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How to Save Money in College

Listen, you guys. I want you to be able to save as much money as possible in college so you can cash flow your education and still graduate with something in the bank! (Ever heard the song “Young Dumb & Broke”? It’s a jam but not a great way to live while you’re in school. Well, the “young” part is okay. But not the “dumb and broke” part!)

The more money you save during college, the more prepared you’ll feel and the less you’ll freak out about getting into the real world once you finally get your diploma. Plus, you won’t have any of those lame student loan payments to worry about.

And guess what? You don’t even have to eat ramen every single night in order to save money and ditch the debt. There are plenty of ways to pile up cash. Let’s talk about how you can cut costs on some of your biggest college expenses!

How to Save Money on Housing in College

You have to live, right? No argument there. But when you’re a college student, housing can mean anything from a small apartment that you share with roommates to a luxury dorm with a hot tub and a view of the city skyline. Let’s keep this budget-friendly, people.

Live at home if you can.

Okay, y’all. I get it. You’re probably ready to get out of the house and bask in your new freedom, and living at home might be the last thing you want to do. And obviously, this won’t be an option for everyone. But just think about not having to pay thousands of dollars per year on rent, utility bills or food (homemade food is way better anyway––can I get an amen?). All that extra money in your bank account will be totally worth it.

Compare the costs of living on versus off campus.

Renting an apartment isn’t always going to be cheaper than living on campus, and living on campus isn’t always going to be cheaper than renting. You just have to look at all the options available at your school of choice and in the surrounding area to see what’s most affordable. Don’t forget to factor in utilities and transportation costs!

Find a roommate.

If you do rent an apartment, having a roommate (or two or three) will cut your expenses way down. Make sure your landlord has approved each individual roommate and that they all sign the lease so you won’t be left hanging financially if one of them has to move out.

Ask yourself how much space you really need. 

You might want a huge kitchen or your own bathroom, but be honest with yourself about whether you need extra room while you’re trying to save money. You might be able to get by in a smaller space for right now, and then once you have a fully funded emergency fund and are financially stable, upgrade to something bigger!

Get creative with your bills.

Unplug your electronics when you’re not using them (it actually saves energy), use cold water when you can, turn off the air conditioning or heat when the weather’s good, check for dripping faucets or lights left on before you leave the house, and handwash some dishes (it won’t kill you).

How to Save Money on Food

Food––another one of those things you can’t live without. But you can live without daily avocado toast. You just have to be wise about your food choices!

Split food costs with roommates.

Y’all can save a ton if you go in on groceries––especially if you buy in bulk. You could even grocery shop and cook together to get some solid roommate bonding time (hopefully you like your roommates).

Be strategic about eating out. 

It’s okay to go out with your friends every once in a while, but when you’re constantly getting waffles at 2 a.m. on impulse, it really starts to add up. And your body starts to hate you. Budget the amount of money you can spend on eating out every month (that includes bougie lattes), and once you spend that money, you just need to have some self-control until next month.

Be smart about your meal plan.

Meal plan costs can vary depending on your school––cheaper ones can be about $1,000 per semester, but some can be three times that (or more)! Some colleges might make you get a meal plan for your freshman year, so if you have to have one, make sure you actually use it. But if you don’t have to have one, meal prepping and making food from scratch are your new best friends. (Grocery shopping pro tip: If you buy generic brands, you’ll get pretty much the exact same thing as name brand for way less.)

Use coupons.

You guys, there’s no shame in using coupons––and yes, they can actually help you save money, even if it’s just a few cents at a time. You’re in college. You need every quarter you can get. How else are you supposed to buy vending machine snacks in between classes?

How to Save Money on Tuition and Supplies

This is one of the biggest and most intimidating categories for college students. But don’t stress, y’all––I got you.

Buy used books.

It’s crazy how much you can save just by getting your textbooks from Amazon or a used bookstore instead of the campus bookstore. You probably won’t find all your required reading at those cheaper places, but even if you do have to use the campus bookstore, they’ll usually give you the option to rent instead of buy. Definitely go with renting. Trust me, you won’t need to go back and read your physics textbook once the semester is over.

Take classes at community college first.

You can save a lot on tuition by getting all of your general education requirements out of the way at a community college before heading to your school of choice, because the price difference is insane. I mean, seriously––a year of tuition at a private is school is, on average, more than nine times the cost of a year of tuition at a community college!

Go to an in-state school.

The average tuition at a public, in-state school is $9,349 per year, and the average tuition at a public, out-of-state school is $27,023 per year.1 That’s a yearly difference of more than $16,000! If it’s an out-of-state private college, the tuition skyrockets even more.

Apply for scholarships.

It’s kind of a no-brainer: If you find scholarships, you won’t have to worry about tuition costs (and some scholarships even cover your books, food and housing!). 

