College enrollment continues to increase among people of all backgrounds as they pursue the specialized knowledge and hands-on training necessary for career entry and advancement. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, nearly 20 million students enrolled in higher education programs in fall 2018. Enrollment growth coincides with escalating tuition prices and related costs, making college attendance a substantial investment in time and money. A report from the College Board for the 2018-2019 academic year shows that the average private four-year institution charges students $48,510 annually. Students who attend public universities pay $21,370-$37,430 per year depending on their residency status.

Fortunately, most students benefit from financial aid, including government funds, institutional grants, and private scholarships. Learners who enroll in online academic programs enjoy some of the lowest tuition rates available and distinct funding opportunities. You can take your financial situation into your own hands by using computer and mobile applications, many of which are free and available across diverse operating systems. By regularly using money-saving apps, you can develop healthy budgeting and spending habits, which help build a solid foundation for your financial future.

This guide covers personal finance for college students, including tools and tips on how to manage money. This will also provide insight on paying off debt and saving money. The guide ends with links to additional information and resources.

Best Apps for Managing Money

This section contains the best money-saving apps for college students. The list does not use a hierarchical ranking system but does consider factors like cost, ease of use, and major benefits. You should pick the apps that best align with your spending habits and financial goals. By pairing weekly check-ins with another task, like grocery shopping, you can turn money management into a habit.

Mint

With over 20 million users, Mint is one of the most popular money-saving apps on the market. The app uses mobile and browser-based interfaces and operates across iOs, Android, Windows, and Amazon devices. Mint automatically links to credit card, investment, and bank accounts, drawing on data to help you establish and maintain budgets. The app allows you to track transactions and analyze spending trends to make adjustments as necessary. Mint also sends alerts when you exceed your budget, when a bill is due, and if the app senses unusual spending activities.

Perks
  • Automatic synching enables easy use
  • In-depth budgeting features
  • Free credit score
Tip Yourself

Tip Yourself is a free app that helps you save money through positive reinforcement. Think of it as a reverse "swear jar" where you transfer money to a secured savings account as a reward for accomplishments, good behavior, or just because you feel like it. Tip Yourself lets you establish goals and keeps track of your progress toward achieving these objectives. The app also operates a social feature, allowing you to share your tipping habits and progress with friends and family.

Perks
  • Automatic syncing enables easy use
  • Goal-oriented money management strategy
Acorns

This investment app helps you save money by funneling loose change into a computer-managed portfolio. Acorns rounds up transactions from approved credit card and bank accounts to the nearest dollar and turns that money into investments. The portfolio comprises exchange-traded funds that align with your income and financial goals. Students use Acorns for free; everyone else pays $1 for a basic taxable investment account. As with any other form of investment, earnings can shrink based on market fluctuations.

Perks
  • Passive investment makes saving money easy
  • By spending money with a company partner (like AirBnB), users receive extra returns on their savings
QAPITAL

Another free, goal-oriented money-saving app, QAPITAL enables you to set the rules for automated savings. You can decide to round up credit and debit card transactions to the nearest dollar and transfer that money to a goal account protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Alternatively, you can contribute a lump sum to the funds on a designated schedule, like on every payday. QAPITAL also facilitates group accounts, enabling you to save money toward collective goals with loved ones.

Perks
  • Goal-oriented money management strategy
  • QAPITAL offers a debit card that facilitates free purchases and transfers
Chime

Chime is an alternative banking company that exclusively uses a mobile platform. You receive a checking account, a debit card, and an optional savings account. You can engage with Chime's passive-savings feature, allowing the bank to round up transactions to the nearest dollar and sweep that money into a designated account. Alternatively, you may choose to deposit 10% of every paycheck into the savings account. As an added incentive, Chime offers a 10% bonus (up to $500 per year).

Perks
  • Convenient direct deposit option
  • Chime does not charge monthly, overdraft, or foreign transaction fees

Personal Finance Tips For Students

In addition to using money-saving apps, you can improve your financial status by changing the way you think about spending and saving. This section contains the best ways for students to save money in college. These money-saving tips enable you to make small but decisive steps toward long-term financial goals.

