The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money in College

This article has been originally written by Sarah who runs her own blog The Olden Chapters. Follow Sarah:

As tuition, fees, and textbook prices skyrocket, more and more students across the globe are falling into the looming pit of student loans. And, to add fuel to the fire, many students struggle to manage what money they do get their hands on. To be fair, there still aren’t amazing money management classes during high school or even classes on how to do taxes (that would be more useful than geometry AMIRIGHT). So, instead, we need to take money education into our own hands, take saving money in college seriously and learn how to avoid student debt, lower our stress about money, and live our best lives in college! I mean, we DO have enough to worry about…

That is where I come in! I am going to go over all of the incredible money-saving tips I have picked up throughout my college years. These tips lead me to save tens of thousands of dollars each year, fund nearly all of my educational expenses, all while living a normal and fun college life. So, let’s get into saving money in college, shall we?

Related: Check out the original post to see what exact items I use to save money!

The Basics: Managing your Money

Create a Budget

Creating a budget is the most important part of saving money in college! And in life, to be completely honest. How do you know how much money you need to pay for college if you don’t know what your expenses are going to be? You would be surprised just how many thousands of dollars extra people take out in student loans just because they don’t create a budget.

The great part about creating a budget is that it is quick and easy to do. Your initial setup will take a bit of work but once you have it in place, it is easy to keep track.

How do you get started on budgeting? Out of all the books and articles I have read, nothing comes close to how amazing Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover is. Seriously, do yourself a favor and go grab a copy. I have saved literally thousands of dollars after reading this book. It covers how to create a budget, the truth about loans, how to pay off student loans quickly after college, which loans to get, how to set up payment plans, and is a great introduction on money management. I am serious, it changed my life.

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Saving on College Expenses

College Fees

Go into your student account and look at what your institution is actually charging you money for. Did you know that you can get some of these fees waived?! This is a great starting point for saving money in college.

  • Health Insurance/Fees: In some states (like Colorado), all students must pay for health insurance to be a student on campus. If you are covered under a parent or employer, you can get this fee waived. Look up the requirements for your policy and submit a waiver to your wellness center. Personally, this saves me $1,990 a year!
  • Application Fee: If you’re applying to colleges, there are many places where you can get the application completely waived. If you received a waver during the SAT, you automatically get four waivers.
  • Gym Membership: Many campuses require that you pay a mandatory fee to have a membership at your on-campus gym. This fee can be waived on some campuses IF you have proof that you have a different gym membership. This could save you money, especially if you really do workout somewhere else!


Purchasing textbooks can be such a drag. I know you know what I mean! My next semester books were originally going to be $2,350 before I applied these tips! I only spent $210 on them. And that is still more than I have spent on textbooks… ever!

  • Choosing which books to purchase: First, you need to seriously consider which classes you need to actually get textbooks for. Read the textbook descriptions and notes to see if your professor has given any instruction about the books. Sometimes, they will post the entire textbook when they really just want you to get an online workbook or something similar. And, of course, some classes won’t even use the textbook at all.
  • Buying from Students: Nearly 100% of the time, there are students out there that have the textbook you need. Search on Facebook for groups from your campus who are selling their old books. If you can’t find it there, check Craigslist, Let Go, and other similar apps and websites.
  • Used Bookstores: If you have a used bookstore nearby, they might purchase and sell textbooks, check them out!
  • Rent: In most cases, renting the textbook will be MUCH cheaper than buying used. However, be sure to double check the date it is due. If you need to extend it, you might be better off buying used. You can also compare the prices of purchasing used and seeing what the sell-back price is compared to renting.
  • Buying Used from Campus/Amazon/Chegg: Last case scenario, purchase the textbook used at your campus store, Amazon, Chegg, or other similar retailers.
  • Sell your Textbooks: Sell your used textbooks for cash to fund your next set of books! Be sure to check different places to see where you can get the best price. And, if you can’t find a place to sell, put it on Let Go or Facebook for another lucky student!

Dorm Rooms/Housing

It is no secret that living in dorms can be incredibly expensive. Unfortunately, many colleges require students live on campus for at least their first year. Luckily, there are a few great tips that can keep your living expenses a bit lower than usual!

