13+ Effective Money-Saving Tips for College Students on a Tight Budget

Many students operate on a limited budget. College can be expensive between paying for tuition, transport, textbooks, internet, housing, food, and nights out. And you haven’t even factored in savings yet.

However, if you want to avoid getting yourself into a cycle of debt, then you do need to start saving while you’re still in university.

By following some budgeting and money organization basics and being more thoughtful about how you spend your money, you can start to put a little bit aside each month, even while you’re on a tight budget.

In this blog, we’ll chat about the different ways you can properly budget your money and how to save on everyday university expenses such as textbooks, food, and clothes.

Ways to Properly Budget Your Money as a College Student

University is all about establishing goals for yourself and setting up a good life for yourself in the future. This also translates into how you use your money, the budgets you create, and what you can afford to put aside for a rainy day. There is no better time to learn how to budget correctly than now. 

1. Set a budget

To track your expenses, you first need to set a budget. Create a spreadsheet to compare your income and expenses for each month.

You want to ensure that you work out your costs, cutting where you can so that the income is more than you plan to spend. This way, you will save a little bit of money each month.

2. Track your expenses

Now that you know what you can spend every month, it’s essential to track your expenses to ensure you are sticking to your budget.

Write down everything you spend your money on or use an app like Goodbudget or Mint to do this. When you look at these figures, it will be easier to see where you can afford to cut back and save money.

3. Differentiate between wants and needs

When you have tracked your expenses, you’ll see any habits in your spending behavior. You may notice that you are spending lots of money on things that aren’t necessary, such as a morning coffee or eating out.

Cutting out these wants and only spending on your needs will give you more savings and budget flexibility in the long run.

4. Stick to your budget

A man holding a pen, paper, and calculator
A young man tracking his budget

Once you have set your budget, you need to be strict with yourself to stick to it.

Remember, however, that a budget is not set in stone; if you find it is not working for you, you can always relook your income and expenses, adjusting what you can to better meet your goals.

5. Don’t live on credit

Credit cards help build your credit score or net rewards such as cashback, but spending on credit can also be costly.

Make a conscious effort to pay off your credit card bill each month so that you don’t get nailed by interest, and try and avoid going over 50% of your limit as your interest rate may then be even higher. 

Just remember, a bad credit score will follow you around for the rest of your life, so you don’t want to get into the habit of living on credit.

6. Always compare and track prices

Comparing and tracking prices is a great way to save pennies; however, this can be time-consuming.

Thankfully, several sites, such as Idealo and CamelCamelCamel, take the leg work out of this task for you, comparing prices over time and advising where you can get what you want at the best price.

7. Have at least one ‘no-spend’ day each week

A young woman on a bike
A college student riding a bike to campus

A no-spend day is a straightforward and fun way to save money each week. Set aside one day a week where you won’t spend a cent, even on something as simple as a bus fare or a snack.

With some forward planning, you’ll be surprised to discover just how much money you can save in the long run.

8. Use cashback and rewards programs

Every time you shop, you could be getting cashback or rewards. There are various student cashback apps that you can join to earn up to 5% cashback on purchases at different grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon.com.

Sign up for as many cashback and reward schemes as you can and start earning on your purchases. 

9. Negotiate bills

Check that you are getting the best deal on gas and electricity. If not, try negotiating the price with the provider or consider switching your contract. Just be sure to check on any exit fees and contract terms before making the switch.

10. Always pay bills on time to avoid late fees

A young woman on bed with her laptop and credit card
A college student pays her dues diligently

Late fees are costly but very avoidable. Make sure you keep a calendar and set alerts to avoid paying late payments on any of your bills. Sometimes paying a bill early can even net you an early bird discount, so be sure to look out for these.

11. Use your student ID to your advantage

Your student ID can garner you plenty of discounts, even at places where they are not advertised. Don’t be afraid to present your student ID wherever you shop. You have nothing to lose.

12. Open a savings account that earns interest

Some savings accounts offer great interest rates, so you can make extra money on whatever is currently in your account.

The online banking network Chime is one such option. Chime also offers a feature to round your purchases to the nearest dollar. These extra cents then go into a savings account, where you can earn additional interest.

13. Start investing if you can

If you have leftover money at the end of each month, do consider investing it somewhere that you can start earning extra interest. Talk to a financial planner about a high-yield interest account where you can start making your money work for you.

How to Save Money on School Expenses in College?

A young man standing inside a library
A college student reading in the library

When it comes to college expenses, some of the biggest drains on your budget can be your fees and your textbooks.

It can be a real grudge to pay out for these expenses when you could be spending your money on things that are more fun, like spring break vacations and parties with friends.

