136 Tips for Saving Money in College

College is an expensive proposition, but a degree helps in getting a good career and comfortable life. Here are a few tips on reducing your expenses. Most of the suggestions are aimed at college students. A few are general enough that anyone can use them.

Books, Lab Fees, Tuition, Related Expenses

These are your highest priority — and sometimes costliest.

  1. Used books. Pretty simple, right, but some people feel they need shiny new plastic-wrapped books.
  2. Library. Professors sometimes reserve a few copies of their course's book, which you may be able to sign out short-term (a few hours to a few days).
  3. Other libraries. If there are other universities or colleges nearby, they may have a book you need, which you may be able to sign out for a few weeks.
  4. Save lab fees. Science lab courses incur fees for a book and beakers. Surplus stores might save you, and the book might be online at the course's website.
  5. Borrow. Know a professor or student with a copy? Ask nicely and you might receive.
  6. Sell them. Sell books from previous semesters to pay for current course books.
  7. Check online. There may be older editions of a book at the publisher's site.
  8. Don't buy a term paper. Online term papers from websites are a waste of money, and the content is like the town whore: it gets around.
  9. Use 529/ESA plans. Educational Savings Plan offers tax savings on future tuition.
  10. Scholarships. Scholarships can come before you enter, or during college, as the result of good grades or for doing specific volunteer work.

Clothing, Accessories, Furniture, and General Purchases

Unlike high school, most people don't care what you wear or sit on in college.

  1. Don't chase trends. Just because everyone else is wearing it doesn't mean you should.
  2. Custom style. Maybe your college has budding fashion designers who can make fashionable clothing on the cheap for you.
  3. Make it yourself. Handy with a sewing machine? Make your own fashion statement.
  4. Go vintage. Vintage clothing boutiques are all over the place.
  5. Army surplus. Surplus stores sell discounted clothing, outerwear, boots and bags.
  6. Book bags. Canvas bags can and do last longer than leather cases, and cost less.
  7. Scout for bargains and sales.
  8. Avoid impulse buys. Even if it's on sale, do you really need it?
  9. Avoid endcaps. Checkout aisle items are priced to entice, but the cost adds up.
  10. Defer gratification. Credit card debt is rampant in the United States. Why not wait and buy with cash savings?
  11. Flea markets. Make vintage furnishings part of your style.
  12. Garage/yard sales. These offer a different breed of bargain than flea markets.
  13. Buy on sale. Obvious, right? Seasonal gifts cost less off-season.
  14. Stock up. A 12-pack of toilet paper costs less than six 2-packs.
  15. Ditch the catalogs. Especially if there's stuff in them that you want but don't need.
  16. Ask for a discount. Places like Office Depot will sometimes give you a discount just for asking.
  17. Check for in-store discounts.
  18. Check your receipt. Totals always seem high, but maybe you were overcharged.
  19. Stay away from layaway. On the other hand, try this layaway technique to save.
  20. Ask for a cash discount. Some places such as electronics stores will give you a cash discount if you ask nicely.
  21. Tax-free shopping days. Yes, Virginia, they do exist.

Credit Cards, Finances, and Investing

Students with credit cards have become commonplace. So has debt.

  1. Avoid plastic. Use cards for emergencies, or pay off purchases before they accrue interest. If you need one, here's how to get a secured card.
  2. Pay on time. Seriously, so easy, but often ignored. Think of how much interest you save. Being late on a single payment increases your interest rate.
  3. Avoid 0% APR cards. Unless you're very disciplined and the normal rate is less than your current rate.
  4. Ask for a better rate. Have good credit history? Ask for a better credit card rate.
  5. Get an online savings account. They beat the interest rate on a regular bank account, and keep you from spending (or incur fees). Use the money you save to pay down student loans after graduation.
  6. Find the optimum savings account. The best rate for your online savings account isn't necessarily the optimum one, depending on minimum balance requirements.
  7. Open several accounts. If you can meet the minimum balance, a lot of online savings accounts offer a bonus at signup.
  8. Have an emergency fund.
  9. Try sub-accounts. They allow you to partition your money for different purposes and maximize interest earned.
  10. Buy a few shares. Studying economics, etc.? Do some research and invest a little from your savings into the stock market.
  11. Avoid the ATM. Fees will eat your savings. Withdraw a lump sum once, for the week, based on a budget.
  12. Avoid cash advances. Unlike purchases, credit card cash advances accrue interest immediately.
  13. Don't bounce checks. Doing so is costly (bank + store fees) and damages your credit rating.

Entertainment and Exercise

All work and no play...

