25 Smart Budget and Money Saving Tips for College Students

by RC on August 22, 2008

Whether you are a new, incoming freshman, or a returning college student, you are probably gearing up for the new semester. Learning smart money management and how to reduce your expenditures now can help you establish a solid foundation for your future. Here are 25 tips on saving money, budgeting, and money management for college students.

Live like a college student

-You are a college student, so live like one. Don’t try to live the lifestyle of a graduate with a job yet.

Remind yourself why you are there

-You are there for an education first and foremost. Don’t blow the opportunity by neglecting your studies, over socializing, or getting into financial trouble.

Set a budget for your spending categories, besides tuition and books

-Food, Rent, Entertainment, etc.

Buy used books

-You will probably find much better prices at amazon.com than at the college book store, even on used books. Avoid buying new ones if possible.

Hit the happy hour

- Look for places with 2 for 1 drinks or free appetizers when you do go out on the town.

Socialize at dorm/apartments

-You don’t always have to go out, invite friends over to your dorm or apartment regularly to save money.

Use a local bank and debit card

-If there is not a nearby branch of your bank, open up one that has a branch on or near campus to make things more convenient.

High interest savings

-If you have a little money stashed away, open up a high interest savings account.

Budget you spending money for entire semester

-At the beginning of the semester, figure out what you have available for spending money each week, and stick to it.

Consider a part-time job

- As long as it doesn’t interfere with your studies, of course. An added bonus, if you have earned income, is that you can start a Roth IRA.

Learn to cook

-If you don’t know how to cook, start learning. It can be healthier and even cheaper than fast food.

Used furniture

-Check out the classifieds or garage sales for used furniture to furnish your apartment.

Shop at Goodwill

-Check out the local thrift stores for clothes and other household furnishings.

Manage your student loans carefully

- Don’t over borrow, and if you end up borrowing more money than you need, save it in a high interest savings account.

Don’t try to keep up with the big spenders

-While some of your friends may be living off of Mom or Dad’s credit cards, that doesn’t mean you have to keep up with their lifestyle.

Don’t sign up for the credit card t-shirt offers

-It may be a free ipod they’re giving away these days, but don’t sign up for credit cards just for the freebies. It may end up costing you a lot more in the long run.

Take advantage of free or cheap activities

-Many college campuses have a lot of student activities, most of which are free or very cheap.

Avoid ATM fees

-make sure you plan ahead for expenses, and have enough cash for purchases. Or use your debit card.

Get on a campus meal plan

-If one is available, a meal plan on campus can be very inexpensive per meal.

Don’t use or bring a car to school

- If you are away from home for college, and live on or near campus, you probably don’t need a car. This will also keep your friends from using you as a taxi service.


-Get a bike, and ride it to and from class.

Apply for scholarships and grants

-Even after you start school, keep applying for scholarships, grants, etc.

Live close to campus

-The closer you live to campus, the less you will need to drive. Many college campuses have plenty of nearby places within walking distance for shopping, socializing, etc.

Get roommates

-Sharing your living expenses with others can reduce them significantly.

Take advantage of student discounts

- There are lots of places that will give you a discount with your student I.D. Look for and frequent places that cater to college students and offer discounts or freebies.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

SavingDiva September 14, 2008 at 2:52 pm

I disagree with living close to campus. A few miles away usually saves a few hundred dollars per month in rent. Just make sure you’re on a bus line! :)


RC September 15, 2008 at 5:38 am

@Saving Diva- Good point!- In some cases, I guess it may depend on the school also. Some I have lived near have fairly cheap areas pretty close to campus, and if you get too far or go to a commuter college the bus may not be a very good option. I do think you are correct in many instances, and it is definitely something worth investigating. Thanks!


JJ November 7, 2008 at 12:04 am

I’m a 30-something single mom of 2 that finally returned to school. My life has been nothing but penny-pinching for the last few years. I would like to emphasize the whole teaching college students to budget their Financial Aid Refund at the beginning of the term. I see so many girls heading to Coach to get new purses with the money and ending up broke at the end of the term. Showing them how to set up budgets, even if a few months before sending them off to college, is better than nothing.

I’m also fortunate enough to live in a medium size city, that has many employers that pay for an annual public transportation passes. Even working part-time gets me this pass. Students need to think beyond telemarketing jobs, fast food, & other typicals student jobs and look at big employers in town, or near town. And I’m all for college kids having part-time jobs. ;-)

Student IDs aren’t just for football games!! I also ask wherever I go, if there is a student discount. The regional movie theater chain has a student discount $3-4 off/ticket. I’ve heard some mall retailers give dscounts too, but I can barely afford to step in their doors right now.


MoneySaver July 26, 2009 at 11:37 am

Another way I found to save money was to get a prepaid phone. Net10 have a flat rate for minutes. Only 10 cents per minute and 5 cents for text. For college student that 5 cents a text is great, i know most services charge 10 cents, so its like half over. There are no activation fees or anything and the service charge averages to about only 7 dollars a month. I love it because I can keep up with my family around the nation and across the country! Its a cheap way for me to stay in touch.


Alex Fernandes September 8, 2009 at 5:13 am

I totally agree that joint some part time job, avoid ATM fees and don’t eat outside food will help you to save money.


jay April 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Setting a budget helped me significantly through my freshman year. This worked great with my cell bill. I no longer could lean on mom and dad to pick up my overage charges,so prepaid it was. What a relief to find a no contract cell with Straight Talk. Unlimited for $45 is what got me through,always maintained contact with family and friends. Also, the tip on learning how to cook saved me and got me a few numbers with the girls on campus:)


Jesse October 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

According to my college experience, I disagree with the “get a campus meal plan” tip. I found that the grocery store was 20-50 percent cheaper across the board.


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