How To Save Money In College – 23 Actionable Tips That Actually Work

Since graduating from college and working full-time, I’ve started to notice I’m experiencing elements of lifestyle creep.

Between going out more often with friends, shopping for clothing, or buying alcohol that doesn’t taste like diesel fuel, I’m definitely spending more money every month on frivolous purchases than when I was in school.

I decided to look back on some of my old posts about money saving tips for students, and I realized my old post on the topic was missing a tonne of information so I figured a complete re-write was in order.

If you’re looking for the ultimate list of ways to save money while in school, this is the post for you!

This post will be broken into frugal tips surrounding:

  • Food budgeting.
  • Rent/utilities.
  • Tuition, textbooks, and school expenses.
  • Entertainment.
  • Some money saving freebies for students.

Let’s get to it!

Saving Money In School – Food Related Expenses:

A quick personal tidbit before I get into some saving tips for students.

When I was in college, I lived in a house that was nicknamed ‘The Grease Pit.’

See, The Grease Pit was, well, incredibly greasy.

I lived with 3 other male roommates, and our inability to create a viable cleaning schedule, frequent parties, and blatant disregard for the structural integrity of the house basically meant we lived in swampy mess of our own garbage and neglect.

college-life
Absolute anarchy.

Now, the thing about living in absolute squalor is that it makes you resilient. Yes, we lived like animals, but those 4 years of life were incredibly frugal and we definitely came up with some effective money saving solutions to get by.

Anyways, I’m going to share all of these tips (and more) with you, courtesy of my greasy heritage.

1 – Eat 10 to 15 Food Items TOPS:

One of the easiest ways to save money while in school is to simplify your entire grocery bill into as few items as possible.

My roommate actually devised the perfect college menu when he was in school and it consisted of:

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast, or plain oatmeal mixed in with yogurt and frozen berries.
  • Lunch: Rice/beans, veggie mix (either frozen peas and carrots or some frozen green beans), and minced chicken or turkey.
  • Dinner: Repeat lunch.

This foundation, plus a few extra items every now and again like fruit or some different sort of vegetable created an extremely lean but effective diet. Buy treats or something exciting every once in a while, but stick to the core diet.

The secret isn’t to live off of Kraft dinner or Ramen (you’ll just get scurvy and die this way). Rather, you should create a simple but nutrient dense meal plan and stick to it. Cutting the fat from your grocery bill is one of the simplest ways to save money as a student.

2 – Buy In Bulk:

One benefit of buying a limited number of food items is that you can shop in bulk to save money.

Find the closest bulk food supply store, Costco, or place you can stock up on essentials and go to town! Don’t be afraid about buying an absurd amount of food in one go if it won’t spoil and if the savings make sense.

3 – Only Shop On Student Discount Days:

Almost every grocery store in my city gave between 5-10% off on certain days of the week to students.

For some reason I never diligently shopped on these days, but that was a missed opportunity.

Find out when stores offer student discounts and take note. If you can shop once a week for food and only on discount days, you can save money on your grocery bill throughout your entire degree!

4 – Meal Prep Regularly:

Eating out or ordering delivery is the bane of college students. Events like drunken Uber Eats at 2am or exam season pizza binges can easily sink a student budget.

If you want to save money during school, you need to meal prep on a regular basis.

With your frugal grocery list in hand, it should be incredibly to plan out your meals and cook several portions at a time every couple of days. Having readily available meals will reduce the likelihood you cave in and order food, and you can even freeze meals for backup.

I highly suggest investing in a cheap rice cooker and set of glass containers that you can use to make meal prepping a breeze.

5 – Delete Temptation:

Speaking of ordering food online, sometimes, the best way to avoid over-spending is to get rid of temptation entirely.

After a complicated, tumultuous relationship with Skip The Dishes, one of my old roommates made the tough decision to delete the app from his phone.

Trust me, if you have apps like Skip The Dishes on your phone you will use them. 

Delete the apps, unsubscribe from their email marketing, and just download the app again when you order food next time (it takes 30 seconds and this extra step makes it harder to purchase food on a whim).

6 – Use Price Match Apps:

Alright, back to some technology related money saving tips since that is really what This Online World is all about.

Almost every major grocery store offers price matching these days, and you don’t even need to use flyers or coupons anymore thanks to price match apps.

Personally, I use Flipp to quickly scan for coupons and deals or to price match various grocery items at checkout. I don’t use it as often as I should, but it’s an incredibly straightforward way to save money while in college.

flipp-money-saving-app-for-students

I shop primarily at Walmart and NoFrills, and I still find great deals through Flipp, so this isn’t just for fancy grocery store shoppers!

7 – Use Receipt Scanning Apps When Possible:

I’ve written a post on the best grocery cashback apps and I currently use Checkout 51 and Caddle to earn cashback for buying various items.

The downside to having a minimal grocery list is that you won’t qualify for many of the offers on some cashback apps, but for random purchases like medication or cooking supplies/kitchenware, they can come in handy.

