College is expensive. In the 2022-23 academic year, tuition and fees averaged $39,400 for students at private universities — that’s $157,600 for all four years. Tuition and fees at public colleges were lower, but still steep — averaging $28,240 for out-of-state students and $10,950 for in-state students.
Keep in mind that these numbers don’t include all the other necessary expenses of college life, such as room and board, books, supplies, clothing, and entertainment. At the same time, it’s difficult for college students to earn a lot during these years, given the demands of school.
Fortunately, there are numerous options for financing the cost of higher education, including scholarships, loans, and part-time work. There are also ways to trim your expenses while you’re in college, which can mean borrowing less money, and owing less in loan repayments (and interest) down the line.
Saving Money as a College Student
Luckily, once you adopt a money-conscious mindset, you’ll likely find there are many ways to save money in college. Plus, building the habit of budgeting now can serve you well as you move on to life and enter the real world. Here are some tips for how to save money in college.
1. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Lots of businesses and service providers offer special deals to students. You can buy clothing, shoes, and furniture for your dorm or apartment for less at certain retailers with a valid student ID.
Entertainment is another area where you can save. Some movie theaters offer student discounts at some locations or on certain days. Some museums and sports events offer discounted access to students as well. You may also find discounts on certain music and video streaming sites. And you can save on travel with discounts at certain car rental and car insurance companies, as well as on trains and buses.
💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs
2. Buy Your Books (and Other Necessities) Used
Renting or buying used textbooks is a classic way to save money in college. You can find used books at many campus bookstores and through online retailers.
Used books often come at a fraction of the price of a brand new book, and many are in perfectly good condition. Plus once you’re done, you can try to resell the book.
You can save by buying other items second-hand as well. You might try looking for used clothing and furniture at thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, or on sites like Craigslist, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace.
Recommended: 33 Ideas for Saving Money While Dorm Shopping
3. Cook Meals at Home
Food can eat up a big chunk of your college budget, since students with limited cooking skills and small kitchen spaces may be tempted to eat out for every meal. But restaurant tabs can add up quickly.
Shopping wisely for your own ingredients and making simple meals in your living space can help you save a lot of money — and leftovers from one home-cooked meal can be lunch the next day, for even more savings.
4. Serve as an R.A.
Becoming a resident assistant (R.A.), can not only be rewarding but also help you cut down on living expenses. R.A.s are a sort of big brother or sister in dorms, organizing social events, advising younger students, enforcing rules, and mediating disagreements. Many R.A.s receive free or discounted housing and meals, and some also get a stipend.
5. Cut Out the Extras
One of the best tips to save money in college is to look for areas in your budget where you can trim by choosing a less expensive option.
If you frequent coffee shops, for example, perhaps you can brew your own java a few days a week, or find a less fancy option with free refills.
Instead of always going out to bars with friends, maybe you can take turns hosting get-togethers in your on- or off-campus apartments. If you belong to a fancy gym, you might search for lower-cost options on campus, join a sports league, or jog/run outdoors.
Instead of a spring break trip to an all-inclusive resort a plane-ride away, consider a group camping trip or sharing a house at a nearby lake. Get creative — the trip will likely be just as fun.
6. Pay Your Bills on Time
When you pay all of your bills by the due date, you can avoid unnecessary fees and help keep interest from piling up. If you’re worried about forgetting, you may be able to set autopay through your credit card, the service provider itself, or your bank.
Staying on top of bills not only avoids added costs but may also help keep your credit report in good shape. That could help you qualify for better terms on loans and credit cards down the line.
7. Take Advantage of Family Discounts
You may have left home, but maybe don’t cut the cord completely just yet. Many phone and car insurance plans are cheaper if you sign up with family members, rather than as an individual. If your family is on board, this can be one of the easiest ways to go about saving money in college.
If you’re under age 26, you should be eligible to stay on your parents’ health insurance plan, which may be less expensive than purchasing your own. You might also see if your parents will unofficially keep you on various “family plans” by sharing their logins for things like video streaming services.
8. Sign up for Cash Back Credit Cards
If you’ve decided to use a credit card, you might as well earn some cashback while you’re at it. As long as you pay your bill in full each month to avoid fees and interest, you may benefit from a reward credit card. You could earn points that can be applied as a statement credit, sent to you in check form, or put toward merchandise or gift cards.
When signing up for a cashback credit card, look for one with a low or no annual fee that offers the highest amount of cashback possible. And remember, any benefits will likely evaporate if you do not pay your balance in full every single month.
9. Frequent the Library
Instead of purchasing books, look for them at your local or on-campus library. Your library may also offer magazines and movies so you don’t have to spend money on those, either. Many public libraries now offer digital loans you can download and enjoy instantly on your favorite device.