  1. Go natural. Do entertaining things that don't cost money: visit friends, explore campus, hike, ride, skateboard, rollerblade, etc.
  2. Athletics services. Some campuses include use of facilities (pool, weight room, etc.) in your tuition.
  3. Abstain. Alcohol is costly and dehydrates you. Or check out Billy Cosby's I'll never drink again skit, if you can find it.
  4. Beg for beer. Do parlour tricks for a pint.
  5. Ladies night. Free or discounted drinks for females. Or borrow your sister's dress.
  6. Brew your own. More legal than "grow your own".
  7. Movie night. Student residences may show recent films in lecture halls at a reduced rate.
  8. Wait for the DVD. Why pay $11 for a cramped seat in a smelly theater.
  9. Your own movie night. Share DVD rentals with roommates and friends on weekends.
  10. Skip the pizza. Go potluck on movie night.
  11. Cancel cable TV. Or at least slim down the monthly package you pay for.
  12. Streaming video. There are tons of streaming video sites such as YouTube, Google Video, Daily Motion, iFilm, revver (which pays) and many more. Some TV broadcasters' websites also show recent episodes.
  13. Internet TV. IPTV comes in two forms: broadcaster's streaming video of recent TV episodes and standalone clients like Joost, Babelgum, or Democracy.
  14. Free music. iLike, Pandora, Last.fm, finetune, gotuit (music videos).
  15. Go Dutch. This is the 21st century. A guy doesn't always have to pay for everything on a date. Split the cost.
  16. Get a subscription. Magazines cost less in a prepaid subscription, compared to monthly purchases at the mall or bookstore.
  17. Cancel magazine subscriptions. You can probably read it free at the college or local library.

Food, Meals, Grocery Shopping

Food is usually your biggest expense after tuition, books, and rent.

  1. Take a lunch. College food courts are notoriusly expensive.
  2. Give up coffee. Ditto. Or make a pot at home in the morning.
  3. Use a thermos. A sturdy thermos is ideal for hot coffee or soup, and it'll hook onto your backpack or book bag.
  4. Bottle your own. Use your own water filter and carry a squeeze bottle.
  5. Reduce meat. And increase less expensive vegetable protein.
  6. Eat generic. Brand name food items cost extra due to advertising costs.
  7. Split a pizza. Go halvsies with a roommate or buddy on a big pizza deal.
  8. Make your own. Pizza is easy to make. Go with flatbread, a bit of cooking oil, sauce, cheese, and toppings, and a (toaster) oven.
  9. No drinks. If you do enter a restaurant occasionally, skip the soda pop.
  10. Clip coupons. Standard cost-cutting procedure for students. But only for items you actually use.
  11. Jut what you need. Make a list before you shop and stick to it.
  12. Buy bulk. Save on packaging by buying small baggies of loose items from the bulk bins.
  13. Make your own snacks. Snacks are nice, but think twice. Or buy bulk items and mix'em yourself.
  14. Try the local Farmer's Market. Great bargains to be had.
  15. Meal planning. A bit of meal planning reduces waste and maintains variety.
  16. Share meals. Only the most easygoing of people can pull this off, but sharing groceries and meals is far more cost effective than buying for one.
  17. Devise a budget. Use free spreadsheet software from Open Office, Zoho or Google.
  18. Take a calculator. To keep track of your purchase total and stick to your budget.
  19. Shop the perimeter. That's where the necessities are.
  20. Warehouse clubs. Team up with a friend and cut down on costs.
  21. Don't use credit. Careful with credit cards for food purchases. It's easy to get out control.

General Frugality and DIY

Student frugality goes beyond sticking to a budget. It requires a do-it-yourself mindset.

  1. Count your coins. Do it yourself while watching TV. Use paper coin wrappers instead of losing nearly 10% in a coinstar machine.
  2. Thoughtful gifts. A gift doesn't have to cost a lot to be valuable.
  3. Free samples. There really are websites offering free samples.
  4. Discount postage stamps. Buy in bulk and save, for letters to grandma.
  5. Dumpster diving. Not literally, as it's illegal in most places. But people really do throw out good quality furniture, TV sets, books, tools, etc.
  6. Re-use. Sour cream/margarine containers, ziploc bags, pickle bottles.
  7. Volunteer. How does volunteering save money? Time away from the mall, free stuff.
  8. Clean your kitchen. You're more likely to cook at home and thus save money.
  9. Barter. Some towns have student/grad-run barter groups, whereby you can trade items/services.
  10. Wait on the pets. At least until after college.
  11. Re-gift. Can't use all the gifts from uncles and aunts? Re-gift. Tacky? Maybe not.


This section is a combination of savings tips and proven ways to earn some money for college.