  • Choice of Dorm: When deciding which dorm to live in, consider the cost of each one.
  • Dorm Room Size: Choosing a dorm room with at least one roommate is almost always cheaper than a single room. Having a roommate is part of the college experience anyway!
  • Become a Residence Assistant (RA): There are many great financial reasons to become an RA, and free housing and food are among the best! Double check to make sure this is the case at your university before you apply though…
  • Living off campus: Once you have the opportunity to do so, opt to live off campus. You will save SO MUCH on rent. Especially if you get a roommate or two. Bonus tip: rent a house with a few friends, it can often be much cheaper than renting an apartment with just one roommate.

Meal Plans

Meal plans are one of the biggest reasons living on campus is so expensive. When you eat on campus, the price you pay is not only for but for services as well. This, opposed to when you make your own food, can add up to be quite a bit of money! Here are some tips to avoid these expenses:

  • Choose cheaper meal plans: You will often get a choice of what size meal plan you will need. Be sure to experiment with which plan will work best for you but keep the price in mind.
  • Make your own food: Even if you live on campus, you can often choose smaller meal plans and make your own food (like quick breakfasts) to save you some money!
  • Compare costs: If you live off campus but eat cafeteria food on campus often, compare how much you spend vs how much one of the smaller meal plans are. Some schools will charge much more to students without a meal plan vs those with a meal plan so look at your options to see which will work best for you.

Saving on Groceries

Speaking of food, let’s talk a bit about saving money on groceries.

  • Schedule your meals and create grocery lists: This tip will save you a surprising amount of money! Instead of buying groceries than just cooking meals from food in your kitchen, opt for planning out your meals in advance so you know what you will be making each week. This will decrease or even eliminate wasted food and in turn, save you a TON of cash!
  • Learn how to coupon: Contrary to popular belief, couponing is actually easy, quick, simple, and allows you to buy foods and brands you are buying right now. I am serious. Now that I know how to do it, it takes me less than 5 minutes a week to look up my coupons and I now only spend about $15 a week to buy myself healthy groceries ($30 total for both myself and my husband), all thanks to couponing. If you want to learn how to coupon, read this amazing guide HERE, it will change your life!
  • Use Ibotta: Ibotta is an amazing app you can download for free and begin using today! How it works is after you go shopping (for groceries, clothes… anything really), check the app to see what deals they have going. I usually get the best deals on groceries or JoAnns (hello 5% off everything). Once you find your deals, add them to your cart, snap a photo of your receipt, and they will send you rebate money via PayPal, Venmo, or in gift cards! Pretty cool huh? You can start your free account and get a $10 bonus for signing up HERE!
  • Use a Pressure Cooker: My husband and I have found the ultimate system of combining the use of a pressure cooker and freezing bulk meals. I go into depth about this system in this post. It is how we eat amazing meals including fajitas, stew, pulled pork, casseroles, stir fry… and spend very little time and money!

Related: How to Eat Healthy in College

Saving on Utilities

Utilities are another major cost that can really add up over the year. Because I am an engineering major, this is my favorite thing to save on (I know… nerd alert). Good news for you? I have a ton of tips to share! 😉

But, before I get into the tips, be aware that some of these tips only apply in certain regions. Be sure to check our energy providers website to see if these tips will apply to you. They usually will also have a top of energy saving tips of their own to share that will for sure apply to you!

Heating and Cooling Saving Tips:

