How to Actually Save Money in College

Written by: Matt Kuncaitis
Updated: 6/07/21

College can be a very expensive time for students. Not only is there tuition to cover, but there are also books, room and board, and sometimes travel expenses. And the hours spent attending class and studying are hours that are unavailable for working or earning money. 

So, is it possible to actually save money while in college? Yes. In this article, we’ll discuss several ways that you can work toward saving money while in school. 

The Importance of Saving Money During College

Your time in college is just the formative years of your life. You will likely face many bigger financial situations upon graduation. However, saving while in college not only means that you’ll have money to rely on after you graduate, but it also instills good financial habits that will serve you long into the future. 

By being smart about your money by planning, budgeting and saving during college, you’ll set yourself up for success after you’ve finished. So, go ahead and open a savings account and get started.

Saving Money on College Courses

To save money while in college, you need to minimize your expenses. There’s no doubt that tuition constitutes a significant portion of your expenses during the school year. However, there are many ways you can save on paying for your courses, including the following:

  • Take classes at a community college. Community colleges tend to be much less expensive than four-year institutions. You can save money by taking as many classes at community college as you can. This can mean taking such classes while still in high school, attending community college full-time before transferring to a four-year school, taking courses during summer break from your university or taking online courses.
  • Apply for grants and scholarships. By applying for as many grants and scholarships as you can and submitting a federal financial aid application, you can gain access to “free money” for your courses, as this type of funding isn’t a loan and doesn’t need to be repaid. Keep your grades up, join clubs and volunteer to improve your chances. Grants and scholarships also minimize the amount of student loan debt you might take on.
  • Audit courses when you don’t need the credit. College offers so many great opportunities for learning, you may find yourself wanting to take extra classes not required for your degree or major. Consider auditing these courses instead to save on tuition.
  • Take the maximum number of credits for flat-rate tuition. If your school doesn’t have you pay per credit but instead charges a flat rate per term for full-time students, take as many credits each term as you’re allowed. By also adding in a few community college classes over the summer, you might even be able to get your degree early, saving additional money. 

Saving Money on College Housing

Housing is another place where you might be able to cut expenses if you’re careful. First, as described, you can apply for scholarships and grants, many of which can cover some or all of your living expenses. 

If you will be living on campus, see if room and board is less expensive in certain dormitories or if you have a roommate. Sometimes, even sharing an apartment off-campus ends up being less expensive than paying for on-campus housing, so look into rental costs in the area surrounding your school. Of course, the best way to save on housing is to remain living at home, which is possible if you live within commuting distance.

Saving Money on Food in College

Your food budget is another place where you might be able to cut costs. If you live on campus, compare the different meal plans offered by your school and choose the one that is least expensive. If you live off campus, make a habit of making your own food instead of eating out, and locate all the discount supermarkets in the area so that you can keep your grocery budget low. 

Saving Money on Transportation in College

Transportation situations in college vary widely. Some students commute to campus from home every time they have classes, while others live on campus but need to travel long distances to go back home when on break.

If you commute to campus every day, weigh the costs of car ownership with the cost of a daily bus or train ride. Your student ID might even get you a discount on public transportation. If you live close enough, you might even consider commuting to campus by bicycle. 

Those who live on campus may need to travel from time to time and might even take plane flights to visit home over the holidays. Look for discount airfares, and if the journey isn’t too far, compare plane tickets with train or bus tickets, as this could lead to hundreds of dollars in savings each trip. It’s often not financially prudent to use a car in most cases since your traveling is likely to be infrequent. When it comes to leaving campus for a night on the town, the city bus is often discounted or even free in some places for college students.

Other Places to Save Money During College

While tuition, room, board and travel expenses likely make up most of your expenses as a college student, many students spend money on other items as well, including gym memberships, subscription services and so on. The following sections describe how you can cut costs by reigning in your spending habits.


If you’re spending money on a gym membership, first ask yourself if you are using it enough that it makes sense to keep. Not paying for something you aren’t using is instant savings. You might also change to paying for a less expensive membership category. Note, however, that many colleges and universities have gyms on campus that are often free for students to use. 

School Supplies

Every student needs to budget for school supplies. This includes things like notebooks, pencils, backpacks, laptops, textbooks and more. By shopping around when it comes to these items and avoiding more expensive name brands, you can save a lot of cash. 

For example, shopping for school supplies during back-to-school sales and using coupons can help you save a lot on everyday school supplies. When it comes to purchasing a laptop or computer, watch for sales, but also look into getting a refurbished machine instead of a new one. 

When it comes to textbooks, it’s almost always best to purchase them online instead of at your campus bookstore, and used copies are cheaper than new ones. Ask your instructors if older editions of the textbook are OK to use, as these are often much cheaper than new editions. Some textbooks may have e-book versions, which are less expensive than print. You may also be able to rent your textbooks instead of buying them, either through your college bookstore or online. 

Subscription Services

If you’re like most people, you have at least a few subscription services. This includes streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, but also podcast subscriptions, game subscriptions or even your cellphone plan. Because subscription service fees are often small when taken individually, many people don’t realize how much they end up paying in total across all of them.

Look over your most recent monthly bank statement and identify all the subscription services you are currently subscribed to. Then, ask yourself if there are any you aren’t using or that you could live without. There may also be some services that you want to keep but would be just fine with a lower-tier membership category based on your current usage, or there might be student discounts you could take advantage of. 


Vices can get expensive, as well. Look for things or habits you regularly spend money on and ask yourself if any can be eliminated. If you drink or smoke, for example, cutting those habits won’t only save you money but can also improve your health. If you find yourself visiting the coffee shop every day, consider investing in a coffee maker, and make your own coffee at home instead. Bring movie nights in-house and avoid expensive movie theaters.

Expensive Spring Break and Summer Trips

While it often sounds like a great idea, going on an elaborate spring break or summer trip can cost a lot of money. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. Just make sure you budget for any trips you are planning and look for ways to cut costs. There might even be some great free events you can check out.

For example, camping instead of renting a hotel room can make a big difference. You might also shorten your trips or keep your vacations closer to home. Besides, the spring and summer breaks are a great time to earn some extra money with a part-time job or side hustle.

Credit Cards

The thing about credit cards is that they can lead you very quickly into debt if you’re not careful, but they can also end up saving you money if you do things right. Getting a credit card while in college is a great way to start establishing your credit score. However, don’t spend anything on the card that you can’t pay for in cash or debit. If the interest rate is high or you get charged late fees, paying it off could destroy your budget. 

Instead, use your card but pay it off each month so that you never pay interest. Because many cards come with cash-back rewards and other perks, you may even be able to find a card that pays you to use it. Is Here to Help Students Navigate College Financially

Are you in college or heading there soon and wondering how to manage your personal finances and keep college expenses under control? offers many resources for students regarding financial topics, college costs, student loans, financing and more. Visit our saving for college page to learn more.