11 Ways to Save Money as a College Student

Quick Answer

Buying used books, shopping at stores with student discounts and getting a student transit pass are a few ways college students can save money.

A college student is wearing a striped shirt outside as she smiles while holding her school folder.

It's common for money to be tight when you're in school. After all, you have tuition to pay and day-to-day expenses to cover at a time when you may or may not be working. The good news is there are many ways for students to cut costs. Buying used textbooks, using your student ID for discounts and taking advantage of on-campus perks are a few ways college students can save money.

1. Apply for Scholarships

Hundreds of companies and organizations offer scholarships that may be awarded based on merit or financial need. Scholarships provide free money that could help you pay education costs. Your financial aid office may be able to recommend different scholarship programs. You could also check out sites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb to search for scholarships and find out requirements and application deadlines.

2. Use the FAFSA to Apply for Financial Aid

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year can help you qualify for federal student loans, grants and other student aid. While loans are money you have to pay back, grants usually don't have to be repaid. Getting awarded grant funds could help you cover education costs so you can borrow less money.

3. Buy or Rent Used Textbooks

Undergraduate students pay about $1,298 per year on books and supplies on average, according to College Board, a higher education nonprofit. Instead of buying brand-new books, buying used or checking out books from the library could help lower these costs. BookScouter.com and CampusBooks.com are examples of sites you can use to search online for used books to buy and rent.

4. Borrow or Share Supplies

In addition to books, some school libraries and resource centers loan out equipment like calculators, which could eliminate more items from your school shopping list. If the books or equipment you need aren't available to borrow, another savings hack could be splitting the cost and sharing supplies with a classmate.

5. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Showing your student ID at checkout when booking travel, shopping at stores or eating out could unlock discounts. Electronic retailers like Best Buy and Apple are two places that often offer student deals on laptops and other devices. Both Verizon and Sprint have special student deals on phone lines. For streaming, students may qualify for deals and discounts from Amazon, Hulu, Spotify, YouTube Premium and Apple Music. If you're not sure if a company offers discounts, don't be afraid to ask.

6. Get a Discounted Public Transportation Pass

Travel can be another major expense for students. Getting a travel pass could cut the cost of your daily commute on public transportation. Check to see if your school, town or city provides free (or discounted) passes to students. Atlanta's MARTA system, for example, has the UPASS program that offers unlimited train rides to students and faculty of participating schools for a monthly fee.

7. Use a Credit Card That Earns Rewards

Using a rewards card that offers cash back or points on purchases could help you save money. Rewards may be redeemed for cash, gift cards, statement credits and more. If you're new to credit, you may have the best shot at getting approved for a student credit card since the eligibility requirements may be more flexible.

The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One, for example, is available to borrowers with fair credit or better. You can earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus an additional 0.25% (1.25% in total) each month you make your payment on time. The card also earns 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply). There's no foreign transaction fee or annual fee, so you can take this card with you on your spring break trip without worrying about extra charges.

8. Limit Credit Card Purchases

If you do decide to use a credit card, it's important to use the card only when you need it and pay it off each month. If you don't, interest will be charged on your remaining balance, which can increase your payment and make debt difficult to manage.

9. Explore Your Housing Options

The average cost for room and board during the 2021-2022 school year was $11,950 for a four-year public college and $13,620 for a four-year private college, according to College Board. Instead of living on campus, commuting from home could save you thousands of dollars a year.

If living at home isn't an option, consider living off campus with roommates. Renting a place, buying groceries and cooking your own meals might end up being cheaper depending on where you live.

10. Use Campus Facilities

Part of your school fees may go to the upkeep and maintenance of campus technology and recreation facilities like gyms, computer centers, pools and more. Instead of looking for outside gyms for fitness classes or extracurricular activities, check to see what your campus has to offer.

11. Get Involved in Campus Activities

If you're trying to find ways to socialize and pass the time, taking part in free or low-cost on-campus activities could provide entertainment for a steal. A bonus is that food may be provided at these events, so you might even score a free meal.

The Bottom Line

Even if you're taking out loans for school, finding ways to save money matters. Cutting costs means you may need to borrow less money, and that means less debt to pay back when you graduate. On top of using the savings tips above, it's a good idea to come up with a college budget because it can help you curb spending so your money stretches further.

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