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12 ways to save money on a college student budget

Use these 12 tips to save money and reach financial independence while you’re still in school

8 min read

Working out how to save money in college is a smart move. While the prospect of racking up a large amount of debt puts many off studying altogether, there are a few things you can do to improve your financial health and reduce the amount of debt you accrue while studying. 

From learning to budget to taking on a side hustle and getting creative with your bills, here are our top tips for saving money while in college.

12 tips on how to save money while in college

Before using any of these tips, it’s important to note that unless you adopt a saving mentality, it’ll be hard to stick to any of them in the long-term. Being smart with your money means adjusting your spending in all areas of your life to the benefit of your savings goals. For example, while you start shopping for groceries more economically, you could also increase the number of meals you cook at home using cooking utensils you bought second-hand. Being economic is a mindset, and if you’re open to it, you can start saving a great deal of money.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to be uncompromisingly strict. If you limit yourself so that you no longer enjoy your lifestyle, you’re likely to revert back to your original over-spending habits. Instead, it’s all about striking the right balance between being financially savvy and allowing yourself the odd treat from time to time. 

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With this in mind, here are our 12 tips on how to save money while you’re still in college.

1. Take advantage of your student discount

One of the greatest perks of being a student? Your student ID. Not only does this card entitle you to discounts in a wide variety of retail stores, restaurants, and cultural institutions, it can also get you big reductions on tech products from Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft. Use your discounts wisely and you can make some big savings.

2. Opt for shared living space

One of the best ways to save money in college is to live in a shared house or apartment, rather than living alone. By splitting your rent between a group as opposed to paying it all yourself, you’ll save a significant amount each month. Plus, you will also be able to split the utility bills and the cost of any shared furniture, saving you even more money each month.

3. Buy textbooks, clothes, and furniture second-hand

One of the hidden costs of being a student is the number of textbooks you’re required to buy at the beginning of each semester. The best way to save some money here is to buy your books second-hand, and then to resell them when you’re finished. The same applies to buying clothes and furniture. 

It’s much cheaper to buy second-hand than to buy new and there are some incredible bargains just waiting to be snapped up! With a keen eye and a bit of patience, you could make some significant savings.

4. Cherish your possessions

Leading on from the above, a good tip to save money as a student is to look after the possessions you already own. Rather than throwing things away at the first sign of wear, put in a little extra effort to restore them so you can use them for longer. This prevents you from needlessly buying new items when the original is still in working condition. Plus, it earns you some environmentally-friendly points while you’re at it. For example, this could mean:

  • Getting a broken phone screen replaced rather than buying a new phone
  • Sewing up a hole in a jumper rather than throwing it out and buying a new one
  • Paying to get your laptop repaired rather than replacing it - unless the cost of the repair outweighs the costs of a new laptop when using your student discount.

5. Take on a side hustle (or two)

An excellent way to save money in college is to take on an extra job or two alongside your studies. Although a great deal of your time will probably be spent with your nose deep in a textbook, you can likely afford to spend 15–20 hours a week earning a bit of cash on the side. 

Looking for some ideas beyond working in a cafe, bar, or restaurant? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Become a virtual assistant. Virtual assistants are hired remotely from clients living all over the world to help them manage their day-to-day lives. This mostly means answering emails, booking flights, and organizing schedules, all activities you can fit around your own timetable.
  • Become a student brand ambassador. Brand ambassadors work on behalf of a particular brand and promote their products to other students on campus. 
  • Sell your lecture notes. By the time the end of semester rolls around, students who weren’t particularly present during lectures find themselves desperate for lecture notes. This gives you an opportunity to make a little bit of money by selling your lecture notes either directly to them, or to an educational platform such as Nexus Notes.

6. Start saving on your utility bills

Becoming conscious of how much energy your household needlessly consumes each month gives you the opportunity to start making some substantial savings. This could mean turning down your thermostat, making sure none of your devices are left on standby, comparing electricity and water providers for a better deal, and upgrading any particularly inefficient appliances. 

If you live in a shared apartment or house, it’s a good idea to do this as a group, so that everyone is doing their own part to cut back—and everyone gets their fair share of savings.

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7. Learn to budget

If you want to get serious about improving your overall financial health, one of the best ways to save money in college is to learn how to budget. This means having a solid overview of your monthly income streams and expenditures, and optimizing your spending so that you can start putting some money toward reaching your savings goals.

There are many budgeting apps out there that can help you take control of your finances. Nothing beats the feeling of financial independence, and learning how to budget while you’re still at college sets you up for a more secure future!

8. Adopt a minimalist lifestyle

When it comes to saving money in college, less is more. Plus, adopting a minimalist mindset can do wonders for your bank balance. Put simply, to live a minimalist lifestyle means to own fewer things. You only buy things that are absolutely essential and you aren’t sucked into the traps of a materialistic culture that tries to convince you that you need to own more possessions to be happy. 

By being more intentional about purchasing, you’re much more likely to spend less as you realize that the things you thought you “needed” aren’t vital at all.

How to save money on food in college

Apart from rent and utility bills, groceries can easily become one of the biggest monthly expenditures. So, if you can start shopping smarter, you can enjoy saving quite a bit extra each month. If you live with roommates, you can take advantage of the opportunity to bulk-buy certain items as this usually works out cheaper. However, if you’d rather shop individually, here are a few tips on how to save money on food in college:

9. Make a big batch of food and freeze it

As buying in bulk is usually cheaper, it’s a good idea to make one large meal with your batch-bought ingredients, freeze it (if necessary) and then eat it over the course of several days. Hearty soups, curries, casseroles, and stir-fries are all excellent meal ideas that you can reheat and enjoy over the course of a week.

10. Eat out less

While the ease of buying prepared food can be enticing, it’ll cost you significantly more than making your own food at home. The mark-up on food sold in restaurants and take-away establishments can be substantial. For example, the €7 you spend on a single burger could be spent on buying the ingredients to make around five burgers at home. Not only does this increase your cooking skills, but it will also boost your popularity with your roommates if you share with them, too!

11. Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach

Going grocery shopping while hungry is a sure-fire way to ensure you overspend on your weekly shopping budget. Letting your stomach dictate what you put in your basket often means buying unnecessary ready-to-eat snacks as you walk along the isles which can significantly increase your overall grocery spend. So, before you go grocery shopping, be sure to eat something!

12. Plan your meals in advance

By planning your meals in advance, you can get a good estimate of how much your ingredients will cost so it’s easier not to go over budget as you shop. It also means that all the ingredients you buy, you will use. 

A staggering amount of household food waste is thrown away every week because of poor meal planning. When you start to equate throwing away unused food with throwing away money, it’s easy to see how having a meal plan can end up saving you a lot of money in the long-term.

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