  • Peak vs Non-Peak Time: In many areas, you can be billed for the electricity you use at different prices throughout the day. But again, this varies by region and type of electricity plan you have (just check your next bill or electricity website to see if this applies to you, or if you can switch to this plan). These energy plans are often called Time-of-Use Plans. This basically means that when power is being pulled from the grid at higher rates, you are paying a higher price to use that energy. So, in order to save money, use high energy appliances (like the clothes dryer) during non-peak hours. Non-peak hours are usually between 9 pm and 6 am.
  • The Nest Thermostat: There are now some amazing pieces of technology, such as the Nest Thermostat, that will save you hundreds of dollars to heat and cool your place throughout the year. It uses magic (what they call “smart technology,” I call magic… I’m an engineer I swear) to learn your preferred temperatures and keep your house comfortable when you are home and changes the temperatures when you are away (okay, it is much more than that, check out their cool video).
  • Seal leaky windows and doors: Windows and doors are a huge energy suck. You can purchase easy-to-install seals that can save you over 20% on your energy bill!
  • Winter ceiling fans: In the winter, run your ceiling fans in reverse to help circulate hot air.
  • Energy saving curtains: Another great way to save on heating and cooling is to purchase energy saving curtains. They will help insulate any apartment, dorm, or house you move into!
  • Replace your HVAC filters: In many apartments, they will only do this yearly. Be sure to either clean or replace your filters once a month to keep your heating and cooling running efficiently!
    saving money

Electricity Saving Tips:

  • Don’t use heat-dry on your dishwasher: The heat-dry setting on your dishwasher will save you quite a bit over time. To avoid having wet dishes when your dishwasher is done, just run them right before you go to bed and they should be dry when you wake up!
  • Understand Stand-By Power: Stand-by power is the electricity some of your electronics and appliances use in order to be turned on instantly with a remote or button. Stand-by power can use up a surprising amount of electricity. You can save on stand-by power in three main ways:
    1. Un-plug appliances you hardly use (the printer is a biggie)!
    2. Use power strips to plug in and turn off your major electronic areas (like your office electronics, entertainment system, etc). When using the power strip, your electronics will truly be turned off.
    3. Use energy efficient appliances that use less stand-by power such as Energy Star products.
  • Turn off pilot lights: If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace or other great features that use pilot lights, be sure to turn those off during the off season (or not use them at all).
  • Replace your light bulbs: Replace your light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs. Spending a few extra dollars on great bulbs that last longer and use less electricity will actually save you in the long run! Bonus tip: right when you move into your new apartment/dorm, switch all existing bulbs with efficient ones, then switch them back right before you move out.
  • Read your electricity bills: Many times, your electricity companies will tell you how much electricity you are using compared to your neighbors. They will also give you personalized tips to save more!
  • Use dryer balls: Dryer balls are a cheap and great way to decrease your drying time and also act as a fabric softener! Or, even better, hang dry your clothes!

Water Saving Tips:

  • Use efficient shower heads: The shower can use quite a bit of water, especially if you have multiple roommates. Using efficient shower heads will decrease your water bill by a good amount! Plus they are cheap. Win-win.
  • Repair leaks: Every once in a while, be sure to check all of your faucets, toilets, and pipes for leaks… then fix them or call maintenance!
  • Home water-saving tricks: Some students are lucky enough to be living in or owning their own home. We will all eventually get there, right? Living in homes can have many more water expenses associated with them. Here are some great tips and tricks to save money with homes.
  • Store cold water in the fridge: Instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cold, just keep a pitcher of water in the fridge!

Saving on Car Expenses

Having a car in college can be incredibly expensive at times. But there are some really great ways to save on your expenses if you just put in a little effort!

  • Save money on gas: Especially if you commute to school, gas can truly add up. However, there are some great ways to save on gas!
    1. Check your grocery store to see if they have a gas rewards program and USE IT!
    2. Be sure to pay attention to gas prices before you fill up.
    3. Cheap gas can often be found at Costco (if you have a membership) and further away from highways. You can even use a gas station app to find the cheapest gas in your area!
    4. Drive at steady speeds and use cruise control if you can. This will use gas more efficiently. HERE are some more great tips on driving for fuel efficiency!
    5. Fuel up your car while you still have gas! Don’t wait until the last minute to fill up to ensure you can find your cheapest option.
    6. Don’t use the A/C when possible. This tanks your fuel efficiency.
    7. Finally, it is best to buy gas during the colder temperatures (early morning or in the evening) because you are not loosing as much to evaporation.
  • Maintain your car (yourself!): Car maintenance is incredibly easy and straightforward. I might be a bit bias as an engineer but I promise it is not as hard as you might think. Here are my top tips:
    1. Change your own oil! Just suck it up and do it. Check to make sure you are buying the correct oil and disposing of it properly. Many garbage dumps will have “free dump days” to get rid of it safely. Here is a great how-to guide to changing your oil.
    2. Keep your tires at a proper pressure for your tires. Under or overinflated tires can cause a higher rate of wear. Tire pressure gauges are incredibly cheap and you can get them filled at nearly any gas station.
    3. Rotate your tires every six months (for the same reason as tire pressure).
    4. Schedule regular car tune-ups. These will help maintain your car’s life and fuel efficiency too!

