Students Gotta Eat! Complete Guide to How to Save Money in College (2023 Edition)

college student studying with a pile of books and writing notes

College is priced as a luxury, but each year it’s becoming more and more of a necessity. And so we present:

How to Save Money in College: Top Tips for Budgeting Success

Heading off to college is an exciting time full of new experiences and opportunities. One challenge many students face, however, is learning how to manage their finances while pursuing their education. With tuition, books, housing, and other expenses, it’s important that you find creative ways to make your money stretch further.

Thankfully, there are plenty of strategies that can help you save money during your college years. By taking advantage of free resources, budgeting wisely, and being savvy about your spending habits, you can minimize your financial stress and focus more on what’s really important: your education and personal growth.

Create a Budget

Creating a budget is essential for managing your expenses in college. It helps you understand where your money is going and allows you to make better financial decisions. Here are some steps to get you started:

Track Your Expenses

Begin by tracking your expenses for a month. Note down everything you spend money on, from tuition fees to daily coffee runs. You can use a budgeting app, a spreadsheet, or even a simple notebook to record your expenses.

At the end of the month, categorize your expenses into groups like housing, food, transportation, and entertainment. This will give you a clear picture of where your money is going and help you identify areas where you can cut back.

Allocate Funds Wisely

Based on your tracked expenses, decide on a budget for each category. Ensure that you prioritize essentials like tuition, rent, and groceries. Allocate a portion of your budget towards savings and emergencies while keeping some funds for discretionary spending, like dining out and entertainment.

Use the 50/30/20 rule as a guideline for budget allocation: 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings and debt repayment. Adjust these percentages as needed to suit your unique financial situation.

Review and Adjust Regularly

Once you’ve created your budget, it’s important to review it regularly to ensure you’re staying on track. Compare your actual spending to your budgeted amounts, and identify any areas where you may need to make adjustments.

Remember that your budget isn’t set in stone. Your financial situation and priorities may change over time, so be prepared to adjust your budget as needed. By staying engaged with your finances and making ongoing adjustments, you’ll be better prepared to manage your money wisely throughout college.

Save on Housing

While attending college, finding affordable housing can significantly impact your overall expenses. In this section, we’ll discuss a few strategies to help you save money on housing.

Consider Off-Campus Options

First of all, take a closer look at the differences between on-campus and off-campus housing. On-campus housing might appear convenient, but often comes at a premium price. Comparing the costs of both options can help you make a more informed decision. Do some research and gather information about the prices of nearby apartments or rental houses, as well as the amenities they offer. Also, consider the cost of daily commuting to campus if you live off-campus. Sometimes, off-campus housing can offer better value for your money. GCU Blog suggests doing a thorough comparison before making a decision.

Find Roommates

Consider shared housing to maximize savings! Sharing accommodation with roomates is a great way to save money in college. If you choose to live in an apartment or house, having roommates can significantly reduce your rent and utility expenses. Not only will you save money, but you will also have the opportunity to build new friendships and support networks. Make sure to carefully consider the number of roommates and the compatibility with their lifestyles, habits, and study schedules.

Negotiate with Landlords

Lastly, don’t hesitate to negotiate with landlords when looking for off-campus housing. They might be open to lowering the rent or offering additional amenities if they see you as a desirable and responsible tenant. To make yourself stand out in these negotiations, be prepared to discuss your good credit score and any positive rental history. Sign a longer lease, if you can, as a way to show your commitment, which might encourage the landlord to offer you better terms. Be respectful, professional, and prepared to compromise, as this might translate into significant savings during your college years.

Cut Down on Textbook Costs

Textbooks can be a significant expense in college, but there are several ways to reduce these costs. In this section, we’ll cover approaches like buying used or renting textbooks, using e-books and open-source materials, and reselling your books at the end of the term.

Buy Used or Rent

Purchasing used textbooks is a smart way to save money. Used options often come at a discounted price, and while they may have some highlighting or notes, they serve the same purpose as new ones. Be sure to verify that the used textbook is a compatible version of the one required for your class. You can reach out to your professors before classes start to find out if the required texts list has been finalized.

Another option is to rent your textbooks instead of buying them. This can be a cost-effective approach, especially for books you won’t need post-semester. Many online and local bookstores offer textbook rentals, with prices varying based on the duration of the rental period.

E-Books and Open Source Materials

E-books can be a more affordable alternative to traditional textbooks. Some digital versions may cost less than their physical counterparts, and you can sometimes find them for free. Open Educational Resources (OER) can also help you lower your expenses and some states have passed legislation to support them. These free, high-quality educational materials are created by educators and institutions and can be found online.