Again, these apps won’t break the bank, but you can probably make $20-$40 a year without too much effort by using some of these apps!

8 – Set An Alcohol Budget/Be Efficient:

Learning how to budget as a student is incredibly important, especially when it comes to food or alcohol.

I find that grocery bills for a single person are fairly consistent. Alcohol on the other hand is definitely more volatile based on events you attend, the season, or how many memories you’re in desperate need of forgetting.

Set a monthly alcohol budget and stick to it.

I didn’t do this in college, and while I don’t drink often, grabbing pints at restaurants or random new beers from the Beer Store can add up surprisingly fast.

If you want to cut down on costs in school, outline how much you will spend on alcohol, and consider drinking efficiently as well.

If you want to drink for enjoyment, consider buying a few high quality beverages over many shit ones. Similarly, if you goal is complete and utter destruction of your liver, don’t waste money on boujee brands, just buy Old English.

old-english-beer

9 – Buy A Flask:

I want to outline money saving tips for students that are actually practical/methods I have used or seen, not just your average list of common sense ideas.

If you frequently go to bars or clubs while in school, I definitely suggest buying a flask so you can bring your own alcohol into an establishment.

A small flask is easy to sneak into a bar, and I’ve seen countless people do this without getting caught. It’s a simple but easy way to cut down on your alcohol spending, and you can drink in the bathroom stall like every other frugal degenerate has done before you.

Rent & Utilities – Reducing The Cost of Living:

Once your food and alcohol budgets are sorted, it’s time to turn your money-saving focus towards another necessity: rent and utility bills.

10 – Embrace Student Life:

One of the best parts about living in a house that resembled a crack den was how cheap rent was.

During college I started out by paying $450/month to live in a student housing complex that was fairly close to campus, banks, and a grocery store.

I lived with fantastic roommates, and having multiple people in the same house helped keep utilities at a manageable level (4 people splitting on internet alone makes a difference). Utilities never surpassed $50/month because of the shared bills.

In my final year of college I moved in with my now ex-girlfriend (don’t do this), paid $750/month in rent (don’t do this), and probably spent closer to $80/month on utilities (don’t do this).

The point is: take student life for what it is and don’t rush to get out of it.

I deeply regret rushing through that phase of my life, and there were certainly many advantages to living like a student that also help save money. Sure, I started work sooner and eventually got my own place, but I still could have finished my degree early while working a 9-5 job and stayed with my roommates for one more year.

Live with a bunch of your close friends in a rundown house for your entire college career and save as much money on rent as you can. Trust me.

11 – Furnish For Free?

We never bought a single sofa for our student house, and I don’t even think we really purchased chairs or much in the way of furniture in general.

If you want a frugal college experience, stick with what old tenants left behind or find free shit on Kijiji.

One of the funniest moments I had in college was when my roommates brought back a free Kijiji sofa that had springs falling out the bottom of it as they carried it through the door. The thing was incredibly uncomfortable but it really did bond us.

12 – Work With Your Landlord:

Unless your landlord lives right around the corner from you, showing up to their rental property to fix problems or conduct general maintenance is a hassle.

If you can learn how to do basic household maintenance or fix problems like clogged drains, toilet issues, or whatever else needs to be done, you can probably offer to do the work for your landlord in exchange for payment.

In college our landlord lived an hour away, and he made plenty of offers over the years for us to do work like painting or even to show the house to future tenants in exchange for money.

If you sense an opportunity to make some extra money (which can be applied against your rent), take action.

13 – Negotiate Internet Bills:

If you are in charge of paying the internet bill for your student house, make sure you stay as the account holder for at least one year/for as long as possible so you can eventually negotiate your internet bill.

My housemates and I never did this, but in hindsight, we definitely could have threatened to move to Bell and had Rogers drop their monthly price for us if we had just bothered to ask.

Saving On School Related Expenses:

Once you’ve saved as much money as possible on the necessities, it’s time to start tackling the most unfortunate part about going to school in the first place: the price tag.

14 – Actually Apply To Scholarships & Competitions:

Everyone intends to apply for scholarships or competitions, but almost no one ever does (and this is why you have to start trying).

An entrance scholarship helped save me $5,000 in tuition at my college, and one of my college side hustles was to enter a marketing competition where I ended up winning $1,000.

Look around for opportunities for free money. They will promptly stop the second you graduate school, more or less, so take advantage of the chance while you still can.

15- Opt Out Of Useless Services:

If you take a close look at your student fees or where all your tuition money goes, you will notice there are dozens of random associations and clubs that get a slice of the pie.

While you can’t opt out of everything, many colleges let students recoup some of their tuition for things like dental or optical coverage if they are insured elsewhere/under their parents plan.

If you already have coverage, don’t be lazy: opt out of things you don’t need to save a few hundred bucks.