You might also consider using the library as a free and quiet place to study instead of spending money at the local coffee shop. To make your library experience even more enjoyable, invite friends to form a study group.
10. Give Up Your Car
If you live on campus, you may not actually need a car and all its associated monthly costs (insurance, repairs, gas, and parking, to name a few). Look into free campus shuttles and public transportation to get you where you need to go.
If you need to use a taxi or rideshare service, you can comparison shop to find the cheapest option, and if you’re looking to take a longer trip, split the cost of a rental car with friends.
11. Look Into Work-Study Options
Work-study is a need-based federal program that provides student-friendly, part-time jobs to help cover school expenses. As a bonus, the work experience may benefit you when it comes time to jump into the job market.
To apply for work-study, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and indicate that you would like to be considered for work-study. Selecting this option, however, doesn’t automatically mean that you will receive work-study as part of your financial aid package. Acceptance depends on a few factors, including when you apply (earlier is generally better), your level of financial need, and the school’s funding level.
Tuition bills are due.
Prequalify for a no-fee student loan.
12. Look for Discounted Banking Products
Some banks offer college savings and checking accounts that don’t charge the same types of fees or have the same balance requirements as normal accounts do.
It’s a good idea to shop around and look into different banks (including banks with local branches and online banks) and compare what kinds of benefits they are offering to college students before making your decision.
13. Take Advantage of Free Campus Activities
Colleges often host a number of different activities for students throughout the week. There might be dances, plays and musicals, sporting events and more, all for free.
By choosing these activities instead of going off-campus, you can save money without sacrificing on fun.
14. Stay Focused
Though college can be a lot of fun, you also need to keep your eye on the prize (graduation) and stay on top of your schoolwork.
Taking more than four years to graduate could blow your higher education budget and negatively impact your earning potential. Some hyper-focused students even graduate in fewer than four years.
Recommended: Return on Education for Bachelor’s Degrees
15. Buy in Bulk
This one requires a little price sleuthing, but for nonperishable items you use a lot of, you’ll typically save money buying in bulk. This is true whether you have access to a membership at a bulk goods store like Costco or Sam’s Club, or you’re choosing between package sizes at a superstore like Target or Walmart. If you can’t use or store an enormous quantity of, e.g. toilet paper, consider going shopping with a friend and splitting the goods.
16. Turn in the FAFSA Every Year
Every year, you need to fill out your FAFSA form to qualify for financial aid. If you don’t turn it in, you could be throwing away free money.
While in the past the form was long and somewhat complicated, a new, simplified FAFSA form is coming in December 2023 for the 2024-25 academic year. The application will be pared down to just 36 questions from 108. There will also be some changes in financial aid eligibility rules, making it easier for some families to qualify — so definitely don’t skip the FAFSA.
17. Sell Your Textbooks
Once you’ve completed your courses for the year, you can take the books you purchased and resell them to get some of your money back.
To get the best possible price, compare quotes from your campus bookstore against the going online sale rate. Websites like BookScouter help you compare prices before you list your books for sale.
18. Consider Printing Expenses
You may already pay for use of on-campus printers with your student fees. Don’t spend additional money on printers, ink, and paper if it’s cheaper to utilize the printing resources at the library or other places around your campus.
19. Look Into Local Restaurant Deals
To enjoy a nice meal out while saving money, keep your eye out for deals at local restaurants. Many establishments offer happy hour specials or special discount nights.
You may also be able to access valuable coupons by downloading the restaurant’s app, signing up for their emails, and/or filling out surveys printed at the bottom of your receipts. There are also sites that offer restaurant coupons, such as Restaurant.com.
20. Find the Free Food!
You can’t get cheaper than free. Departments and organizations on campus will often offer free food like pizza and sandwiches to entice students to attend their events.
Keep an eye out for signs around campus. You could score some free dinner and you might find some interesting people or a new hobby while you’re at it.
💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.
Other Ways to Finance College
Saving can get you far. But you may still need help coming up with the full cost of attendance for college. Fortunately, by filling out the FAFSA, you will automatically be in the running for federal financial aid, which may include grants, scholarships, work-study, and subsidized federal loans.
It can also pay to research private scholarships opportunities online and apply for any you think you might qualify for. Though each award may be small, if you are able to get a few scholarships, it can add up to a significant sum.
You may then want to fill in any gaps in funding with unsubsidized federal loans and, if necessary, private student loans. Private student loans are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Loan limits vary by lender, but you can often get up to the full cost of attendance, which is more than you can borrow from the federal government. Interest rates may be fixed or variable and are set by the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.