How to Save Money While in College: 12 Tips

College can be an exciting time in your life. It can also be an expensive one. With the rising cost of living and tuition, how are college students supposed to save? These tips may make saving easier. Saving money is important in every stage of your life. Your savings can protect you in the event of an emergency and help you reach long term goals, like buying a car or home. For college students, saving begins with one simple step: Spend less. The less you spend, the more you can stash into a savings account that earns interest to help you build your wealth.

Here are some of the best ways to save money in college:

1. File the FAFSA Every Year

Filing your Free Application for  Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on time each year helps ensure you get all the financial aid you’re eligible for. These funds can help cover tuition, room and board, textbooks, fees and other college expenses so you can keep — and save — more of your own money.

2. Find a Part-Time Job

A steady inflow of cash is vital to your efforts to save money in college. Determine how much time you can devote to a part-time job without compromising your studies. Then, the job search is on! Get a head start by checking with your school’s career services department to see if they have up-to-date listings of on- and off-campus job opportunities.

3. Consider Housing Options

Housing can be one of the biggest expenses for college students, but you can make those costs more manageable. Compare costs before you decide where to live. Off-campus housing may be more affordable than dorm living, but be sure to factor any “hidden” costs, such as utilities, into the equation to get an accurate picture of your total cost. It’s also wise to have a roommate or two to split the rent.

4. Create a Budget

Documenting your monthly financial obligations in a budget helps you see what’s coming in and going out. If you’re new to budgeting, check out PNC’s article on how to budget in college for a step-by-step guide. Also, consider using the common 50/30/20 rule as a guide: Allocate 50% of your monthly income to necessities (think housing, tuition and food), 30% to wants (entertainment, video games, clothes, etc.) and 20% to savings. Check out PNC’s student budget calculator to see what this looks like for you.

5. Buy Used Textbooks

Don’t be alarmed by the hefty price tags attached to your required reading list. There are plenty of ways to save on textbooks. Check online and around campus for discounted books. Ask your friends whether they have any of the books for you to borrow. Check the campus library for copies on reserve. Be sure to sell your textbooks at the end of the term, too. If you can, deposit that money into your savings account.

6. Use Your Meal Plan

If your college requires you to buy into a meal plan, spend as little as possible on food outside the dining halls. Use your meal plan to its fullest — for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Remember, that’s money you’ve already paid, so if you’re not using it, it’s going to waste.

7. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Your student ID can help you save big. Keep it handy when you shop, eat at restaurants and go out to have fun. Many companies — both local and national — offer student discounts. And whether it’s $5 on dinner out or $500 on a new computer, your savings can really add up.

8. Become an RA

Becoming an RA — a resident assistant or resident advisor — is a great way to combine tips #2 and #3 above (getting a part-time job and considering housing options). Colleges and universities hire RAs to live in the dorms and provide assistance to other students who may need it. Often, the institution will greatly discount or completely cover RAs’ on-campus housing costs.

9. Avoid Having a Car on Campus

When you’re trying to make every cent count, the costs of keeping a car on campus can wring you dry. Instead of spending your money on gas, insurance, repairs and parking permits, consider leaving your car at home and take advantage of public transportation or student ridesharing options.

10. Brew Your Own Coffee

Yes, it’s tempting to stop by that cute little coffee shop on your way to class, but those drinks add up over time. Get into the habit of making your own coffee at home. Put it in a to-go cup and bank the savings!

11. Reduce Streaming Subscriptions

A big way to save money as a college student is to cut out subscription services you no longer need or use. For those you can’t live without, ask a friend or roommate to split the cost with you, or simply use the free version instead of paying for premium.

12. Buy Used Furniture

If you need to furnish your dorm or apartment, remember that this is a temporary living arrangement. You don’t need brand-new, expensive furniture; used will work just fine! Ask family and friends if they have any old furniture they’re not using or hit the thrift shop in town. 

The most important tip? Keep at it! Even if you’re able to put just a little money away each month, you are building the good habit of spending less and saving more. Pinch those pennies and stash the savings! You may be surprised how quickly your money adds up.



“Save on College Costs,” Sallie Mae, 2023

“50 Ways to Save Money in College and Live on a Tight Budget,” The College Investor, April 7, 2023

“Good Ways to Save Money in College,” College Ave, April 4, 2023

“Monthly 50/30/20 Budget Calculator,” NerdWallet, December 21, 2022