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68 Ways to Save Money in College

Abigail Endsley
Abigail Endsley

March 08, 2019

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Save money in college

College is expensive. Too expensive. Student loan problem, debt crisis, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing random strangers on the internet rattle on without end about the overwhelming cost of college.

To be honest, I’m a little tired of writing about it too. So today, I’m switching gears.

Here are 68 nuggets of financial wisdom you can put to use immediately. Each will help you think twice and spend your dollars more wisely when it comes time to walk the hallowed halls.

Save money in college by: being smart about college.

1. Don’t go.

Not every career requires a 4-year degree. Is your dream job one of them?

2. If you do go, go in-state.

Staying put could save you nearly $12,000, annually.

3. Better yet, go online.

No infrastructure, less staff to pay, no sports to fund, etc.

4. At least don’t go in California.

Too many students, not enough seats. It’s causing some problems.

5. Pick a public university over a private one.

$26,000 (per year). Saved.

6. Pick a lesser-known school.

Reputations are expensive. Do you really want to pay for one?

7. Take more than 4 years to graduate.

Take online courses while you work a full-time job. Transfer them in later.

8. Take less than 4 years to graduate.

Taking 5 or 6 years on campus to graduate could mean over $40,000 extra.

9. Don’t get more school than you need.

Graduate programs are expensive. Don’t go unless you actually need it.

10. Take affordable transfer credit.

CLEP tests, DSSTs, and affordable online courses will help you save money and speed up your degree.

11. But don’t lose your transfer credit.

Every credit you re-take is a credit you re-pay for.

12. Don’t fail classes.

Number 11 applies to re-taking failed classes too.

13. Don’t switch majors.

Switching majors can lead to lost credit. Remember #11?

14. Take a gap year… to avoid switching majors.

No one will judge you for taking a little extra time to ensure you’re making a wise decision.

15. Don’t pick an expensive major either.

Art supplies, musical instruments, special facility fees, lab equipment… it all adds up.

16. Take advantage of grants, if you can.

Free money! 🙌

17. Take advantage of scholarships, if you can.

Free money! 👏


NOT free money. 😱😠😭

Student loans are a great way to pay thousands of extra dollars for every year the loan isn’t paid off. (Hello, interest rates!)

19. At least don’t take out more loans than you need…

The less you can borrow, the less debt you incur. The less debt, the better.

20. If you do community college, make sure it has a feeder program.

Community college can save you a ton of money unless your university won’t accept that community college transfer credit. Which it probably won’t.

21. Or just do Unbound.

The best way to earn affordable credit with a 100% guarantee it’ll transfer to your school.

Save money in college by: being smart about money management.

22. Make a budget.

This is adulting 101.

23. Stick to your budget.

This is adulting 102.

24. Pay your bills on time.

Late fees are the gut-punches of wasted money.

25. Take Dave Ramsey’s money course.

Why not learn from the best (and earn some college credit at the same time)?

And by: being smart about how you spend time.

26. Get a job.

Any job.

27. Like at Starbucks.

They’ve got great tuition assistance.

28. Or UPS.

Medical and tuition assistance for part-time evening work? Sold.

29. Or anywhere else that has tuition assistance.

These 33 companies will help you pay for college.

30. Invent Facebook.

It worked for Zuckerburg!

31. Get a side hustle.

For everyone who thinks they’re Zuckerburg.

32. Enlist in the military.

For those nobler than Zuckerburg.

33. Or maybe just intern somewhere.

For everyone else. (We can’t all be Zuckerburgs.)

Save money in college by: being smart about how you eat.

34. Opt out of meal plans.

College meal plan: $4,400.

Cooking at home: $1,760.*

35. Don’t eat out.

Eating out: $12.75 per meal.

Cooking at home: $2.50 per meal.**

36. Definitely don’t drink out.

One glass of wine at your local bar is approximately the same cost of that same bottle of wine at the grocery store.

37. Maybe just don’t drink.

Water, soda, and juice are all far cheaper and just as tasty.

