25 frugal ideas to save more throughout your college years
This post is all about ways to save money.
Whether you’re paying your own way through college or have parents helping you out, college is the time to start being wise about the money you have. Learning the best ways to save money is key to your financial success.
Let’s be honest:
Your college years set the stage for your financial future. I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard countless stories of people who spend the rest of their LIFE paying off student loans. And maybe you’ve already accepted the reality that this will be you.
I’m here to tell you that IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE!
There are so many ways that you can save money that I’m pretty certain you haven’t explored yet. So, let’s get to it!
This post is all about ways to save money.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Our full disclosure policy is pretty boring, but you can read it here.
WAYS TO SAVE MONEY IN COLLEGE:
1. Make financial goals!
BEFORE diving into ways to save money on a tight budget, you need to think about your financial goals.
And you need to do this NO MATTER WHAT your current financial situation is.
What is your immediate goal? Are you worried about next month’s rent? Trying to have enough money to NOT take out a loan this year?
Clearly outline your immediate goal, and write it down. It’s important to be specific with this because it is what will motivate you to stay committed to your frugal ways to save money.
Here are some other financial goals that are a good idea to establish:
- Goals for this school year
- Example 1: I will save up the full price of my tuition (make sure you write out what the cost is) so that I don’t have to take out a loan.
- Example 2: I will track all my spending in a spreadsheet each week, review my budgets monthly and stay under budget each month.
- Goals for graduation
- Example: I will save the equivalent of 4 months’ rent by graduation so that I can focus on paying back my student loans rather than worrying about rent.
- 5 year goals
- 10 year goals
Obviously, these are just loose examples. You’ll want to make your budgets as specific as possible and aligned with your overall life goals and needs.
2. Learn from trusted experts
I’ll say it as many times as I need to:
College is THE TIME to establish a solid financial foundation.
Learn as much as you can NOW about money management. The better habits you develop now, the better off you will be when you start your career and start making more money because you’ll know how to manage it the right way to maximize your success.
I know money management isn’t always the most exciting topic, but there are tons of resources out there that actually make it fun to learn about (and will motivate you so much).
Here are three books I highly recommend on money management. None of them are boring (seriously). They’re all enjoyable and easy reads that put money into such understandable terms for the average person!
*Just a note that the advice in The Wealthy Barber Returns is specific to Canada, so if you don’t live in Canada, choose one of the other options instead!
I also absolutely love this podcast by Rachel Cruze. I have learned so much from it, and I always look forward to listening to it. If you love podcasts, you need to check it out!
3. Cancel your gym membership
Here’s the deal:
Most campuses have gyms available to students. If your campus has a gym, DON’T waste money on a gym membership. Using your campus gym is a great solution on how to save more money.
I know you might like your gym better, but I promise you can run back to it when you graduate. You don’t need to spend money on another gym if you already have access to one.
Maybe your school is a bit unique, like mine. I go to a smaller university that actually doesn’t have an on-campus gym. If that’s you, it may be justifiable to get a gym membership, BUT I still really don’t think you need one.
Why do I say this?
In my freshman year, I got a super cheap gym membership where I payed just over $20/month. But when the busyness of school hit, I went to the gym MAYBE once a month. I paid for that gym membership for a year.
That’s $240 just to go to the gym 12 times! One of my biggest regrets. PLEASE don’t make this mistake.
4. Buy used textbooks (and ONLY buy the books you need)
You can find your textbook used for cheaper 99% of the time.
Okay, that’s a fake statistic (in case it wasn’t obvious enough). But seriously, one of the best hacks on how to save money for students is to buy your textbooks used whenever possible.
Schools usually have social media groups or pages where students post used textbook listings. That’s probably your best bet. Your campus bookstore likely has a used section, too. Or, there are tons of other online platforms for used products like Kijiji.
Another great option?
RENTING YOUR TEXTBOOK. This is an amazing option for super expensive textbooks.
For example, one time I had to buy a textbook that was going to cost me $130, and I couldn’t find it used. I found that I could rent it online for six months for $40. Amazing deal!
And the final thing you need to know about buying textbooks….
You don’t always NEED every textbook. Wait until a couple weeks into the class to see if you really need it. Sometimes, lectures literally tell you exactly what the textbook reading would have. So, you don’t always need them, even if your professor says you do.
5. Sell your used textbooks
Even if you bought used textbooks to begin with, you can totally resell them again if they’re still in decent condition!
The myth that you have to buy new textbooks so you can resell them is so not true. Think of how many consecutive years your elementary school textbooks were used by different students. I don’t know about you, but I used to get textbooks that were like, ten years old!
So, just buy used textbooks that are in good condition and keep them in good condition as much as possible so that you can make most of your money back the next year.
6. Find out where you can get student discounts
There are so many places that allow student discounts. This is one of the best ways to save money on a tight budget.
Pay especially close attention to the stores in and around your campus. Stores, pharmacies and restaurants near a university campus usually have student discounts since they know the location is heavily saturated with student life.
7. Carry your student ID with you EVERYWHERE
How does this save you money?