16 – Pirate Textbooks:

2zo9m1

Maybe this is a Canadian thing, but no one really seems to give a damn if you pirate things up here.

If you do some digging on Reddit, you can find plenty of great sources or methods to download your textbooks for free. Sure, the edition might not always be correct, and you have to navigate a confusing labyrinth of sketchy Russian sites and viruses to find what you’re looking for, but it is worth it.

Pirating Creatively procuring my textbooks online helped save me hundreds of dollars during college, and you can download anything you need over your campus/dorm WiFi or public WiFi if you are concerned about the process.

Plenty of my friends downloaded textbooks, and the worst that ever happened was a slap on the wrist from Campus IT support.

17 – Sell Textbooks:

If you’re going to end up with a bunch of electronic textbooks versions on your laptop…I mean…you might as well…

Selling textbooks online for $10 a pop was the easiest, fastest money I have (theoretically, I don’t do anything bad ever @legal disclaimer) made in college.

Students are always looking for cheap alternatives to the criminally expensive textbooks profs push, and you will sell textbooks like hotcakes through various Facebook groups or even local classifieds.

Plus, if a textbook sticks around for long enough, you can sell it throughout multiple semesters to earn even more money.

18 – Don’t Buy Textbooks:

This is by far the most straightforward way to save money in college but no one seems willing to do this for some reason.

Sometimes, you don’t need to buy a textbook.

For example, I took a stupid but required course called ‘Individuals and Groups in Organizations.’ The textbook cost something like $120.

The course was essentially about learning how people function in the workplace, and was some social well-being bullshit that is all common sense anyways. It’s the type of course you can do extremely well on coming right off the street.

Didn’t buy the book, did fine in the class, and didn’t waste money. Textbooks are resources, and if you don’t need the resource, don’t pay for it. Besides, you can usually rent textbooks from the library if you need to study a specific chapter.

Other Ways To Save Money In School:

Once you’ve cut costs on food, rent, and school expenses, you can use these other simple methods to save even more money.

19 – Always Use A Cashback Credit Card:

Forget what they say about being too young to use a credit card. If you can drink, vote, and legally marry someone, learn how to use a credit card and start earning cashback without overspending.

I used a credit card all throughout college, but I was foolish and never got one with cashback rewards. Even if you receive 1% cash back, it will add up over the years.

Check out these other nifty money savings and budgeting apps as well!

20 – Use Cashback Apps:

I’ve written posts on ways to save money when shopping online or awesome cashback apps you can use, and while they don’t lead to an insane amount of savings, getting in the habit is worth it.

Shopping online can already help save money, so you might as well use some cashback apps to recoup even more cost.

I personally use Drop, Ebates, and Honey at the moment to save. Drop is nice because it is completely passive as well, so I recommend checking it out!

21 – Take Advantage Of Student Deals:

If you subscribe to services like Amazon Prime, Spotify, Apple Music, or a myriad of other subscription services, you should be on the lookout for student prices and promos.

If you have a .edu email, you can usually signup for student deals during college and even afterwards for as long as the email account stays active. Long story short, avoid paying full price for as long as you can!

22 – Use A High-Interest Savings Account (At Minimum):

Even if you don’t invest your money while in school, you should at least park your money somewhere it can earn interest.

Personally, I used Tangerine’s (Canada only) high interest savings account to save money in college with whatever spare money I had between semesters, and it added up.

New Tangerine clients earn up to 2.75% for their first 6 months, and you can also earn up to $100 by opening a Tangerine bank account.

To recieve this bonus:

  •  

If Tangerine isn’t your thing, you can use other high interest savings accounts or take a look at apps like Peak Money!

23 – Tax Refunds & Breaks:

I’m no tax expert, but I do know there are plenty of ways to save money as a student thanks to various tax laws.

If you can claim your rent and tuition while informing the government that you are basically broke, you should be able to get a decent of money back on your tax return (if you have a job) or even as benefit payments.

Again, look into the laws for your given country/state, but don’t pass up on pity free money!

Final Thoughts:

Well, there you have it, 23 actually useful student money saving tips from a recent college grad who lived in the greasiest of homes.

College is incredibly expensive and money can be tight while you pursue an education, but you don’t have to live beyond your means.

Stick to a budget, live frugally, start a side hustle or pick up some work if you need to make ends meet, and just be smart. Additionally, remember that grades are not really that important if your resume can back you up, and please don’t forget to live a little 😛

Catch you guys in the next one!

Tom

P.S. thanks to my roommates for making college what it was and for reading my blog.

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Taylor Ferguson

Thank you Tom for this amazing and realistic list. You already saved me a ton of money. I finished my first year of school and it never dawned on me to check the health and dental insurance that is included in my school fees. I am covered by my parents’ policy. I will cancel the school insurance for my new school year and this will save me a few hundred dollars each year. I vowed to myself to take that money I would have lost this way and invest it. Wash, rinse and repeat for four more years and it… Read more »