Learning How To Survive On A College Budget

College is expensive and everyone knows that. Between paying for tuition, parking, textbooks, extra fees, and everything else, you also have basic living expenses to pay for as well. All of these costs are either brand new or somewhat new to you most likely as well, so you might not even know how to survive…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: June 17, 2024

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Find out how to survive on a college budget here. This is a great list!College is expensive and everyone knows that.

Between paying for tuition, parking, textbooks, extra fees, and everything else, you also have basic living expenses to pay for as well.

All of these costs are either brand new or somewhat new to you most likely as well, so you might not even know how to survive on a budget, let alone a college budget.

Don’t worry, though, surviving on a college budget is possible. Learning how to save money in college is possible!

Related post: How I Paid Off $40,000 In Student Loans In 7 Months

Whether you are trying to survive the whole year off of what you made over the summer or if you have a steady job throughout the school year, there are ways to budget your money and not fall into any extra debt. Plus, you can still enjoy your college years on a low budget as well!

Below are my tips on how to survive on a college budget.


Use your student ID.

Your student ID is good at many places beyond just your college campus. Before you buy anything, I highly recommend seeing if a company offers a student discount.

Your student ID can be used to save money at restaurants, clothing stores, electronics (such as laptops!), at the movies, and more. You may receive a discount, free items, and more all just by flashing your student ID.

After all, you are paying to go to college and you are paying a lot. You might as well reap one benefit of paying all of those high college costs.


Make extra money.

You may need to look into making extra money if you just don’t have enough to survive on. I am a firm believer in making extra money and I think extra time can be wisely spent doing this.

Some online side gigs with flexible schedules include:

  • Blogging is how I make a living and just a few years ago I never thought it would be possible. I made over $150,000 last year by blogging and will make more than that in 2015. You can create your own blog here with my easy-to-use tutorial. You can start your blog for as low as $3.49 per month plus you get a free domain if you sign-up through my tutorial.
  • Survey companies I recommend include Survey JunkieAmerican Consumer Opinion, Pinecone ResearchOpinion Outpost, and Harris Poll Online. They’re free to join and free to use! It’s best to sign up for as many as you can because that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money.
  • InboxDollars is an online rewards website I recommend. You can earn cash by taking surveys, playing games, shopping online, searching the web, redeeming coupons, and more. Also, by signing up through my link, you will receive $5.00 for free!
  • Swagbucks is something I don’t use as much, but I do earn Amazon gift cards with very little work. Swagbucks is just like using Google to do your online searches, except you get rewarded points called “SB” for the things you do through their website. Then, when you have enough points, you can redeem them for cash, gift cards, and more. You’ll receive a free $5 bonus just for signing up today!
  • Check out 75 Ways To Make Extra Money for more ideas.
  • Read Best Online Jobs For College Students


Use coupons to stay on a college budget.

Just like with the above, you may want to start using coupons.

By doing so, you can save money on nearly everything. You can find coupons in newspapers, online, and in the mail. They are everywhere so you should have no problem finding them and saving money today.

Related post: How To Live On One Income


Learn how to correctly use a credit card or don’t have one at all.

Many college students fall into credit card debt, but I don’t want you to be one of them.

Many college students will start relying on their credit cards in order to get them through their low college budget, but this can lead to thousands of dollars of credit card debt which will eventually seem impossible to get out of due to significant interest charges that keep building up.

In order to never get into this situation, you should avoid credit cards at all costs if you think you will rely on them too heavily.

You should think long and hard about whether you should have one or not. Just because many others have them doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing! However, if you think you will be good at using them, then there are many advantages of doing so.


Only take out what you need in student loans.

Many students take out the full amount in student loans that they are approved for even if they only need half.

This is a HUGE mistake. You should only take out what you truly need, as you will need to pay back your student loans one day and you will most likely regret it later.

I know someone who would take out the max amount each semester and buy timeshares, go on expensive vacations, and more. It was a huge waste of money and I’m still not even sure why they thought it was a good idea.

Just think about it – If you take out an extra $2,000 a semester, that means you will most likely take out almost $20,000 over the time period that you are in college.

Do you really want to owe THAT much more in student loans?


Skip having a car.

Most campuses have everything you need in order to survive – food, stores, and jobs. In many cases, you do not need to have a car whatsoever.

By foregoing a car, you may save money on monthly payments, maintenance costs, car insurance, gas, and more.

Eat out less.

Now, I’m not saying you should stop eating out entirely if you are trying to survive on a college budget. I know how it is to be in college and to want to hang out with everyone. These are your college years after all.

However, you should try to eat in as much as you can, make your own meals, and try to eat out only during happy hours or when food is cheaper, such as during lunch time. Eating out can ruin your college budget!


Have a roommate.

The more people you live with, generally the less you will pay when it comes to rent and utilities. If you are living on your own, then you may want to find roommates so that you can split the costs with them.

