21 Ways You Can Learn How To Save Money In College

Looking to learn how to save money in college? With ever rising college costs, it can really help your current and future finances if you learn how to save money. Tuition for an in-state public college averages around $25,290. Private college tuition costs twice as much, at an average of $50,900, according to Value Penguin….

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 4, 2024

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

how to save money in collegeLooking to learn how to save money in college? With ever rising college costs, it can really help your current and future finances if you learn how to save money.

Tuition for an in-state public college averages around $25,290. Private college tuition costs twice as much, at an average of $50,900, according to Value Penguin. If you want to go to an elite, four-year university, the cost jumps to $68,000 per year.

And, if you’re going to college for something like medicine or law, you may end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years that you are in school.

As you can see, college can be very expensive.

However, I want you to know that you can learn how to save money in college so you can get a valuable college degree on a realistic budget.

Many students take out student loans to pay for college, and it can be very easy to borrow more than you actually need. While student loans do help you pay for college, having those loans hanging over your head can set your finances back by years and even decades.

And if you’re a parent trying to help your child, I’ve heard far too many stories of parents who go to great lengths to pay for school. Some take out a second mortgage, personal loans, or borrow from their retirement to send their children to college. The problem with this is that these parents are making it even more difficult to retire at their planned age. Remember, you can’t take out a loan for retirement!

College is just very expensive, but for many students it’s an important part of how they work towards a job or career they’ve always wanted. But, I want you to know that you can learn how to save money in college.

By cutting college costs, you can lower your student loan debt, or it can help parents reduce the amount they are borrowing or taking out of savings to pay for their children’s education.

Or, with these tips on how to save money in college, you may be able to attend college without racking up any student loan debt. Remember, that is also possible!

Related articles on money saving plan for students:

How to save money in college.


1. Think about the value each college will offer you.

I know many students who think about which college their friends are going to or which one is ranked the highest. But, you should think about which college is best for you and your specific major.

Sometimes, the highest ranked or most expensive college may not be the best for your actual major, which can hurt you in the long run and it isn’t how to save money in college. 

When thinking about whether or not a college is right for you, here are some things you’ll want to consider:

  • Accreditation- This is especially important if you want an advanced degree, such as medicine or law, because accreditation can determine whether or not you can go on to the next level of schooling.
  • Degrees- Which ones are offered by the college.
  • Cost- This includes the cost of tuition or the program you’re going into, plus whether scholarships or financial aid are available.
  • Location- If it’s close to home, can you save my living at home. But if it’s far away, you will need to think about dorm fees and the total cost of living.
  • Student to faculty ratio- If you need more one-on-one help with your studies, then this may be an important number to know.
  • The expertise of the professors- For me, I always liked having professors who had hands-on knowledge in the fields they were teaching.
  • Networking opportunities- A lot of life is about networking, and this is a must for some professions.

There’s a myth that expensive colleges are always better than the cheaper ones. As if higher college costs means that you’ll automatically get a great job, you’ll have an extremely high salary, and more.

One way of learning how to save money in college is to just stop believing in that myth!

In fact, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal:

From the academics [who have studied whether students from elite institutions outperform their peers or not] we know that in terms of future earnings, 1) your choice of field matters more than your choice of college, 2) after controlling for ability, the earnings differences of graduates from elite and non-elite institutions are small at best, and 3) any earnings advantage that may emerge over the long run is difficult to concretely tie back to the effects of one’s college choice.


2. You need to think about the full cost of college.

There is a lot that goes into the full cost of college, and it’s not just the initial tuition cost.

The most expensive school may actually be able to give you more scholarships than a less expensive school. That means the most expensive school may actually be the cheapest in the end, and this is why you need to think about the total cost.

And, there are still many great colleges that don’t come with a high tuition.

