During college, you’re expected to do so many things — study hard, make friends, socialize, be an active member of the college community, have new experiences, and save money, just to name a few. And these goals don’t always go hand in hand. How are you supposed to cut costs when there’s so much going on around you? Don’t worry — I’ve compiled tips to help you save money in college so you can tick at least one of those things off the above list.
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1. Create a Budget
One of the top tips to save money in college is to create a plan. I am not suggesting you log Excel spreadsheets every day — you’re probably too busy with school work for that to be a sustainable project.
If you have a thing for Excel sheets, a great resource is the Federal Student Aid budgeting tool.
However, there is no need to manually track your expenses. With so many personal finance apps that help you keep on top of your expenses, tracking your spending is easier than ever, ensuring you are aware of your spending habits so you can modify your behavior according to your budget goal.
To come up with a budget goal, here are some things to think about:
How much money do you have right now? How much do you spend daily, weekly, and monthly? In what areas of your life can you reduce expenses? How much do you spend on food, transportation, textbooks, and clothes?
2. Take Food From the Dining Hall
If your school’s dining hall is buffet style, meaning you just need to swipe to get in and can eat however much you want, then you should take advantage of it. Most students get hungry between meals but don’t have time to go to the dining hall.
Be smart and take some fruit with you after you finish a meal. You can even pack a sandwich or make a cup of coffee for when you’re on the go.
Just remember to stock up on zip-close bags and containers so you can bring food with you.
If your school doesn’t offer buffet-style dining, but rather cost-per-food style, then start buying in bulk from outside grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s or Costco. Get a membership card for stores like Sam’s Club, where you can pick up nonperishable items in bulk to save money.
3. Eating Out Hacks
You know you’re going to eat out, and you feel guilty because you are supposed to be on a budget. It’s okay to go out once in a while — just don’t do it every day, or you’ll go broke.
Besides, everyone is bound to eat out at least once per semester because campus food gets tiring. I can tell you from personal experience that eating at one dining hall for four years is utterly terrible and boring.
However, one way to minimize spending is to carpool with people when you are going out to eat. Sharing an Uber with friends or even strangers can help you factor eating out into your budget, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere.
In terms of food, you can save money as a group. If you know you won’t be able to finish a dish, split it with a friend. Use restaurant coupons for college students and — this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — use coupons for everything you can!
Here are some restaurants that have discounts for college students:*
- Arby’s: Flash that college student ID and get 10 percent off your entire meal.
- Buffalo Wild Wings: Another 10 percent off your meal.
- Burger King: Your ID comes in handy — save 10 percent on your next meal.
- Chick-fil-A: Get a free small drink when you show your student ID and buy anything.
- Chipotle: Show your college student ID to score a free small drink.
*Note that discounts differ across branches and some may change over time, so make sure to ask at the register. Check out sites such as Save the Student for coupons. There are also many restaurants that offer birthday deals.
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Avoid buying textbooks altogether if you can. This is a matter of knowing your resources.
First, look at your school's library to see if it has the textbooks or novels that the courses require. Most schools have at least a few editions for students to borrow.
I often check out the books a semester in advance, knowing that demand is high during the semester.
So be smart about the timing and where you look for books. If your college library doesn't work out, check out books from local libraries near your school.
There are also online websites that let you download PDFs of textbooks. If you find even one PDF of a science textbook, you’ve already saved at least $150.
Ask upperclassmen if your college has a social media group where students exchange or sell textbooks. Some colleges even have Google Drive folders where students can share PDFs of textbooks with one another.
If all else fails, buy the textbooks with the intention of selling them after the semester ends. You can actually make a business out of it, too, if you want a way to make money in college.
Why go to the movie theater when you can have access to shows and movies online? You can share a Netflix account with three of your friends, so the cost is divided among all of you. Netflix has three plans that you can pick:
- Basic ($8/month and watch on one screen at a time in standard definition)
- Standard ($11/month and watch on two screens at a time in high definition)
- Premium ($14/month and watch on four screens at a time in high or ultrahigh definition).
I recommend you pick Basic or Standard, because what are the chances that all four of the users would want to watch something at the same time?
As a college student, you can also get a free six-month trial of Amazon Prime Student, so take advantage of it!
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Final Tips to Save Money in College
There are many ways to save money in college. You just need to think outside the box. Also, remember that you’re only human, so it will be almost impossible for you to follow a budget 100 percent of the time.
Some days you may spend more money than you intended. Forgive yourself and just get back on track. Now that you’re prepared, go off and save some money!