A Guide to Saving Money in College

The decision to go to college is one of the most important ones that a young adult can make. But while attending college can lead to a higher income after graduation, it also comes at a high cost: Going to college can cost $15,000 or more per year! Going to college also includes a lot of other expenses that students often have to deal with for the first time. Things like housing, food, fuel, and entertainment can add up quickly, so it’s important to plan out your finances carefully.

Creating a Budget

When you are creating a budget, you need to consider several things. What money do you have available? Do you have savings you can use, or do you have a part-time job? If you don’t have a job, check with your college: Many times, they have a listing of jobs available on campus or can connect you with available jobs in the community.

Once you have determined how much you have to spend, you need to look at your expenses. If you live in on-campus housing, your expenses should be minimal, since your housing is covered. You’ll usually have a meal plan, too, so food is also covered. The only thing you will need to be concerned about is money for extracurricular activities, snacks, and miscellaneous spending money.

If you live in off-campus housing, your expenses will be very different. You will be responsible for paying for rent, utilities, food, and any other expenses. When creating your budget, make sure that you account for all these expenses.

Tools for Budgeting

Once you have determined what your income and expenses are, you can create your budget. There are lots of apps you can use to make a budget, or you can use a simple spreadsheet. It’s recommended to make your budget with a little extra money left over each month, just in case an emergency pops up. A few dollars tucked away here and there can help you out in a pinch.

Establishing Your Financial Goals

Depending upon your position as a college student, you may have different financial goals. As a freshman living in a college dorm, your financial goal may be having money available to have a good time on the weekends. However, the goals of a college senior or graduate student may be different. At that stage of college, students should be looking toward the future, when they will get a full-time job, a place of their own, a car, and other things they’ll need to get by.

Credit Cards and Bank Accounts

A new college student will need some spending money and money available in case of an emergency. This is a great time to set up a checking account with a debit card for access. The financial institution can be one that is near the college or one near home where a family member can deposit money when needed. Students may also consider getting a credit card. Credit cards can be dangerous, but having one and using it responsibly can help to establish a good credit history.

Grocery Shopping

Maintaining good health and nutrition is important while in college. Students who live off-campus will need to buy their own groceries and cook their own food. Look around the area of the college and see which grocery stores are nearby. Check them out and see where you can find the best deals on products that you need. Once you find a good grocery store, sign up for any rewards programs they offer that can help you save money.

Textbooks and Other School Supplies

One of the bigger expenses that college students face every semester is textbooks. Check with the college bookstore to see what your options are: You may be able to buy used textbooks or even rent them instead of buying them. You might also be able to find the same textbooks at a lower price online. But be careful: You’ll need to make sure that the textbook you’re buying is the same edition as the one your professor requires.


Students who live on campus will often not need to have transportation, since most of what they need is on campus. But if students live off campus, they will probably need a car. This means that the college budget will need to include money for gas and regular maintenance costs. If you are transporting others to college or to off-campus destinations, you may be able to get gas money from the riders, which will help with your costs.


You’ll be able to buy a lot of what you need on campus, but there are times when you might need or want to look elsewhere. Most college towns have places to shop that aren’t too far away. Often, stores in college towns will offer student discounts, so don’t forget to bring your student ID when you go.


College students do need some time off to unwind and have fun, so entertainment should be part of the regular routine. Depending on where the college is located, students may be able to participate in school-sponsored trips or carpool with friends to get off campus.

Student Discounts

Often, colleges will work with the local community and create a list of discounts that students can use in the community. These discounts could be for restaurants, stores, services, and other helpful things. In some places, you can even use your college ID to cover the cost of things you buy at local businesses.