Students

How to Save Money While in College

With the many costs associated with getting through college, it might sound difficult—if not impossible—to put money away in savings as an already “broke college student.” However, a little bit of creativity and willingness to cut back on current expenses can certainly make a big difference in the long run. Later on, you’ll likely thank yourself for having made the effort to save and create good financial habits.

Piggy bank

Whether you’re a future or current college student, here are some important aspects of saving in college to help you in your financial planning.

Why is saving in college important?

The thought of trying to save money in college while you’re already financially strapped can seem far-fetched, but even making small steps can have a positive impact on your life. Why? Because college is an essential time to create good financial habits as you’ll carry these habits with you as you move forward in life after graduation.

In general terms, it can benefit you to have some money saved up for after college. You may find yourself in a situation where you are in between jobs for a short period of time, or perhaps you’ll even want to travel. Whatever your future circumstances may look like, it can only be a good idea to have some extra money put away so you’ll be ready to face whatever life holds for you after you walk across the stage at graduation.

Open a savings account

Opening a savings account in college is a great idea as it makes saving easier and convenient. It can help you stay disciplined, and can make you less likely to dip into your funds if they aren’t readily available for purchases with a debit card. Most importantly, having a savings account helps you get in the habit of putting extra away in order to have it accumulate over time.

Many colleges and universities partner with local community credit unions and banks to offer savings account options to students with high interest rates and good incentives. Be sure to check with your campus’s financial services office to learn about local offerings.

Find ways to cut back

In order to have extra money at the end of the week after covering your costs beyond tuition, you may have to look at where you are spending your money and find ways to decrease those expenses. Here are just a few ways you can cut back on some common college expenses:

  1. Go with used textbooks and rentals. It may be convenient to walk into your college bookstore where each course’s required textbook materials are readily available for purchase, but this can end up costing you a lot more than it needs to. Consider getting your textbooks used online on websites like Amazon.com. If the textbook you need was just recently published and less expensive copies are hard to come by, consider renting it instead. Most textbook sites offer rentals for a fraction of the price of purchasing it, and returning the book by mail is usually convenient.
  2. Cook at home. College meal plans can be expensive, so once you are able to move off campus into an apartment with a fully-equipped kitchen, you can save a considerable amount of money each week by cooking at home whenever possible. If you’re currently on an unlimited meal plan, scaling down to a less expensive plan and making more frequent visits to the grocery store can help you save money more quickly.
  3. Cut back on unnecessary expenses. The article “How to Be Financially Responsible in College” touches on knowing how to live within your means, and this is a great start for identifying unnecessary expenses. Even if you can currently afford some of these expenses, such as eating out and meeting up with friends for a beer, try cutting down in order to have more money at the end of each week to put away into your savings account.

It all adds up

It may seem difficult to save money at first, or that the difference you’re making is small, but over the span of an entire year (or four years) of college the amount you can save is quite considerable!

Here are just some examples of how money saved each week can add up in the long-term:

  • $10 a week adds up to $520 in one year, $2,080 in four
  • $25 a week adds up to $1,300 in one year, $5,200 in four
  • $40 a week adds up to $2,080 in one year, $8,320 in four
  • $70 a week adds up to $3,640 in one year, $14,560 in four

Keep a positive mindset

Finances can be overwhelming, especially in college while you already have so much on your plate. If you’re currently in college and haven’t been able to save yet, don’t let yourself feel discouraged. It’s easy to fall into this mindset, especially if you know others who have already managed to start saving. Overall, it’s important to identify your own short and long-term goals, not to compare your financial situation and circumstances with others, and to keep a positive mindset as you move forward.

If you have ideas or advice you’d like to share with others on saving money while in college, feel free to post a comment below!

Photo credit: mconnors / morguefile

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.

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