I have always been a saver. If I was ever given cash as a birthday gift, I would put half of it in my piggy bank or wallet, even before I hit middle school. I would barter with my parents to figure out what could earn me money, whether it was extra chores or good grades. I would often skip out on big purchases and mall trips, just to build up the number in my savings account. It was a really extra approach that I don’t quite recommend. My sister on the other hand, operated under the philosophy that money is for spending, and spend she did. We were polar opposites on the financial spectrum, and that has leveled out a bit since we’ve gotten older. But I don’t think either mentality is especially healthy or productive.
My sister is going off to college this year, and I’ve made a list that combines our saver and spender perspectives into a list of ways to minimize the impact on the wallet and maximize your college experience. The list is broken down into what, in my experience, are the biggest areas of life that college goers spend their hard-earned cash. Hopefully you can figure out where your biggest spending weak spots are and use a few of these money saving tips to cut down on your college costs.
Tuition is so steep at American colleges that a central debate question in the 2020 Presidential Race is about ways to reduce this expense and increase accessibility to higher education. While this issue can’t be solved without help from the government, there are things you can do personally to cut college costs.
First, applying for scholarships, both merit and need based, is a great way to reduce the cost of tuition. There are programs that help various minority groups manage the cost of college, which is a great support for the affirmative action mindset, and there are scholarships that you can earn just by writing an essay.
These can be through your particular school, but most often, they are through an independent organization with its own goals, so figure out what they’re looking for from you before you apply. Scholarships are likely also available through your school’s career center to help fund your summer internship. If you want to take advantage of an experience, but can’t afford it, reach out to the career center and they’ll know of scholarships you should apply to.
The last thing to note about scholarships is that you may have a better chance of getting it than you might think. If you fit into the demographic of the scholarship, and you can make the time to apply, you should do it. Plenty of people skip out on the effort because they don’t have a guaranteed shot at the cash. If you are truly looking to save money, know that those people who don’t apply only give you a better shot.
The next money saving tip to reduce the cost of tuition is to graduate early. Even getting rid of one semester’s tuition will help minimize the financial damage college causes. You can do this by taking AP classes in high school or taking tests to place out of intro classes for distribution requirements or major requirements. You can also take more classes than the average student each semester, take classes over the summer, or limit your courseload’s elective classes so that you can narrow in on getting your degree quickly. My only warning for this tip is to make sure you are getting what you want out of your college experience. Don’t overload yourself to the point where all you can manage is your classes, or limit your learning to one subject, if that’s not what you are looking for. For some people, college is all about the degree, and some people don’t feel the need to stay for a full four years, and that’s awesome. Save money and graduate early. But if you are looking for a more holistic experience, consider all of the options below before you plan to graduate early.
Finally, when choosing a college and a student loan plan, figure out how you are planning on tackling them. Talk to a trusted adult or financial advisor to lay out all of your options, and ensure that there are no surprises. Don’t wing it when it comes to paying off student loans. Know what you’re getting yourself into and plan to attack your debt once you get out of college.
Room and Board
Oof. After all that tuition talk, paying for room and board might seem even more overwhelming. But there are a few quick tips that can help you save money here too.
First, figure out what meal plan you think you will need, and then get the plan that is one size smaller. You can be sneaky by taking food out of the dining hall (I do this all the time) and eat it in your room later. Stocking up on fruit and dessert from the dining hall can also help you save money or swipes on late night or early morning cravings.
The cost of living on campus can obviously be erased if you live at home and commute, so if that’s an option that works for you, definitely take advantage of it. But, you can also save here/ make some extra cash by working as an RA. Some schools call this job something else, but essentially each dorm has a student resident that works as a resource for any conflicts or challenges the other residents have. This job is a big commitment, but it looks really good on a resume and can help you save money on room and board. In fact, it’s often free for RAs. Look into your school’s program, and remember that the program is probably competitive. So if you’re hoping to land this job, be sure to stay in good standing with the school.
When listing off the biggest money suckers in college, textbooks wound up pretty close to the top. It seems like every semester, professors are trying to slam you with not only the most reading possible, but the most expensive reading. It’s like a slap in the face each time you get a new syllabus and look at the required readings, but with these money saving tips, you will hopefully be able to cheat the system.
