Getting a college degree is expensive. Add together tuition, books, and living expenses, you’re bound to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to graduate (with no guarantee of a job afterward).
Saving money while in college helps to improve your standard of living and decreases the amount of debt you will have when you graduate.
To help you get through college without living like a poor person, here are some helpful money saving tips for college students.
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If you haven’t already, check out my post on How to Earn a Degree Without Going Into Debt, which will give you some ideas on how to pay for college without solely depending on student loans.
Money Saving Tips for College Students
Apply for Scholarships
Most students apply for scholarships while in high school, but once they’re in college – they stop. You can still find scholarships to finance your education while you are a college student.
In fact, there are many scholarships that require applicants to be a sophomore or above in college or in a certain degree program to qualify. There’s plenty of money out there, you just have to find them.
To aid you in your search, sign up for the app Scholly , which will send you a weekly list of scholarships you qualify for. To increase your chances winning them, apply for as many as you can throughout your time in college.
Avoid Student Loans
If your parents didn’t save for your college education or you weren’t lucky enough to win a scholarship, you may have to apply for federal student loans to pay for your education.
The great thing about student loans, they’re easy to qualify for and they don’t have to be paid for until six months after graduation.
The bad thing?
They have to be paid back. Some college students look at student loans as free money. It’s not and doing so will get you in a lot of trouble.
According to Forbes, the Class of 2016 graduated with an average student loan debt of $37,172.
Unless you’re going into a field that guarantees a high salary, avoid taking out more loans than you need.
If you’re thinking about refinancing your student loans, use a tool such as Credible to see if you qualify. Refinancing may help you to save money by lumping your loans together and lowering your interest rate.
Go to a College You Can Afford
There are a lot of college students who struggle financially because the tuition at their dream school is draining all the money they have. It’s unfortunate when someone has to drop out of college simply because they couldn’t afford it.
If that’s you – stop it. Unless you are going to financially benefit from going to a prestigious and expensive college, don’t do it.
When I was a senior in high school I received two scholarship offers. Both of them totaled similar amounts. The difference? One covered 100% of my tuition for four years. The other one, only a quarter.
Which did I choose, you ask? The scholarship offering full-tuition, of course. My school may not have been ivy league, but I received a very good education and I never worried if my tuition would be paid for.
Plus, it took the pressure off of my parents and allowed me to focus on my studies. Consider going in-state or to a community college first to save money.
Find Affordable Housing
Living on campus can be expensive. More often than not, on-campus housing and meal plans can exceed the cost of tuition. If you can, think about living with parents to save money on living expenses.
Also, consider living in dorms with more people (quad vs. double and double vs. single). Doing so will bring your expenses down tremendously. Even sharing a house off-campus housing with a few other people could be cheaper than living on campus.
If living on campus is your only option, consider becoming a Resident Advisor. RAs pay little to no money for housing in return for their position.
Stop Spending Money to Impress Others
As a college student, you will undoubtedly sit beside people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Some will have their entire four years financed by their parents.
Others, maybe you, will have to support themselves through college by working multiple jobs. And then there are those people who are spending every cent they have just to look rich.
There are students literally digging themselves into debt trying to impress other people.
Don’t let that be you. Don’t try to finance a lifestyle you can’t afford. You’re not there to model your fancy clothes or to spend all of your money at the bar.
Find a Job
Even if you have a scholarship or student loans, you could give yourself some wiggle room by getting a job. A job can help you earn some spending money while you’re in college. Though you may only be able to put in part-time hours, every bit helps.
When possible, look for jobs on campus, because they’re more likely to hire students more than anyone else.
If you’re a graduate student look into applying for an assistantship, which allows you to teach or conduct research in exchange for money.
Don’t have time for a job or need even more than your paycheck to survive? Look into these ways for college students to make money for ideas.
Create a Budget
You don’t have to wait until you’re a “grown-up” with a family and bills before you can create a budget. The time to start budgeting is now.
To create a budget, simply take into account how much money you make each month along with your expenses. You can use a free tool such as Every Dollar to help you.
If you do not know how to create a budget, educate yourself on how to do so. My course, the 30-Day Budget Boot Camp is a great introduction to creating a budget, saving money, and living your best debt-free life.
Avoid Getting Into Credit Card Debt
On every college campus, you will find someone trying to get you to apply for credit cards. For just your social security number and signature, you can get a credit card with a limit of $300, $500, and even $1000+.