Thankfully, there are some ways that you can save on these essentials.

  • Do (and take) everything you can for free: There are a surprising number of places where you can get things for free as a student. From scholarships and bursaries to student discounts, try and use as many as you can. You won’t get them if you don’t apply or ask.

  • Be smart about how you pay school fees: Try to avoid paying your school fees with a credit card, as an additional amount is usually added to the tuition. You may also be able to get a discounted rate on your school fees if you pay for the entire year in advance.

  • Save money on textbooks: Instead of buying brand new super expensive textbooks, buy or rent used ones. This can be done at your college or even on Amazon.

  • Sell your textbooks: There are various places online to sell old textbooks. Your college may even offer a service where you can sell back used books. Try and keep your textbooks in good condition if you want to sell them on, and avoid making notes directly in them.

How to Save Money on School Necessities in College?

Two young women on a laptop
Two college roommates enjoying their time together

Besides tuition, there are various other school tuition fees and textbooks. Some other necessities include housing, utilities like electricity and water, transport, WiFi, and your cell phone and data packages.

Again, there are numerous ways to save in all these areas just by being a savvy student. 

  • Choose housing wisely: Stretch your budget by choosing your accommodation wisely. It usually costs less to live in dorms than off-campus, but if you split a house with several people, you can also end up saving money.

  • Live with others so you can split rent and utilities: Having a roommate in college can be loads of fun, and it’s also a great way to save. There are a variety of apps you can use that help you to divide expenses like rent, electricity, and water to avoid any arguments or awkward conversations.

  • Don’t own a car: Vehicle maintenance, gas, insurance, and parking fees add up quickly. Also, cars are depreciating assets which means you’ll never get back the money you spend.

  • Walk, use public transportation or ride a bike instead of having a car: Instead of owning a vehicle and forking out all the costs that go with it, try using the bus or a bike to get around instead. Many public transport options even offer free or discount rides for students.

  • Share gas costs: Try starting a carpool with other students as a way to share gas costs. You also shouldn’t fill your gas tank to the top. This will make your care heavier and means your car will work harder to move the extra weight. That said, you also shouldn’t drive on a near-empty tank as this could damage your car and land you with expensive maintenance costs.

  • Consider more basic phone packages and monitor cell phone usage: Opt for a cheaper phone with unlimited texts and a basic data package while you’re studying. When you need to use your phone to access the internet, try connecting to a free local WiFi instead of paying for the data you use.

  • Cut out expensive cable packages you don’t need: Cable TV is expensive. Thankfully streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are a lot more affordable, and student discounts make them even more so. Students also get a discount for Amazon Prime so that they can watch thousands of movies and TV shows at a fraction of the cost.

  • Trim or split subscriptions where possible: Do you need all your phone, broadband, TV, and music subscriptions? Try and limit yourself to only those you need and consider splitting the cost of a family subscription with some friends to save a few bucks.

How to Save Money on Food and Groceries in College?

A young woman holding an apple and reading
A college student snacking on an apple while studying

So, you’ve paid for your college tuition, your textbooks, your housing, your car, and even your electricity. Perhaps you’ve saved a buck or two by following the above tips, but you haven’t even eaten yet.

Here are some nifty tips and tricks for getting those grocery bills down.

  • Cook at home: Cooking at home is a great way to save money while also perfecting your cooking skills. 

  • Plan your meals: To stretch your budget and save time, plan your meals and cook big meals. You can freeze the leftovers in containers and use these for lunchtimes on campus. Most campuses have microwaves for reheating your meals. Planning your meals and only buying what you need also ensures you never have food waste.

  • Buy in bulk: Bulk buys are always cheaper than buying individual items when you need them. Shop with friends and split family packs to save money if you don’t have storage space for bulk purchases.

  • Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry: This is a sure-fire way to spend more money than you need to. You’ll also be more likely to buy lots of junk food when you’re hungry, which is expensive but not very good for you.

  • Don’t waste your meal plan dollars: College meal plans can be expensive, and you might end up spending more than you consume. While meal plans are convenient, it might be better on your budget to work out what you eat and make your meals.

  • Make your own coffee: Buying your daily coffee at the corner Starbucks is a sure-fire way to go over budget quickly. You can save $5 a day just by making your coffee.

  • Pack a snack: When we’re super hungry, we tend to spend more than we should on food. Avoid the temptation by packing a snack instead so that you can avoid the vending machine next time you get hungry between classes or after a night out.

  • Limit the number of times you eat out monthly: Eating out is expensive and regular meals out add up pretty quickly. Be sure to keep tabs on how many times you eat out each week and try and set a limit to how many times you can afford to do so in a month.

