23 Simple Ways to Save Money for College Students

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College is expensive. Nothing new about that. But that doesn’t mean you can throw up your hands and say “Well I’m broke anyways, might as well splurge on the $6 left in my bank account”.


If you want to minimize the impact of student loan interest, you need to find ways to save money anywhere you can. The best time to start saving is now while you have decades of compounding growth ahead of you.

Besides the general money saving tips that apply to everyone (no shopping sprees, no lattes everyday, no cable, you know the drill), there are some tips that are more applicable for college students.

Here’s a list of 23 simple ways you can save money in college. 

School Expenses


Books are expensive. Instead of bending to your school curriculum’s iron fist, there are many cheaper alternatives.

Here was my go-to procedure to get out of paying full price for a textbook:

  • Google search “[Name of Textbook] filetype:pdf”
  • Search on Library Genesis. It’s basically a site with a lot of book pdfs that you won’t normally find through a google search 
  • Check if anyone on Reddit or your school’s Facebook group shared a link
  • Check if your library has one you can borrow
  • Ask your classmates or former students if you can borrow their textbooks
  • Compare your school’s bookstore textbook prices with Amazon
  • Buy an older used edition of the textbook. These are way cheaper than the newest edition
    • Usually the authors shuffle the problem numbers in newer editions. Make sure you have a way to double check with the newest edition if you have to do book problems.
  • Rent the textbook on a site like Amazon, Chegg, Campus Book Rental, Barnes & Noble’s, and others
  • Split the price with friends and share the book

Become a Resident Assistant (RA)

If you don’t know what an RA is, it’s basically a registered student who serves as the go-to person for the needs of on-campus housing residents.

Most schools offer RA jobs for on campus housing, and they usually compensate with a pre-paid meal plan and free housing. 

You’d have to put in hours for the work, but it’s a great way to save rent/housing money, stay on campus, and connect with new people. It’s a pretty good deal for the number of hours you would need to put in.

Apply for scholarships

Scholarships award money to students based on merit or need. Find out which scholarships you are eligible for and apply early, even when you think your chance is small. You never know!

Even if you think you have a 1% chance of getting a scholarship, if you apply to a hundred scholarships valued at $1,000 each, you can expect to get $1,000 for your efforts. That’s a pretty good deal for a relatively short amount of work.

If you’re going to do this, I recommend you maximize your productivity by batching your application work into 1. Finding scholarships and 2. Applying to scholarships. This means do nothing else but find scholarships, then after that do nothing else but apply to scholarships. A spreadsheet would come in handy to do this.

Take Classes at Community College

If possible, take some of your classes at a community college and transfer the units. Their tuition is usually a lot cheaper. 

If you don’t mind missing out on 2 years at your target school, you can start out with community college then transfer. 

Besides cutting out 2 years of big tuition fees, you also have more time to decide on a major if you haven’t decided yet. I’ve known a lot of people who switched majors when I was in college. It’s pretty common.

But before you sign up for classes, make sure that those credits will transfer to your target college. Don’t waste your time taking courses that ultimately won’t get you closer to graduating.

Graduate Early

This might not be an easy thing to do, but if you’re able to and want to, graduating early can save you some tuition money. Double plus if you can find a job before you graduate and start earning income sooner.

If for example you would only have one or two classes in your final quarter, then it may be a good idea to work harder and finish those classes earlier. That would save a quarter’s worth of tuition, easily a few thousand dollars.

To do this, you will need to plan your class schedule carefully. Don’t just blindly follow the template your advisors give you. If you want to graduate early, you’re going to have to bend the rules where you can and take more classes than your advisors will recommend.

You can also look into testing out of classes or taking prerequisite classes concurrently with the class you want to take. If you think you can handle it, you can also take a gamble and schedule classes with overlapping class times (I did this once and survived). 


Use Available Campus Amenities

Campus amenities (free or discounted healthcare and counseling, free activities, gym, and the library) should be utilized whenever possible, even when you don’t live on campus. You’re probably paying for it anyways with your tuition money.

For example, a gym membership can cost anywhere from $20 to $100 a month, so use the school gym and save that money. Most campus libraries also offer free or extremely discounted printing services, so use these rather than buying your own printer, paper, and ink. 

