Being young is great, but it’s terrible for the budget. The average private college costs a whopping $34,740 per year, but as a student you’re gonna find it hard to work very much. That’s why most of us need to find ways to save money as a student.
And one or two student saving strategies isn’t going to be enough. A single money making method might pay for a textbook, but to make a real dent you’ll need multiple ideas.
But you can relax – we’re here to help! Here are 15 ways to save money as a student today. We’ll start with the big-ticket items, then work our way down.
Big ways to save money as a student
We’ll get to used textbooks in a minute. First you should look at these big ways to save money as a student. These are things that could make you – or save you – thousands of dollars.
Earn More Money
This sounds basic, but it’s important. Think about this – it’s easier to save money when you’ve got more of it to save. The best way to increase the amount of money you have is to make more of it.
We’re not saying you should work more hours. You’re at college to learn, so you should spend plenty of time studying. But if you’re working 20 hours a week on minimum wage, it’s definitely worth spending a few hours a week looking for a higher paying job.
If you do have extra time, you could pick up some work in the gig-economy. Create a profile on Upwork or Freelancer and get busy. If Lime or Bird scooters operate in your city, signing up to charge them overnight can also earn you extra cash. As long as it’s not at the expense of your studies, every extra dollar you earn is another dollar you can save.
Don’t own a car
Cars are the second most expensive things most people own, after a house. But unlike houses, most cars aren’t assets – they only down in value. The average car in the US costs about $8,469 a year to run, including gas, insurance, depreciation, and repayments.
The good news is it’s easier than ever to live without owning a car. In a lot of big cities, it’s living car-free is actually more convenient. Moving a bit closer to work or college, using public transport, or using services like Uber, Zipcar, or Car2Go is often thousands of dollars cheaper than owning a car, especially if you don’t drive much.
If you really 100% absolutely have to own a car, why not make some money from it? Putting your car on Turo lets other people rent your car when you’re not using it. If you have time, you could drive for Uber or Lyft to make some extra cash.
Instead of spending time and money on college courses, wouldn’t it be great to just sit an exam? Lots of colleges let you test out of a course like this. Basically, you sit an exam and you’ll get course credit if you pass.
You’ll still need to know your stuff though. That means studying it in your own time, either during break, or before you even get to college.
There is another catch. Testing out is good for you, but bad for your college. So, most colleges make you take a minimum number of courses on campus. You should still ask about testing out though. If you test out of just 10% of your courses, you’ll save thousands! You’d also reduce the amount of time you spend at college.
Get someone else to pay your tuition
If you think ahead, it’s possible to dramatically reduce the cost of college, by getting others to help. Your personal circumstances could limit your options here, so you’ll have to figure out what’s right for you.
First, see what scholarships you’re eligible for, even if you’ve already started. There are lots of full and partial scholarships from all over the country, so you’re almost certain to find one to suit you. Craft a great application and cross your fingers.
Next, see if there’s anyone you know who could help you out. Even the best student loans are really expensive (see our next point). So, if you can get a gift or interest free loan from a friend or a family member, you’ll be much better off.
Get the right student loan
Most US college students have some sort of student loan, and many students have more than one. The terms on these loans vary wildly. Over time, a small interest rate difference can add thousands to your loan, so you need to pick the best one you can find!
Generally, federal loans have the lowest interest rates and best repayment terms. Private student loans are also available, but they’re normally much more expensive. Spend a little time to shop around and you could get a big saving.
Remember, the better your credit rating, the better your interest rates and repayment terms will be. So even if you’re not applying for finance yet, try and stay out of debt, and pay your bills on time.
Get your personal finances in order
Your student loan will normally be your biggest financial concern as a student, but you still have to sleep and eat. That means you need to budget, save, and optimise your cashflow.
The first thing to do is to make a budget, and start tracking what goes in and out. What gets measured gets managed, as the saying goes. You can do this the old fashioned way with a spreadsheet, or you can use an app like Mint or You Need A Budget.