Don’t just get your books from the bookstore. Use websites like Slugbooks to compare prices at different locations for the same text. You can also buy used books, online books, or rent your books if any of those options are most effective for you. In my experience, while used books are perfectly good quality, I don’t end up saving that much money, and online books are trickier to take notes in, but every department and school is different, so figure out which money saving strategy fits your needs best.
You can also take classes that your friends are taking or have already taken and share books with them. This functions better if you’re not taking the same class at the same time so you can use the book whenever you need it, but if you set up a system that works, go for it. I’m on a sports team, so every semester there are girls on the team asking if anybody has old textbooks. This is especially helpful when underclassmen have access to upperclassmen.
Finally, you can sell your books when you’re done with them. Maybe you’re like me and you get attached to your textbooks and don’t want to sell them. But some people, just like with prom dresses, feel like they’ve served their purpose once finals are over, and would prefer to make some cash off of them. Many schools have on-campus buy-back programs, but these don’t usually offer the best returns. Try online markets like facebook marketplace, or sellbackyourbook.com to find the best buyers for your valuable books.
Food and Drinks
Now we have gotten past living and academic expenses, and it’s on to the splurge areas. Going out to eat or drink in college means an escape from dining-hall food and a time to relax with friends. Especially during stressful times of year, you might end up going out to eat every time a friend asks you to join them, or ordering delivery every time you’re stuck in your room writing an essay (me). But this spontaneous luxury can quickly add up. My advice to save money on food is to budget, and to plan your meals out based on deals. If you are truly trying to save, you should plan how much money you are willing to spend on food and drinks each month, and then stick to it. You might be surprised to learn that your student ID can get you discounts at restaurants. Figure out the spots near you that will give you that helping hand. You can also use apps like Hooked to find the best restaurant deals near you. Even if you don’t eat out that much, but you’re on a limited dining plan, never forget that couponing is always the way to go when you’re grocery shopping on a budget.
Finally, if you’re somebody with a coffee, tea, or even a kombucha habit, keep track of how much that’s hurting your wallet. If you want to save money on your favorite must-have a drink, learn how to brew it yourself. Skip the starbucks or the pricey cafe and get your own coffee maker, or start your own kombucha culture. It could save you thousands by the time you graduate.
This is a good time to mention that buying alcohol can be ridiculously expensive. If you and your friends are really into beer, consider brewing it yourselves. It could be a fun activity and could even turn into a business if your school allows it (21+ :)).
Another way to turn a spending habit into some cash would be to become a designated driver. Offer your services to your friends going out for a small fee. You’ll skip out on the expensive drinks without missing out on the experience.
This point really depends on your personal habits, where you go to school, and the fashion culture where you are, but if you are someone who spends a lot of their extra money on clothes, I have a few money saving tips for you.
First, as always: budget. Know what you’re willing to spend, and try to avoid impulse buys. If you know what you’re closet is missing, you’ll approach clothes shopping with a more targeted perspective that will prevent you from buying everything that looks cute.
Similarly to the point about deals on food, shop based on deals. Your student discount might come in more handy than you think, and if you still can’t stop shopping at a certain store, start working there. Pick up some extra spending money and get that employee discount.
Another great way to save money, and the environment, is to ditch fast fashion for second hand stores. Almost every town has a second-hand store like Goodwill where you can go shopping with your friends for some surprising finds.
Finally, you can sell your unwanted clothes. If you’ve read this far into this section, you might be someone with plenty of clothes in their closet. Do you have items you hardly wear? Or pieces that you have plenty of? I know I could stand to get rid of a few crop tops. Make room in your cramped college closet and get rid of the stuff you don’t wear. What did you leave behind at home? If it’s there for more than a seasonal reason, think about selling it. While donating old clothes is always good to do, if you’re trying to save/make extra cash, this is an easy way to do so.
Once again, this all starts with the budget. Whether you’re a spring breaker, or just an uber-to-dinner person, figuring out how much you’re willing to spend on transport will help prevent you from overspending. Plan your trips around your budget, not the other way around. Once you know how much you can spend, squeeze your travel expenses into that budget buy taking advantage of cheap travel methods. Uber Rideshare, public transportation with student discounts, hitching rides with friends, and especially walking when you can, are all great ways to cut college costs of traveling.
If you live far away from home, going back can be costly, so try to find fun activities to do local to your school instead. Hopefully these will keep you busy and distracted from missing out on a family event. It sucks, but I’ve always found that a college experience is worth being a little homesick.