Establish a Budget

You should begin financial planning by creating a detailed budget using one of the mobile apps found in this guide, an online worksheet, or a simple spreadsheet. Budgets should include current checking and savings account totals as well as income. You also need to carefully catalog monthly expenses, including room and board, textbooks and other learning supplies, food, transportation, and discretionary spending.

Develop Healthy Financial Habits

After establishing a budget, you can begin to make better financial decisions by tracking expenditures using mobile apps or other digital resources. Many programs offer a monthly overview of user spending, so you can analyze your behavior and make alterations as necessary. While it is important that you monitor spending vigilantly, you should also set realistic guidelines that take into account splurges and occasional missteps.

Set Goals

Students often find it easier to stick to a budget and track their spending if they apply these behaviors toward specific, achievable, and measurable goals. For young people, financial goals are often short-term and/or time-bound, like paying off credit card debt, saving up for a vacation, or saving to move after graduation. However, it's also important to think long term, which includes putting money away for retirement. In either case, start by assessing your income, income tax, budget, and net worth.

Create a Savings Account

Many of the apps found in this guide help you accrue money directly in a savings account. You can also open accounts with your personal financial institution or an online bank. Look for accounts that come with no annual fees and high annual percentage yield (APY). APY includes the standard interest rate and the frequency of compounding interest over the course of the year.

Build Credit

College students should start building their credit history as early as possible. You begin this process by applying for a credit card that supports your budget and spending habits. As you search for the right card, factor in introductory interest rates, standard annual percentage rates (APRs), and rewards/benefits. By building a strong credit score, you can obtain better credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages.

Apply for Scholarships

While this money-saving tip may seem obvious, many students neglect to apply for scholarships beyond the aid offered by their schools. In addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which requires annual renewal, you should seek out private scholarships through businesses, religious organizations, and nonprofits. Long-standing debt represents a significant challenge for most college graduates, so it benefits you to minimize your need for loans as much as possible.

Explore Living Situations

According to the College Board, private universities charge nearly $12,700 for room and board each year. Many schools require first-year students to live on campus, but you should explore alternative accommodations as soon as possible. If the school is in your hometown, strongly consider living at home. Otherwise, split rent with friends or seek out co-op living spaces.

Minimize Food Costs

Students usually find that controlling how much they spend on food greatly contributes to successful budgeting. On top of limiting the number of times you eat out or order in, reconsider college meal plans. The Hechinger Report reveals that the average eight-month plan costs $4,500, which breaks down to $18.75 per day. You can spend substantially less by buying groceries in bulk and meal prepping.

Don't Make Impulsive/Unnecessary Purchases

The ease of online shopping and the availability of e-commerce and discount apps make impulse buying a common occurrence, especially among young people experiencing fiscal freedom for the first time. To cut down unnecessary purchases, you should always spend with your budget and clear objectives in mind. Wait 72 hours before making big purchases, and never shop when you are emotional, tired, or hungry.

Think Hard About Studying Abroad

Many students view studying abroad as a cornerstone of college education. However, seriously reconsider spending time overseas if you cannot afford it. Standard tuition does not usually pay for airfare, food costs, accommodations, or weekend backpacking trips. Instead, save for a post-graduation trip with friends (which engages goal-oriented financial planning) and spend these four years cultivating relationships on campus and in your community.

Best Apps That Help Students Save Money

This section details computer and mobile apps that help you save money. These financial tools connect users with discounts on common expenditures like groceries, gas, and travel. You can also use some of these apps to seek out special offers on textbooks, learning software, and items for your dorm room or apartment.

Honey

Honey is a browser extension compatible with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Windows Explorer. The program helps you save money by searching for coupon codes at online stores, including Amazon, retailers like JCrew and Overstock, and even major pizza chains. With an unobtrusive user interface, Honey indicates if there are available discounts on the website and automatically applies the code at checkout. The Honey Gold program gives points on designated purchases, which you can redeem for e-gift cards.