Just because you have student loans to pay, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t save. You don’t want to have to borrow more if something unexpected happens. Saving doesn’t have to involve going hungry to put money away – use an app like Acorns to automate the process, $1 at a time.
You should also make sure you’re with the right bank. The last thing you need is to be paying more fees and earning less interest on the money you save. Just like shopping around for a good student loan, changing banks can be a little work for a big saving.
While we’re here – remember to pay your bills on time! Late payment fees can be a real killer. Better, why not automate a bank transfer each month, so you don’t have to worry about it?
Specific ways to save money as a student
Now that we’ve covered the big things you can do to save money, lets get stuck into the more specific things that can help you save money when you’re studying. Some will save a few dollars a week, while others could save close to a hundred.
Share your costs
Some things you have to pay for, but you might not have to pay for them alone! Look at all the bills you pay (you know, while you’re making that budget) and ask yourself if you could share them with someone else.
For example, you could share your Netflix subscription with a friend, have them cancel their account, and pay half each. Or you could share your internet with a neighbour, if you have good wifi.
Some colleges make you live on campus for a minimum length of time, but it’s usually okay to live in a nearby suburb.
The rent will generally be lower, and you’ll have the choice of buying cheaper food, and negotiate your own utilities.
Protect your stuff
This isn’t an obvious money saver, but the last thing you need is to pay for something twice!
Take care if your most expensive things, and you’ll avoid having to replace them. That means keeping doors locked, not leaving things where they might get broken, and organising your life to avoid losing things.
Buy used, and sell your old stuff
As a student, you should see if you can buy your textbooks second hand. Rather than paying $100 for a new volume, why not grab an old copy for half the price? You can then sell it at the end of the semester!
But this applies to everything you pay for. Appliances, clothes, skateboards, TVs, kitchen stuff, and so on. Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, or your local Good Will are great places to start.
Waste Less Time
Every hour you spend on something that isn’t studying or making money needs to be worth your time. That doesn’t mean you can’t relax, socialise, or have fun, but you should never waste time on something unimportant.
This also means getting the most out of your time. Instead of driving to college, you could get public transport, and spend the time catching up on homework.
Quit the gym (but keep working out)
You should try to stay fit, but the gym isn’t a cheap way to stay active. Instead of paying a premium, replace your membership with a daily run, cycle, or pick up a cheap set of weights from Amazon.
If you need motivation, join a campus running club or local sports team. Getting outside will do you some good!
Find cheaper hobbies
You should still enjoy a few hobbies as a student. But if those hobbies are on the pricier side, why not try something different, at least until after you finish college?
Instead of seeing a movie every week, why not host a regular Netflix night, complete with microwave popcorn? Instead of buying the new Fallout game, a Steam humble bundle offers hours of gameplay for a fraction of the price. Instead of going out each weekend, host a get together at home!
Find cheaper ways to eat
Doing this with a friend can make it even better. If you share a Costco membership and split bulk purchases between you, you’ll get the benefits of buying in bulk without the risk of food going bad.
Sign up for student coupon deals
Student coupons are a common way to save money as a student, but there’s a reason we’ve left it until last. Yes, you can save money from using student offers, either from individual stores or from websites like PromoCodes.com.
The trouble is that keeping an eye out for useful coupons is a slippery slope, and can quickly lead you to using discounts for stuff you don’t really need. Unless you have good self-control, you might be better off staying away from the temptation completely!
A bonus student saving tip: Become a minimalist
It’s not for everyone, but minimalism is being embraced by more people than ever before. It’s not really about saving money – it’s about getting rid of stuff that distract us from the really important things (which are rarely physical things). But one side effect of having less, is paying less.
The Minimalists is a great website to learn about living with less, without going full nomad.
Saving money as a student: Not as hard as it seems
Hopefully we’ve made our point clear: Saving money when you’re at college doesn’t have to mean swearing off Starbucks, showering once a week, and eating nothing but microwave noodles.
By spending a little time working on the big ways to save money, like getting your financials in order and selling your car, you can make big savings with just a little work. Then you can focus on smaller ways to save money as a student, to pay off your college loan fast!