Money Saving Tips for College Students: Save Thousands

It’s no lie that a college education can be an expensive one. Unless you are getting a complete full-ride to school, then you will definitely need to apply some of these money saving tips for college students to your life.

In addition to the tuition and fees that get charged every semester, college students also have to worry about saving money on housing, food, textbooks, toiletries, transportation, and other necessities.

By the time you add all the costs up, it may seem like there is nothing left!

Although I can’t wave my magic wand and make all of your bills go away, I can provide you with some money saving tips for college students so that you don’t over-exert your wallet – and your sanity.

Paying for college shouldn't stress you out. Here are some ways to save money and financial tips for college students so that you can still get a good education without breaking the bank. Click through to read the tips! Some you probably haven't thought of.

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means that I will receive a small compensation at no cost to you if you purchase something through one of the links. I only recommend products that I fully support!*

Get Cash Back From Your Purchases

Whether you’re buying textbooks, school supplies, gifts, or something special for yourself, you should absolutely be using Honey. When you join and make your first eligible purchase, you’ll even get a bonus!

I really wish I would’ve started using Honey earlier because it has been a great avenue for me to pay extra on my student loans. Every little bit adds up, so do yourself a favor and go get signed up here!

Money Saving Tips for College Students: Textbooks

I wrote an entire article on 6 sites that will save you money on college textbooks, so I encourage you to read that if you aren’t sure where to shop and get deals.

If you don’t have the time to read another article right now, then remember these key points:

  • Your college bookstore is the most EXPENSIVE place to buy textbooks – avoid it all costs if you can
  • Amazon offers Student Prime which allows you to get free shipping on textbooks
  • There are plenty of retailers that allow you to rent textbooks rather than borrow them (huge money saver!). I recommend
  • Downloading the Kindle App or investing in an eReader could easily save you hundreds of dollars (and lots of shoulder knots if you are lugging around tons of books all over campus)

If you purchased your books because rentals weren’t available, then consider selling them back to an online retailer so you can get a higher return value. Although your bookstore will advertise book buyback, you may be able to make more money if you sell the books by yourself to other retailers.


Don’t Sign Up for the Unlimited Meal Plan

Another one of my favorite money saving tips for college students is to make a smart decision about which meal plan to purchase. It may seem very tempting to get the unlimited meals dining plan because you may want to have nonstop access to the buffet, but are you really going to eat that many meals each week?

Although every school is going to offer different meal plans, it’s important that you compare the costs of each and evaluate how much you truly eat.

Not much of a breakfast person? Try going with a value meal plan that provides various options for how many meals you eat each week (i.e. 10 meal swipes, 12, 14, etc.).

Eat out on the weekends? Choose an option that covers five days of meals instead of the entire seven days.

I know that a lot of people overlook choosing meal plans as one of the easiest and most feasible money saving tips for college students because food is a necessity, and although that’s true, you may be surprised that you use fewer swipes than you originally thought you would.

Not sure how much you’re really going to eat in the dining hall as a college student? Try the unlimited for one semester only (unless you are required to commit to an entire year). Keep track of your swipes throughout each week and then decide which dining plan is the best option for you.

money saving tips for college students


To better illustrate how changing your meal plan can be one of the top money saving tips for college students, here are some numbers from North Carolina State University (2016):

Unlimited Meals: $1,680 per semester

10 Meals Weekly: $1,210 per semester

14 Meals weekly: $1,550 per semester

NC State offers plenty of other options, but I have only included a few options for the sake of space.

So let’s take a look at how much each of these would cost for one year, and then for four years (the time it typically takes to complete a bachelor’s degree):

Unlimited Meals:              $3,360 per year               $13,440 for four years

10 Meals Weekly:              $2,420 per year               $9,680   for four years

14 Meals Weekly:              $3,100 per year               $12,400 for four years

When you look at the four year totals, it’s clear that the unlimited plan really adds up! You could potentially save almost $4,000 if you chose the 10 weekly meals plan rather than the unlimited plan.

