8 Smart Moves That Will Help You Save Money in College

You can enjoy life and still save money while going to school. Learn how to save money in college without missing out.
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Dana Sitar
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Dana Sitar, certified educator in personal finance, has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers, and digital media. She's a copywriter and content marketer specializing in fintech and financial services....
Updated on February 22, 2022
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  • You can take advantage of many options to reduce how much you spend on your education.
  • Look for flexible work opportunities to boost your savings account while attending school.
  • Choosing the right financial products can lead to significant savings.
  • You don't have to sacrifice enjoying this time in your life just to save money in college.

In the United States, college often has the reputation of being overly expensive and burying students in debt by the time they graduate. For many students, it feels inevitable — you need to take on education-related debt in order to succeed.

You earn little money while enrolled in school, tuition keeps rising, housing and food near campus are overpriced, and you can't get a job later in life unless you put up with all of this now to earn a degree.

Fortunately, you can take some control of this narrative. With a few smart financial choices, you can reduce how much you spend in college and maybe even start to build a nest egg that'll give you a cushion after graduation.

We're not going to tell you to sacrifice everything that's great about being in college in order to pinch pennies. Don't worry — we know you need to eat. We know you're excited about the prospect of living away from home. And we know you can't always resist a night out after a long week of exams.

So here are some achievable ways to save money in college and start your finances off on the right foot.

1. Get a Cheaper Education

There are tons of ways to make college more affordable, from choosing a less expensive school to renting your textbooks. Limit the money you spend on college so you can boost your savings and reduce the amount of debt you have after graduation.

2. Skip Class (but Still Get Credit)

You can get college credit in a lot of ways that don't involve paying for and attending college classes, including the following:

  • MOOCs: Some massive open online courses offer college credit from accredited schools. You'll pay a fee, but it's likely much lower than the cost of tuition for the same course at your college or university.
  • AP or IB Classes: If you're still in high school, see whether you qualify for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, which award you high school credit while simultaneously preparing you for exams that can earn you college credit.
  • CLEP: The College-Level Examination Program administered by the College Board offers 33 exams for college credit. Through Modern States' Freshman Year for Free program, you can sign up for free CLEP classes and get your exam fees covered.

3. Work a Part-Time Job or Side Gig

Whether you need to pay for your living expenses or not, one of the quickest ways to boost your savings account is to earn more money. Finding time for employment while you're in school can be tough, but you have lots of options for flexible jobs while in college.

Look into campus-based jobs, which are often flexible and cater to student schedules. You can also explore gig apps, online jobs, and freelancing opportunities — each of these options lets you do as much or as little work as you want and on your own time.

4. Live off Campus

Housing is one of the largest expenses for many college students. When you're trying to save money, do what you can to keep housing costs low.

If your school allows you to live off campus, this option is often cheaper than living in a dorm. Additionally, if you can manage a commute, finding an apartment farther away from campus in a cheaper part of town can lead to extra savings. Finally, consider getting a roommate to split housing costs.

5. Share Subscriptions

Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon subscriptions can help you relax and get you through stressful college years — but stacking up monthly subscriptions like these can get costly. Work with friends, family, and roommates to share what you can and split costs.

The learning doesn't need to stop here

Explore the rest of our collection of financial education resources to continue your journey to a healthy financial future.

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6. Choose the Right Bank Account

You'll see lots of banks in your college's town advertising student checking accounts — but those might not always be your best options. An online bank account could offer you the same (or better) perks.

To find an account that can help you save money and grow with you when you leave school, look for accounts with the following:

  • No monthly fees or ATM fees
  • Cash back on debit card purchases
  • No overdraft fees (or optional overdraft protection)

7. Choose the Right Credit Card

Credit cards can be risky for anyone, especially if you're in college and just starting to get your financial footing. But getting a credit card now — and using it carefully — can help you establish a good credit history that'll come in handy if you ever want to buy a house or refinance your student loans after college.

Look for a credit card with the following features:

  • No annual fee
  • Low spending limit
  • Low interest rates
  • Flexible repayment options or payment assistance programs

Alternatively, you could become an authorized user on a parent's or other family member's credit card — and then cut up the card. As long as your family member is creditworthy, you can benefit from building credit without being responsible for a card yourself.

8. Take Advantage of Student Perks

Even if you live off campus, you probably have access to on-campus amenities like a gym, a student health center, museums, events, and more. Take advantage of these to avoid spending money on private amenities.

Also, take your student ID with you everywhere you go, and don't be shy about asking whether businesses offer a student discount. You might be surprised at the money-saving perks you'll discover around town!

Feature Image: Inthon Maitrisamphan / EyeEm / Getty Images