College Series: A Student's Guide to Saving Money

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

how to save money in college

As someone who doesn't consider herself financially savvy, it came as a bit of a shock to me when I was talking to a friend and she said something along the lines of how thrifty I was. While I've always been taught to save and avoid debt, I'm a bit of an impulse buyer and my favorite form of therapy is definitely retail. When I paused to think about her comment later, I realized that I learned a lot about managing my money this past year as I was up at college. Here are some of my best tips for when you're off on your own the first time:

Know your poison.
If I have cash in my wallet, it's gone before I know it. Instead, I use my debit card all the time (and never keep a ton of money on it.) Other people I know go crazy with cards, so they only use cash. Know what works for you and use the method that keeps you from impulse buying.

Avoid vending machines.
While they're good in a pinch, I've found that I often end up relying on vending machines for snacks while I'm studying that are neither a good deal or good for me. Since I never carry cash, I'm not tempted by most vending machines, but a couple on campus were card-operated and I always fell prey to them. Eventually, I figured out that I should just buy healthy snacks and keep a few on hand in case I got hungry while studying. I think it's a good practice to always have a piece of fruit and some sort of protein (almonds, Luna bars, string cheese [as long as it's not sitting there all day]) in your purse or backpack.

File your taxes, sell your textbooks and take care of your apartment.
If you don't work your freshman year or have a steady income (I didn't) it can be kind of scary to watch your savings accounts slowly get smaller and smaller. There are a couple times you'll probably get some money and those are holidays/your birthday, textbook buyback week, your tax return and your apartment deposit. Keep your textbooks in excellent condition so you can sell them back for the best price (try not to write in them, don't throw them around etc.) and research the best place to sell them back (hint: it's usually not the campus bookstore.) Start your taxes in January so you can file them in Feburary or early March (another advantage to this is that you won't be cramming in April.) Finally, make sure you clean your apartment properly and avoid damaging anything so you can get those couple hundred bucks back at the end of the year. :)

Take advantage of free/cheap on-campus entertainment.
Universities have all sorts of events that are either free or really cheap. If you have the choice between going to one of those or a more expensive concert or movie, opt for the on-campus event most of the time. Also, a lot of events will offer free food, which is always a bonus.

If you can help it, don't get a meal plan. 
They're expensive and often unhealthy, and you're better off learning to cook for yourself. I chose to live in an apartment on campus instead of a traditional dorm that required a meal plan, and I haven't regretted the decision once (especially when my friends complained about how gross the cafeteria food was.) I've saved so much money (and many calories,) eat what I want and can set my own eating schedule.

Shop at stores and eat at restaurants that have point or reward systems.
And make sure you register for their point systems. It might not seem like much, but if even if you only eat out once a month, you can build up enough points to get a free meal quick. When I'm shopping online, I like to use studentrate.com to get discounts and rebates at Walmart, ASOS and more.

Browse stores for the best deals. 
My local grocery store has good prices for most products, but there are a couple of things I can get way cheaper at Walmart, Natural Grocers or even on Amazon.

Before you buy a product or service, check to see if your school offers it for free or a reduced price. 
I bought Microsoft Office before starting, only to have my school offer it for free a couple months into my first semester (I'm still glad I have it, since I can use it after I graduate, but it's definitely something to consider.) I know my university has a free gym, healthcare clinic and counseling, so make sure you research what yours has to offer.

Buy things from the bulk section of your grocery store.
(The bulk section is the part with all the bins where you scoop whatever you want into a bag. You probably already knew that, but I used to think that "bulk" meant buying huge containers at Costco.) Ounce for ounce, everything there is almost always cheaper than buying the same thing in a box, even at the same store.  Also, you only have to get the amount that you need, which can definitely save you money over buying a huge container.

Shop around for textbooks before buying at the university bookstore. 
Also, you don't necessarilly need to buy your books beforehand. I've come to the first day a couple times only to figure out I could have bought a older (and therefore cheaper) version of my book. Also, you can use ratemyprofessor.com to see how much you need a book for a class.

I hope you learned something useful from today's post! If you have any tips you would like to share, I would love to see them in the comments section (like everyone else, I'm always up to save a little more money)! If you'd like more money saving tips, you can also check out my "Saving Money" board on Pinterest:

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