  • Eat with friends: Cooking for one person can be expensive, and it’s no fun. Plan your meals with friends, and you can save money by splitting the cost of the groceries. 

How to Save Money on Shopping in College?

Multiple coupons
A collection of coupons

We all need to buy things occasionally, and when you’re in college, you might need a new pair of pants, shoes, or a shirt for an awards event, job interview, or first date. But try and avoid those impulse buys and shop wisely in order to save money.

  • Borrow, don’t buy: If you need a suit or an expensive dress for an awards ceremony or interview, consider borrowing an item rather than buying. You can borrow from friends or family or check online for places where you can rent clothes for an evening out.

  • Avoid impulse buying: Try not to buy items just because you want them. Instead, set amounts within your budget for things you really want each month. That way, you won’t go over your budget and won’t feel guilty for spending something on yourself now and again.

  • Shop at discount and dollar stores: Don’t be afraid to shop at the dollar store. You can find great deals on household goods and school supplies at the dollar store or thrift stores.

  • Buy generic products and avoid name brands: Name brands are much more expensive, and you’re literally just paying for the name. Instead, buy generic items at the likes of Target, Walmart, or Lysol.

  • Shop off-season: Look for end-of-season sales where you can get great deals on those expensive but necessary items. Buying winter boots or jackets at the end of season sales will mean you end up paying significantly less than when these items are at their premium mid-season.

  • Reuse and recycle: Kitting out your apartment with upcycled furniture is a great way to save money. Search Gumtree Freebies, Freecycle.org, and Preloved for great free or cheap items for your home. You can also earn some extra cash by selling off unused items on eBay, and you can even recycle old phones and tech for cash. 

  • Use discounted gift cards at big chains: Look online for people selling gift cards at discounted prices. You may be able to get vouchers for big chain stores at a fraction of the cost. Some retailers also sometimes have offers on their gift cards so keep an eye out for these.

  • Shop where they offer student discounts: Many stores, such as Adidas, Clavin Klein, H&M, Shein, Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Topshop, offer students between 10 and 25% off. Try and only shop at stores that offer student discounts, and don’t be afraid to ask your favorite store if they have offers for students.

  • Use Coupons: Coupons are a great way to save some bucks. Search your local newspapers, store flyers, and websites for coupons and use them to save on your groceries. There are also various websites and apps that you can check to find coupons for stores nearby.

How to Save Money on Entertainment in College?

A group of young people on the campus lawn
A group of college friends having fun in campus

Entertainment events are one of the highlights of the college experience. But all those parties can seriously eat into your budget, leaving you more stressed and worried.

Here are some ways to make the most of the college experience and have fun doing it without breaking the bank and landing yourself in debt. 

  • Choose social activities that don’t cost money: You can enjoy various activities with your friends that don’t cost money. Get active outdoors, go for a walk or a hike, or search the internet for free things to do in your area.

  • Look for free entertainment: There are numerous places where you can find entertainment for free. Your campus library likely has several books, movies, and even video games you can rent for free. You can also enjoy free entertainment by attending local community events and open days.

  • Explore campus amenities: Your campus likely offers a range of activities you can enjoy rather than spending money on entertainment elsewhere. Movie nights and social evenings at the campus are often free and a great place to make new friends. 

  • Take advantage of campus attractions: Many campuses have museums, fitness centers, swimming pools, gardens, and art galleries that are free for students to use. Rather than paying money to enjoy attractions like this elsewhere, be sure to take advantage of what’s available on campus.

  • Cut out the vices: Habits we turn to when we’re out with friends can burn money quickly. Smoking, vaping, and drinking are terrible for your budget, never mind your health and wellbeing.

Should You Work and Save?

Yes, you can work and save while you’re studying, and a part-time job is a great way to earn extra cash while building up your resume.

Along with making some extra money, many stores also offer employee discounts or free meals so that you can save in that respect too.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help

A young man sitting on the campus steps holding books
A satisfied college student

To make sure you do save your money, you’ll first need to create a budget, being sure to track your income and expenses so that you can work out where you can cut back each month.

As you can see, there are various ways to save money as a student, from using your student ID to claim discounts to using coupons and cashback rewards to sharing the cost of housing and food with friends.

If you are in financial trouble, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Your family and friends may be able to assist, various financial institutions offer student loans, and your college or university may also be able to help in assisting in paying off any debts. Most colleges do have a financial advisor who can assist you in crafting and sticking to a realistic budget.

Do you budget your college expenses? Let us know in the comments below your tips and tricks for making the most of your savings. 

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