5 Tricks & Tips for Saving Money While in College

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Paying for college can practically cost a fortune, but being in college is expensive too. According to one estimate, the average cost of housing and food at a public, in-state school is now $28,840 a year, and that’s only part of the expense of being a student.

While the college experience only lasts a few years for most students, that bill can follow you for a lifetime, but fortunately, with some careful planning, you can cut way down on the cost associated with attending school.

How can you save money as a college student? 

The cost of being in college can vary wildly depending on where you attend, where you live and a handful of other details about your college experience. That means you have a lot of opportunities to reduce your expenses. Here are some of the best ways to do that:

1. Avoid unnecessary costs

Your biggest opportunity to save money while attending college is to avoid unnecessary expenses. In particular, your choice of where to live can make a huge difference.

According to a report from EducationData.org, students who live on campus at a public, four-year school will pay over $11,000 a year for room and board, whether they live on or off campus. Living with family during those four years, however, could save you around $44,000.

By comparison, it’s hard to find other ways to save anywhere near that much money, but your other choices still matter. For example, eating home-cooked meals can save you around $200 a month when compared to using a campus meal plan.

College textbooks will likely cost up to $600 per school year, but you can cut that expense by more than 30% if you choose eBooks over hard copies. To save even more money, apply for a book scholarship or ask your professors if they have free, open-source textbooks available.

2. Get strategic with your spending money

If you want to avoid overspending, start by figuring out how much money you have available on average each month. Then, make a list of your essential monthly expenses, including rent, utilities, food, and transportation.

If there’s money left over in your budget after covering expenses, give yourself a weekly spending limit for non-necessities, like entertainment or nightlife. You can also plan to find free forms of entertainment, like joining on-campus clubs.

All it takes to work out this kind of simple budget plan is a hand-written list or a spreadsheet, but you can also use an app or online budget tool to help keep track of your money.

3. Be careful with credit cards

For many students, opening up a credit card in college is their first experience with managing debt… and the experiment doesn’t end well.

Yes, using a credit card can help you develop your credit history and build your credit scores, and it can even help you cover an emergency expense if you have no other way to pay, but it can also get you into an expensive debt trap.

If you feel the need to open up a credit card, avoid getting into trouble by following these rules of thumb:

  • Never make a purchase that you can’t pay off within 30 days. By following this rule, you can avoid accruing ultra-high interest rates that add to the amount you owe.
  • If you can’t pay off the full balance on the card, pay at least the minimum payment by the monthly due date. By doing so you avoid late fees and long-term damage to your credit scores.

4. Use all your “free” resources

As a college student, it’s easy to overlook all the complementary resources at your disposal. Free student resources can save you countless dollars and put you in a better position to earn money once you graduate. Depending on your school, these resources may include any or all of the following:

  • Fitness center 
  • Healthcare services and facilities (including mental health services)
  • Career counseling
  • Tutoring
  • Free or subscriptions for learning resources

5. Get professional support

The independence you discover as a college student can be both a gift and a burden. Most schools don’t offer classes on how to create a budget, choose a credit card or manage debt, so college students are seemingly left to take this huge step with no little-to-no guidance.

Fortunately, professional help is available to any college student for free. You can schedule an appointment with a Certified Credit Counselor to get answers to all of your money questions, whether they’re related to school or not. Plus, a counselor can help you create a budget, give you personalized advice on how to build and manage credit, and help you navigate your options for student loan repayment when the time comes.