I remember those days of walking around the local supermarket, trying to find the cheapest groceries and waiting for holiday sales at the local mall to stock up on warm clothes. When you’re a college student on financial aid like myself, you quickly realize that working part-time might not be enough to cover your monthly bills. The College Board reported that between 2007 and 2018, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions increased at an average rate of 3.2% per year beyond inflation.
Rising costs have definitely had an impact on my own personal budgeting and spending in college, and while not always easy, it’s certainly possible to be more savvy and actually save some of your hard-earned cash. Here are five effective ways to save money in college so you can focus on making the dean’s list instead of stressing over your checking account balance.
Use your student discount
As an international student, I took a financial hit after having to buy so many things to prepare for winter at Cornell. That’s when I found out that many of the websites I was shopping at offered student discounts! For example, Amazon offers a Prime Student package, where members can receive free two-day shipping for six months, plus discounted Prime membership and other deals until graduation. Guilford Press offers a 40% discount off the list price of books, videos, newsletters, and journals, plus free shipping, for full-time students. If you need a new dress shirt for that interview, clothing stores such as JCrew and Topshop also offer discounts for students with a valid student ID. Keep in mind that your local stores and campus bookstore often have discounted deals for students as well. Check out this blog for a list of more than 100 websites that give a student discount.
Don’t buy new textbooks
Like many freshman, I scrambled to my school’s bookstore and bought all the textbooks listed for my classes. That turned out to be a costly mistake, as the books at college stores are often overpriced. I quickly realized that some of the textbooks were available at the local library for free, where you could check them out and share with a classmate, or photocopy important excerpts. If you can’t find them in the library, you can also rent books for a discounted price at websites such as Chegg Books and Amazon. They also sell used textbooks at affordable rates, which was really helpful when I wanted to keep my organic chemistry textbook to use in more advanced classes.
Buy used dorm essentials
Students, especially seniors and those going for study abroad, often sell their used furniture at the end of the semester. I got a printer for free when the seniors moved out and my friend scored a mini fridge for $10! If you’re in need of furniture or other expensive items, scroll through the class Facebook group or watch for old-fashioned “for sale” signs to take advantage of these offers.
Cook your own meals
While it may seem more convenient to buy food on the fly or grab dinner out for your meals, you’ll end up spending a fortune. I personally preferred making my breakfasts and dinners at home. Overnight oats are a delicious option for breakfast and don’t cost much to prepare. For dinner, I usually cooked fish and some green vegetables, which only take about 15 minutes to cook. If cooking every day seems daunting, do a little meal prep to reduce stress. Prepping a week’s worth of food in advance might sound difficult, but you can save a lot of time and money once you get used to it. Check out Budget Bytes for budget-friendly meal prep ideas and Greatist for recipes you can prepare in less than 30 minutes. Supercook allows you to search for recipes based on the ingredients that you already have at home, which is super helpful.
Celebrate special occasions on a budget
Special occasions such as Valentine’s Day and birthdays can put a lot of pressure on students living on a budget. Don’t feel obliged to go for fancy dinners to celebrate. You can always prepare a home-cooked meal and decorate the table for a festive dinner. And birthday gifts don’t have to be expensive too. I remember baking carrot cake for my friend’s birthday, and she raves about it to this day! If you would like to have a night out, you can always take a tour at the local art gallery or catch an independent movie at your local cinema without breaking the bank. (Take your student ID, they probably offer a discount.)
Originally published August 22, 2018.