Resell Your Books

At the end of the semester, you might consider selling your textbooks to recover part of the initial cost. College bookstores, local shops and online booksellers may buy your books back – just remember to keep them in good condition if you think you might go this route. Alternatively, you can sell your books directly to fellow students, using social media or campus bulletin boards to advertise the sale.

These strategies can significantly cut down your textbook costs, so you can put that extra money towards other priorities in college.

stack of textbooks used by students

Use Student Discounts

As a college student, you can take advantage of numerous discounts available to help you save money. Areas where you can find these discounts include many restaurants as well as entertainment, technology / software, travel, and transportation.

Restaurants and Entertainment

Many restaurants offer special discounts for college students. For example, you can receive 15% off full-price items when you present your student ID at Banana Republic or J.Crew. Additionally, some coffee chains, like The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, give students 10% off. For more ideas check out the Forbes Advisor list of student discounts.

Movie theaters, museums, and other entertainment venues often provide reduced ticket prices for students as well. Make sure to always carry your student ID with you and ask about student discounts when visiting these places.

Technology and Software

Technology companies understand that students need access to their products for educational purposes. As a result, they often offer attractive discounts. For instance, Apple provides college students a discount on select tech, starting at $50 off, plus 20% off AppleCare+, and credit with Apple Trade In.

Students can also benefit from discounted or free software subscriptions. Check with your school for free and discounted software through your institution.

Travel and Transportation

Traveling can be expensive for college students, but student discounts can help make it more affordable. You can get a discount on moves when using Budget’s truck rental service, and it’s worth asking if other companies can match that. Most major auto insurance providers offer a student discount on their policies if you’ll be driving during your degree.

Don’t forget to look for discounts when booking flights, trains, or buses. Many travel companies offer student rates, which can save you a significant amount of money. Always remember to carry your student ID with you and ask about available discounts when purchasing tickets.

Limit Entertainment Expenses

As a college student, it’s essential to manage your entertainment expenses while making the most out of your college experience. By being smart about your leisure activities, you can have fun and save money at the same time.

Take Advantage of Campus Activities

Your college campus is a goldmine of free or affordable entertainment options. Many schools host a variety of events, such as movie nights, guest speakers, sports events, and student performances. These on-campus activities provide opportunities to socialize and save money simultaneously.

Besides events, consider joining clubs or student organizations that align with your interests. These groups typically offer free or low-cost activities, and they connect you with like-minded peers, making for a more enriching social life.

Opt for Low-Cost Socializing

There are plenty of ways to have fun without breaking the bank. Instead of frequenting pricey restaurants and bars, opt for low-cost alternatives like potlucks, game nights, or outdoor adventures. Some inexpensive socializing ideas include:

  • Hosting a movie or binge-watch night with friends
  • Exploring local parks and hiking trails
  • Attending free community events or festivals
  • Organizing a study group that doubles as a social gathering

Being creative with your socializing not only saves money but also helps create lasting memories with your friends and classmates.

Use Streaming Services Wisely

While streaming services provide endless entertainment, they can drain your wallet if not managed properly. Rather than subscribing to multiple platforms, choose one or two services that best suit your preferences. And don’t forget to take advantage of student discounts.

Additionally, consider sharing streaming service accounts and splitting the costs with your roommates or friends. This strategy can drastically cut your monthly expenses, while still giving you access to your favorite shows and movies. Stick to one or two like above and split them, or pick one each and enjoy more variety.

Being resourceful and strategic with your entertainment spending will help you make the most of your college experience while keeping your budget in check.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

One of the best ways to save money in college is to apply for scholarships and grants. These provide financial assistance that you don’t need to repay, easing the burden of tuition costs and other expenses. In this section, we’ll discuss how to find these opportunities, maintain good academic standing, and apply early for the best chances of success.

Search for Opportunities

Begin by researching scholarships and grants available to you. There are countless resources online, including official government websites like Federal Student Aid or Financial Aid. Additionally, you can use scholarship search tools to find opportunities tailored to your skills and interests.

Remember to explore local and community organizations, your college, and other specific scholarships related to your major, hobbies, and background. This comprehensive approach increases your chances of finding the perfect fit for your needs.

Maintain Good Academic Standing

Many scholarships and grants have academic requirements that you need to meet to remain eligible. It’s crucial to maintain good academic standing throughout college, as this increases your chances of securing and keeping financial aid. Keep your grades up by attending classes, participating, and seeking help when needed.

