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How to Save Money in College

November 20, 2020 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

How to Save Money in College

College is expensive. In the 2018-19 academic year, tuition and fees averaged $36,801 for students at private universities, which adds up to $147,204 for all four years!

The cost of public school for out-of-state students wasn’t much lower, with annual tuition and fees averaging $22,577.

The price tag was a bit smaller for in-state students (an average of $10,116), but all of these figures have kept climbing every year and show no signs of slowing down.

These numbers don’t include all the other expenses of college life, such as room and board, books, supplies, food, clothing, and entertainment. At the same time, you probably aren’t earning very much, because you’re busy with school.

Plenty of options exist for financing your time in college, including scholarships, loans, and part-time work. But when you’re on a limited budget, one thing you can try to do is trim your expenses where possible. Saving money can possibly mean owing less in loans (and interest) down the line and avoiding things like credit card debt.

Luckily, once you adopt a money-conscious mindset, you’ll likely find there are many ways to save money in college. And building the habit of budgeting now can serve you well as you move on to life in the real world. Here are some tips to save money in college:

Saving Money as a College Student

1. 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.

Entertainment is another area where you can save. Some movie theaters offer discounts at some locations or on certain days. Some museums and sports events offer discounted access to students, as well. There may also be discounts on certain music and video streaming sites. And you can spend less on travel with discounts at certain car rental and car insurance companies, as well as on trains and buses.

2. Buying Used

If you don’t need that new-book smell, you can spend less by renting textbooks or buying them used. You can find used books at many campus bookstores or certain 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 used as well. You might try looking for used clothing and furniture at second hand stores, garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, or on Craigslist.

3. Cooking Meals

Food eats up a big chunk of most people’s budgets—on average, Americans spend about 10% of their disposable income on food. It may be a good idea to evaluate how much of your money goes into feeding yourself each month.

Younger generations go out to eat more often than older cohorts, and paying for restaurant meals can add up. In college, eating out can be a tempting option, since you’re likely to be busy and may want to socialize with friends over meals.

But shopping for your own ingredients and making simple meals at home can help you save a lot of money. The average meal you eat in a restaurant is 325% more expensive than one you make yourself.

4. Serving as an R.A.

Becoming a resident assistant can not only be rewarding but also help you cut down 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. Cutting Out The Extras

You may want 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 or go with the less fancy option with free refills.

Instead of going to bars with friends, maybe you can take turns hosting wine and cheese nights at your homes. If you belong to a fancy gym, look around for lower-cost options on campus, join an intramural sports league, or run outdoors. Instead of a spring break trip to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, consider camping, hanging out at the local swimming pool, or volunteering. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

6. Paying Your Bills on Time

When you pay all of your bills by the due date, you can avoid hefty fees and help keep interest from piling up. If you’re worried about forgetting, you may be able to set up 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 history strong (or, at least, not dinging it by being sent to collections), which could help you qualify for better terms on loans and credit cards down the line.

7. Signing up for Family Plans

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 your family members, rather than as an individual.

If you’re under 26 years old, you can stay on your parents’ health insurance coverage, which may be less expensive than purchasing your own. And 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.

Other Ways to Finance College

Saving can get you far. But when it comes to actually paying for college, you have a few options if you or your parents haven’t saved enough to cover the costs in full. One of the most advantageous is to land scholarships or grants that will fund all or part of your tuition.

These are available through state and federal governments, universities, non-profit organizations, and corporations, and many are tailored to students of specific backgrounds or intending to enter certain fields. You can search for some opportunities on FastWeb , FinAid , and Scholarships.com .

One of the most common ways to pay for school is take out federal student loans. You can apply by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which will help the government and your school determine the amount of federal aid you qualify for.

Federal student loans are a likely part of the federal student aid package you receive. They come with fixed interest rates and certain benefits, such as a six-month grace period after graduation, income driven repayment plans, and options for pausing or reducing payments while you’re in school or facing an economic hardship.

It’s wise to exhaust all your federal grant and loan options before taking out private student loans, since they typically offer less flexibility and fewer borrower protections. However, if you need to fill gaps in paying for school, you can look into private student loans from various financial institutions.

When you apply for a private student loan with SoFi, the process is straightforward and fast. You can choose from several flexible payment options, and there aren’t any fees.

Qualifying for the loan, as well as the interest rate and terms you receive, depend on your credit history (or that of your co-signer) and other factors. You can check your rates before applying—in just minutes.

Looking for ways to make college affordable? Consider a private loan with SoFi.


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 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.

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 or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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