Saving Money During College

The cost of college is astronomical and continues to rise each year. But since the benefits of attending often outweigh the costs, many students are undeterred and instead look for ways to save money and make their college experience as affordable as possible.  

Maybe you fall into this category but don’t know how to maximize your savings. No worries. 

First things first: always ask for student discounts as they’re available practically everywhere you go. Here are some other tips to save money during college in just about every expense category. 

Tuition and Fees

If you’re not on scholarship, there’s no way to avoid tuition and fees. However, you can lower the cost by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible so you’ll have the best chance of receiving a grant from your school. Remember, once the free money’s gone, all that’s left is loans, even if you have unmet financial need.

The annual deadline to submit the FAFSA is June 30, 2019, by 11:59 pm Central time (CT). 

Also, visit the financial aid office and set up an appointment with a representative to review your award package. They may identify other sources of funding you may qualify for based on your financial situation, particularly if your income has changed. And it’s also a good time to inquire about other private scholarship opportunities offered through the school. 

Another tip: consider taking lower-level courses at the local community college if they’re offered. The class sizes are usually much smaller and you’ll pay up to 50 percent less in tuition and fees. 


Unless you have to repeat a course, you’ll only use the textbook for one semester. So instead of buying a new copy fresh out of the box, go for the used copy. 

Worried about the condition of the used inventory the bookstore has in stock? If you buy your books before the crowd comes rushing in, there will be several used copies to choose from, which means you can take your time perusing the shelves for the books in the best condition. 

Another tip: don’t forget to sell the book back to the bookstore through the buyback program at the end of the semester. Since some textbooks cost well over $100, you could recoup up to half if the same titles and editions will be used the following semester. 


Most college bookstores have all sorts of neat supplies and apparel to go along with your textbooks. And who wouldn’t want a backpack, binder, or hoodie with their school’s name on it to proudly parade around campus? The problem is the markup is usually steep, so it’s best to skip the bookstore for supplies and head elsewhere.

Local big-box retailers typically offer the same supplies. Or you can visit office supply stores and take advantage of their back to school sales. 


The easiest way to cut down housing costs during college is by getting a roommate. If you live on-campus, this won’t be an issue as the dorm or apartment you’re assigned to will already come with a roommate. And no need to worry about utilities as this amount is rolled into the flat rate you pay each month or for the semester.

Also, consider becoming a Resident Assistant. In exchange for dedicating a few hours to overseeing what’s going on in the dorms, you’ll receive compensation and a steep discount on housing. (And in some instances, you’ll live for free). 

But if you’d prefer to live off campus, search for apartments that are exclusively for students. You’ll have your own room but may have to share a bathroom and split utilities. The good news is this arrangement is far cheaper than living on your own. 

Are you still living in your hometown? You can also consider moving back home to drastically reduce the cost of housing. 

Cell Phone

Ask mom, dad, or another close relative to include you on the family plan. But if they won’t, practically, every cell phone provider offers a plan for college students. All you have to do is ask and the customer care representative will be happy to get you set up.

When selecting a phone, don’t go for the most expensive one you see. Even if it’ll only cost you $40 or so per month for the phone, it’s a better idea to select a phone that meets your basic needs to save money. 

Cable and Internet

Living in the dorm or select apartments for student housing means cable and internet may be included as a standard feature with your rent. Otherwise, cut the cord on cable and opt-in for a Firestick, Roku Streaming Stick, Netflix, or some other live-streaming service. And since you’ll need internet to complete your coursework, call the provider and request a student discount. 

Doing so could save you $100 or more per month. But if you insist on having cable, be sure to bundle it with your internet service to get the best bang for your buck. 

Food and Drinks

If you live on campus, the housing department probably tried to convince you that signing up for a meal plan is the best option. (At some colleges, it’s mandatory). And you may have fallen for it because you’re too busy or lazy to cook. But if you do have a meal plan, be sure to take full advantage. 

The next time around, select the cheapest option or ditch the meal plan altogether and cook your own meals. A few tips: 

  • Browse Pinterest to find easy and cost-efficient recipes. And if you really want to spruce things up, retrieve copycat recipes for your favorite meals. 
  • Use a meal planner. By planning out your meals, you can control how much you spend each week and avoid overdoing it at the grocery store. Even better, you’ll know exactly what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. 
  • Buy generic. You may find that the difference in taste is minimal if any at all. 
  • Shop sales. When grocery stores release their weekly circulars, take advantage of discounts on items that you frequently use by stocking up. You can also adjust your meal plan to save even more money.
  • Use online coupons. They’re easy to download and all you have to do is presented them to the cashier on your mobile device at checkout. 
  • Buy your own coffee maker. Starbucks has some of the best coffee on the planet, but you’ll save a fortune by making your own at home. 
  • Never shop hungry. If you ignore this advice, you’ll be more inclined to pick up far more than you need and order a pizza on the way home for dinner. 

