*This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclaimer here for more information.
The college experience is infamous for being that time in your life when you’re living off four hours of sleep and ramen noodles is considered dinner. Your budget is as tight as a face full of botox, but you’re hoping that it will all be worth it in the end.
At the end of June 2017, Americans owed more than 1.3 trillion in student loans alone. From those stats, it may seem as though graduating with a load of debt is inevitable, but that's not entirely true. When you're responsible with your spending, you lower the amount of debt you walk across the stage with!
I know it's difficult to put the words '"college" and "save money" together but they can go hand in hand. Here are 13 tips you need to know!
Tips to save money in college
Determine what your interests are
Did you swear you were going to be a doctor as a child, but when you got older you were like no way? Mhm.
I chose a Biology major because I thought it would make me more marketable, but I was completely miserable. I wound up changing my major to Technical Writing and had to complete a whole new list of courses which meant more money.
In life, interests change and when you're a new college student you're still figuring out what you want to do. Chances are you'll probably change your major at least once, but it’s best to determine what interests you and what your strengths are while doing your core classes.
Continuously changing your major can wind up costing you thousands. How? You’ll need additional classes, new textbooks and supplies, and of course transportation.
Start at a community college
Community colleges are growing in popularity because they’re close to home and more cost-efficient. The average cost of tuition for a community college in the U.S. is less than $4K compared to the tens of thousands that a 4-year institution requires.
When starting at a community college, you can knock out your core classes and have more time to figure out what your interests are. You’ll still have access to qualified professors, and may even be able to receive the same financial aid assistance as you would going to a university.
Once you’re ready to attend a 4-year institution, most credits are transferable.
Avoid applying for credit cards
LIKE THE PLAGUE!
I cannot tell you how many times I've heard from people who got their first credit card in college because it was the "adult" thing to do. When you're already low on income and you get a card you can use to purchase things then guess what? The temptation will get the best of you and you're going to swipe! Then swipe again!
It's extremely easy to rack up a high credit card balance but so hard to get out of credit card debt! Especially when you can only afford to pay the minimum but your balance is being charged interest daily.
Do your future self a HUGE favor and say no to the plastic. Not only will you save money in college, but you'll also save yourself thousands for years after! I know something like buying your first home is on your goals list, but you have plenty of time to build credit later on down the road.
Stick to a budget
And don’t you forget it!
College students are frugal by default because, well, there’s a lack of income. I was the typical ‘broke’ college student working a part-time job that was barely over minimum wage. I had no budget and my finances were all over the place. #hotmess
When you’re not making a lot of moolah, you have to be strategic and a budget allows you to tell your money what to do. Without a financial plan, you can be thrown into debt and the vicious cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.
So what do I do?
Write down each source of income and your monthly expenses. Then, subtract the two.
From here, you’ll be able to see where your money is going and make any necessary adjustments. Using the free money app Personal Capital makes this part easy because it tracks your spending from all bank accounts you connect to it!
After analyzing your spending, you may have to make some cuts to keep your expenses from exceeding your income. When my back was up against the wall, I combed through my budget and found an extra $350!
Click now to pin for later!
Make in-school loan payments
This tip is one I wish someone had told me while I was in college! When Sallie Mae (now Navient) showed me that a $0 balance due, that is exactly what she got.
While it’s true that subsidized loans do not accrue any interest while you’re in school, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start making payments. Once you graduate, the flood gates will be opened but the rush of water won't be so devastating if you start paying now.
Let me break it down for ya'!
Not only do you have to pay back the principal (the balance you originally borrowed), but you’re also paying back interest as well. Interest is determined by the loan’s balance and interest rate, and it can wind up costing you big time.
Still not convincing you? Let’s say you borrow $10,000 at 5.00% for 10 years. The amount of interest you’ll be paying over the life of the loan is $2,727.86. So, in total, you’re paying $12,727.86 on a $10,000 loan. Yuck.
Benefits of making in-school loan payments:
- You’re saving money by making interest payments
- You’ll get into the habit of making your monthly payments
- You’ll graduate with less debt
Remember that it’s best to only accept what is necessary to cover your tuition and fees. Even if you can afford to pay just $5 or $10 a month, you’ll wind up sparing yourself from a lot of headaches down the road.
Additional posts to help you save more money!
Apply for more scholarships
Scholarship money is free money, and only a fool wouldn’t want free money.
I remember my professor inviting one of her former students to be a guest speaker in my writing class. The lady explained how she got through college without a single loan by making applying to scholarships her part-time job!
