5 Ways to Save Money as a College Student

by Miranda Marquit · 15 comments

It’s that time of year again: Thousands of college students are returning to campus, looking for another year of education. Of course, college tuition is expensive, and there are other costs associated with attending university. No matter the costs, though, there are ways to save money. Here are 5 ways you can save money as a college student:

1. Avoid Buying New Textbooks

This is a time honored method of saving money while attending university. I might have bought one textbook new during my entire university career (and that includes my time as a Masters student). More good news: You do not have to rely on the college bookstore for your used books. My husband orders all of his books used on Amazon, for less than used books in the bookstore. You can also check textbook exchanges at your school. These are available on student boards, and some exchanges can even be found online. It is also possible to rent textbooks now, but you will not be able to sell them back at the end of the semester, recouping some of your outlay.

2. Work in Food Service

Having the right job can save you money on food. When I worked in the university cafeteria, I was allowed one free meal at the end of my shift. Since my shift was dinner, I saved money on food for the most expensive meal of my day. Sometimes, if I stopped by at the end of lunch, the cooks would give me free lunch leftovers as well. As a waitress at a local restaurant I didn’t get free meals, but I did eat for half off. With the right job, you can make money and get some of your food for free, reducing what you need to spend at the grocery store.

3. Become a Resident Adviser

One of the best ways to save money on housing is to take on the duties of a resident adviser. Many universities provide resident advisers with a free private room. I did this for two years, and enjoyed it quite a bit. My university offered a modest stipend on top of the free private dorm room, but not all colleges provide the stipend. Even so, free housing is a plus, and can save you a significant amount of money. Make sure you understand the time commitment though, and the rules governing outside jobs.

4. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

In college town, many of the businesses offer student discounts. Find out which establishments offer discounts with your student ID. This can include movie theaters, restaurants and even some clothing retailers. One of the grocery stores in my current university town offers an extra 5% on the total purchase when you sign up for a special (free) student savings card. Some computer sellers and cell phone providers have special student discount programs. In some cases, you can buy a discount card for a few dollars, and reap more savings. Determine whether or not the businesses on the card are useful to you, and whether you will save more than you spend.

5. Apply for Scholarships

While it is nice to start college with a scholarship, your chance isn’t passed if you are beyond your freshman year. Some universities offer scholarships only to juniors and seniors, or have particular opportunities for returning students. Check with your major department or honor society regarding scholarships. There are also numerous online sources of offbeat scholarships and opportunities — many of which do not rely only on academic achievement. It never hurts to apply, and you could end up saving some money on tuition costs.

College can be expensive and it’s not getting any cheaper. But remember that attending is a privilege, so be grateful that you are going to be spending a few years of time there.

Money Saving Tip: An incredibly effective way to save more is to reduce your monthly Internet and TV costs. Click here for the current Verizon FiOS promotion codes and promos to see if you can save more money every month from now on.

{ read the comments below or add one }

  • David Moore says:

    Buying used is a great way to save, especially on furniture and things for your apartment. Chances are you aren’t going to keep that stuff anyway after you graduate, so save money now!

  • Christy says:

    These are some good tips. I used to apply these money saving techniques myself when I was in college (except for the Resident Advisor tip because I would have no patience for it) and they work, People! Now that my little sister is going to college, I’m helping her get ready for the financial shock she is about to experience (no more meals and occasionally slips of a $20 bill from mom). Anyways, i found a lot of helpful information including an article with a full list of stores and companies that offer student discounts for everything from food to electronics and even books: teachthought.com/interest/103-organizations-that-offer-student-discounts/. You can also find some one-off, limited time discounts on bigger ticket items like TV and internet service like Charter: getcharterspectrum.com/summer-deals/ or ATT: buyatt.com/movers-special/ Well, the last one is more moving oriented but lots of college kids are making big moves so its relevant enough. Hope this info helps. Toodles 🙂

  • Alyse says:

    Great Article!! Thank you for the tips! To add to the #4 student discounts I would recommend researching outside of the usual quick purchase discount. I know there are companies out there that offer discounts on their monthly services such as internet and TV. So now not only are you saving on those one time purchases but also on the day to day uses as well. HUGE MONEY SAVERS!

