you must attend a movie, ask for the student discount or take in a money saving matinee. Drinks and popcorn will bust your budget so avoid these.

24. College sporting events are usually free for students and can be a great way for friends to hang out. Sit behind the basket to annoy the visiting team and shout yourself hoarse in the end zone.

25. Music downloading is an area where some students cross the line between legal and illegal downloads. Don’t mess with the law and preserve the rights of artists. Use iTunes for single song downloads and limit the number of new songs you get each week to two or three to save money.

26. Board games are still popular and offer a great way for students to come together to have some fun without spending money. Microwave popcorn and beverages go well with a game of Monopoly, Trouble or Scrabble, with countless other games to consider too.

27. Art galleries, museums and festivals are great places to have fun, often offering free days or big discounts for college students.[6] Your campus or local newspaper can keep you posted about upcoming events. Volunteer your services and you can get access to important, costly events for free.

Are there other ways for you to save? Absolutely! The idea here is to have a “savings mentality,” something every cash-strapped college student can have and a trait that will prove useful once you’ve entered the world of work.


[1] Educause: Technology During an Economic Crisis: The Benefits of Open Source

[2] Keuka College: How to Save Money at Keuka College

[3] FDIC: Money Smart for Young Adults

[4] Virginia: Preparing for Winter Weather

[5] University of Hartford: BJ’s Wholesale Club Membership Discount — March 31 Deadline!

[6] MUSC: Student Discounts


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