I’ve spent years paying off debt accumulated during my college experience so these days I spend a lot of time trying to help young people not make the same mistakes. Student loan debt has surpassed the trillion dollar mark and student graduating with student loan debt have to delay purchases like buying a home or spending more on things they love.
It’s important for college students to prevent crippling student loan debt by saving money while they are in college. This can be done by saving money on school expenses and by adjusting lifestyles to save money as well.
Here are a few of the many tips for college student to budget and save money in order to graduate without massive amounts of student loans.
1. Choose the Right School
Unless you’ve always had the dream of going to a specific school, it can be beneficial to find a university with a lower price tag for your education.
In-state tuition and public schools often offer much lower tuition than private or out-of-state schools. Generally you won’t see much return on investment for a middle of the road school and employers rarely ask where you went to school after you get the first job.
You can also consider an online education in your respective field such as an online social work degree, a business degree, or an information technology degree. However, make sure to see if these schools have the proper accreditation, otherwise many employers won’t recognize them.
2. Get a Part-Time Job
Many students use their student loans to pay for their everyday expenditures such as food, rent, and entertainment during their college years. It’s possible to use student loans to cover all living expenses during school but it’s not the best path you can take since doing this can cause you to incur much more debt than necessary.
Instead to help offset living costs, you can find a part-time job to earn money to pay for your normal expenses. You can preferably find a job in something geared towards your field which will further help your future career earnings.
Getting a part time job doesn’t usually hurt your grades and employers will recognize your initiative and work ethic. It’s a smart way to save money in college.
3. Live Frugally
Basic living expenses are generally cheap but can be problematic for many college students who want to spend more than they earn so they can have the latest gadgets, top fashions, or a swanky residence. Living frugally should be your goal in college – not to have the best things among your classmates.
Luckily, being a “broke” college student isn’t that unusual if you are in the right circles. Cutting living expenditures can help you save tons of money in the long run. Consider cost cutting alternatives, such as public transportation instead of keeping a car on campus, living with parents to save on rent, pregaming alcohol instead of buying drinks out, and shopping at thrift stores for your clothes.
4. Make a List of Income & Expenses
Many times it isn’t good enough to simply make a budget in your head. If you only track spending based on what you remember then you will likely end up spending more than you need to spend.
In order to save money you must list you expenses and track your spending in order to make sure you stay below the income you are bringing in each paycheck.
Writing down your income and expenses can help you track your spending and make sure that you aren’t spending more money than you should be. There are tons of options to help you do this, such as the online site Mint.com, budgeting printables, excel spreadsheets, and other budgeting tools.
5. Make Budgeted Spring Break Plans
You are in college so spring break is a given. It’s perfectly alright to make plans for travel over spring and summer breaks, but don’t overdo it.
Transportation, hotels, and entertainment can add up to a pricey break, especially if you haven’t planned for it. Instead of going to Mexico or the Caribbean, consider going to a cheaper stateside beach, renting an air B&B at a lake, or even going home to see old friends. You’ll save a lot of money that way if you make plans to do something you know will cost less.
You can also switch off which breaks you use for travel. Maybe you do spring break one year so you don’t travel over the summer. Or you skip spring break and plan more small trips over the summer. Check to see which options will save you the most while still giving you the travel and social aspects.
6. Avoid Credit Cards and Loans
When money is tight, you might think of turning to credit cards and signature loans as a way to get by. However, most of these loans have such a high interest rate that you may be able to not pay them off for an extended period of time. If you do get a credit card, have discipline and use it only in an emergency.
Though it can be difficult at times, budgeting for college students is crucial not only for the present, but for life in adulthood. Developing good habits will help you save money now, and enable you to budget in the future for expenditures such as a house, car, and student loans.
7. Get a To-Go Cup
One of the easiest ways you can save money as a college student? Get a to-go cup for your drinks!
Eliminate those expensive coffee shop visits with a to go cup. Either make your own coffee or use your cup at the cafeteria but any way you look at it, to-go cups are less expensive than coffee-house coffee.
As an added bonus, you’ll be saving the environment by not using disposable cups. You also can get extra savings at places that give you a discount for bringing your own cup.
8. Pay Your Bills On Time
It’s easy to forget about bills if it is your first time paying them on your own. However, you need to make sure you are paying all of your bills on time. This will save you money and a lot of headaches as well.
While avoiding those annoying creditor calls is one reason you’ll want to pay your bills on time, it also costs you less money. Late fees on bills can be expensive and they add up if you pay your bills late over and over.
You probably know that many companies assess late fees and interest charges if a bill is not paid on time, but it can also affect your credit. If your credit score takes a tumble because of late payments, you won’t be eligible for the lowest interest rates on things like car loans and mortgages. What seems like only a few extra dollars now could end up costing you thousands down the line.
9. Split Your In-Class Time
Online courses are generally less expensive and more flexible than traditional on-campus classes. Online courses are a great way to stretch your tuition dollars.
If you’re one who has to work full time or has an extremely busy schedule, splitting up your in-class time will be a huge factor in getting your degree. For example, if you’re going to school for nursing, it can be an incredibly stressful profession, and nurses tend to work long hours that span through weekends and holidays. Thankfully, online nursing programs offer flexible schedules that allow students to cultivate their various abilities. This way you can split your time between volunteering with hands on programs and getting your degree via online simultaneously.
Using online classes to knock out some of your pre-requisite classes will help lower your overall bill and you won’t miss out on much of the college experience.
10. Use Your Library Card
Did you know that your library card is the key to savings in multiple ways? Libraries might not be your favorite place but they can offer savings and knowledge you need to take advantage of while in college.
The library has more than just books and your metropolitan library is a great place to check out music and videos for free. Just make sure you return them on time. You don’t need late fees.
You can also often get free online courses and access to many paid platforms just by having a library card. Check with your library to see what your library card gives your access to.
11. Use Your Abilities
In addition to being more careful with your money, there are also ways to earn some extra money while you are in college.
Since finding a traditional job and scheduling classes around it poses difficulties for the average student, using your talents and creating your own side business on the Internet is a great way to earn a little extra money. If you’re good with the Internet, help people sell things through an online auction site like ebay. If crafts are more your thing, sell your designs on Etsy. If you’re in computer science or design, market your skills as a web designer.
As a student you’ll make less than an established professional in the field but that’s a selling point for many small businesses.
Saving While In College
Being a student is a time for frugality. Cutting costs doesn’t have to mean giving up on pleasures entirely, it just means finding creative ways to do them.
Being a student can be an expensive time of your life. With minimal money coming in, it’s more important than ever to watch the money going out. That’s why every student needs ways to save money. I hope you enjoyed these quick and easy money-saving hacks!
Mary is the founder of Pennies Not Perfection where she shares her journey to build wealth through online income. She quit her day job in 2021 after she paid off her debt and doubled her 9-5 salary.
Mary's favorite free financial tool is Personal Capital. She uses their free tools to track net worth and work toward to financial freedom.