See, credit card companies don’t care if you’re a broke college student. They don’t care if you don’t have a job or means to pay your credit card. They will approve you for a credit card you shouldn’t have because they are betting on the fact that your parents will be there to bail you out.
Just say no, even if they offer you a cute little t-shirt or fancy mug.
Now I’m not saying that a credit card is not good to have because it can be. Your credit card can pay for unexpected expenses such as a blown tire or a book you need for a paper that’s due. To find the credit card right for you click here.
I’m just saying that if you decide to apply for a credit card, just be smart about it. Don’t apply for more than one or two cards and never charge more than you can pay back at the end of the month.
Failure to pay your credit cards off or on time will mess up your credit score. Bad credit can make it difficult for you to buy a car, rent an apartment, or to get that dream job after graduation.
No t-shirt is ever worth it.
Your tuition has afforded you the opportunity to get free or deeply discounted stuff while on campus. So use it to participate in on-campus events such as concerts and movies.
By using your credit card, you’ll cut your entertainment expenses down and increase the likelihood of meeting other college students.
In addition, many local places offer college students discounts on merchandise when they show a valid student id card. My friends and I used to go to the movies for $5.
Buy Used Books
When I was in college, I rarely purchased my books new (and to be honest with you, I never bought them until I knew for sure we were going to use it for a course). I found out the hard way that a professor of mine never referred to any part of the $100 textbook that was on our syllabus.
For the times I couldn’t get away with not buying a textbook, I always looked for the used option.
I recommend buying used textbooks whenever you can to save money while in college.
When you’re finished with the course, just sell your textbook. My school had a buyback program, but nowadays you can do it on your own online. Sell your book on a site like Bookscouter to get some of your money back.
Get Rid of Your Car
Having a car on campus can be very expensive. It costs a lot of money to maintain a car, keep insurance on it, and to put gas in it.
If you have a car, get rid of it. Sell it and use the money to fund your college education or leave it at your parents. If you don’t have a car, don’t buy one.
Depending on where your school is located there is sure to be public transportation you can use anytime you need to leave campus. There’s always Uber or Lyft and if you’re old enough, carshare companies to get a car when you need one.
Did you know you can earn money by watching videos, completing surveys, and playing trivia games for even more money? There’s this app called Swagbucks and people use it to earn Swagbucks, which are then redeemed for gift cards such as Amazon or cash through PayPal.
A great way to cover food when you’re tired of eating off the meal plan or to cover dorm essentials. It’s free to join and easy to start earning money. Join Swagbucks today.
Even if you don’t make a lot of money, you should make it a point to save as much money as you can. Having savings gives you a cushion just in case something happens (because it will).
Aim to sock away at least 10% of your check into your savings account. Do this before you do anything else (if you wait until all the bills get paid, you won’t save anything).
No job? Don’t worry. Find a side hustle and put some of that money into savings. You can even put some of the money you receive as gifts from family members into savings.
Have a hard time-saving money, try Digit which will automatically do it for you. They will look at your spending habits and put money away for savings for you.
Sign Up for Amazon Student
It may sound counterintuitive to spend money to save money, but trust me, as a college student you will be happy you signed up for Amazon Student.
So what is Amazon Student? It’s pretty much Amazon Prime for college students. As an Amazon Student you will get most of the benefits of a regular Amazon Prime membership, but for half of the price.
That’s right. For $49 a year you will be able to get free 2-day shipping on textbooks and on thousands of other items and be eligible for deals and promotions that are exclusive to Amazon Students.
In addition, members can borrow Kindle books for free and get unlimited streaming of movies and television shows (this alone makes it all worth it in my opinion).
If you’re still on the fence, just sign up for their free trial to give it a test drive.
Stay on Track
When you change majors, retake failed courses, or sign up classes you don’t need to graduate, you’re not only extending your time in school but adding thousands of dollars to your tuition bill.
Being on a five-year plan will cost you more money. If you are not focused or don’t know where you’re headed in your college plan, slow down and reevaluate your life.
Meet with an advisor who can help steer you in the right direction and help devise a plan for your time in college. They will also help you to stay on track and to meet your goals.
If this doesn’t help, ask yourself if you really want to be in college. The truth is, you don’t have to have a college degree to be successful or to make money. You might have better luck getting into a trade program or going to another school entirely.
It’s a waste of time (and money) to be in a program just because you don’t know what else to do with your life or only doing it to please your family.
You may want to check out this book by Anthony Oneal and Rachel Cruze (it literally just came out) titled The Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College.
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