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How to Save Money in College

By Emily Wong

Emily Wong is a writer at Scholarships360. She’s worked as a social media manager and a content writer at several different startups, where she covered various topics including business, tech, job recruitment, and education. Emily grew up and went to school in the Chicago suburbs, where she studied economics and journalism at Northwestern University.

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and Cece Gilmore

Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: September 13th, 2023
How to Save Money in College

It’s no secret that attending college can be an expensive endeavor. The price tag is even more daunting once you add housing, food, textbooks, and entertainment. Luckily, you can minimize the damage by saving money in college. By cutting back where you can, you can set yourself up for better financial health after graduation. Without further ado, let’s get into our guide to saving money in college.

1. Find an affordable living situation

The following tips will help you get the most value out of college housing:

Go for the cheaper dorm

Aside from tuition, housing is probably going to be your biggest expense throughout college. If you’re going to be living on campus, you can try to opt for a cheaper dorm. Newer buildings will often be more expensive, so you may have to deal with shoddier facilities. On the bright side, it may give you something to bond over with your dorm mates.

Don’t miss: How to pay for housing in college

Find a roommate or two

On top of choosing your building strategically, you can also save a lot of money by getting a roommate, or even two. A single is typically significantly more expensive than a double, which is still pricier than a triple. A lot of schools will let you sign up with a roommate or have one randomly assigned to you. Therefore, if you go this route, it may be a good idea to try to find someone with compatible living preferences ahead of time.

Don’t miss: How to find a roommate

Consider becoming a Resident Assistant 

After your freshman year, you might even be able to apply to be a resident assistant (RA). While the position may entail extra responsibilities, it’s often worth it in the end. At many schools, RAs are compensated with free or discounted housing. Some institutions even award a stipend on top of that.

Former Resident Assistant perspective

Working as an RA was an amazing way  to bring down the cost of college. On top of receiving free housing, I was also paid a stipend that I could use for other expenses during the school year. Being an RA also made the cost of college more manageable for my parents. Housing can cost upwards of $10,000 per year, so over the course of a few years, being an RA saves a significant amount of money. 
Will Geiger

Scholarships360 CEO

Wake Forest University

Live off campus

If you’re moving off campus, you’re probably going to find a lot more living options. Try to do some online research beforehand to figure out which places have the best deals. Websites like are a good place to start. 

Keep in mind that many apartments also have fees aside from rent, including utilities, renter’s insurance, application fees and a security deposit. Therefore, it’s important to do your research so you can compare more than just the sticker price. You might even want to make a spreadsheet to total up all of the costs and compare them.

Also see: Can you use student loans on off campus housing?

2. Split costs with friends

Buying in bulk is typically better value than buying individual servings. Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to eat 24 bags of chips on your own. Instead, talk to your friends or roommates to figure out if there are any foods you want to go in together. Wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club offer great deals on bulk foods. You can even share a membership with your friends to cut down on the upfront costs.

If you use any other monthly subscriptions, you can think about sharing those with friends as well. Although many services will try to discourage sharing by limiting the number of users on an account at once, you can still find ways around it. For example, Netflix charges $8.99 for one screen but $17.99 for four. Therefore, if you share a membership with three friends, you can each pay $4.50 per month.

3. Take advantage of student discounts

Student deals are everywhere, but too few college kids take advantage of them. With many programs offering discounts around 10-15%, you may think it’s not worth your time, but it definitely adds up. You’ll probably even be able to find some within your college town. You might be able to find a list of places on your school’s website, or they may advertise in your university newspaper. Others might advertise a discount in their store window, or if you’re feeling brave, you can even ask at the register.

You can often use your student status to get a discount on subscriptions, too. Here’s some good deals we put together:

  • Apple Music: Undergraduate and post-graduate students can get their subscription for only $4.99 per month
  • Spotify: College students can get a bundle of Spotify Premium, Hulu and Showtime for only $5.99 per month
  • Amazon Prime: College students can get a 6-month free trial of Amazon Prime, plus half-off the cost of a subscription once it expires
  • Audible: College students can get their subscription for only $9.95 per month
  • Adobe Creative Cloud: College students can subscribe to all the applications for $19.99 per month 

4. Manage your money wisely

One of the best ways to save money is to keep track of it. It might stress you out to constantly check your bank account balance, especially when it’s running low. However, it’s important to keep tabs on your situation throughout the week.

Knowing how much money you have coming in and going out can help you prioritize your spending. You’ll also want to avoid being charged with low balance or overdraft fees, which can range in price. Especially for a broke college student, that can make the difference between a dinner date or a weekend out with friends.

For money management advice, check out How To Create a Budget as a College Student.

5. Stay in the loop about campus events

Between hitting up the local bars and going shopping, having fun in college can be pricey. Fortunately, that just means you have to be smarter about how you spend your free time. One fun alternative to going out on the town can be attending on-campus events.

University sports games and theater performances are often close to the caliber of professional events at only a fraction of the price. Student organizations may also host parties, movie nights or concerts throughout the year. Since those events are typically university-funded, they’ll be much cheaper than off-campus options. You can stay informed by checking out the university website, Facebook events, and bulletin boards around campus.

Saving money in college is a learning process, but it gets easier over time. Just try to put some of these tricks into practice, and soon enough, you’ll be a money-saving expert!

6. Apply for scholarships for your upcoming years

Many students think that once you’re in college, it’s too late to apply for scholarships. Fortunately, they’re wrong! There are many scholarships available for current college students. Check out our lists of scholarships meant specifically for college freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. While you’re at it, you can try out our free scholarship search tool, which custom-matches you with vetted scholarship opportunities based on your interests, demographics, location, and more.

Additional resources for financially savvy students

Keep reading to learn top financial tips for college students and How to create a budget as a college student

If you are thinking about your finances now, we bet you are looking to the future as well, so don’t miss how long does it take to build credit. No matter what, make sure that you apply for all the scholarships that you qualify for! 

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Frequently asked questions about saving money in college

How can I increase my income as a college student?

Consider taking on part-time jobs, freelancing, tutoring, or finding work-study opportunities on campus. You could also explore online platforms for remote freelancing!

How can I save money on textbooks?

In order to save money on textbooks, consider buying used or digital textbooks. Additionally, you can check if the school or local library has copies available for borrowing. 

How can I manage social activities on a budget?

Look for free or low-cost entertainment options such as student events, movie nights, or campus activities. Consider hosting potluck dinners or game nights with friends instead of going out.

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