Savvy Financial Tips for College Students

Those all-important four years you spend at college will undoubtedly be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. They will also represent one of the most expensive outlays of your entire life. The College Board estimates the average cost of attending a public college in the academic year 2013 - 2014 to be $36,139. That already staggering figure rises to $44,757 in the case of students choosing to attend private school.

Public School
Private School
Tuition and Fees
Housing and Meals
Books and Supplies
Personal Expenses

While students choosing to live at home can often make significant savings on the cost of housing and meals, there is little disputing the fact that college is going to set you back a fair bit in terms of finances. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can make the most of your income and save money in college.


It’s Not About Eating Beans on Toast

Living cheaply as a college student is not about eating beans on toast for four years. It’s not about staying in while your friends go out and party. It’s certainly not about going without. Rather, it’s about making sensible decisions concerning money and your expenditure. It’s about thinking smart when it comes to money - and of course - seeking out cheaper alternatives to the things you love, want, and need.

The First Three Things that Every College Student Should Do

Before you even start to think about saving money at college, there are three things that you absolutely should do


Apply for Student Loans

  • Ensure that you apply for financial support. The U.S Department of Education offers subsidized and unsubsidized college loans that can help cover the cost of education in part or in full. You can apply for low interest student loans via Federal Student Aid.

Apply for Scholarships

  • Explore the possibilities of receiving an additional scholarship or grant. Almost 15 million college students enjoy additional financial support each year - so don’t be the one to leave money that you’re entitled to on the table.

Create a Student Budget

  • Create a sensible budget. In the early stages (before you get to college) there might be an element of guesswork. Once you have a better idea of the state of your finances, you can revise your budget accordingly. In the meantime, work with what you already know to ensure you have a realistic idea of how much money you will - or won’t - have to play with at college.

The Best Things in Life are Free (or Cheaper)

From free wifi and free textbooks to sharing costs and seeking out cheaper alternatives, there are many ways to save money at college.

Free Wifi

While you could in theory save a ton of money by going without a phone, that’s probably a stretch too far for most people. You can however save money on data charges by making use of free wifi hotspots. Find one easily by downloading one of the free wifi apps from the iTunes store or Google Play. If you find that there are no free hotspots within range of where you need wifi regularly, you should check out phone tariffs with unlimited data instead.


Free Textbooks

College topics typically come complete with a reading list to rival Santa’s naughty list. Buying textbooks brand new is a sure fire way to put a significant dent in your finances. The obvious way to get your hands on free textbooks is to pay a visit to the library, but you’ll have to be quick. You might also search for free textbooks online - or at the very least pool your finances with other students and share books. Digital versions of books are also worth looking at - as they are usually considerably cheaper than a physical book.

International Student Identity Card

Student discounts are there to be enjoyed, so don’t miss out on the great discounts that are available. The International Student Identity Card costs from $25 - in return you can enjoy more than 40,000 discounts worldwide - around 2,300 in the US alone. Used wisely, the savings made will pay for the card many times over. You should also sign up for Groupon emails to ensure that you don’t miss out on deals for your favourite restaurants and activities - remembering to only buy the things you would have bought anyway.


Share the Costs

It’s not just the cost of textbooks that can be brought down by sharing the expense with other students. If you’re living in a dorm or a house share, you can bring down the cost of everyday essentials simply by pooling your funds and buying in bulk. Just make sure that you have the space to store all those toilet rolls. You might also club together to buy a printer - thus saving yourself the somewhat extortionate costs involved in using the college printer. Even if you only team up with one other student - you’ll be able to take advantage of buy one get one free offers to each get your shopping effectively half price.

Cooking Leaves Packaged Foods in the Dirt

Not only is packaged food pretty unhealthy, it will always cost you more than healthy alternatives in the long run. Do yourself a favour and invest in a cookbook - and then go ahead and learn how to cook a few key meals. Rope in a few friends to do the same and you could have your own supper club going on - each night one of you could cook a meal for the others. Get the ingredients for your healthier meals cheaper by visiting the grocery store close to closing time to take advantage of last minute discounts - and it probably goes without saying that you should also make an effort to master the art of couponing.

Extreme Couponing College Student Saves $300 a Month

Attractive Alternatives

Another way for you to save money at college is to keep your eye out for cheaper alternatives. You might drop down a brand on the food you buy (you probably won’t notice the difference), or rent a movie to watch at home instead of splashing out on a cinema ticket. If you’re in need of a haircut, why not wait until you can see a trainee? Always, always, always ask for a student discount - just because they are not advertised, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not available. Even better than cheap is free, so be sure to sign up for your local freecycle network. You might not land yourself the latest laptop, but you never know.

Three More Money Saving Tips for Students

  • A Regular Paycheck

    It’s hardly unheard of for people to work to get themselves through college. Getting a part time job offers a range of benefits - the chance to have more disposable income while at college and the opportunity to learn new skills and make yourself more employable as a result. You could even try to get a position at your favourite store. Staff discount, anyone? If you’d like some advice on effective job hunting strategies, check out these seven ways to stand out from the crowd.

  • Make Smart Financial Choices

    Life as a college student will often be your first experience of true independence. It’s up to you to make smart choices about money - no one else will make them for you. Take a moment to think before you make important financial decisions. The bank that offers you a free laptop may not necessarily be the best choice of account. In a similar vein, the student credit card that lets you build up reward points is counter productive if you don’t clear your balance in full each month.

  • Consider Community College

    Opting for a 2+2 college plan - where you study at a community college for two years before moving to another university for your final two years - can represent a significant saving on the overall cost of a college education. You just need to ensure that your chosen college is credited for your planned choice of university - otherwise you run the risk of having to repeat those first two years - which in the long run will cost you significantly more.

The Best Years of Your Life

College is often referred to as the best years of your life. It’s a time when you are able to set out the kind of life you intend to leave, a time to develop into the person you are destined to become, and a time to make friendships that will last a lifetime.

The rose tinted glow of the best years of your life can soon wear off if you leave college with an unmanageable amount of personal debt.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Comments 2 comments

Diana Chin profile image

Diana Chin 2 years ago from Ozone Park, NY

This was a very helpful article. Thanks for sharing! :)

merseyblue profile image

merseyblue 2 years ago from Liverpool, UK Author

Thanks Diana :)

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