This will help you to lower your college budget and you may even find some awesome friends.

What college budget tips do you have?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Having a roommate would definitely save you a ton of money. From the monthly payment, bills and you can also share for a food budget too.

  2. Great tips, Michelle!

    I am a university student and have definitely saved money by doing these things. Other things that I would recommend are:

    * Shopping around for groceries (not doing it all in one shop)
    * Cashback websites (Top Cashback etc)
    * Finding the best student bank account with the most sensible rates (not always the one that gets you the most free stuff!)

  3. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor

    Great tips! Especially about the student loans. That has the biggest impact in the long run. I also knew college students with big car payments. Some had to miss out on the college experience they wanted and commute because of their car payment–the irony! My last tip I’d add is to try to keep your expenses similar to your college budget to speed up paying off student loans after graduation.

  4. To all my young professional friends who just start working, I recommend trying to keep that college student mindset. It’s all too easy to see the much bigger paycheck and start thinking about all the awesome things you can buy now that you have the money. It’s nice to treat yourself from time to time but if you can save… whooo the things you’ll be able to do later on as your money grows.

  5. Amy @ DebtGal

    Great tips!! So many local businesses offer discounts for college students! We have a college in our town, and I always see stickers in business windows indicating that they offer a discount to them. The most important one you mentioned, though, is probably only taking out the loans you need. It can seem like free money when they hand you the check, but it will seem a whole lot different when you’re paying the loans back!

    1. Yes! Too many take out too much in student loans.

  6. The single best piece of advice I was ever given in college was “work for everything.” If a campus job seems easy, work even harder at it. Same thing with classes, cooking, budgeting, you name it. Cultivating a work ethic and financial literacy in college sets you far ahead of many other graduates.

  7. My tip for saving money in college is: Don’t spend all of your money on beer! That will solve a lot of problems.

  8. Danell

    My son will be going to college next Fall and he is currently trying to decide if he wants to take his car with him or not. He will live in the dorms the first year and then we will see after that. I would encourage students to look closely at the difference in costs between living on campus in student housing versus off campus in an apartment. I thought it’d be cheaper to live off campus at first, but after taking into consideration all of the expenses of setting up an apartment even with cheap stuff, utilities, food and the cost of having a car to drive to campus with, I’m not so sure. I think it might be more tempting to spend more in an apartment also and end up feeding all your friends, having parties, buying stuff you think you need for it, etc.

    1. Danell

      I forgot to add mystery shopping would be a nice way to make some extra money with the flexibility to do it when you’ve got the time. I’ve already suggested my son do this when he’s in college.

    2. Great thing to think about! I lived off campus and it was definitely expensive. Utilities were out of control since the house I rented had no insulation.

  9. Great tips! I finally learned how to use a credit card properly back in college, but I ended up taking out more loans than what I actually needed. Looking back I had quite a few side hustles as well and that income helped me be able to afford to live near campus and avoid the expensive dorms.

    1. Thanks Chonce!

      I took out a little extra in student loans as well. What a mistake!

  10. Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore

    Some of these things I did and some of them I didn’t. I definitely could’ve saved more money during college if I’d done more of these things.

  11. LOL – we actually ate Ramen noodles the other night for dinner.

    One thing that I wish I would have known about in college was how to make your own alcohol. I recently juiced free crababbles and made five gallons of hard cider. The only cost was for some sugar and a $1 packet of yeast.

    1. Ha we had Ramen the other day for lunch. So, I’m not hating on it!

  12. Yes, you definitely did. Great job!

  13. My college tip is to definitely make extra money. Most of my friends and I had part time jobs and side hustles. We were fortunate to not really be broke during college.

    1. Yes, making extra money is always a great idea!

  14. Jo

    Extraordinary tips!! Such a variety of nearby organizations offer rebates for undergrads! We have a school in our town, and I generally see stickers in business windows showing that they offer a rebate to them. The most critical one you specified, however, is likely just taking out the credits you require. It can appear like free cash when they give you the check, however it will appear a ton changed when you’re paying the advances back!

  15. Yes, definitely save as much as you can!

  16. Great tips also fi you are graduate but your salary is very tiny, so every suggestions and tip to save and earn more is helpful and welcome, thanks for sharing!

  17. Esteban

    Again very good tips for students. These could also be applied to graduates who are now working. I for instance rarely use my credit card, try to never eat out (gets harder at the end of the week ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and avoid using the car as much as I can.

    Cool post! Thanks and kind regards,

    Esteban ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. surviving on a college budget can be an uphill battle. But when you have a side hustle you working on during college years and you work on it as a labor of love for the future goal of being a “side hustle millionaire,” you learn “how to survive on a college budget,” smile in the process, and keep going the extra mile in the uncertain game called life. ๐Ÿ™‚