17 Tips & Tricks to Make the Most Out of A College Budget
It’s when most young adults start to become financially independent and responsible. While this is an exciting time for most people, it can also land you into LOTS of debt if you’re not careful.
What can you do to make smart financial decisions when you’re in school?
Luckily, there are lots of great ways to save money & stick to a college budget! In today’s post, I’m going to show you 17 ways to make the most out of a college budget.
17 Tips for Making the Most Out of a College Budget
Most college students will apply for their first credit card during their freshman year. It’s even recommended for you to get one since it’s a great time for you to start building credit.
While it may seem tempting to use it for more frivolous spending purposes, it’s best to treat your credit card as an emergency backup option.
Use it for when your laptop tanks mid-semester or you have no other way to come up with the money for your college books. Avoid using it to pay for unnecessary expenses…
…like an epic spring break getaway.
Textbooks are expensive – they can cost you $1,000 or more PER semester!
Instead of paying the steep prices university book stores charge, look into other options. You can save money by using a book rental service, buying used books, or even borrowing books from the library.
I even put together a list of my favorites places to score cheap textbooks here.
When making spending decisions, its best to consider this:
Is it a need or just a want?
This is where anyone can make a budgeting mistake, by not resisting all those little somethings that are merely wants. It can be hard!
When you stick to purchasing only your needs, it will help you keep FULL control over your budget. Successful financial budgeting won’t last long unless you break bad spending habits.
No, it isn’t actually necessary to check it twice, but creating a list will help you collect your thoughts.
Having a laser beam focus will be greatly beneficial when it comes to budgeting in college.
Well, there are no excuses for going over budget on a shopping trip when you know EXACTLY what you came for. Carry a list when shopping and resist the urge to grab anything that isn’t written on the list.
The store that has the lowest prices often changes weekly, especially when it comes to groceries.
That’s why it’s a good idea to check your local ads in the newspaper (or digitally by using the app Flipp) to compare prices.
Extra Tip: Think about which name-brand products (such as cooking staples) you can swap for generic; that will easily bring down your grocery bill.
Also Read: 12 Ways to Save Money on Groceries – NO Coupons Needed!
When there is a rock bottom price on anything that will stay good on the shelf for an extended period of time (e.g. canned goods, paper towels, shampoo, etc), consider purchasing extra!
While it will cost you a bit more upfront, the savings will be clear in the long run when you don’t have to pay full price for toilet paper because you ran out at a bad time.
Stocking up doesn’t have to mean having a separate room filled with spare items!
It can simply mean buying a single extra bottle of dish soap when it costs only pennies. Be sure to visit the clearance racks, as well!
On that note, if you don’t have the money at the time of the sale, you’re better off skipping it! Sales can be tempting, keep tips #3 and #5 in mind.
Keeping track of your income and expenses is a great way to stick to a college budget, especially if you’re more of a visual learner.
Having your budget written down can also help you see the big picture when you’re struggling with a financial decision. It’s easier to remember your goals when you can see them every time you look at your budget.
Consider keeping it on the fridge or anywhere else it can be seen often.
You can grab my Monthly Budget Worksheet for free below. If you have access to a laminator, I like to laminate my budget worksheet and use dry erase pens, so I can reuse it every month.
Here’s a scenario:
There’s a fantastic sale, but you can only get the discounted price if you buy multiple items & the total price is a little over budget.
Grab a friend or roommate who could use the sale item & buy it with them. Pool your money, get exactly how many you need & reap the rewards of low prices!
Freebies and samples are like little luxuries when you’re living on a tight, college budget,
So, love getting free stuff?
I’ve got you covered! I can show you how to get free stuff (without surveys), how to earn free gift cards and how to get paid for your receipts.
I also share: free samples, free full-size products, deals for free items, free magazine subscriptions & more right here. The latest freebies are updated often!
There are a number of ways you can do this.
Be sure to opt for a realistic and affordable meal plan.
And, a few more money-saving tips when it comes to food & drink:
- Stock your dorm room with snack items and split the cost with your roommate.
- Set a budget per week for dining out.
- Invest in a coffee maker for your dorm room instead of going to a cafe for your caffeine needs.
Because a coffee a day can be pretty expensive when you add it all up.
Couponing – it’s not as complicated or as difficult as you might think. And no, it’s not just for moms!
Make sure you know where to get coupons – you can print them online or find them in the Sunday coupon inserts. Pair those coupons with sales, store coupons, coupon apps & gift card offers to score BIG savings!
Less money you need to spend, and your budget WILL love that.
New to couponing, not sure where to start? My beginner’s guide to couponing will show you everything you need to know to start couponing the EASY way.
If you’re not already flashing your student ID everywhere you go, you’re missing out on saving money.
Everywhere, from McDonald’s to Cinemark, there are discounts offered to students. Take advantage of those savings anywhere you can.
Check out my list of student discounts here.
Reap the benefits of rewards programs by signing up for them!
CVS, Walgreen’s, and Macy’s have programs where you earn points when you make a purchase. These points add up to dollars to spend in their respective stores.
These programs are almost always FREE to sign up for. So hey, why not?
It makes sense to earn back points on a purchase you were going to make anyway.
There are occasions when the price indicated on the item or the shelf does not match the price at the register. Watch out for these instances and never be afraid to ask.
Some stores (such as Albertsons, Safeway & Kroger Stores) will even give you the first item for free if it rings up for more than it is priced at! Yep, that’s something I’d want to capitalize on!
Prices that go higher than what is advertised, can risk ruining a perfectly planned budget. If it rings up for the wrong price, speak up!
Why take a student loan, which needs to be paid back after graduation, if you don’t need to? Explore ALL your financial aid options.
Be sure to find out if you qualify for grants. Look for scholarship and work-study program opportunities, which don’t need to be repaid.
This seems like obvious advice since the whole point of going to college is passing classes to get a degree.
Maintaining a high Grade Point Average (GPA) can help you save money on car insurance. The availability of a discount will vary, be sure to ask if yours has one!
In addition, you won’t have to repeat any classes; which can save you money on college tuition in the long run. Graduating on time = less finical burden!
For those of you who are living in an apartment:
You can save $99 per month or more just by getting rid of your cable bill.
With all of the classes you’ll be taking and the studying you need to do, you won’t have much time for TV anyway! You can still catch up on your favorite shows on the networks’ websites or through streaming services, like Hulu and Netflix, which are much less costly than cable.
These are just some budget tips for college students.
There are always more ways you can save and stick to your tight budget without sacrificing the things you need. By putting some thought into the decisions you make while you’re in school, you can prevent yourself from accumulating more debt than you need to in the long run.
What are some tricks you use to stick to your budget? Share with me the comments below!
I’m Jen, one of the co-founders of College Life Made Easy: a lifestyle blog that focuses on helping students navigate college life on topics of finance, organization, dorm living and more.