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How to save money in college

Updated on January 18, 2011

Preparing for college

Making financial decisions will be an important part of your life after high school. If you haven't had to deal with the responsibilities of saving money during or before high school then college is the perfect opportunity for you to learn how to do so.

Every year millions of students head off to college, but many of them are unaware of how quickly money can be spent on the most trivial things. While a lot of kids have financial help from their parents, over 75% of students are not that lucky. The four key areas that your money will be spent on are housing, food, travel and entertainment. After attending college the first time around I prepared more cautiously before my next go around.


Housing, food and travel seem to revolve more around the location of your housing. Keep in mind that there may be some small sacrifices and new things you have to get used to in order to save money. The cheapest housing while attending college are dorm rooms. For example, the most expensive community college dorm room in my local area is $800 per semester. The cheapest I could find was $600 per semester. Just to assume that you want the more expensive dorm room we will say that you are going to spend around $1500 per year on dorm room expenses. For approximately 8 months out of the year you will only be paying $188 per month for a room with electricity, central heat and air, cable television and wi-fi internet service (in most dorms). Compare that to an apartment where you will spend at least $350, $175 if you split it between two people, per month along with a $125 electric bill, $25 water bill, $50 cable bill and $50 wi-fi bill, totaling $425 easily. While many dorm rooms do require you to share a bathroom and/or shower the savings you can get from staying in a dorm room are well worth it.

Food & Travel

Tying in with dorm rooms is also your food and travel expenses. Almost all dorm rooms are within walking distance to your daily classes. This may not save you a ton of money on gas, but don't be surprised if you save upwards of $600 per year just by walking to class.

Food is by far the most expensive area you will have to address while in college. There is a lot of free time and usually more time on one's hand means they eat or go out more. A lot of money can be spent on take out and dine in food while in college. If you only eat out once a day it will cost you approximately $800 per semester. Believe it or not, many colleges have tried to help their students save money on eating expenses by making purchasing a meal ticket mandatory if you live in a dormitory. When you first look at the price of a meal ticket it may seem a little expensive, but if you break it down you are actually getting a lot more for your money. I don't understand how colleges make money if every student eats like I do. The most expensive meal ticket I could find cost $890 per semester. The meal ticket consists of 19 meals per week. You get 3 meals a day Monday-Saturday and a Sunday Brunch or Dinner. A meal ticket usually last from 15-18 weeks or however long the semester is at the college you are attending. At this price, even if you only have 15 week semesters, you will only be paying a little over $3 per meal. Most cafeterias give you more than enough to fill yourself up and usually allow you to go back for additional servings. For comparison purposes you can expect to save $600 per semester easily just by purchasing a meal ticket and that's assuming you only go out to eat a couple days per week. Even if you choose not to live in a dorm room, you can still purchase a meal ticket and save more money than going out to eat or buying groceries.


Entertainment is probably the area where most money will be wasted while in college. Considering that most students take 19 hours per semester that means that there is a lot of free time on their hands. Filling that void can lead to wasting a lot of money. I encourage everyone to get involved in campus activities. Whether it be going to a sporting event, a school play, or actually competing in college or intramural sports, take advantage of the experiences. You will meet friends, which can become a source of entertainment in the future as well. For those who like playing video games, buy a game system. If you compare a $300 game system to having 6 or 7 nights out on the town that cost $50 per night, then buying a game system will serve you many more days and nights of entertainment. Not to say that going out on the town is a bad thing, in fact every student should experience that while in college because there will be nothing like it after college.

Every student should take advantage of their school's workout facility. If you apply a 3 day workout routing to your week, you will fill a large gap in your spare time and hopefully avoid the dreaded "Freshman Fifteen" or as I have heard second year students say "Sophomore Sixteen". Trust me the freshman fifteen is not an old wives tale.

Need more money for college?

There are many more ways to save money while in college, but I hope this helps some of the first year students who don't know what to look forward to. If you are still uncertain if you will have enough money for college please check out my tips on Pell Grants and Financial Aid. Thousands of students qualify for financial aid every year. Thousands more don't even apply for it when they would have been eligible. Don't miss out on your opportunity to have a great, less stressful college experience.


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    • Betty Johansen profile image

      Betty Johansen 6 years ago

      Great advice, Fenixfan. And I think you've hit upon an area of real need. Even if the numbers at other colleges don't match those you've quoted, you given new students some ideas to help them do their own research.

      I don't remember having so much free time on my hands during my college years, but I applaud your entertainment suggestions. Getting involved in campus activities will help the budget and, let's face it, it's never to early to start networking. Those college contacts may prove invaluable some day.

    • Fenixfan profile image

      Fenixfan 6 years ago from Mississippi

      I guess I had so much free time because I took the bulk of my classes in two days. It seemed like I had 3 or 4 days out of the week with nothing to do. I was always the student who just did my HW right after it was assigned so I wouldn't have to worry about it.

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