You’ve undoubtedly have heard stories about poor college students having a tough time. But the fact is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Anyone can make some extra cash immediately. The key to how to save money in college is simpler than you think. It all begins with setting a goal.
Prepare Yourself/Manage Your Money
For many students, college is the first time you’ll be in a situation where you must manage your money on your own. Mom and Dad aren’t there to bail you out every time. The best solution is to have a plan for your money to get the most out of it.
Create a Budget and Stick to It
The single most important you can do is to make a budget and stick to it—no matter what. Even if you call home for cash, it still takes time to make a bank transfer. And remember, overdraft charges add up fast and can create a vicious circle.
Figure out how much you have to work with and where you can allocate your funds. Be realistic about what expenses you have and what things cost. Don’t be shy about asking your parents for help. They’ve had plenty of experience budgeting so that you could go to college.
Apply for Scholarships
One of the biggest mistakes college students make, is not applying for scholarships. College is expensive (and it's not getting any cheaper), so you need to take advantage of any and all opportunities to remove some of your tuition costs. By not applying for scholarships, you are essentially overspending on tuition. Scholarships are one of the best ways to save money in college. There's free money to be gained, and the only thing you have to lose, is the time it took to apply.
I understand that actually finding the scholarships can be difficult, but there are services available to help. One of the easiest ways to learn about scholarships, is by asking your career services or financial aid departments on campus for help. Typically, you can find scholarship opportunities that are only available to students at your college. It's also worthwhile to look into services like ScholarshipOwl and ScholarshipPoints to browse large databases of scholarship opportunities.
Maximize the Summer
Summer offers great opportunities to make extra money to pad your budget. You can cram a lot of extra work hours in without the pressure of classes and grades during the school year. Rather than partying through the summer, make the most out of your free time and save as much money as you can.
Save as Much Money as You Can
Taking on extra work during the summer will get you a lot of more cash without infringing on your studies. However, your time is better spent if you keep it in the bank. Remember that the more you save in the summer, the more money you’ll have during the school year when your focus is on your classes.
Your main reason for going to school is to get an education and decent grades. If you can save money from summer work, you won’t have to worry about getting a job when you need to hit the books.
Take Online or Community College Courses to Get Ahead or Caught Up
College isn’t like high school where summers are carefree times. Instead, they are perfect opportunities to catch up on your courses by taking a summer class. And if you take it online or in a community college, you’ll save a lot of cash especially if you go to four-year school.
Besides, it’s a smart way to get through a boring prerequisite in a faster amount of time. It’s also an excellent chance to get your degree earlier to save even more money. An extra semester or two isn’t cheap when you can graduate sooner by taking summer classes at a reduced cost.
Be Careful with Credit Cards
You’ll likely receive an offer for a credit card at some point during college. On the one hand, it’s a great opportunity to build your credit for when you graduate. But it can also lead to big problems if you’re not careful. Before you apply, do your homework first to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Get Lowest Interest Rate
If you go the credit card route, be sure and make smart choices to keep your costs in check. Don’t take the first credit card you see. Shop around to get the lowest interest rate to keep your expenses down without paying extra fees.
Some cards offer a limited interest-free period or even cash back on purchases. But be sure and read the fine print. Some banks may charge higher interest rates for cash withdrawals or require an annual fee after the first year. Learn all the fees including charges for late payments and transfers.
Charge Only What You Can Afford
It’s easy to fall into the credit card trap when you get a decent credit line. Don’t make the mistake of letting it burn a hole in your pocket. Charge only what you can afford to pay back. The last thing you want to do in college is to add to your debt especially if you have student loans too.
Pay Off Full Balance on Time
Interest on a credit card balance adds up over time making that great deal a lot more expensive down the road. Avoid overpaying by paying off your full balance on time to avoid late fees and interest expenses. It’s also an excellent way to build your credit and get a good credit rating for purchases after college.
Open a Savings Account That Earns Interest
Remember that advice about making more money during the summer? Put that cash into a savings account that earns interest so that you can make extra cash. The chances are that it won’t be a lot, but anything you make adds up. Remember to check on any requirements for deposits or a minimum balance to avoid paying a monthly maintenance fee.
Be Aware of Your Money
You should always be aware of your bank balance at all times so that you can keep to your budget. It’ll also help you avoid bank fees if you overdraw your account. Don’t waste your money needlessly on unnecessary charges when it’s so easy to avoid. Many banks offer notifications so that you’ll know when funds are getting short.
Do Not Go to ATMs That Charge a Fee
Beware of the hidden and small fees like ATM charges. Some places will add a convenience fee in addition to what your bank charges you. Instead, go to your bank’s ATM. Most will allow a number of free transactions each month. You can also go to ATMs that don’t add a surcharge like Sheetz and Wawa.