  1. Free Wi-Fi. Why pay for Internet access when you probably have free wireless access on campus.
  2. Blog. Numerous students have taken up personal finance or tech blogging to earn some money for college. If you have good grades, you could also offer study tips.
  3. Free blog hosting. Dont pay for your blog. Check out Wordpress.com, LiveJournal, and Blogger. (Some don't allow ads.)
  4. Use ads. Google AdSense and Chitika eMinimalls are two ways you might earn ad revenue on your blog.
  5. Affiliate programs. For those who know how to utilize them, affiliate programs such as Amazon's could be more lucrative than blog ads.
  6. Amazon wishlist. Write an informative blog and make a wishlist so that generous visitors can gift you.
  7. Paypal donations. Paypal let's you cyber-beg for donations for your blog's great content by installing a donation button.
  8. Make money online. There are a number of ways to make money online including writing product/service reviews. Check out LoudLaunch, SponsoredReviews, PayPerPost, and ReviewMe.
  9. Sponsors. For qualifying blogs, this is an alternate source of revenue. Try Text Link Ads or TextLinkBrokers.
  10. eBay. Legit businesses make big bucks selling new and used items on eBay. Find your niche.
  11. Flip websites. Don't want to maintain a website? Build it and flip it for profit. Read College Startup for some details.
  12. Trim phone bills. Call home with one of several free/inexpensive VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services online such as Jajah, Gizmo Project, Skype, SightSpeed.
  13. Trim phone bills, part two. Keep costly long-distance voice calls to a minimum and use email or text chat software.
  14. Use play money. Of course, underage college students never play online poker. But if you do, try play money until your skills are up, you're legal, and can stick to a plan.

Money Earning Opportunities

This section isn't strictly about how to save. Rather, it's ways to make a few dollars to offset the costs of an education.

  1. Assistant. In some colleges, departments hire undergrads to help grade assignments, etc.
  2. Tutor. If you're good at a subject, private tutoring can earn you some nice moola. There's also Tutors Without Limits.
  3. Awards. Get all A's in your first two semesters and you might on the Dean's Honor Roll and a win a small cash award.
  4. Grants. Students considering graduate studies may qualify for final year grants if working with a professor on a research project.
  5. Painting or landscape. Start a part-time landscape/painting business or franchise and you have yourself money for tuition as well as work after graduation.
  6. Do like Dell. Mike Dell started making computers while in college, selling them to fellow students.
  7. College startup. Pretty much any college startup has an advantage due to hundreds of classmates as potential customers who know and (maybe) trust you.
  8. Part-time library job. Either as a junior librarian or book collector/stacker.
  9. Computer help desk assistant. Your college's Computing Services might need a tech literate assistant, usually in the campus library.
  10. Balance transfer arbitrage. If you have good credit and are disciplined, use all those 0% APR balance transfer credit cards to your advantage.


On campus residences tend to be expensive and often have compulsory food plans for horrible cafeteria food.

  1. Stay with relatives or famly friends. It's not considered cool, but you can save a bundle.
  2. Live in your truck. Not legal in most places, but Cal State student Andy Bussell is doing it.
  3. Try a hostel. Bigger cities have them. Might be a bit awkward, but it's an option.
  4. Be a super. You may qualify for rent discount by doing part-time groundskeeping.
  5. Buy a property. Good with your money? Rent to own and subsidize your mortgage by sharing a place with other students.

Transportation and Related Costs

Don't live on campus? Here are options for making it to class on time and keep costs down.

  1. Use the train. Live at home (cheap/free) and use a regional train pass. You save on campus parking costs, gasoline, and wear and tear on your vehicle.
  2. Student pass. Some cities provide a student discount for monthly or semesterly passes for local transit.
  3. Shop for insurance. Car insurance bargains are there if you look. Research online.
  4. Raise your deductible. By increasing the amount of your deductible, your insurance premium goes down.
  5. Drive stickshift. Standard transmissions consume less gas. Drawback: potentially higher maintenance costs if your clutch blows.
  6. Change your own oil. Why pay a mechanic?
  7. Carpool. People do it for work. Why not for school?
  8. Plan grocery shopping. Don't drive for an item or three. Go once a week or biweekly and stick to it.
  9. Look for gas promos. Your neighborhood gas station might have student discounts or coupons for regular customers.
  10. Walk. You're young and healthy. Or will be.
  11. Rollerblade. But wear suitable protection.
  12. Bike. Biking is arguably safer than rollerblading and great all-body exercise.
  13. Skateboard/foot scooter. May be hard to pull off in some hilly cities.
  14. Scooter. Less costly than a car or motorcycle; great gas mileage.

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