There are many factors that determine real college costs, and due to this, you’ll want to think about things such as:

  • College tuition- This will most likely be the biggest expense that you pay.
  • Room and board- Will you live on campus or not?
  • Fees- Whis can include laboratory fees, parking fees, etc.
  • Textbooks- Textbooks can easily cost a few hundred dollars each semester.
  • Financial aid- Will you receive any?
  • Scholarships- Will you apply for any?

Doing those last two things is one of the best ways to save for college, so please apply for scholarships and financial aid!

Considering all of the factors I’ve just listed can help you learn how to save money in college, and when you put them together, it may change your mind on which college provides the best value.


3. Remember that college isn’t the only thing that’s important.

When thinking about how to save money in college, you also want to remember that college isn’t the only thing that’s important. Yes, you definitely want to take it seriously and learn as much as possible, but there are other factors that are extremely important as well.

These other factors may play an even bigger role in helping you land the job you want.

Some of the other points you’ll want to keep in mind include:

  • Internships
  • Extracurricular activities such as college clubs
  • Part-time and full-time jobs
  • Leadership opportunities

And more!

With those things on your resume, you may put yourself ahead of others that are applying for the same position. These things are important no matter where you went to college.

Remember, companies want to see that you can apply what you learn and that you actually have experience.


4. Taking community college classes is one of the best ways to save money in college.

When you graduate with a four-year degree, the school name on your diploma will be the name of the college you graduated from. It won’t say, “graduated from here but took some classes at community college.” This is because your community college credits are transferred (if you follow the correct steps as outlined by your school).

If you are wondering how to save money in college, this is a great way to cut college costs.

Whether you are in college already or if you haven’t started yet, taking classes at a community college can be a great way to save money.

Community colleges provide an enormous value. However, many think they are too good to save money by taking classes at a community college.

Usually, earning credits at a community college costs just a fraction of what it would cost at a 4-year college, so you may find yourself being able to save thousands of dollars each semester. 

You may only spend $5,000 a year at a community college (most likely even less), which is a huge difference from the costs that were mentioned at the beginning of this article.

There is also a myth that your degree is worth less if you go to a community college. That is not true at all. When you eventually earn your 4-year degree, your degree will only say where you graduated from and it won’t even mention the community college credits. Your degree will look the same as everyone else that attended your college, whether you took a few classes at community college or not. You might as well save money!

I only took community college classes during one summer semester where I earned 12 credits, and I regret not taking more. I probably could have saved around $20,000 by taking more classes at my local community college.

Also, community colleges are great for getting general type credits out of the way, so you’re not missing the interesting and in-depth classes that gives your 4-year college the reputation it’s known for.

If you decide to go to a community college first, always make sure that the 4-year college you plan on attending afterwards will transfer all of your credits. It’s an easy step to take, so do not forget! You should do this before you sign up and pay for any classes at the community college.

Related post on how to save money in college with community college: I Thought I Was Too Good For Community College.


5. Take advantage of high school classes that give you college credit.

One way of how to save money in college starts while you’re in high school. See, many high schools offer dual credit classes that allow you to earn both college and high school credits at the same time. Most of the time, these are done right at your high school, so you don’t have to go out of your way to take them!

If you are still in high school, this is something I highly recommend you look into, as it saves time and it might even be the best way to save for college.

When I was in my senior year of high school, nearly all of my classes were dual enrollment courses where I was earning college and high school credit at the same time. I took AP classes and classes that earned me direct college credit from nearby private universities.

Due to this, I left high school with around 14-18 credit hours (I can’t remember the exact amount). I had knocked out a whole semester of college before even starting. I could’ve taken more, but I decided to take early release from high school and worked 30-40 hours a week as well.


6. Take all of the credits your tuition allows for.

At community colleges, you typically pay per credit hour.

However, at many universities, you pay a flat fee for your college tuition. So, whether you take 12 credit hours or 18 credit hours, you may be paying nearly the exact same price.

This is why I recommend that students who are paying a flat fee tuition take as many classes as you can. Now, you may want to make sure your classes are balanced because 18 credit hours of demanding courses can take a toll on you. But, this will allow you to take full advantage of high college costs.