Take Advantage of Tax Credits

There are two popular tax credits that can help you or your parents (if they claim you as a dependent) save some dough when tax season rolls around: the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). You can only claim one of these credits per student per tax year, and you have to meet the eligibility requirements to qualify for them, but if you do, claiming the AOTC or the LLC can help you recoup some of the money you spend on higher education expenses, like tuition and textbooks. 

How to Save Money on Transportation

Not everyone remembers to factor this into their college budget, especially if they know they’re going to be living on campus and walking a lot. But the truth is, you’ll need to get to places off campus at some point, so it’s smart to think about this stuff ahead of time.

Ride a bike.

Nobody likes spending money on gas. With bikes, you don’t have to. Enough said.


Did I mention that nobody likes spending money on gas? I’m not saying you should make friends in college just so you can split the cost of fuel, but it’s one of the perks of friendship (for real).

Use public transportation.

This could be anything from the bus system to subways to rideshare services. According to the American Public Transportation Association, a household can save almost $10,000 by using public transportation and having one less car. Depending on how often you use public transportation, you might want to buy passes instead of individual tickets––it costs more up front, but it will help you save in the long run.

How to Save Money on Entertainment

A good way to save on entertainment is to never do anything fun. Ever. But let’s face it: You’ll need to kick back between classes and tests, so you could at least do it without breaking the bank.

Cancel the cable.

Let’s be real—cable TV is pretty much a waste of time and money. There are plenty of cheaper options that let you pick what you want to watch on demand so you’re not flipping through the channels for hours and paying for junk you don’t watch. Hulu, Netflix, Google TV, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Sling TV are all good, but a word to the wise: You really just need one streaming service at a time. If you’re feeling super brave, you could try not watching TV at all.

If you have a gym membership, cancel it.

I’m all for being fit, but if you really need to save, cutting your gym membership could save you a ton of money. Plus, your school will probably have a student gym that’s included in the price of tuition. And there are plenty of ways to get exercise without going to the gym—like running, intramural sports, throwing a frisbee around, or walking back and forth in front of your crush’s dorm hoping they’ll notice you.

Go to the library.

Yeah, remember those? If you’re bored because you canceled your cable and gym membership and you can’t buy anything, there’s always the option of reading all the books and watching all the movies in the library—for free.

Break up with your significant other.

Just kidding. But the amount of money you spend on a date can get out of hand pretty fast, especially if you’re trying really hard to impress them. Some fun, budget-friendly date ideas are volunteering together, exploring a nearby city, going on a hike, finding a free concert, or looking at the stars and other romantic stuff like that (but let’s keep it PG, okay?).

Build strong friendships.

I’m serious: Building good relationships in college has way more to do with the amount of time you invest than the amount of money you spend. Even if it’s just getting a group together for a game night, going thrift shopping, or having a regular ol’ heart-to-heart conversation, the time you spend with your friends is something you’ll remember way past graduation.

Bonus Money-Saving Tips in College

Because I love you guys, and because I really want you to graduate with cash in your bank account, I’m going to give you a couple extra tips—and you don’t even have to pay me.

Sell your stuff.

If you need cash, Craigslist is your new best friend. Or eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or posting pics of your stuff on Instagram—whatever gets the stuff you don’t need out of your house and the money into your pocket.

Have a part-time job or side hustle.

Don’t underestimate the effect that a few babysitting or dog-walking jobs per week can have on your savings. For a steadier income, a part-time job (no more than 15–20 hours per week) is a great idea too.

Find all the student discounts and coupons you can.

We’re talking Groupon. We’re talking Yelp. We’re talking all the restaurants, museums and movie theaters in your area that give discounts to college students. Wherever you go, don’t be afraid to flash that student ID and ask if there are any deals available!

Stay the heck away from debt!

If you really want to save money and build a solid foundation for your future, don’t have debt of any kind. No student loans, no credit cards, no nothing. It will only weigh you down and keep you from hitting your financial goals!

graduation cap

OUT NOW! Watch Borrowed Future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV and Google Play.

There you go, guys––those are just a few of my tips for saving money in college. Making the right plan for your future starts with understanding all of your options. If you need even more advice on how to go to school without student loans, check out Debt-Free Degree. It will give you a practical step-by-step action plan for cash flowing your entire college education (and saving thousands of dollars in the process). Trust me, it is possible!

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Kristina  Ellis

About the author

Kristina Ellis

Kristina Ellis is a bestselling author who believes no student should be burdened by loans. Drawing from her experience of earning over $500K in college scholarships, Kristina helps thousands of students graduate debt-free through her syndicated columns, podcast appearances, online courses and books. She’s a co-host of The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk show in America, which reaches 18 million weekly listeners, and she appeared in the award-winning documentary Borrowed Future. Kristina has appeared on NBC News, Business Insider, Fox & Friends, USA Today and Yahoo!, where she’s shared practical, real-world strategies for going to college without debt. Learn More.

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