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By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff
College is expensive. You probably already knew that.
Here’s what you might not know: Living at school also gets expensive.
Fortunately, there are many ways to save money in college so you don’t burn through your spending money for the school year by November. Here are some proven ones:
Before you can save money, you need to have some in the first place, so this one is a fairly obvious way to “save” money in college. It always helps to have some cash coming in. That’s just one reason why having a job while in school can help.
Look for a job either on campus or off campus. On-campus jobs are particularly appealing because they’re easy to get to and can be a great way to meet other students. Plus, most on-campus managers are willing to work around your class schedule because they recognize that your degree is top priority.
Working in college is also a great way to stock your résumé with skills and experience that could be invaluable down the road. However, on-campus jobs can be limited, so start your search early.
Regardless of whether or not you work in college, it’s smart to work during your school breaks, particularly over the summer. That way, you can save up spending money for the upcoming school year and still have some cash on hand for summer fun. If you can work during the winter and spring breaks, even better.
When searching for ways to save money in college, it makes sense to first look at some of your biggest costs. New textbooks can be quite expensive, so look into buying them used or renting them. Used and rented textbooks are often in great shape and sometimes come with notes and important text highlighted. Asking students who’ve completed the class to sell or loan you their books is also a great way to save money as a student. Just make sure the required textbook didn’t change.
Once you’re done with your textbooks, sell them! While the return on investment isn’t great, an extra hundred dollars at the end of a semester can mean a lot to a struggling college student.
Set a spending cap for weekend activities and think of creative ways to spend less. Just don’t go too far to save money. One of the best parts of college is socializing with new people, so don’t stay locked up in your dorm to save a few bucks!
This is where a job can really come in handy. Even if your income is minimal and only covers weekend spending, that’s still a huge win to keep your bank account afloat during the semester.
Another tried and true way to save money in college is to take full advantage of your meal plan. There’s no sense in regularly spending money dining out when you have access to prepaid meals on campus.
If the dining hall food isn’t great, limit your dining-out dollars by making home-cooked meals instead. You could even make it an event where you and your friends cook a group meal together and divvy up expenses. Look for recipes online and rotate who hosts the event. Not only is this an effective way to save money as a student, but you'll learn new culinary skills in the process.
Try your hand at cooking! Not only will it cut costs, but it’s a valuable skill to have.
Not all colleges let students keep cars on campus. Even if yours does, think twice before bringing your ride. It can be very expensive — there’s car insurance, gas money, maintenance and repairs, and purchasing parking passes for every semester. All those expenses add up to a ton of money.
Instead, save money and help the environment by using public transportation or riding a bike. And if you really need a ride somewhere, take a cab or use a ride-sharing service, like Uber or Lyft.
Tracking spending will help you maintain a steady budget. Apps like Mint or Mvelopes can be super useful tools for college students. They connect to your bank account and credit cards so you can track all spending, set savings goals, and even get alerts when you’ve spent too much.
Housing is a major cost of attending college. You can mitigate this expense and save money as a student by becoming a resident advisor (RA).
You’ll have to work some nights and handle other administrative tasks, but plenty of students see this as a fair tradeoff to eliminate the cost of housing.
We’ve all been there before. A flash sale pops up and before we know it, we’re buying things we don’t need because, I mean, discounts! But what we don’t consider is that while we scored some savings, we also spent money that we had no plans to spend in the first place.
Do your best to keep yourself in check when these flash sales arrive. You’d be surprised how big a difference this can make when saving money as a student.
You’ve been school supply shopping for so long that you’ve practically got it down to a routine — pencils, pens, notebooks, printer paper, folders. The list could go on and on.
But do you really need all of those things?
If, for instance, you take all your notes on your laptop, what good is it to have five notebooks or an endless supply of pencils? That’s why it’s important to be mindful when shopping for school supplies. Ask yourself if you really need this item before throwing it in your real or digital shopping cart.
OK, we admit that this one is a bit of an eye-roller, but seriously, think about it. Brewing your own coffee will eliminate the need to spend $3, $4, or $5 on coffee every day. Not only that, but it’ll eliminate any temptation to buy food with your coffee since you won’t be stopping at the coffee shop at all.
Saving money as a college student involves some sacrifice. The iced coffee from your favorite chain could be one that’s worth making.
Are you hoping to satisfy your sense of adventure in college? Do you want to explore areas other than your college town? The reflex for some college students will be to study abroad, and that’s a great way to see the world and get some perspective on different ways of life. However, it comes with a mighty cost.
Have you heard of domestic exchange? It’s a program offered by some colleges that allow you to complete a semester or two at another college in 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Maybe you attend a school in New Hampshire, but you want to get a taste of the west coast. You could use the domestic exchange program to attend a school out in California, Washington, or Oregon.
You can work with the program to find a school with a comparable tuition cost as the one you’re paying at your current school.
OK, back to the more tactical ways to save money as a student. You and your roommates will need household supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and so on. Rather than buy these one at a time at the store, you could buy these in bulk on Amazon or other online retailers and get them delivered to your dorm, apartment, or house.
Sure, you’ll pay more upfront, but the savings could add up over the course of a semester or school year.
Furnishing your college dorm, apartment, or house is tricky, particularly when you have roommates. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to buy a brand new TV or coffee table when you only need it for a limited time.
With that in mind, put out a call or email to all friends and family. See if they have any old furniture that they’re not using or were planning to upgrade. Their “trash” could be your treasure!
And if there are items you can’t get from them, go to Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to fill in any gaps. It sure beats paying full price on an item; split the cost evenly among your roommates, and then play rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to keep it after graduation.
Another way to save money as a student? Don’t have a TV or cable at all! This could be a cost-saving measure once you move off campus.
Maybe you and your roommates don’t watch a ton of live TV and only need to stream your favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu, or another platform. On the off chance that there is something worth watching on live TV, you could go to a friend’s place!
Managing in-college spending is a learning experience. Fortunately, there are many ways you can save money while in college. Some of these ideas may suit your situation, while others might not apply, so consider the cost-cutting measures that can help limit or monitor your spending — without missing out on the fun of college.
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