Free Events

Your school has all kinds of free events going on, especially during welcome week. So read your newsletter, check facebook groups, and go to the ones that interest you (or just the ones with free food). 

It’s a good way to pass the time and meet new people (and feed yourself). Sometimes they might also hand out free school supplies like notebooks and pens (lots of pens).

Cheap Holiday Trips

It’s exciting to explore other places with friends during breaks, whether it’s a road trip or somewhere further away. Plan your trip carefully – there are many places where you can accidentally spend more than you planned for. 

If you want to read more about this, check out our article on budgeting for a road trip

Most importantly, make a budget and stick to it. Make sure your travel buddies have the same tolerance of comfort level as you. You don’t want to have an argument over whether you should Uber or take the bus. 

If they have different spending habits, make it clear you have strict spending limits and that you have a cap on how much you’re willing to spend.


Free Food on Campus

Many events on campus offer free food and drinks. Take advantage of those events when it’s not a big time commitment. 

I’ve heard there are free apps out there you can use to find free food events. I haven’t tried any personally, but they might be worth a shot.

Cook Your Own Food

Eating out can be expensive. According to debt.com, people eat out about four times a week. 

Even though you’re only spending $5 for boba or $10 at Subway, the cost can add up quickly if you’re going out a few times a week. At that rate, you’re spending roughly $450 per quarter or $675 per semester. 

It’s going to be tough saying no to people who want to eat out with you, but if you’re serious about saving money, that’s something you’ll need to get used to. Alternatively, just invite them for a home-cooked meal at your place.

If you’re like me and you hate cooking or are often too busy to cook, check out meal replacement alternatives like Huel (what I’ve been using). For $1.51, you get a complete 400 cal nutritionally complete meal. All you have to do is take two scoops, shake it up, and you’re ready to drink. I personally prefer refrigerating overnight.

Click on my link and you’ll get $15 off your first order. I’ll probably write a Huel review some other time. But long story short, it takes a little getting used to in the beginning, but I’ve learned to love it. I have a Huel shake for lunch everyday just for the convenience.

Make Your Own Coffee

Many college students rely on coffee to go through those long nights with assignments due. One cup of coffee doesn’t cost much, but if you drink them regularly, it quickly adds up to hundreds a year. 

You can consider investing in a coffee maker and brew the coffee yourself. A cheaper option – if you just want to stay awake – is to just take caffeine pills. You get the same amount of caffeine (100-200mg) for less than a dime per pill. I’ve tried them myself with no weird side effects (as far as I can tell).

You can also try relying on 5-hour energy and red bull freebies that get handed out during finals week.


Have Roommates

Rent is probably the biggest part of your daily expenses. Living with roommates and/or housemates can save you a lot of money, although it means sacrificing a little quality of life. 

Also, you can consider moving into an off-campus apartment. Rent is typically much lower than on-campus housing. If you want to find off-campus housing, you should start the search early. The price tends to rise around when school starts up for a new year. 

Buy Second-Hand

When you need something, don’t rush to buy a new one. Be patient and look for used alternatives that can save you money. You can find many good-conditioned second-hand items on websites like Craigslist or Facebook. 

Especially near the end of each semester/school year, a lot of people move out and try to get rid of their stuff by selling at a very cheap (or free) price. 

Resell Your Things

Similarly, you can always resell your things instead of just throwing them away. Even if you can only sell your stuff for small fractions of what they were worth, that can add up if you do this for all your stuff collected over the years.

That’s one reason to take care of your things. A stain could devalue your couch by 20 bucks. Or it might force you to throw it out altogether. No one wants to buy a dirty old couch, even if you’re giving it away for free (especially if it’s free).

Don’t Decorate Too Much

While it’s tempting to make your dorm/apartment home-like, remember that you’re only living here temporarily. 

You have to clean out everything when you move out. You’re probably going to toss a lot of things anyways because it’s too much work to move them to your next place. 

Learn to love the minimalist lifestyle. Check out books like Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki or The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. There’s even a Netflix documentary on minimalism you can check out.


Use Public Transportation

Most public transportation in your city is free for students, so make use of those instead of Uber/Lyft. You might even consider taking the bus/train instead of driving. 