If you think you can still earn good grades and do whatever else you do on the side, definitely get full use of the college tuition you are already paying for!


7. Apply for aid and scholarships to lower your college costs.

If you want to learn how to save money in college, applying for financial aid and scholarships is one of the most important things to do.

But, according to a study by NerdWallet, for the 2018-2019 school year, students left $2.6 billion of free college money on the table. That was Pell Grant money that students qualify for by filling out the FAFSA, which is easy to fill out and necessary for any financial aid or scholarships.

So, before you start your semester, you should always look into scholarships, grants, and fill out your FAFSA (click here to read my FAFSA tips). Paperwork for the following semester is usually due around spring, so I highly recommend doing this as soon as you can if you are planning on attending college in the fall.

Sadly, many people believe that scholarships are impossible to get. That is just another myth, and it’s probably why so students missed out on so much money last year.

I received around several thousand dollars a year in scholarships to the private university I attended. That helped pay for a majority of my college tuition. The scholarships were easy for me to get because I earned good grades in high school and scored well on tests. I received scholarships to all of the other colleges I applied for as well, just for good grades, so I know you can find scholarships if you do well in school!

And, there are still other ways to find scholarships. You can receive scholarships from private organizations, companies in your town, and more. Do a simple Google search and I am sure you will find many free websites that list possible scholarships.

Tip: Many forget that you sometimes have to turn in a separate financial aid form directly to your college on top of the FAFSA form. Contact your college’s financial aid office and see if there is a separate financial aid form that you should be filling out as well. Don’t forget to do this by the deadline each year!


8. Only take out what you actually need in student loans.

One of the top money saving tips for university students that I recommend is to be careful when it comes to taking out student loans!

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

This is a HUGE mistake. If you want to learn how to save money in college by reducing your student loan debt, start by only taking out what you truly need. You will need to pay back your student loans one day, and I know many people who regret taking out more than they need.

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?


9. Search for cheaper textbooks to lower your cost of college.

There are a lot of college costs, and buying textbooks is one of them.

Students usually spend anywhere from around $300 to $1,000 on textbooks each semester, depending on the amount of classes they are taking and their major. Just one textbook alone may cost as much as $400!

When I was in college, many of my classes required more than one book and each book was usually around $200 brand new. This meant if I were to buy all of my college textbooks brand new, I probably would have had to spend over $1,000 each semester.

I learned how to save money in college by renting my textbooks or buying them used. Renting was nice because I only paid one fee and never had to worry about what to do with the textbook after the class was done, as I only had to return it. I didn’t have to worry about a new edition coming out and the book being worthless. Buying used textbooks was nice because sometimes I could resell them and make my money back.


10. Don’t bring a car to college.

If you don’t need to commute off campus for work, then you may want to think about whether you may be able to realistically get rid of your car. Not everyone in college will need a car with them, and this can be an easy way for how to save money in college.

By not bringing a car, you may be able to eliminate the monthly loan payment, a campus parking permit, fuel, maintenance costs, and more.


11. 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 a new laptop!), at the movies, public transportation, and more. You may receive a discount, free items, and more all just by showing your student ID.

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


12. 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.

Credit cards can seem like a good option when you are living on such a low college budget, but this can lead to thousands of dollars of credit card debt. That 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 that you won’t use them well.

You should think long and hard about whether you should have one or not. Just because other students have a credit card 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.

Related post: 6 Credit Card Myths You Need To Know The Truth About


13. Get a free checking account.

If you’re paying for a savings or checking account, you should think again. 

Opening a high yield savings account is one of the best ways of how to save money in college because it’s actually growing your savings. But, most people have their money in accounts with low rates. Unfortunately, that means many of you are losing out on some easy cash! 

With Betterment Everyday, you can start earning 2.39% with a balance as low as $0.01.

How does that compare to the national average savings rate? While it’s actually higher than the ones I listed earlier, it’s still a very sad 0.09%. That is a HUGE difference from what Betterment Everyday is offering. If you are only getting 0.09%, then you are losing out on easy, passive money.