Your hobbies and entertainment preferences really dictate how expensive it is to maintain your work life balance. Some people are perfectly happy netflix and chilling after class with friends, while others aren’t satisfied unless they’re going on frequent adventures off-campus. I fall somewhere in between, and for me, my skiing habit is definitely the most expensive part of my entertainment life. I saved money on something I would have done no matter what by buying a student season pass almost a year in advance of the ski season. The lesson there is to alot money to the things you will really want to do, and be conscious of your spending in more spontaneous settings.
If you’re into going out to the movies, to bars, or to sporting events, use that Student ID! Get every deal you can.
My main tip here though, is to get involved on campus. College-sponsored entertainment is often built in to what you’re already paying. Between sports and clubs, there’s bound to be stuff you’re interested in. Fill your time with free and fun activities to limit your free time that you could spend off campus spending money.
I had never had a laptop, but it’s almost a requirement, if not an expectation to have one in college, so I got a Mac. That was a hefty bill, but I made it slightly smaller by using my student discount and got a free pair of beats headphones with it. Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Sony, and Amazon all offer student discounts, so don’t skip out on that. But you can also save money by buying off-brand tech. As long as you get a tablet or laptop that does everything you need it to do, don’t worry about the brand, and save money. You can also buy refurbished appliances for less if that’s something that works for you.
Another money saving tip as far as tech is concerned, is that you don’t need to keep up with the latest and greatest. I personally skipped out on the air-pod trend to save some money, and I am doing perfectly fine without them.
Finally, I would recommend skipping the pricey warranty on tech products in exchange for taking good care of your materials. Be sure to avoid downloading viruses or exposing your laptop to being physically broken.
Decorating my room my freshman year, and even just making it liveable cost tons of money. Biggest Bed, Bath, & Beyond haul I’ve ever made by far. This is definitely a place to look to cut back on spending.
Checking to see if you can get the same products cheaper somewhere else, and with your student ID is always a good place to start. Amazon, JOANN’s fabric, and goodwill, all have student discounts. You can also search on facebook marketplace for items you need. A lot of stuff you buy for college, you won’t want when you graduate. Recent grads are often trying to sell their dorm room decor and it’s available for you to snatch up at a lower price.
Don’t forget to ask friends and family if they have a mini fridge or shower caddy lying around that you could use. My uncle had a microwave and mini fridge that I’m using for college for free.
When you’re shopping, avoid items that are overly trendy or loud. A good way to save money is reusing all of your room decor year to year, so don’t buy anything you might get sick of quickly.
Other Side Hustles
Working part-time jobs while in college is a great way to make money and practice working in a professional setting. But strict hours are often tough to balance with classes and fluctuating stress levels. Finding a side hustle you love that’s flexible and low maintenance can be a good compromise.
Participate in studies on campus for the psychology department or other science classes. You get paid, it doesn’t take much time, and you can pick when you attend.
If you have a special skill, sell it. Work as a photographer if you have a nice camera, for the school, or even for friends who want an occasional photo shoot. You will be less expensive than a professional, which will help you get customers. Same goes for if you have good makeup skills or can cut hair. Lots of college girls (like me) don’t want to pay for an expensive haircut, nor do we want to have to pay to get off-campus, so there is definitely a market out there.
You can also use the skills you’re learning in class to be an online freelancer. Whether it’s coding or proofreading, you don’t need to have graduated to start earning money off of your skillset. Even on campus, you can work as a tutor or a teaching assistant in subjects you know well to earn a little extra money.
If you’re an artist of any capacity, consider turning your cathartic hobby into a side hustle. Open an Etsy page or even your own website to sell jewelry, artwork, or whatever type of art you’re skilled at! Especially around the holidays, homemade greeting cards are in high demand. Relax and craft while you earn some extra cash.
First thing’s first: know your spending habits. Some people suggest recording all of your spending for a month, then sorting it to figure out whether you’re splurging the most on food, entertainment, travel, or something else. With that information about yourself, you can either make a more realistic budget, or realize the areas that you are trying to cut back on.
Never forget that you can save money by using your student ID everywhere you go. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts.
Finally, once you have your financial goals laid out, make sure you spend the money you’ve set aside in ways that make you happy. As my little sister used to preach, spending money is fun!