What Items Are Discounted? How Is the Discount Received? Is the App Free to Use?
Groceries, homegoods, restaurants, and other miscellaneous expenses Direct discounts through coupon codes Yes
Flipp

One of the best apps to help you save money on groceries, Flipp connects you to weekly deals and coupons from over 2,000 stores. You can directly search for items or browse each store's offerings. Flipp operates a save feature that lets you clip digital coupons for later use. The app also enables you to save coupon codes to a specific store's reward/loyalty card so you can reap associated benefits. Coupon.com offers a similar website service and mobile app.

What Items Are Discounted? How Is the Discount Received? Is the App Free to Use?
Groceries, homegoods, electronics, and other miscellaneous expenses Direct discount through coupon codes and deals Yes
Groupon

Launched in 2008, Groupon is one of the most popular e-commerce services in the world. The website and mobile app connect users to local and online merchants offering discounts on goods and services. You can also access deals on travel, including airfare, accommodations, and destination activities. In addition to a standard rewards program, you benefit from distribution partnerships. These programs allow you to earn points or cashback with Groupon when you use partnered services, like GasBuddy and Prodege.

What Items Are Discounted? How Is the Discount Received? Is the App Free to Use?
Groceries, homegoods, electronics, restaurants, entertainment, travel, and other miscellaneous expenses Direct discount through coupon codes and deals Yes
OfferUp

This free mobile app allows you to search for items near your location. You can then contact the seller to negotiate price and pickup or delivery details. OfferUp partners with police departments and businesses nationwide to coordinate community meet-up spots that ensure safe transactions. Online profiles exist for every user, allowing buyers and sellers to view each others' ratings and transaction histories. The mobile marketplace is also a great tool for students who want to sell textbooks and dorm room furnishings to their peers.

What Items Are Discounted? How Is the Discount Received? Is the App Free to Use?
Homegoods, electronics, vehicles, clothing, and other miscellaneous expenses Discount based on reduced prices for used/pre-owned goods and sale negotiations Yes
GasBuddy

GasBuddy enables you to search for the cheapest daily gas prices in your area. The mobile app lets you filter results by location, price, brand, gas type, and even station amenities. GasBuddy also alerts you about impending price increases. You can even access deals from local convenience stores. Additionally, you can enroll in the Pay with GasBuddy Program, where you receive a credit card that you can use to save 5 cents per gallon and receive membership rewards.

What Items Are Discounted? How Is the Discount Received? Is the App Free to Use?
Gas and other miscellaneous expenses Discount based on price comparisons and membership perks Yes

Additional Resources

On top of the money-saving apps found above, students can access the resources in this section to learn more about financial management. The first three links lead to popular Twitter accounts about saving money and establishing other financial goals, allowing you to receive valuable information conveniently from your phone.

Money Under 30

This Twitter account specializes in personal finance for young adults, offering tips for building credit and using loans. Money Under 30 also operates a website that contains additional resources, like financial calculators and guides on auto purchases and home buying.

The Points Guy

Founded by Brian Kelly in 2010, The Points Guy offers information on travel, particularly tips on accruing points and miles through reward programs. In addition to a Twitter account, students can consult the website to gain insight into applying for the right credit card.

Budget Bytes

Through this Twitter account, students receive healthy and low-cost recipes. Budget Bytes also operates a website and mobile app that both let users search recipes by category and ingredient. Students also benefit from meal-prep guidance and shopping tips.

StudentUniverse

The premier site for discount travel, Student Universe provides deals on transportation, accommodations, and leisure activities all over the world. Students can also access travel guides, group travel packages, and work/internship opportunities.

Campus Book Rentals

This straightforward website enables users to rent U.S.-edition textbooks by searching for the ISBN. Students can mark up their books freely and may purchase the books at a later date, paying the difference in price. Campus Book Rentals offers 24/7 customer support and free return shipping.

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