Well, you might go to a restaurant or store where you have no idea they have a student discount until you get there!
Having your student card with you all the time will allow you to get those discounts in any situation where you weren’t previously aware.
This has actually happened to me before, and I was so glad I had my student ID on me!
8. Go to cheaper grocery stores
Contrary to the last point, some grocery stores will be more expensive if they’re in a busy or more prestigious area.
What can you do about this?
Know what stores are generally cheaper. Explore a little. Chances are the market across from your school is pricier than your local Walmart a little ways away. You might not always be able to get to the cheaper stores if they’re farther away, but if you can get there most of the time, this will save you some solid cash.
9. Limit your coffee-buying
This is for all my regular coffee- or tea-drinkers out there.
Here’s the deal:
Between morning classes and long study days, we spend a LOT of money on coffee…
Let’s assume that you spend $3/day on coffee (and let’s be honest, that number is probably low). That’s almost $1100 per YEAR!
That could be a weekend getaway, or five months of car insurance, or a new laptop!
I’m not telling you to get rid of coffee-buying altogether. I could never.
But, limiting it?
That’s one of the most frugal ways to save money.
Instead, get a Keurig (I recommend this one for dorm rooms) or french press for your dorm room/apartment. Get a solid travel mug (I recommend a Yeti or this affordable Contigo travel mug). You will save so much money.
10. Use your student health plan or your parents’ insurance
This is one of the most important tips on how to budget and save money on a small income because you won’t have to worry about factoring these visits into your budget.
If you can use your parents’ insurance, that’s great! It makes your life so much easier. BUT you’ll probably want to make sure you opt out of your school’s health plan when paying for your tuition. Usually they include the cost automatically, and you don’t want to pay an extra couple hundred dollars for coverage you don’t need.
If you don’t have access to your parents’ insurance, then getting a student health plan is so important. But don’t just get it and let it sit there.
Every school’s policy is different, but examples of things you might get coverage for are therapy, dentistry, eye exams, and even massages. And seriously, who would want to miss out on that?!
Student health care plans tend to be quite affordable, so I do recommend getting one and using it while you can!
11. Share Netflix, Spotify, Disney+ and Amazon Prime with friends
If you think Netflix is necessary in college for your study breaks…. Well, I agree.
You can get these subscriptions for so much cheaper if you get the family plans and split them between as many friends as possible.
Spotify already has a great student price at $4.99, but if you split a family account between friends, you can get it even cheaper.
Also, here’s an AMAZING AMAZON PRIME HACK:
This is one of those creative ways to save money that will blow your mind.
Amazon gives a free six-month trial to students, which is already an incredible deal! But to save even MORE money, team up with a friend or your boyfriend/girlfriend. Share an account for your six month trial period. When the six month trial period is up, cancel the account and get your friend/partner to sign up for their six month trial period. You’ll share their account for that six months. When their six month period is up, choose the $39 annual prime account (it’s a bit cheaper than paying monthly). This means that each of you will pay $19.50 for a year of prime, which breaks down to just $1.63 per month!
Isn’t that amazing?!
12. Have an emergency fund, don’t resort to your credit card
Using your credit card as an emergency fund is a huge mistake because if you use it for an emergency, you have no plan on how to pay it back and you’ll wind up getting yourself in debt (especially if it’s an expensive emergency).
This is where an emergency fund comes in.
Aim to save up $1000 in an emergency fund to use ONLY for emergencies. And I know that sounds like a huge number, especially when you’re already struggling to pay for so many things in college. But starting somewhere is better than getting yourself into debt.
Even if you can only save $200 by the end of this school year, save that $200. I promise you will be so thankful for it at some point.
Think about it. Maybe there will be a month where you’re out of money but still have a week before you get paid and you have no groceries. It gives you so much more peace of mind when you can take the money you need for that from your own bank account instead of getting yourself into debt.
Here’s a podcast I highly recommend on how to save a $1000 emergency fund.
13. Plan your grocery shopping!
I can personally attest to the fact that planning your grocery shopping will save you SO much money. Make lists of what you need before you grocery shop and aim to NEVER throw food out. When you’re throwing food out, you’re throwing money out, too.
If you struggle with staying on budget, I have a post that you’ll find super helpful on how to stay on budget when it comes to grocery shopping. So, make sure you check that out for detailed advice on this.
14. Order water instead of soft drinks
I know a lot of blogs on saving money tell you not to eat out, but let’s face it:
That’s just not doable in university.
So much of college life is about going out with friends. I think you need to be super wise about how much you’re spending on eating out, budget for this, and don’t go over budget. But you need to allow yourself to go out and have fun sometimes.
So, a simple way to make food outings guilt-free by saving a bit of money is to skip the soft drinks. Order water instead. It’s also healthier (and will help you keep off the notorious freshman 15).
15. Shop phone plans in August or November
Getting a cheaper phone plan is one of the best ways to save money in college. There tend to be great deals on phone plans (and technology in general) in August.
Back to school sales are the reason for the low August prices, and Black Friday sales are the reason for the low November prices.
Take advantage of this! If you want to save some money on your phone bill, August and November are your best bets.