I went home that same day and searched for scholarships and additional grants like a madwoman.
To my surprise, one of my essays won me $1,000 from the Soroptimist Live Your Dream Reward. I couldn't believe that I did not search for additional scholarships sooner!
Plan your meals
If you're trying to save money in college then you've got to get it together in the food department. Food can make or break your budget.
Don’t believe me? Gather your last two bank statements and calculate how much you're spending on food.
When you opt to meal plan, you have more control over the price of your food by knowing what you’re preparing and the ingredients you’ll need. If a recipe is too pricey, knock it off the list.
Buy used or rent textbooks
Instead of buying new textbooks, consider renting or buying them used to save you money in college. New textbooks can cost you hundreds, and the buyback price may not even be close to what you came out of pocket.
I once bought a brand new textbook series for roughly $150, and when I went to sell them back I was told that my version was outdated and would no longer be used.
The buyback price? ZERO.
You can rent your textbooks through sites like Chegg, or buy them used from Amazon or other textbook sites. Be sure to consider shipping costs and order them well before the semester begins so you're not that person in the class trying to look over your classmate's shoulder because you have no book!
Not sure whether to rent or buy used? Ask yourself:
- Will I reuse this for another class?
- What is the resale value?
- Will I ever think about this subject ever again once I finish this class?
Test out of general (core) courses
Testing out of core classes saves you money on tuition, textbooks, and transportation. With your general classes out of the way, you can get to your degree faster by focusing on the courses that your program requires.
Academic departments often give competency exams to allow students to test out of a subject. A small fee may be required to take the test, but it beats a whole semester's worth of fees!
Don't be so quick to leave mama!
There’s a newfound sense of freedom when you’re fresh out of high school. You’re taking a huge leap into adulthood, and getting your own place may sound like a really good idea.
I get it, but leaving the nest too early may be one of the most costly mistakes I’ve ever made!
Depending on where you live, rent for a 1 bedroom can range from $600-$2,000 a month and is steadily increasing. Even if you opt to move into a cheap rental, you’re still coming out thousands a year.
For example, renting a $600 apartment on a 12-month lease will wind up costing you $7,200. Keep in mind that this isn’t including utilities and other monthly expenses.
Now imagine what you could do with that amount of cash!
Staying home will allow you to save money in college and chip away at any debt you may have by living rent-free. If your parents/guardians are charging you a small amount each month, it’s still cheaper in the long run.
Get a roommate
If you have to move out of your parent’s house, consider getting a roommate. With a roomie, you’ll be able to divide the costs of rent and utilities which frees up more money to take care of other financial responsibilities. You'll have your own place, but for half the price.
Use free Wi-Fi
College comes with a lot of studying, research, and homework assignments that require access to the internet. Instead of paying for a monthly plan, you can mooch off someone else’s…legally!
Most college campuses offer students free Wi-Fi but may require student log-in information. During my college days, I would study on campus or wherever free Wi-Fi was offered.
Thus, my Starbucks and Panera Bread addiction began...
Simply do a quick Google search to see who offers free Wi-Fi in your area.
Water, please!...no side thanks
It's not realistic to say that you will never go out to eat and sometimes you just get tired of those chicken-flavored ramen noodles!
To save money, stick to only ordering water as your drink and ditch the side. This means that the next time you go to McDonald's you'll just order a Big Mac with water. Water is normally free or just a few cents, and leaving off the side can easily save you half the cost of a combo meal.
If you're feeling fancy and meet a friend at a restaurant, don't worry...I've still got you! Order water to drink and try to stick to only appetizers. This is when those free rolls come in handy because you can semi-fill up on those (for free!) and order an appetizer to finish you off.
Quick tip for those who hate water:
Bring a little bottle of water flavoring drops to add some razzle-dazzle. When we go out to eat, my sister whips out her sweet tea flavoring but still only gets charged the price of water. You can purchase these for only a couple of bucks!
Being able to save money in college isn't the easiest, but with a little knowledge and determination, you can avoid falling into the money pits that have others drowning in debt.
If you're ready to get serious about saving and getting your finances together then learn how we can work together here!
MY FAVE RESOURCES!
Greenlight. This app allows kids to earn money through chores so they can set savings goals, spend wisely and invest. Parents set flexible controls and get real-time notifications every time their kids spend money using their own debit card! Check it out here.
Self. Struggling to build credit? Self allows you to establish payment history and build credit, while saving money, through a credit-builder account. You apply for a loan, pay it back in 12-24 months, each payment builds your credit and savings, and at the end you get your money back with established credit history! Check it out here.