It can be a struggle to save money in college. For anyone who has tried to earn as you learn, you know the college #BrokeLife is a real thing. Luckily, lots of us have been through it. Don't repeat the same mistakes we did. Here are our top five ways to save money in college.
Find a part-time job
Yes, you’ve heard this before, and it is a bit of a bummer. But a great way to save money is to increase the amount of money incoming. There are plenty of great part-time jobs for students – server, valet, teacher’s assistant, note taker (yes, that’s real), brand ambassador, blogger, dog walker, and babysitter. Plus, there's the entire gig economy that easily conforms to your class schedule.
Look at all of your options and find one that will a) give you flexibility when it comes to classes and studying, and b) offer the most money for your effort. To get the ideas flowing, you can check out our blog post on the best college jobs for every personality type.
Budget (the verb)
Does that word scare you? It’s okay. When you start to investigate where your money is going, it can be an eye-opening experience. Check your bank statement. Your goal is to calculate all incoming cash (parents, job, students loans) and put it up against your debts. What are you spending your money on? And what might you be able to live without?
For example, you look at a 7-day span of your statement and see that you spent $50 on eating out last week. Each purchase ranged from $4 to $10. From that you can see you’re buying at least two drinks a day, which might not be the most economical way to spend your money.
Buy a coffee maker for your dorm ($13) and a bag of your favorite roast ($10). Oh wait; you drink the fancy stuff, don’t you – the drinks with caramel syrup and whipped cream on top? Buy a 16oz squeeze bottle of Caramel syrup for under $5. Whipped cream: less than $3 at your grocery store. Multiply that by 4 to get your monthly total. Now, instead of spending around $200 a month on coffee-shop indulgences, you just worked your way down to, at most, $50 a month as your own personal barista.
You can apply this same thinking to your money spent dining out, transportation costs (buy a bike), and more. Once you have tallied the two columns – money in and money out – highlight the regularly occurring items. Add in a category called “reckless spending.” You can easily spot opportunities for cutting back on your spending in order to save. Things do come up, and it’s best to anticipate those now instead of the end of the month when you’re scrambling for cash.
If you don't trust yourself and could use an ally to keep you honest, you can also sign up for Mint or Toshl to track your spending. Sticking to a budget is the hardest part, but not harder that soem of those classes you are taking. Just like studying, the more diligent you are, the better off you’ll be.
This should be a no-brainer. Fill out your FAFSA form in January, or as soon as you can. It’s a known fact that if you get your form in early, you’re first in line for all those juicy scholarships. The more scholarship money you earn, the less student loans you’ll have to take out – win!
If perhaps you weren’t the best student before college, don’t worry! Take a look at some unconventional scholarship options. Check out local businesses that are involved with your school.
An example would be your local community bank or credit union. Every day we see credit unions and community banks serving thousands of dollars worth of scholarships to students, not just to incoming freshman. There are funds available for anyone.
Still need ideas? Check out our list of best scholarship websites to use when getting ready for college.
Start paying down debt early
This applies to all debt, including student loans. I know you’re thinking, “I’m still in school, dude. I don’t have to worry about those yet.” WRONG!
If you were to take $30 a month and start putting it towards the principle on your student loans, you could end up saving yourself hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in interest payments. Seriously, just do the math. Compound interest is a beautiful, or horrible, thing depending which side of it you’re on.
Never Shop At The Bookstore
If you don’t know this by now, then I might as well just retire. Campus bookstores typically mark up prices. When we say mark up the price, we mean big time – usually 30-50% higher than other places.
So, what are your other options?
Look for used or international editions of your textbooks. They won’t be right in front of your eyes like they are in the bookstore, but you’re going to save as much as 50-75%. Let’s say your typical book costs around $100. Getting that same book for 60% off would give $60 extra dollars for that coffee habit of yours. Or stocking up the new coffee shop in your dorm room.
Check out these websites to begin your hunt:
Option 2: Wait and see if you don’t need the textbook. Hold off 1 week from the start of your class, check the syllabus, and see if there is a lot of required reading. If not, fuhgeddaboudit.
If it turns out you do need it, then consider renting or buying online (hello, Amazon).You might even be able to tag-team with a classmate and share the expense. It saves money and gives you a built-in study buddy.
– BONUS –
This is the bonus round. Here is what you will need if you’re living in the dorms: waffle iron, microwave, toaster. Yup, that’s it. Don’t believe us? Check out our blog on dorm room cooking hacks.
Show your parents that you've got this whole college thing in the bag. Use these tips to save money in college and you'll be sitting pretty come graduation day.