Entertainment and food represent some of the biggest temptations you’ll have to spend outside of your budget. It’s essential to rein in your spending and train your willpower to avoid a cash crunch down the road. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to save money right away.
Cut Out Drinking, But…
Sure, there are the parties. But if you want to save some serious cash, cut out or at least limit your drinking. You can stick to drinking only on the weekends rather than going out every night. Remember, you still have to study. If you don’t want to limit your social time, you can still save money in other ways.
Buy the Cheap Stuff in Bulk
As tempting as it may be, there’s no reason you have to reach for the top shelf brands. The cheaper brands will do just fine especially if you’re using mixers anyway. You’ll save some money going with larger sizes too. Be sure to stick with the beer budget.
Do Not Go to the Bar
As fun as it is to go to the bar, you’ll save a lot of cash by sticking close to home when you’re drinking. Think about how much you’re paying for that one beer versus the 6-pack or case at the liquor store. If you do go out, only bring a set amount of money so that you don’t go over your budget.
Cut Out Smoking as Much as Possible
Smoking is an expensive habit with prices upward of $10 a pack and still rising. Do your budget and your body a favor and cut out smoking. And if you don’t smoke, don’t start. It’s a surefire way to ruin your budget fast.
Never Buy Music Singles
We all have our favorite songs, but buying music downloads is an unnecessary expense. You can have all the tunes you want with a subscription service such as Spotify or Apple Music. Both offer college student discounts at $5 a month with access to all the albums in their collection. You’ll often find free versions for viewing and listening available on YouTube.
Take Advantage of Deals and Coupons at the Grocery Store
College is probably the first time you’re shopping regularly at a grocery store. Take advantage of the deals and sales they offer. Many places have loyalty programs that can save you even more cash. And don’t forget coupons. Some stores may offer special savings when you subscribe to their newsletter. Learn more about smart grocery shopping.
Make Your Own Coffee
If you buy coffee on campus, you’re wasting tons of money to get your caffeine fix. Instead, get a coffeemaker or a French press to make your own joe. And we’re willing to bet it will taste a whole lot better when it’s made fresh every time.
Take Advantage of Your Meal Plan
Colleges today have taken the cafeteria style menu to a whole new level with better food options and offerings for special diets. You bought the meal plan; use it. Many universities offer flexible dining hours and all-you-can-eat specials so that you can save on your food budget.
Books will likely be one of your biggest expenses in college. While you can’t avoid them altogether, there are a few things you can do to keep your costs down. Use your money wisely by being practical with your purchases.
Check the Syllabus and Speak to the Professor
First, check to see if you even need the book. Often professors do not use the assigned book very much. And even if they do, they’re not using the entire volume. If the course requires more than one book, see if you can get just the main textbook. You can also save money on books by taking good notes and practicing effective study habits instead.
Borrow Books from Friends
The chances are you won’t use your books all the time—and neither will your friends. Help each other out with expenses by borrowing books and sharing the costs. Don’t forget to check with friends who may already have taken the course and have the book that you can borrow.
Rent, Never Buy
Unless you think you’ll need it for a reference book, always rent and never buy your textbooks. You’ll often find that many of them get updated frequently, making your purchase outdated. And that means less money back at the end of the year when you return them. You might also consider splitting the price and sharing the book with a trustworthy friend
Ask About E-Books and Older Versions
You’ll find more textbooks are available as e-books or online. The cost is often considerably less than buying the physical book. Check with your professor to see if these are viable options. You should also ask about older editions of textbooks. These books are often a fraction of the cost of the latest copy and cover most of the material.
Take Advantage of Your School Library
Don’t forget your school library as a way to get a hold of a textbook. You’ll be able to take one out for free and forgo any expense. Even if it’s an earlier version, you’ll likely find the major concepts are covered. If you can’t take it out, find out if it’s available as a reference book that you can use in the library. And don’t forget about an interlibrary loan if it’s not on the shelf.
Shop for the Best Prices for a Laptop
Many stores offer student discounts or rebates as part of their back-to-school specials. Take advantage of them. You’ll often find that the savings are substantial. Be sure and check with the campus store and online stores too.
Most colleges will have a license to offer software such as Microsoft Office free to registered students. The same thing may apply to other specialty software such as statistics and design packages. Don’t buy any programs until you check what applications that your student status give you access.
Going to college is a major investment in time and money. Make the most of it by spending your cash wisely and sticking to a budget. You’ll save more money and have cash in your pocket at the end of the year. It’ll probably end up being one of the best lessons you get out your education.