Savings accounts at brick and mortar banks are known for having really low interest rates. That’s because they have a much higher overhead – paying for the building, paying the tellers, etc. Betterment Everyday is an online option, which means they have lower costs, then passing the savings on to you. 

Over a 10 year period, that same savings balance with a 2.39% balance would earn you an additional $2,390, whereas a savings account with an interest rate of only 0.09% would earn you a mere $90.

Your money is just as safe in a Betterment Everyday account as it is with a brick and mortar bank. You’re just earning more interest, which is something that everyone wanting to learn how to be rich can take advantage of.

To get started and open a Betterment Everyday account, you will:

  1. Signing up is super easy. Simply click here and sign up.
  2. If you join the waitlist for Betterment Everyday Checking, they will boost your Betterment Everyday Savings Account rate to 2.39%.

See, super easy!

Read more at How To Earn Over 20x The National Savings Rate.


14. Find ways to make extra money.

While I wasn’t smart enough to graduate from college without debt, I do know of many amazing people who were able to pay for their college tuition on their own while they were in school. They learned how to save money in college with the tips above, but they also found ways to make money that allowed them to pay their college tuition bill in full each month.

I did work full-time all throughout college. That helped me pay my bills, take out only what I needed in student loans, and go without any credit card debt.

Whether you only have one free hour a day or if you are willing to work 40 to 50 hours a week on top of being in school full-time, there are many options when it comes to earning extra money.

Here are some things you can do to pay for those high college costs:

  • Find a part-time or full-time job.
  • Look for a paid internship.
  • Make money online such as creating a blog, becoming a virtual assistant, etc.
  • Become an Uber or Lyft driver – Spending your spare time driving others around can be a great money maker. Read more about this in my post How To Become An Uber Or Lyft Driver
  • Take online surveys. This is something I did in my early 20s. Survey companies I recommend include American Consumer Opinion, Survey Junkie, Swagbucks, Pinecone Research, Opinion Outpost, and Harris Poll Online. They’re free to join and free to use! You get paid to answer surveys and to test products. It’s best to sign up for as many as you can as that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money.
  • Maintain and clean yards. You can make money by mowing lawns, killing/removing weeds, cleaning gutters, raking leaves, and so on.
  • Move furniture and find jobs on Craigslist. Movers can earn a broad range when it comes to hourly pay, but it’s usually somewhere around $50 an hour if you run your own business.
  • If you love animals, then you may want to look into how to make extra money by walking dogs or pet sitting. With this side hustle, you may be going over to your client’s home to check in a few times a day, you may be staying at their house, or the animals may be staying with you. Rover is a great company that you can sign up with in order to become a dog walker and pet sitter. Learn more about this at Rover – A Great Way To Make Money And Play With Animals.
  • Babysit and/or nanny children.
  • Sell your stuff.
  • Read 16 Best Online Jobs For College Students

Learn more at 100+ Ways To Make Extra Money.


15. Sign up for birthday freebies.

Everyone has a birthday, and you may be able to score a lot of free birthday stuff by simply showing your date of birth date on your driver’s license or by signing up for a company’s email club to receive a coupon for your birthday. 

This is a really fun way to learn how to save money in college and it’s easy and free for everyone!

Here are 31 Birthday Freebies You Should Sign Up For.


16. Switch to a more affordable cell phone plan.

Most people overpay for their cell phone plan – they can easily cost over $100 per month.

I know that once you find a provider you like, it can be hard to switch. But, once you know how much you can save with another company while still having great service, this is a no brainer.

If you are looking for a more affordable cell phone plan, then check out Republic Wireless. They have monthly cell phone plans for as low as $15 per month.

I have several family members who are now using Republic Wireless and they love it!

Please read Saving Over $2,000 A Year With Republic Wireless Review for more information.


17. Make a budget.

Budgets help people manage their money better. It’s that simple.