If you despise cooking, make generous enough portions so you’ll always have a ton of leftovers. Divide the food up using meal planning containers and you’re all set for a few days. 

Also, check with the student activities division on campus. There’s always an event going on, and many offer free food to students simply for attending. 


Being a college student can be stressful more often than not. So you deserve to unwind when time permits. But a night out on the town doesn’t have to break your pockets. Search for free or heavily discounted off-campus entertainment for students. And if all else fails, plan a fun-filled night at a friends house where everyone pitches in. It’s much cheaper and loads of fun. 

Car Insurance 

When was the last time you reviewed your auto insurance policy? If you’re covered under your parents, plan chances are the answer is never. However, skipping the review could mean you’re overpaying for items you don’t need or leaving good student discounts on the table. 

The same rule applies if you carry your own policy, so reach out to your insurance provider and schedule a call to review your policy. Let them know you’re on a tight budget and inquire about coverage options that will better suit your financial needs without leaving you unprotected. 

Health Insurance 

You can sign up for coverage through Student Health Services at your college or university, but the plans they offer aren’t always affordable. Fortunately, these facilities will treat students for free or at a steeply discounted rate. But it’s a good idea to speak with your parents or former guardians about being added to their plan as it’s a lot cheaper.  


Most colleges and universities offer free bus passes to their students. It’s usually as simple as showing your student id, and you can hop right on without paying a dime. 

Prefer not to ride the bus? Walking is always an option if you don’t live too far away, or you can take turns carpooling with others if you have a car. 

You can also save the gas spent driving around for 30 minutes looking for a parking space by hopping on the bus. Not sure where to park if you’d prefer your car to be nearby? Find a local hub or remote lot on campus, hop on, and use the bus to take you to and from class. And if you live near campus, using public transportation can also save you big because you won’t have to purchase a parking permit. 


Whether you’re searching for travel deals to head back home for holidays or create the Spring Break vacation of a lifetime, you can’t go wrong with deal websites. Not only do sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and CheapFlights scour the web to find the best deals for you, but they also offer bundle packages so you can save even more on the cost of flights, lodging, and car rentals. 


If you can afford to do so, make student loan payments while in school. Why so? Well, even if your loans are subsidized and don’t accrue interest while you’re in school, it doesn’t hurt to chip away at the balances. 

With regards to personal loans and credit cards, you want to keep those balances as low as possible. Simple credit mismanagement mistakes now could cost you a fortune later. And you don’t want to get stuck in the minimum payment cycle and be overloaded with credit card debt when walking across the stage at graduation.  


Are you currently paying for your checking and savings account? Since you’re a college student, the bank should be willing to waive those fees. If not, walk away and take your funds to a bank that offers free checking exclusively for college students. 

When exploring banking options, pay attention to the offerings for college students. Many have credit cards, student loans, and other financial programs that can help you learn to manage money and responsibly handle debt so you can establish a solid financial foundation while in college. 

Fitness and Recreation 

No need to purchase a membership to the local gym. Most colleges and universities have on-campus facilities students can use free of charge. And if you’re looking for classes, those may be available as well. Also, inquire about personal training opportunities as they are sometimes offered at a steeply discounted rate. 


Tempted to head to Best Buy and replace your laptop that recently died with a new one that has all the bells and whistles you’ve been longing for? Not a bad idea, but visit their website first and search for refurbished models to cut costs. 

Speaking of laptops, if you need particular software or hardware for select courses, don’t forget to ask about student discounts. (Quick tip: Microsoft Office is usually free to students). 

The same rule applies for all other electronics, like tablets and headphones, you’re considering. Why buy new when you can get the same product and quality at a fraction of the price? 

The Bottom Line

It may seem like you’re spending or borrowing a fortune each time you pay for tuition, fees, books, and all the other small expenses that come up. But by taking advantage of every discount available to you as a student and always looking for more ways to save, you’ll reduce the burden on your wallet.