Apply Early

When it comes to scholarships and grants, it’s important to start your search and application process early. Staying ahead of deadlines ensures you have enough time to gather documents, write essays, and complete other requirements with care. If you’re currently in high school, begin researching and applying for scholarships during the summer between your junior and senior years, as suggested by Federal Student Aid.

By being proactive in your search for scholarships and grants, maintaining good academic standing, and applying early, you’ll be well on your way to saving money in college and easing the financial burden.

college student making packed lunch to bring in the school

Be Smart About Food

Meal Plans and Cooking

When it comes to college, food expenses can easily spiral out of control. One way to save money is by being smart about your meal plan. Meal plans can vary depending on the school, with some costing around $1,000 per semester and others being much more expensive. Carefully choose a meal plan that fits within your budget and dietary needs. Don’t be afraid to adjust it as necessary throughout the school year.

If your school’s meal plan isn’t a good fit for you, consider cooking your own meals. By planning your meals and preparing them in advance, you can eat healthier and cheaper than relying on dining halls or fast food.

Save on Groceries

Shopping for groceries can be a substantial part of your college food expenses, but there are ways to save. Start by making a list of the items you need and sticking to it when you go to the store. This will help you stay on track and avoid impulse purchases.

Compare prices from different stores and be open to shopping at discount grocers or farmers markets, where you might find better deals. Utilize coupons and take advantage of sales whenever possible. Buying in bulk can also save you money, just make sure not to overbuy perishable items that may spoil before you have the chance to consume them.

Avoid Impulse Purchases

Impulse purchases can quickly add up, especially when it comes to buying snacks and drinks on campus. Bring your own water bottle and refill it throughout the day, instead of buying bottled water or sugary drinks. Keep healthy snacks in your bag or dorm room to curb hunger between meals and avoid the temptation to buy expensive junk food from vending machines or campus shops. Have a snack before you go shopping to help ward off snap decisions fuelled by hunger.

Planning your meals and packing your own lunch can also help you save on food costs. You’ll have more control over what you eat, as well as the quality and cost of your meals.

Find Part-Time Work or Internships

As a college student, finding part-time work or internships is an excellent way to save money and gain valuable experience. Not only can you earn some extra cash, but you may also develop essential skills that will help you in your future career. Let’s explore some opportunities for on-campus jobs, freelance or gig work, and paid internships.

On-Campus Jobs

Many colleges and universities offer various on-campus job positions that cater to students’ schedules and pay reasonably well. Consider checking out your campus job board or career center for openings such as:

  • Library assistant
  • Research assistant
  • Resident advisor
  • IT support
  • Office admin

These jobs often come with the added convenience of being minutes away from your classes, minimizing your travel time and expenses.

Freelance or Gig Work

If you have a marketable skill, like writing, graphic design, programming, or social media management, you can pursue freelance work to earn extra money. Websites like Upwork or Fiverr make it easy to find clients looking for freelancers like you. Alternatively, if you prefer to work outside the digital realm, consider gig work through platforms such as:

  • TaskRabbit (for handyman or cleaning services)
  • Uber or Lyft (for ride-sharing drivers)
  • DoorDash or Grubhub (for food delivery drivers)

With these opportunities, you can work on a flexible schedule and control how much you earn based on your availability.

Seek Paid Internships

Finally, paid internships are a great way to gain hands-on experience in your field, make connections, and earn money. You can find various options for paid internships through sources such as Indeed or your college career center. To maximize your chances of landing one, follow these tips:

  1. Start your search early – internships, especially paid ones, can be competitive.
  2. Network with professionals in your industry – attend industry events or reach out to potential mentors for guidance.
  3. Customize your resume and cover letter for each application – highlight the specific skills and experience the employer is looking for.

Pursuing part-time work or internships while in college can help you save money and provide valuable professional experience. Explore your options and choose the ones that best align with your career goals and availability.


As you’ve navigated through the various tips and strategies on saving money in college, it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The key lies in finding the methods that work best for you and your unique circumstances. By being proactive and developing good habits, you can significantly reduce your expenses and ease your financial burden during this important phase of life.

Remember to create a budget and stick to it, as this will help you keep track of your spending and identify areas where you can save. Be open to sharing costs with roommates, and take advantage of cost-sharing opportunities to further reduce your living expenses.

Embrace a frugal mindset by seeking out hidden savings, such as buying used textbooks, cooking at home, and taking advantage of student discounts. Being frugal now will put you in a better position if you consider further studies or launch on your job search after graduation. While in school be on the lookout for ways to increase your income through part-time jobs or selling unused items.

The decisions you make during your college years can have a lasting impact on your financial future. Keep these strategies in mind, stay committed to your goals, and continue refining your money-saving habits. By doing so, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success, both financially and academically.