Budgets are great and one of the best ways for you to learn how to save money in college because having a budget will keep you mindful of your expenses and how much money you have in the bank. With a budget, you will know exactly how much you can spend in a category each month, how much you have to work with, what spending areas need to be evaluated, among other things.

You can download a free budget printable here.

Budgets have helped people reach their goals, pay off debt, make more money, retire early, and more. This is one of the college savings tips that will completely shape and change your financial life for the better.

Learn more at The Complete Budgeting Guide: How To Create A Budget That Works.


18. Visit the library.

When you’re in college, the library can often feel like your second home (and not always in a good way). But, did you know that your college or local library can also be a great way to have fun without spending any money.

You can check out the latest bestseller, a classic you’ve been wanting to read, or borrow movies, music, and more. There are actually a lot of libraries now who let you borrow things like cameras, GoPros, even telescopes, and more.

This is definitely one of the best ways to save money in college as all you need is a library card.


19. Find a roommate.

If you decide to live off campus, then finding a roommate is going to be one of the best ways for how to save money in college.

My husband and I have had roommates in the past. While that’s not really as possible now that we split our time living on a sailboat and an RV, I still recommend that anyone with an extra room in their house think about giving it a try.

If you find a roommate while in college, you can save a good amount of money on housing costs. And, depending on your situation, you might even be able to earn a little side income.

If you are interested in renting out a spare room on a short-term basis (such as for vacations), I highly recommend that you check out Airbnb. I know people who are making thousands of dollars a month by renting out rooms on this website.

Related blog post with more saving tips about this topic: A Complete Guide To Renting A Room For Extra Money.


20. Read personal finance books.

This is something you can and should start doing at any age because reading personal finance books can help you in so many ways. Since many schools don’t go in depth on things related to personal finance, books are a great way to improve your financial knowledge.

Personal finance books I recommend reading are:

You can find the whole list of personal finance books I recommend here.


21. Other ways you can help your child get through college.

If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, then you may be wondering how you can help your child in college but not go broke yourself.

If you cannot afford to pay for your child’s college costs, or if you decide that you just do not want to, there are many other things you can do to help them. You should also read this You Don’t Have To Go Broke For Your Kid’s Education.

I believe that parents should only fund their child’s college education if the parent is on track for retirement.

This is because there are many ways to pay for college (paying for it with cash, student loans, grants, scholarships, etc.), but there is only one way to fund your retirement.

Remember, you cannot take out a loan for your retirement!

This means you should not wreck your retirement plans to help your children through college. You should analyze your financial situation first and where you are on your track for retirement to see if helping your children through college is possible. If it’s not possible, be realistic with yourself and your child. 

There are many ways to help your children with college costs that don’t involve paying for their college tuition.

You can:

  • Help your child understand personal finance. Helping your child create a budget, use credit cards correctly, and understanding college costs, will help them greatly in life. I recommend reading How To Create a Budget.
  • Support them and help them make a plan. Even if you are not offering financial support for college, you can always support your children in other ways. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with what they do, rather help them by giving advice and coming up with a solid financial and college plan.
  • Help your child find ways to make money. There are tons of ways to make extra money, and helping your children find ways to do so can help them pay for college and their living expenses.
  • Inform your children about affordable college alternatives. For example, your child may only think they should go to an expensive private university, but it’s important for you to inform them on how to save money in college with more affordable alternatives, such as going to a community college or a state university.
  • Help your child apply for scholarships. There are numerous scholarships that your child may qualify for. Some may require them to write essays, whereas others are based on high school grades. Most take very little effort and are given away by the college itself, this makes applying for them a no brainer!
  • Help your child in other ways. For some reason, there is this myth that helping your child go to college means you need to pay for everything. Instead of paying for their tuition, textbooks, food, dorm, car, and everything else, set limits on the college costs that you’ll pay for. You can help by giving them emotional support, letting them stay in your home while they are in college, helping them find ways to save money for college, helping them cut their college expenses, and more.