I’m especially looking at all my Canadian readers out there. Canada has the oh-so-unfortunate worst ever phone bill prices! This is even more motivation to hunt for the best possible deal.
16. Get a phone plan with less data
Another thing to consider is that you probably don’t need tons of data. If you’re living on campus, or mostly just going from your apartment to campus, this means you basically always have wifi.
Having a little bit of data is a good thing, in case of emergencies. And I know most of us are used to having more than enough data. But in college, you don’t really need it. So, limit the luxury of data and settle for a couple gigs.
Your phone bill will be so much cheaper, and you’ll adjust to not having the data. It’s healthier not to be on social media all the time, anyways.
17. Make sure people know what you want for Christmas 😉
I say this half-jokingly, but it’s true. Being wise about what you ask for for Christmas and your birthday will help you out lots financially.
What I mean by this is that maybe there are certain items you want (or even need), but they’re not immediate necessities. Asking for these for Christmas will allow you to save money (and not wind up with a bunch of stuff you don’t care about after Christmas).
18. Stop buying plastic snack bags
Not only are plastic bags bad for the environment, they’re bad for your wallet.
I know it seems like such a small cost, but buying disposable plastic snack bags and then throwing them out after use DOES add up. Instead, get these reusable snack bags. They’re so affordable, easy to wash, and you won’t have to spend money on snack bags for a while.
If you’ve been around the LVDletters community for a while, you may have heard me say this before. I actually love using reusable snack bags, and it really does save you money. That’s why I stand by this advice!
19. Skip the extra cute stationary
There’s nothing wrong with pretty stationary. I have quite the collection myself.
Just keep in mind that buying notebooks for college classes is a lot different than buying a personal journal. You probably won’t care that much about how your college notes look after you graduate.
Plus, these days you can get some pretty cute stationary from the dollar store anyways.
I’m all for getting products you love, but paying an extra $3 for every journal, or buying a $25 planner instead of a $4 planner makes a huge difference.
20. Cancel the regular beauty appointments
This tip is coming to you from someone who loves to get her nails done.
In college, I stopped getting my nails done. I’ll only get them done for special occasions now.
Nails are gorgeous, satisfying, and may give you some happiness, but they are so expensive to get and maintain.
Getting your nails done every two weeks or so can cost you $60-100+ (depending on what you’re getting). And it’s a similar story with other beauty appointments (e.g. eyelash extensions).
Do yourself a favour and save these appointments for special occasions. It’ll feel more special that way, and will save your bank account from huge damage.
21. Limit your plant collection
Having a couple plants is said to improve your productivity and even your happiness. That’s amazing!
But, you don’t need 20 plants for your apartment. Limit it to a couple. If you’re really plant-crazy, then 1-2 per room. But plants are expensive to buy, so don’t go crazy.
Like everything else, keep it in moderation.
22. Buy a Brita, not bottled water
I know it’s tempting to buy bottled water (or even sparkling water), especially if you’re in a dorm. But this costs you so much money!
Buy a Brita instead. This ensures that your water is filtered and clean, but saves all the monetary and plastic waste.
23. Don’t buy a locker on campus. It’s just a money grab.
This may depend on your school, but a lot of schools charge $15-30 for a locker.
Although this seems like a minor cost, it’s worth saving the money if you don’t really need a locker.
I’ve never gotten a locker on campus, and I’ve never felt the need for one. It’s not like high school, where you have a bunch of classes every day. Most days, you probably only have one or two classes, so there’s not much need to keep stuff in a locker.
If you live on campus, you definitely don’t need a locker. But even living off campus, it’s not really necessary.
The only time it might make sense to get a locker is if you have art classes or courses where you need to bring lots of supplies or big items. Otherwise, lockers in college are pretty unnecessary.
24. Stop buying freezer meals or ordering in.
I know it’s hard to cook much in college when you’re so busy, but buying fresh ingredients is usually cheaper than getting microwaveable meals.
Time is of the essence in university, so I’m all about having quick meals sometimes. And there are super cheap options you can find, like ramen, mac & cheese, or freezer pizza that you just stick in the oven.
But those individual freezer meals that you just stick in the microwave can get pricey if they’re not on sale.
And ordering food racks up crazy cost after the service fees and tips. So, try to get ingredients to cook, and plan to meal prep some of your meals every week. If you’re smart about what you buy and repurpose leftovers, you can eat healthy meals for super cheap.
For more advice on this, check out my post on meal prep tips to help you do this the smart way!
25. Aim to finish school on time, if you can help it
If you’re in a circumstance that prevents you from finishing your degree in 4 years, skip this tip. This is just for those who have the option of doing their degree within the conventional 4 year time frame.
If you’re paying for extra years/semesters when you don’t need to, you’ll end up paying way more for school.
Remember that the school doesn’t just charge you for classes. You’re charged for use of the building & facilities, a health plan, and there are often charges for equipment/supplies as well.
So, it really is cheaper to finish your degree within the 4 year time frame if you can, taking a full course load every semester. Keep this in mind when you’re planning out your long-term schedule!