College can be a lot of things – fun, exciting, challenging, exhausting, rewarding – but “cheap” isn’t usually on the list. And if you’re in college right now, or soon will be, I want you to be able to save as much money as humanly possible so you can cash in on your degree and graduate with a future that does not include student loan repayments. (yes, it is really possible). Here’s the good news: you don’t have to work full time or eat ramen noodles 24/7 to graduate debt-free. There are many easy and convenient ways to save big on college expenses.
How to save money on college housing
You have to live, right? But when you’re a student, housing can mean anything from a tiny apartment you share with roommates to a fancy dorm room with a hot tub and city skyline views. Let’s keep this budget friendly.
Live at home if you can
Alright, y’all. I understand. You’re probably ready to get out of the house and bask in your newfound freedom, and living at home might be the last thing you want to do. And of course, living at home will not be an option for everyone. But just think about not having to pay thousands of dollars a year in rent, utility bills, or food. All that extra money in your bank account will be worth it.
Compare the cost of living on and off campus
Renting an apartment won’t always be cheaper than living on campus, and living on campus won’t always be cheaper than renting. You need to look at all the options available at your school and in the surrounding area to see which is the most affordable.
Find a roommate
If you’re renting an apartment, having a roommate (or two or three) will significantly reduce your expenses. Make sure your landlord has approved each individual roommate and that they all sign the lease so that you aren’t financially outdone if one of them moves out.
How to save money on food
Food – another one of those things you can’t live without. But you can live without avocado toast every day. You just need to be careful with your food choices.
Share food costs with roommates
You can save a ton if you shop for groceries, especially if you buy in bulk. You can even shop for groceries and cook together to spend quality time with your housemate.
Be strategic when eating out
It’s fine to hang out with your friends once in a while, but when you’re constantly getting waffles at 2 a.m. on a whim, it really starts to add up. Plan how much money you can spend on eating out each month.
Be smart about your meal plan
Costs for meal plans can vary depending on your school — the cheapest can cost around $1,000 per semester, but some can be three times as much (or more). Some colleges may make you get a meal plan for your freshman year, so if you must have one, be sure to actually use it. But if you don’t have to have one, meal prep and meal prepping from scratch are your new best friends.
How to save money on tuition and supplies
This is one of the biggest and most intimidating categories for students. But don’t stress, y’all, I got you.
Buy used books
It’s amazing how much you can save just by buying your textbooks from Amazon or a used bookstore instead of the campus bookstore. You probably won’t find all of your reading at these cheaper places, but even if you have to use the campus bookstore, they’ll usually give you the option of renting instead of buying. Go with the rental.
Take classes at a community college first
You can save a lot on tuition by eliminating all of your general education requirements at a community college before heading to your school of choice because the price difference is insane. A year of tuition at a private school costs on average more than nine times the cost of a year of tuition at a community college.
Go to a public school
The average in-state public school tuition is $9,349 per year, and the average out-of-state public school tuition is $27,023 per year.1 That’s a Difference over $17,000 annually! If it’s a private out-of-state college, the tuition skyrockets even more.
Apply for scholarships
It’s kind of a no-brainer: if you find scholarships, you won’t have to worry so much about tuition (and some scholarships even cover your books, food, and housing). Back when I was in college, my family was unable to support me financially, so I treated scholarship applications as a part-time job, and it really paid off . I know it’s a lot of work, but I promise you it will make a huge difference.
How to save money on transportation
Not everyone remembers to factor this into their college budget, especially if they know they will be living on campus and walking a lot. But the truth is, you’ll have to go to off-campus places at some point, so it’s a good idea to think about that in advance.
Ride a bike
Nobody likes to spend money on gasoline. With bicycles, this is not necessary. Enough said.
Use public transportation
It could be anything from a bus system to subways to ride-sharing services. Depending on how often you use public transport, you may want to buy passes instead of individual tickets – it costs more upfront, but it will help you save in the long run.
College Bonus Money Saving Tips
And because I really want you to graduate with money in your bank account, I’m going to give you some extra tips:
Have a part-time job or a side business
Don’t underestimate the effect a few babysitting or dog-walking jobs a week can have on your savings. For a more stable income, a part-time job (no more than 15-20 hours per week) is also a great idea.
Find all the student discounts and coupons you can
We are talking about Groupon. We’re talking about Yelp. We’re talking about all the restaurants, museums, and movie theaters in your area that offer student discounts. Wherever you’re going, don’t be afraid to show your student ID and ask if there are any offers available!
Get away from debt
If you really want to save money and build a solid foundation for your future, have zero debt. No student loans, no credit cards, nothing. They will only weigh you down and keep you from achieving your financial goals.
These are just a few of my tips for saving money in college. Remember that making the right plan for your future starts with understanding all of your options!
After winning $500,000 in scholarships and earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from her dream school, Kristina Ellis decided to help students create their own plan to get a debt-free education. She is the bestselling author of Confessions of a Scholar and How to Get a Degree Without Debt. She is a featured expert on the 2021 documentary Borrowed Future: How Student Loans Are Killing the American Dream. Her work has been featured in numerous media, such as Fox & Friends, The Katie Couric Show, CBN, USA Today, Reuters, Seventeen, and Money. As a Ramsey personality, Kristina helps thousands of families across the country navigate the complex waters of college finance and graduate debt-free.