So you got into college – congratulations! You’re about to step into the next stage of your life.
But going to college means more than just getting an education; it also may be your first opportunity to experience adulthood. And when you’re a full-time student, your money has to stretch a little further to keep you afloat.
Luckily, you’re not the first person to experience the broke college kid days, and there are tons of ways to budget and save money as a college student. But we’ve taken the generic just cut unnecessary expenses! advice and turned it into actionable and effective ways to keep your bank account in the positives – without sacrificing all of the things that make college fun.
Here are our favorite money-saving tips for college students:
Make a budget – and stick with it
This is an essential first step, but it may be the toughest. If manual spreadsheets or pen-and-paper systems feel overwhelming, try an online tool like Mint, PocketGuard, or Goodbudget. They’ll help you see the current state of your finances and make sure you only spend what you can afford.
Get a part-time job
Whether it’s baristaing on the weekends or a paid internship in your field, a part-time job is a great way to gain experience while earning a little money in the process. If you qualify for Federal Work-Study, there may be additional on-campus opportunities for you as well.
Take advantage of student discounts
From restaurants to movie theaters to hair salons, you’d be surprised just how many places offer student discounts, especially in a college town! Make a habit of asking – and bring your student ID everywhere you go.
Apply to scholarships every year
You probably applied to more scholarships than you can count as a senior in high school, but did you know that there are scholarships available to upperclassmen as well? Check with your school’s financial aid department to learn what other scholarships you may qualify for.
Strategically go out to eat
Avoiding restaurants is a great way to save money, but where’s the fun in that? If you don’t want to stop eating out entirely, plan to go during lunchtime or happy hours (or on Tuesdays) when everything’s a little cheaper. And, of course, check if they have a student discount!
Use the meal plan you’re paying for
Before the school year starts, make sure you’re only paying for the meal plan you’ll need. And when you’re on-campus, make sure you’re using it to its full potential and not letting your precious swipes go to waste!
Take advantage of your college’s perks
College students get all sorts of perks just for, well, being a student. Usually this includes a gym membership, subscriptions to programs like Microsoft Office, and a career center with free services to help you get internships and a job after you graduate.
Share expenses with friends or roommates
You’re definitely not the only person in your friend group trying to figure out how to save money as a broke college student, so why not go in on some expenses together? You can save quite a bit by splitting the cost of a Netflix account or getting a Spotify family plan.
Buy used, thrifted, or repurposed
Avoid buying new textbooks if you can help it – but buying used also applies to other necessities! Thrift stores are great for filling your wardrobe, and you can find discounted furniture at second-hand stores, Facebook Marketplace, or local buy nothing groups.
Don’t bring your car on campus
Being The Friend With The Car sounds great until you have to pay for gas, get an oil change, and replace your brakes all in one week… So skip buying that annual parking pass, utilize public transport when available, and invest in a bike to get around campus (or roller skates if you’re feeling quirky).
Take turns hosting entertainment
On nights where you just can’t study anymore, you can still find entertainment without leaving home. Take turns with your friends hosting movie nights, board game competitions, or in-dorm karaoke performances (RA permitting) to keep your fun budget-friendly.
Attend campus events
Being a college student means having a pass to free (or cheap) events including collegiate sports, theater or music performances, and other events hosted by on-campus clubs. Bonus: on-campus events often include free food…
Perfect your at-home coffee
Daily trips to Dunkin’ or Starbucks add up quickly, so skip the coffee shop and learn how to make your go-to order at home. YouTube and TikTok are full of dupe recipes so good you won’t know the difference.
(Responsibly) use a cashback credit card
Start building credit now by looking into credit cards with cashback on things you’re already buying – like gas, groceries, or restaurants. If you’re going to school far from home, though, you may find the perks for travel or airline cards to be the best bang for your buck. But accruing interest or missing payments is the easiest way to lose money, so only spend what you can immediately pay off.
Consider becoming an RA
Resident Assistants make the world (residence hall) go round, and they come with some pretty sweet perks, too – like free housing, no roommate, and a budget to put on events every semester. It also looks great on a resume!
Resell what you’re done with
When the semester is over, don’t let your textbooks sit around and collect dust – sell them! Bookstores often charge a premium and then buy back for pennies on the dollar, so find others in your department who may need them and you’ll both come out ahead. You can look into selling clothing or furniture you aren’t using to get a little extra cash as well.
Use rewards or cashback apps
Many businesses have rewards programs you can take advantage of, but there are also third-party apps that will give you cashback on things you already buy. That’s why we developed Receipt Hog – one of the easiest ways to make some extra cash as a college student. Our completely free app not only lets you share feedback with your favorite brands, but you can also track your spending and turn your receipts into rewards – all in one place.