Saving on Entertainment & Shopping

My final major saving money in college category is entertainment. There is a way we can indulge in entertainment and shopping for great or even free prices!

  • Couponing and Shopping Apps: When the need to shop does hit you, be sure to check out the store apps, coupons, and rebate websites to get the best deals possible! Combine these with yearly sales and you’re saving huge! Our favorite app to do this is Ibotta. You can start your free account and get a $10 bonus for signing up HERE!
  • Rewards Programs: Be sure to join any free rewards programs of entertainment and other activities you normally attend. Also, free stuff on your birthday! Here are some great programs: Regal Rewards, AMC Stubs, CineMark Movie Club, Starbucks RewardsChick-fil-A One, Dunkin’ Donuts Perks, Krispy Kreme Rewards, Pizza Hut Rewards, Sephora Beauty Insider, and Ulta Rewards.
  • Rethink your spending habits: Saving money in college is all about discipline and mentality. If you do end up having to take out student loans, even a little, add whatever your loan interest rate is to whatever your purchase. That is the actual minimum cost of the item you will be spending on it in the end and help you begin thinking about things you actually spend money on.
  • Free Audiobooks: When I found out that local library memberships also offer FREE AUDIOBOOKS my entire world changed. If you haven’t already, go get a local library card and download their audiobook app! Most libraries use Overdrive.
  • Free DVD Rentals: Tired of using Redbox? Your local (and university) library also probably offers a great DVD selection. And by great I mean the exact same movies you can get at Redbox but for free. I don’t know why people aren’t talking about this! You may have to wait a few extra weeks for the newer films but most libraries are on top of it and order hundreds of the newer movies at a time.
  • Cheap Books + Movies: Speaking of the public library, because they will stock up on popular DVDs and books when they are first released, they will have massive sales to get rid of them twice a year or so once they are not as popular.
  • Attend Free Events: You would be surprised how many fantastic free events are held each year at colleges and town centers! Farmers markets, book signings, free concerts, art walks, comedy club events, and so much more! Check out your college website events page as well as your local library and city events page!
  • Opt Outside: Instead of going to a paid event or spending money, opt to go for a hike or hang out at the river instead!

Related: My latest hiking adventures

Increasing your Income

The last thing you can do to truly help “save” you money is to actually increase your income in order to pay for your expenses. You can do this several ways and many of them actually are not as much effort as you might expect.

  • Create a blog: Creating your own blog is a great way to make a side income, boost your resume, and actually get paid for something you enjoy. There are HERE are the additional reasons why you should start a blog and HERE is how I started my own!
  • Apply for Scholarships: Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for college tuition. In this post, I share all of my secrets to apply for and win scholarships. It even includes a free spreadsheet to get you started!
  • Land a Summer Internship: Summer internships are full of opportunity. They skyrocket your future career options and usually pay pretty well!
  • Pick up a part-time job: Yes, many students work through college. There are countless jobs that are available for students, both on campus and off. Usually, colleges will have job boards for both options.
  • Work as a research assistant: Many universities will allow undergraduate students (and, of course, graduate students) to work as research assistants for cash. These are great jobs that will actually set you up for your future career and graduate school! Check your university website to see what professors are researching in your area of interest and then go talk to them personally. They will usually not set up a job posting but will hire from students they know instead.

Related: How to Start a Money Making Blog

Well, there you have it! All of my saving money in college tips all packed into one post. I truly hope you found at least some of these tips useful and can begin saving money in college today! Happy saving!

Check out the original post HERE!

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