50 Smart and Easy Ways to Save Money in College

Finding college a little more expensive than you expected? Check out these tips to help you save cash during the college years — I’ve used a lot of them myself (and now that I’m paying of student loans, I’m finding even more!)

School & Textbooks

  1. Try to get a tuition discount. (Fox College Funding’s founder, Deborah Fox, talks about how to do that on her Pay for College blog — look there for other good college & money saving info).
  2. Check if your job has tuition assistance or education reimbursement program — if it does, use it!
  3. Check to see if your 4-year college will give you credit to take lower division classes at a community college. They cost less to take, and should be basically the same classes.
  4. DON’T buy textbooks from the campus bookstore! They are almost ALWAYS overpriced.
  5. Buy your text books used (CampusBooks.com compares prices on a lot of sites for you), or to save even more, ask your professor if you can use an older edition — those are usually MUCH cheaper.
  6. Sell your textbooks at the end of the quarter/semester. You’ll probably get more selling them online than you would selling them back to the school.
  7. Apply for scholarships–and increase your odds by applying to quirky scholarships that apply to you, or to local ones. They have a smaller applicant pool, so they’re easier to win!


  1. Use meal points or other college meal credits that are built into your fees to their fullest (you probably won’t get a refund at the end of the year).
  2. Buy store brand groceries for things that taste the same. For example, store brand cereals sometimes don’t taste as good, but I haven’t noticed a difference in canned goods, pastas, and salad dressing.
  3. Buy bulk packages of the things you use the most — toilet paper, shampoo, soap, etc.
  4. Don’t use paper plates and plastic utensils if you have to buy them, just wash some dishes instead. Little luxuries like disposable utensils add up.
  5. When you go shopping, make a list of all the meals you are going to eat for the next week first. Buy ONLY what you need to make those meals.
  6. Don’t shop hungry, and don’t give in to the impulse buys at the checkout stand.
  7. Buy groceries that are on sale, but DON’T buy things you don’t need just because they’re on sale.
  8. Learn how to eat well (as in real food, not ramen noodles) cheaply.
  9. Buy local produce at a produce store or farmers market. It is fresher AND cheaper. In San Diego we have a store called Henry’s – you can also try to find cheaper fruit & etc. at stores like Trader Joe’s.

Transportation & Travel

  1. Gas is expensive. Take the bus (a lot of colleges offer free shuttles or bus passes — check with your school’s transportation department).
  2. Carpool and split the cost of gas. This is especially good if you’re taking a long road trip.
  3. If you still need to buy gas, check GasBuddy.com to find cheap rates in your area.
  4. Use student discounts when you travel. Check with the bus, train, or airline you are using, or use a student travel site like StudentUniverse.com.


  1. Share a room. It’s tempting to pay the extra for your own room, but unless you REALLY need it, you may as well share. It’s good practice at getting along with someone, and it costs less.
  2. Fight yearly rental increases if you live off campus! Landlords and apartment complexes will usually lower your rent increase if you just ask. Tell them you want to stay in the complex, but you can’t afford so much of an increase — they will usually compromise with you.

Utilities & Phone

  1. Reduce your electricity bills: turn off your computer when you’re not using it, turn off lights when you leave the room, unplug appliances you aren’t using.
  2. Track your cell minutes diligently so you don’t get charged extra. Better yet, cut down your cell minutes use and get a cheaper plan. Cut down on the frills (like texting or video messaging) that you don’t need, or see if you can get them for free.
  3. Calling information? Don’t pay a fee! Call for free information at Google’s (800) GOOG-411, or another free service, (800) FREE-411.
  4. Use free internet phone software like Skype to make free computer-to-computer phone calls (it will help cut down your phone bill!)
  5. Use the internet at school, and skip getting it at home. Doing that saved me about $30/month.
  6. If you’re buying software, hardware, or computers, check out Fry’s Electronics (Frys.com). They often have rebate deals that allow you to get software for free.


  1. Use RetailMeNot.com to find coupon codes for thousands of websites — That College Kid used it to save $70 on her textbooks.
  2. Refashion old clothes (or thrifted clothes) into something you love. Check out Wardrobe Refashion and T-Shirt Surgery for inspiration, and get free patterns at Burda Style.
  3. Make your own gifts. Check out these DIY gift roundups: for girls, for guys, for kids, & for teens/twenty-somethings. I made a gift for my brother this year that he LOVED, and it cost less than $5 (you can find it in “gifts for guys”–its the Monster iPod Cozy).
  4. Buy the floor model for expensive items (but make sure it has a warranty). I got a floor model mattress for a few hundred dollars cheaper.
  5. Bargain anywhere you can! It never hurts to ask for a lower price. I’ve gotten discounts on mattress box springs, a motor scooter, and my car just by talking the salesman down!
  6. If you have a credit card, use it like a debit card — never spend more than you actually have in the bank.

Credit, Fees & Bills

  1. Understand what your credit score is, and keep it healthy! It will help you save money later when you’re looking for low interest rates on car or home loans.
  2. Pay your bills on time, always. Late fees for most credit cards START at $20 — they could be more.
  3. Ask to have yearly or monthly fees waived from credit cards or bank accounts. The worst case scenario is that you get a “No,” the best is that you save those fees!

Food & Entertainment

  1. Check for student discounts at museums, zoos, restaurants, and movie theaters. They may not be listed. The San Diego zoo had a deal that allowed me to get a year pass for just a little more than the price of one regular admission, but I had to ask for it — the deal wasn’t listed.
  2. Don’t eat out. It adds up quickly, and if you’re not getting fast food, you have to add a tip.
  3. Use the gym at school, or exercise for free at parks or beaches.
  4. Make your own coffee, or at least skip the $3 lattes.
  5. Find free, legal music downloads instead of paying $1 per song. Ruckus.com has free downloads for students, and Librivox has free audiobooks.
  6. Borrow books and movies from the library instead of buying them or paying a rental fee. Return them on time.
  7. Buy discount movie tickets at Costco. They have discounted tickets for chains like Edwards and AMC.
  8. Go to matinees, and take advantage of your local theater’s cheaper days — our AMC shows movies for less than half price if you go before 11 on a weekend morning.
  9. Try to find a local discount movie theater. We have one on campus! The movies are a little older (almost ready for release on DVD), but still fun to watch on a big screen.
  10. Avoid buying snacks at the movie theater; they always overcharge you. If you really want something to munch, pick up some goodies at a grocery store beforehand.
  11. Sign up for freebies with your favorite restaurants. Two of my favorites – Pat & Oscar’s and Quizno’s–send out coupons via email, and you can get a FREE “Love It” (medium) size ice cream at Coldstone if you join their birthday club. Mmm!
  12. Ask for a lower rate on hotel rooms and rental cars. Since they are travel industries, they are more likely to give you some kind of discount. Be polite, not pushy.
  13. Look for freebies in your local paper or school paper: Some museums are free on certain weekdays, some bands play with no cover charge, and your college will probably have some free events for students. UCSD has at least two free concerts with big name artists every year.