So you’ve probably heard over and over again that “college is expensive” and “you’re going to spend a lot of money,” and I can tell you with absolute confidence that all that is 100% true if you don’t know how to save a couple of bucks. You will find yourself buying things in a hurry — cold medicine during flu season, headphones to replace the ones you just lost in the library — and the expenses can add up pretty quickly. Now, I’m not saying that being a penny pincher is the best way to save money because, let’s face it, sometimes you shouldn’t deny yourself some things that are absolutely necessary. But you can save yourself from spending extra money.
I’m not necessarily going to say things like, you need to aggressively coupon (even though couponing is super cool!) because let’s be real, we’re probably too lazy to clip coupons let alone search for them in the first place! Even if you don’t label yourself as a broke college student, you’ll still want to save some money for a rainy day.
1. Don’t buy all of your textbooks new.
In fact, it’s better if you can completely avoid buying any textbooks at all. Rent used copies of the books you need because school bookstores are seriously expensive and you can get a book elsewhere for much cheaper. My freshman year, I spent almost $500 on science and math textbooks and I will never forget how much of a waste that was, especially since I ended up changing my major!! For more on how to buy textbooks like a savvy, money-saving pro, check out my guide to buying textbooks.
2. Don’t make impulsive purchases.
Sometimes I see really pretty things that I really want to buy (sound familiar?) but then I think about how angry I’ll be at myself when I actually buy it and visit my wallet again to see that I spent a lot of money on the item. That’s usually enough to convince me that the instant gratification of purchasing said item isn’t worth dishing out the extra dough. Here’s another rule to help you really think a potential purchase through: if you will only use or wear the item once or twice you should probably skip it. When I’m buying clothes I try to think of at least three or four other outfits I can create with a top or bottom before I decide to buy it.
3. Don’t order food multiple times per week.
If you have a meal plan, actually use it! I know sometimes campus food is less than desirable, but even then there’s always something that will make a fulfilling meal. There are so many takeout places around my campus — pizza, Chinese, Greek — so it’s very easy to just order something when you don’t feel like walking to a dining hall, but you can actually make a bad habit out of eating out all the time. Limit yourself to only ordering food once per month, or better yet, only when you want to celebrate a birthday in your group of friends. This will seriously help you save a lot of money!
4. Don’t waste your meal plan on junk food all the time.
I love a chocolate bar as much as the next sugar-loving college kid, but buying snacks with your meal plan is the easiest (and quickest) way to spend out your balance and have to start paying for meals with cash. You likely paid a lot of money for the meal plan, so I doubt you want to go into your wallet for meals on campus. Besides, snacks on campus are WAY more expensive compared to the prices you’d pay at off campus retailers. Buy actual meals with your meal plan — snacks are good in moderation. My college has an app that we can download on our phones that tells us the remaining balance on all of our campus accounts, including the meal plan. So if I’m ever unsure of how much money I have left, I can always take a quick peek and know what I should cut back on so that I don’t run out of money early.
5. Use the free resources on campus.
Some college medical centers provide students with free medicine for colds, headaches, and allergies, so if you feel allergy season coming on and you forgot your medicine at home, run over to the medical center to grab a few free packets of medicine instead of spending money on it elsewhere. Your college will also provide free academic help for some classes, so this is a great alternative for paying for a tutor, just make sure that you make the effort to engage so that you can get the most out of it. Also, I had no idea that my college gives out free copies of the newspaper in several places around campus (as a Journalism major, reading the newspaper is essential to the course work because we get quizzed on the front pages every week). I didn’t want to pay for the subscription (haha, no) so it was a major relief to find out that I could still study for my quizzes for free!
6. When you go out, always create a budget for yourself.
If you brought $400 in cash to college with you, DON’T bring all $400 when you go out to dinner with friends at Applebee’s! Decide on a budget and stick to it. Don’t have any shame in telling your friends that you’re going to skip dessert because you don’t want to spend another dime. Your budget should work for you.
7. Avoid smoking and drinking.
These products can really eat up your money, so cut back on them or avoid them all together. Vice items can also be addicting, and that’s where your piggy bank might run into some trouble…Bragging about how much alcohol you just bought for the lit dorm room party you’re about to throw might feel awesome, but then a quick look in your wallet might make you wish you hadn’t spent all that money!
8. Only use your credit card in absolute emergencies and make sure you can pay it off!
I’m not an avid user of credit cards, but from what I know about them, you should make sure that you’re able to pay off whatever purchases you made, because otherwise you’ll have to pay interest. If you’re going to use a credit card, make sure you partake in good credit-building habits because your parents won’t always be able to help you pay off your purchases.
9. Use Spotify to listen to music for free.
If you need to listen to some tunes while you work up a sweat at the gym, don’t pay for your music — use free services like Spotify or Pandora. I have really liked the songs I’ve listened to on Pandora, so that’s probably going to be my go-to music service for studying, working out, and just chilling. What songs are you currently obsessed with? Let me know in the comments!
10. Stop buying plastic water bottles; use a refillable one instead.
Don’t spend money every time you need a bottle of water — that stuff is expensive AF in college. I get a large refillable water bottle so when I’m thirsty I just go to the nearest water fountain for a refill. I got my water bottle from PINK and it holds 24 oz., which is great so I can sip on it throughout the day and add more water as needed. I keep a case of water bottles in my room just in case I don’t have time to refill a bottle and I just need to grab a bottle and run out of the room, but I make sure that I never purchase loose water bottles from dining halls!
11. If you can’t finish a meal, save it for later rather than throw it out.
I’m not saying you should salvage every crumb and toss it in your mini fridge, but if you left a significant portion of your meal uneaten, you can definitely pack it away for dinner (or breakfast the next morning!) so you don’t have to spend money again for your next meal. I have done this many times in the past, and sometimes it works out really well for me when there are torrential downpours outside and I don’t want to walk outside to the dining hall. Keeping tupperware or resealable bags is perfect for doing this.
12. Carry a snack to class with you on long days.
If you carry a snack in your backpack, you’ll be way less likely to spend money on a snack in the dining hall in between classes when you get hungry. I like to carry a banana and a granola bar (and water, of course!!). It’s not a full meal but it keeps me going until my classes are over for the day and I can hit up a dining hall with friends or take food back to my room.
13. Take care of your belongings.
Don’t toss your headphones around anyhow — you might lose them or they might break and you’ll need to buy another one! Taking care of the items you currently have is one of the easiest ways to save money, because then you won’t have to put out money for anything that’s damaged. Take good care of your laptop, phone, anything technology related (and, you know, super breakable), and even try your best to keep your clothing in good condition so you don’t feel the need to re-buy things you already have.
I hope these tips can really save you some cash this semester! If you loooooved what you read and looooove my blog in general, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @jay_su_ I’d love some new Twitter friends!
How do you save money in college?