  • John Powers says:

    I always show my student id everywhere I go to see if they offer a student discount. For example, the movie theater gives me a $2 off student discount.

    I also joined this College Deals program. They send text messages with coupons and promotions on all different kinds of things from drinks, pizza, text books, etc….It’s cool and it’s FREE!

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  • Sarah Kevin says:

    When I passed out from University last year I realized that I have foolishly spent a lot of money, regardless of thinking about making some, I have waited to make my bank account zero.
    But now, I liked two of your suggestions the most, one is Become a Resident Adviser and Work in Food Service. Food service one is a bit fishy and tricky:) but that’s how a student life is.
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  • Nick says:

    Totally love #2. I bartended through undergrad and grad school and saved a ton of cash in a number of ways. And I made great connections I still use to this day (over 6 years out of grad school and bartending…).

  • glorybells says:

    My husband and I are the parents of six children…three who are now in college and three still at home. We are a home schooling family and have chosen to decline student loans. We had no money saved for college expenses four years ago when our oldest daughter headed to college. Since then, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to help our children through college without incurring debt (our oldest is in her fifth year of college now — she will graduate with a triple major next spring — and our second is in her Junior year of college. Both are completely debt-free.) One thing that I’ve learned is the importance of doing well on the ACT or SAT college entrance exams. The higher your child scores on these tests, the more academic scholarship money your child will receive from the college they attend. Although we have not had our children take the CLEP tests, we understand that you can save substantial money by testing out of college classes while still in high school, perhaps even testing out of an entire year of college and saving thousands of dollars. “Finish College Fast” is a CLEP test study guide and even offers a moneyback guarantee (if you don’t pass the CLEP exam, you get your $72 exam fee back.) Thirty-three study guides are offered. For more info, see: http://www.finishcollegefaster.com/?hop=0

    I’m considering writing a book on How to Get Your Child Through College Debt-Free (but first I thought I better wait till we get all six of ours through college, debt-free, of course.) 🙂

  • Christina Szeman says:


    I am a mature student and the only job that I will not do is Food Services. That is because I’ve already done that and I am not interested in being the doormate anymore. And as for Scholarships, I don’t see any scholarships for Mature Students who don’t have any dependents.

    As for avoid buying New Textbooks. I did just buy two textbooks. One was new and the other was used. If I were to buy the Used one as New, it would cost me $113 CDN. But I had to pay $86. And the new one was around the same price. And I have an Ebook that I have yet to buy where the price tag is $83.

  • Global Forex Signals says:

    I sed almost all of these ideas when studying at the unversity. I bought only one or two textbooks when I was there. And getting food for free is also great idea. When you are playing for some university team, the also feed you for free, whic is quite nice. And I saved on going to gym – I went there on my P.E. studies.

  • Heidi Nolan says:

    Great ideas. Here is another one: Try to use cash as often as you can as opposed to using a credit card or a debit card. I have found that when you actually have to pull cash out of your wallet, you think twice about really spending that money.

  • Jenna says:

    Along with work in food service is get an on campus job. They are flexible in scheduling and most of the time you just get paid to do homework.

  • Doreen Ross says:

    I have to agree with Matthew, bartering is great for students and for me it makes a lot sense to trade things cause its free. In the past i bought books and stuff second hand but now i can get them for free which is a huge step up for my finance.

  • Matthew Sender says:

    Hey, very nice article. It is hard to save money as a student because you have to take care of so many things: buying books, rent, food, and of course the parties 😉 I found a way to save money that works out just perfect for me: bartering. I started to swap books with other students and then I heard about the online bartering site barterquest.com where you can trade everything from goods to services and even real estates. It saved me a whole lot of money.

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