What other ways are there to learn how to save money in college? How much student loan debt do you have?

Filed under:

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. Saving $ gUaP $ in college can also consist of working in a work-study program so you can use that “discretionary income” to fund your “side hustle.” Moreover, a work-study program can also help anyone save $ gUaP $ in college because it’s good for building your employment resume, good relationships with others long after graduating from college, a good memory to look back on that you not only worked your way through college ans saved $ gUaP $, but most importantly, you achieved something great. Discipline starts within and college is a great place to build oneself to greatness, spiritually, entrepreneurially, and financially as a “side hustle millionaire” in the making. 🙂

  2. Excellent read! Due to our large crippling student loan debt, my husband and I have made it our mission to nudge our kids in the right direction, and it’s worked so far.

    Our son is 20, and attending our local community college, and planning on transferring to a 4yr college in a year. FAFSA and other state grants cover his tuition, and he has no student loan debt.He works part time, and goes to school full time, and his home contribution is normal, everyday house chores that we all share here, plus he covers all his expenses, like going to the movies, etc.

    Our daughter is 19, and goes to a state college 6 hrs north of home. Her tuition was fully covered by FAFSA, state grants, scholarships, and the College Bound Scholarship (she signed up for this while in middle school, and it’s a state program to motivate young ones to make college their goal, that basically covers whatever tuition student aid doesn’t cover, as long as she attends a college in our state).

    She has only had to take out loans for her 1st year, mostly because room & board were insanely expensive for dorm living. 2nd year she went with apartment living (on campus), which cost just over $3500 per year (covered with leftover student aid/scholarships, etc, so no out-of-pocket expense for her/us), a significant difference from the $12000+ she paid for R&B as a Freshman.

    For her 3rd yr (this fall) she applied and got offered a position as an RA (Resident Adviser) at her college, which means free R&B, a meal plan AND a stipend of around $225 a month. This I feel is a great option for students. It’s a job, but it’s with the college itself, and works with the student’s schedule in mind, plus they are obligated to keep her working schedule limited to around 20 hrs per week. Oh, and she will basically just need to be available to the students who live in her dorm during her work hrs, which means she can study, and do homework as well.

    Neither kid has a car. Our son pays $20 per quarter (at school) for a sticker that turns his student I.D. into a pass for free use of public transportation, and our daughter pays a yearly fee as part of her college costs that allows her free use of public transportation within or outside of campus. They also do not have any credit cards, even though they get several offers in the mail each month.

    Whew, that was long haha. All that to say that, because of our own awful decisions, and past experiences with student loan debt, my husband and I made it our mission to guide them to be better with money, so that when they graduate they are not burdened with debt.

  3. Keiran Potter

    Wow, what a great read. I just wish I’d read this a lot sooner. Currently in University in the Uk at the moment and the prospect of debt at the end of it is beyond daunting. Being able to save money this way does give me hope that I could fund my masters degree without killing myself with financial stress. Let’s hope for the best. Thank you so much for sharing such an enlightening post on a very real topic! Love! Keiran

  4. Cheryl

    This was such a great read for someone who’s still at university right now and will be for a couple more years. These are definitely great ways to save money, considering the price of tertiary education nowadays. Thank you for sharing your experiences and tips!

  5. Andrea Russo

    When you count the total cost of education, it feels bad. Really. If the course itself seems manageable to pay, then rent, taxes, and everything else add up to a lot of costs. So saving money is all that’s left to do.
    I’m really looking for all the options available to me: I rent off-campus housing, I don’t eat at cafes, I cook at home, I have a part-time job. Oh, and the student discounts help a lot, too. You described everything in good detail.
    I also wanted to share (if allowed) scholarship opportunities. There are really a lot of them if you do a search: https://hhs.sumnerschools.org/index.php/academics/scholarships I participated in some where an essay or no essay was required. And it got me a few thousand to pay for tuition. Seriously consider this opportunity to all those who think scholarships are too confusing.