Ok, so maybe you are worried about where the other meals are going to come from. Unless you are a heavy breakfast eater every day, you could easily get by with purchasing a few things at your local grocery store, such as fruit, oatmeal, cereal, muffins, and other breakfast foods. Paying the few dollars here and there is much cheaper than paying for a pricey college meal plan.

Get a Work Study Job On-Campus, or Freelance Online

If you qualified for work study through the FAFSA, then make sure you stop by your Career Services office or check your college’s student job board to see what positions are available on-campus.

Some students get confused with work study, so here is what you need to know:

  • College students get directly paid for their work study jobs (it is up to you to apply it to your school costs)
  • Work study jobs are only available for qualifying students (meaning that you need to demonstrate some financial need on your FAFSA)
  • There are limited positions available, so make sure you apply early in the semester

So what if you aren’t eligible for work study or there aren’t any open positions that work with your schedule?

Check out some freelance jobs and make some money online!

Yes, college students have the ability to make money online, too.

I’m not saying that freelance work is the easy route – it’s not, but the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of opportunities out there if you’re willing to put in a little work and get creative.

If you are good at writing, content mill sites like HubPages are a great option. You won’t make a fortune, but it’s not too hard to generate some side income so that you can save money while you go to college.

For the good salespeople out there, you can do some affiliate marketing through social media sites. Amazon has thousands of products to sell.

Heck, if you are feeling extra creative, go ahead and just create your own website!

Leave the Car at Home (or at Least Cut Down on Your Driving)

College students can save money by taking alternate forms of transportation around campus and the city. Rather than driving your car everywhere, consider taking the city bus to get to and from places. Most colleges provide free bus passes to students, so you can save plenty of money in gas and car repairs by not driving your car as much.

If you can absolutely muster the idea to leave your car at home, then do it. Not only do you save in gas costs, but you also won’t have to worry about paying a parking permit either (more than $300 a year at some schools).

Stay on Your Parent’s Health Insurance Plan

This money saving tip may not work for all college students, but if you have the option to stay on your parent’s health insurance, then try to do so. Most schools are going to require that you have health insurance upon enrollment, so you will be forced to sign up for one of their plans if you are uninsured.

Prices are going to vary by school, but expect to pay around $1,500-$1,600 at the bare minimum for student health insurance.

If you are able to save on this cost, then you could potentially knock $6,000 off of your total college bill by the time you graduate in four years!

The Best of the Best Money Saving Tips for College Students Involve…

Researching everything!

You’d be surprised at how much money you can save just by researching things. You’ll begin to notice that there are a lot of areas where you can save a few extra dollars, so make sure you take the time to sit down and dive into all the little details that often get overlooked.

Keep a Regular Budget

Knowing where your money is coming from, and where it’s going, is a great way to cut out unnecessary expenses and save more.

To help you get started, I created a college budget template that you can get for free (just click the link)!

Take Advantage of College Student Discounts

Movie theaters, retail stores, computer software companies, and many others offer discounts for college students. If you can’t find out if a discount is offered by researching online, then ask someone!

Apply These Money Saving Tips for College Students and Read More Here:

What tip did you find most helpful? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

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  • Mark
    December 6, 2014 at 12:02 am

    What an excellent tips on saving money Tori1

    You’ve offered five excellent tips, to help today’s college student save a few dollars here and there.

    And I really like your suggestion about selling your books back to someone other than the school. And you’re
    also offering some solid advice, when you suggest they really look into
    the various meal plans.

    Thanks for sharing such sound advice!

    • Tori
      December 7, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Mark! I really wish that I had looked more into these things when I was a college student!

  • Steele Honda
    November 9, 2017 at 4:13 am

    It did not even cross my mind that making a smart decision about which meal plan to purchase can be another step in saving more money for college! I am only 15, but I am already worried about my higher education as my family does not have lots of money to pay for it. I will also start looking for a part-time job so that I could contribute in saving for my college as I do not want my parents to work hard in order to send me to study.

    • Tori
      November 13, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      The meal plan was definitely something I didn’t even realize could save me a ton of money until well after my first year of college. Every little bit adds up! And that is AMAZING that you are starting to plan so early 🙂