It’s true that they’re not as comfortable and take a longer time, but you can minimize time losses by using apps to track when the bus comes. If it’s not too crowded and you’re not sitting next to a weirdo, read a book or do your homework to make your time more productive. 

I personally liked to listen to podcasts on my commute to/from school. Some of my favorites include the Tim Ferris Show, Freakonomics, and the Ted Radio Hour (not sponsored by the way).


Whenever possible, carpool together with someone instead of driving by yourself. It’s better for the environment, and you can split the gas cost. This includes things like driving to the grocery store, driving to parties (yea I see you), and driving to lunch/dinner meetups.

Especially if you’re driving for a longer trip, like going home for holidays or driving to a retreat, you should try to find people to carpool with you to save money. 


Learn Budgeting

Many college students either are not motivated to or don’t know they should be learning about personal finance or budgeting. US News says only 40-60% of college students actually do. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but maybe people think budgeting is just something for working adults. Or maybe people think “I never spend unless I have to, so budgeting won’t save me money” (that was me). 

However, whether you have a stable source of income or not, it’s a good habit to track your spending and control your spending. You might be surprised to see where your money is going. If you want to learn more, you can check out my post on how to budget here.

Get a Part-time Job

There are many part-time job opportunities for college students. Some require no expertise, like working at a restaurant. Others may be more closely related to your major or your future career, like an internship. 

It depends on your own situation, what type of part-time job you want, and if it’s worthwhile to do it. Obviously you will want to aim for the jobs that help you build your career, but those jobs are usually the most difficult to get (unless you have a connection).

If you’re really desperate for money, you’re probably going to have to take a low-skill job just to earn a paycheck and pay your bills. You’re also going to have to make time to work longer hours. If you really have to, you might need to skip class to go work, but only as a last resort.

Use Your Student Discount

Many companies like Apple, Adobe, Madewell, Forever 21, and J.Crew offer student discounts on their products. Take advantage of the discount whenever possible and save the difference. For example, Amazon has a six-month free membership for students. 

But don’t buy something just because it has a discount. The best way to save is to not spend.

Many banks have programs for students, these often have lower fees and no minimum balance required. So when you want to open an account or get a credit card, do some research and find one that has perks for students. Now would be a great time to get a student card and build credit.

Share Things and Split Cost 

When in school, you probably hang out with your friends a lot, or even live together with them. This makes it easy to share things and split the cost. 

Streaming services (Netflix/Hulu/HBO) subscriptions, Costco membership, chegg account, games, cell phone plans, public household items, groceries… There are all sorts of things you can easily split with your friends. 

Keep Your Items Safe

Things get lost/stolen all the time, and this could get worse in college. It’s like living in the thieves den out there. Your house may have parties where many strangers show up, the campus has random people (who may or may not be students) walking around looking for things to steal, and con men walk around campus trying to hustle people.

Lock up your valuable things at home, keep an eye on your things when you’re in public, get a good lock for your bike, don’t leave anything remotely valuable visible in your car. 

I’ve had friends get their bike stolen (super common), I’ve had my car broken into, and I’ve also heard of robberies/muggings happening on campus. Stay safe out there.

Don’t Try to Keep Up With the Joneses

College is a place where you meet people from all kinds of backgrounds. Some of them may be super rich and live a life of luxury. 

However, you shouldn’t be jealous or try to “keep up” with them. Of course you can still be friends with them, but don’t try to copy their lifestyle, even if they tempt you to or make it sound like not a big deal. 

There’s no shame in being your broke self. No one cares. If people do, maybe you should find yourself some new “friends”.

As Dave Ramsey always says, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”


Remember that you’re in college to learn and earn your degree. That’s the whole reason you’re paying tuition. Don’t trade out that investment for a few extra bucks. That means prioritize grades over working longer hours (if possible).

At the same time, that doesn’t mean you can spend money recklessly and be living large. Huge mistake that your future self would punch you in the face for. There are ways to be smart about your money. 

If I had to summarize the biggest saving tips, it would be don’t eat out and work part time. 

Thanks for reading. If you liked that, check out some other articles on the site or subscribe for more weekly money tips for youngsters below.

Joe Wong

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