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10 tips on how to save money as a college student

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    The money moves you make in college may have lasting effects on your finances. Developing savings strategies early on may give you the confidence to reach your money independence. Let’s explore how to save money as a college student.

    Creating a student budget

    When it comes to saving money in college, a good potential first step is to look at your expenses and make a monthly budget (PDF). This helps you understand how every spending decision you make fits into your overall finances, helping you work toward your financial goals. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

    • Where is money coming in from? Account for each source of monthly income, whether it’s a part-time job, money from family, grants, scholarships or a salary.
    • What am I spending on? Keeping tabs on your spending for both essentials (rent, textbooks, groceries, utilities and transportation) and non-essential expenses (dining out or entertainment), may be useful for comparing with your income.
    • Where can I adjust? As your income, expenses and goals change, reviewing your budget can help you catch overspending (or underspending) in certain areas and adjust your budget accordingly.

    Maximizing financial aid opportunities

    One of the most direct ways to save money in college is to maximize financial aid opportunities. Some financial aid might significantly reduce your tuition costs and decrease the amount you need to borrow in student loans. This starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

    Applying for scholarships and grants

    If you’re concerned about saving money in college, you might also want to consider ways to save money on college tuition and related expenses. Some scholarships and grants may not need to be repaid. Here are some tips to keep in mind when looking for scholarships and grants:

    • Start early: Many scholarships and grants work on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you can start your search, the less likely you are to miss out on potential opportunities.
    • Search far and wide: Fixating on just the larger, more well-known scholarships might cause you to overlook the numerous smaller scholarships available. These lesser-known scholarships can add up and may lead to real savings in college.
    • Tailor your applications: Taking an extra moment to highlight how you meet the criteria for each grant or scholarship may increase your chances of standing out among other applicants.

    Pay interest on student loans

    Interest on loans often starts right away. If your loan allows payments to begin while you’re still in school, you may be able to lower your overall loan costs by making payments before you graduate.

    Consider part-time work or work study

    One way to help save money in college is to make some money. Part-time work can provide some extra spending cash and potentially add experience to your resume. Similarly, many federal work-study programs offer jobs for students with financial need, the money from which often goes directly towards your tuition and fees.

    Use a student checking account

    Student checking accounts are designed to cater to your specific needs as a student. Opting for a college checking account may provide valuable tools for staying on top of your money. Here’s how:

    • Lower balance requirements: Many college checking accounts often keep low or no minimum balance requirements.
    • No or low fees: Some college checking accounts may waive certain fees for an introductory period, possibly even the first few years or more.
    • Digital tools: Your college checking account will likely come with a variety of tools to help you manage your finances and help automate saving — something that could prove especially useful when on the go!
    • P2P payment apps: Nowadays, many college checking accounts can connect with certain peer-to-peer (P2P) payment platforms, helping you split bills and make quick payments.

    Note that the specific benefits and features of a particular student checking account vary by institution, so it may help to thoroughly review the terms and conditions of any account you’re considering opening.

    Snag student discounts

    One of the most direct ways to save money in college is to seek out student discounts. Many businesses offer special prices for students, from textbooks to tech gadgets to basic transportation. Keep your student ID handy and to consider asking if a student discount is available wherever you make purchases. There may also be student discount programs at your college as well as at some of your favorite online retailers.

    Save on textbooks

    Lots of college students trying to save money start with textbooks because they can be costly. However, there are ways to reduce this expense:

    • Buy used: Pre-owned textbooks may be a lot cheaper than brand new ones. Checking your college bookstore, online retailers or student exchange networks can be a helpful starting place for finding pre-owned textbooks.
    • Rent instead: Nowadays, many bookstores and websites offer textbook rental services. You get the book for the semester, returning it once done. Rentals like this typically cost much less than the full purchase price.
    • Go digital: E-books may be another potentially lower-cost alternative to physical books — and they won’t add any weight to your bag. Consider looking for digital versions of your textbooks, as they can often be found on various educational platforms.

    Choose housing wisely

    On-campus housing can offer convenience and often includes utilities — but typically comes with a higher price tag, too. Off-campus living could potentially offer more bang for your buck, especially if the cost is shared between roommates. Living as a resident assistant (RA) in dorms is another way to potentially get reduced, sometimes even free, housing in return for some added responsibilities.

    Save on transportation

    An often-overlooked aspect of saving money in college is transportation costs. When you’re looking to cut back, consider how you get between point A and B:

    • Public transit: Buses, trams and subways may often be an effective, economical and more eco-friendly way to get around, and some options might offer student discounts too.
    • Carpooling: If you’re traveling with friends or sharing a space with roommates, carpooling may help save on fuel costs and similarly reduce your carbon footprint.
    • Biking or walking: For nearby destinations, walking or biking is free and provides some extra exercise.

    Balance entertainment spending

    Colleges may offer discounted event tickets, movie screenings, sports events and clubs at little or no cost. Game nights and at-home get-togethers with friends can save you serious cash compared to going out. It’s not about restricting yourself from fun, but rather about knowing how the fun fits into the budget you’ve crafted.

    In summary

    From crafting a solid budget and maxing out your financial aid, to optimizing your housing and transportation choices, there are a lot of strategies to help stretch your dollar further. As you explore your money independence in college, it also helps to find the right tools to support you throughout your journey. The key to success is more than staying on top of smart money moves — it’s about finding ways to make them consistently.

    Learn more about building a budget.

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