Many people have trouble avoiding student loans when they get their degree — forget about saving money in college! But I graduated from college and business school with over $25,000 sitting happily in my bank account. Let me tell you how.
There were five keys to doing this:
1. Finding a Cheap or Free College
The first step to graduating debt-free is to pay the least amount of money possible to attend college in the first place. I was lucky enough to study in Paris, France, and the Sorbonne University cost around $2,000 a year for a full course load.
Some community colleges in the U.S. also offer a similar fee structure and even give you a steep discount if you take early classes while in high school. In France, things aren’t that flexible. You take the same number of courses every year, pass them, and then move on to the next year. You can’t really graduate early.
Another thing you might consider is starting your undergrad degree at a cheap college, and then transferring to a more prestigious institution for the last year or two.
It will be easier to get a 4.0 at a lesser-known college, and the best ones should welcome you with open arms if you have a perfect record.
But that’s not the only way I was able to start saving money in college. For instance, I didn’t pay a thing for tuition, thanks to …
2. Acquiring Scholarships
Scholarships are the next thing you should look into once you have narrowed down the list of colleges you would like to attend. My scholarship was based on my parents’ income and included free tuition.
Getting scholarships is a numbers game. You apply to 100, and maybe you’ll get one or two. If you only apply to a dozen, you might not get any. Scout around for off-the-beaten-path scholarships.
I got a couple of thousand dollars from a foundation to research the role of women in local economies in Africa. A few weeks of research and applications netted thousands in scholarships, which beats any hourly rate you would get at your student job.
3. Getting A Job (Or 12)
In college, your class load is usually about 20 hours a week. That leaves ample time to work and still enjoy college life. If you find a cool job, you won’t even feel like you're working.
For example, I used to be a waitress at weddings. Spending time among partying people felt like I had gone out, except that I got to come home $150 richer. You can find a job with perks — such as free meals if you work at a restaurant or free housing if you work on campus. For me, the perfect college job …
- Pays reasonably well. (Don’t settle for the first burger-flipping job around!)
- Is close to college so that you don’t have a long commute. You can spend the time you’ve saved studying or having a life.
- Has perks, such as earning you extra credits, paying for your bus pass, providing medical benefits, etc.
- Has flexible hours.
- Will look good on a CV later. Being dressed in a hotdog is an honorable job, but if you can get something that’s more in line with your field of studies, even better.
If there was one thing I found pointless in college, it was unpaid internships.
Paying for your bus fare and lunch, all while wasting your time earning nothing? No way.
I started flipping burgers and scooping ice cream, but I also tutored kids for a much higher rate, taught the piano, supervised primary-school kids during lunch (free meal!), and worked at a sports shop for the discounted gear. Most of my student jobs lasted for a few months until something better came around.
4. Hacking Through School
I eventually found a company willing to pay for my business school and pay me a salary. I got around $1,000 a month, plus a few perks and free business-school tuition (worth $10,000 a year) — all by working three days a week for them and attending business school the other two days.
Instead of working crazy hours, I was sitting at an office desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. three days a week. Life was awesome. I could have become a victim of lifestyle inflation (or creep), but I kept on living like a student.
5. Living Like a Student
I spent my first year on a $4,000 scholarship, living in a 90-square-foot room. When I graduated, I had my own “palace”: a 200-square-foot studio where I could open the fridge while sitting on the toilet. I didn’t care because my life kept improving marginally every year.
People often want a reward too quickly. You “deserve” a car, vacations, and big-ticket items. You do, but you must also work and save for them. If you buy a $500 TV on credit, it will end up costing you $800 or more due to interest.
Living like a student (inviting friends for potlucks instead of going out, looking for student offers and free passes, buying discounted food at the end of the day, etc.) helped me save money in college and get a fantastic head start in life.
You might not want to live in a 90-square-foot room, but if you can do it — and make a few other little “sacrifices” — it will help you avoid or reduce the burden of student loans for years to come, and even help you start saving money in college.
The Bottom Line on How to Save Money in College
Between working part-time jobs, finding ways to get other people to cover your tuition, attending an affordable college, and keeping your cost of living low, you'll be amazed by how much money you can save in college.
It can be easy to slip up on these things, but if you keep your eye on the prize, you'll be in a great financial place when you graduate. Future you will be glad you worked so hard today.