38. That includes coffee.

Starbucks coffee: $2.10. (Grande sized, featuring their signature “burnt ashes” flavor.)

39. Okay fine, just make your coffee at home.

Average at-home brew: $0.60. (And 150% tastier.)

40. And while you’re at it, make yourself some food.

Let me redirect you to points 34 and 35.

41. Or shamelessly mooch off your more generous friends and family.

Some people love to cook, some people love to eat. These types of people should be friends.

42. If you can’t mooch, at least meal plan and use a shopping list.

There’s a special place in hell for food wasters.

43. While you’re at it, use coupons and cashback apps.

iBotta, RetailMeNot, Groupon, Living Social, Ebates… find coupons, find deals, and earn money for regularly purchased items.

44. Freeze food before it goes bad.

Meat, bread, taco shells—anything you can’t eat fast enough should go in the freezer. You know how I feel about food wasting.

Save money in college by: being smart about how you play.

45. Don’t have fun.

Movie tickets, mini golf, bowling, these things cost money you don’t have to spend.

46. If you do have fun, make it reusable.

Movies tickets are used once. Board games are used endlessly.

47. Better yet, make it free (thanks to your local library!)

Bonus points if you borrow books.

48. Get outside.

State parks, apartment pools, window shopping downtown. There are a lot of free ways to have fun.

49. Or just borrow your friend’s Switch!

49.5. Make friends with less frugal people.

And by: being smart about how you live.

50. Get roommates.

Splitting bills 2, 3, or 5 ways makes a big difference.

51. Or live with your parents.

Free rent! 🙌

52. Share a phone plan.

Family plans exist for a reason.

53. Workout at home.

You’ll never use that gym membership anyway.

54. Don’t travel.

Staying put may sound boring, but it has its perks.

55. If you do travel, fly Southwest!

Planning ahead can lead to ridiculously cheap flights. And your bags fly free!

56. Don’t own a car.

Switching to biking can save you 15% or more on car insurance. And gas. And maintenance. And it’s probably more than 15%.

57. Don’t get contacts.

Glasses save you hundreds per year.

58. Don’t get a pet.

Pet food, vet bills, extra rent…

59. Don’t get internet.

The library and Starbucks are two perfectly acceptable places to do homework.

60. Don’t get a printer.

Trust me. This is good life advice in general.

61. Don’t get anything new.

Thrift stores. Goodwill. Done.

62. Use Facebook Marketplace to buy perfectly good stuff that extravagant average Americans literally don’t have room for any more.

It’s nice to feed on the dying flesh of the bourgeois.

63. Win Wheel of Fortune.

Your grandmother will be so proud!

64. Date someone rich.

And have them pay for dinner!

65. Shop at Aldi’s.

Just don’t tell your rich S.O.

66. Lose some weight.

Smaller bodies require less food!

67. Lose so much weight that your aunt takes pity on your and lets you live with her so she can “fatten you up.”

Thanks, Aunty!

Save money in college by: being smart.

68. Don’t be stupid.

Don’t pay for anything you don’t need. The traditional “college experience” is a luxury, not a necessity. You can earn your degree without drowning in debt, but you’ll have to make some sacrifices along the way.

Obviously, you know your specific financial situation better than I (or anyone else offering generic advice) ever could. So listen to your gut and don’t spend money you don’t have.

*This number was calculated by taking the average cost of single males and females ages 19-50, using the USDA’s “low-cost” food plan for 8 months—roughly the amount of time a student will spend on campus each year. (#34)

**This number was calculated by taking the same USDA average grocery budget and dividing it by 90 meals per month (3 meals per day). Fun fact: after an intense month of receipt tracking and cooking at home, this is almost exactly what each of my home-cooked meals ended up costing me. I halved my food bill that month. 😎(#35)

Abigail Endsley
Abigail Endsley

A former student counselor and Unbound student, Abigail is passionate about empowering others to achieve their goals. When she’s not dreaming with her friends, you can find her reading or singing Broadway songs. Loudly.

Read more by Abigail