Saving money and going to college can often seem like mutually exclusive enterprises. Unless you’ve got some serious financial backing, the odds are good that you’ll graduate with debt. When you factor in expenses like notebooks, pens, a sweatshirt from your alma mater, and a night out with friends, saving money can feel downright impossible.
Here at Coupons.com we polled a wide-range of students who prove that, with a little bit of planning and self-discipline, it’s well within the bounds of possibility to enjoy your college experience without sobbing uncontrollably every time you check your bank account.
In fact, we think these tips will have you grinning. Check out 12 smart savings tips for students…from others who are or have been in your shoes.
Looking for more ways to save money on a college student budget? Check out our list of more than 90 stores that offer student discounts, some clever business ideas from other college students like you, plus our $5,000 Coupons.com Scholarship!
Strategy: Manage your budget
Walking into a final exam without studying would surely prove disastrous for most. In order to do well on any test, you need to familiarize yourself with the material and be prepared to provide answers in a variety of contexts, right?
The same is true when trying to save money. Think of your budget as a study guide with everything you need to know to make the grade written right on it. If you budget well, you’ll ace tests like: Should I also buy this bright bag of candy when I came to the store to buy pasta and tomato sauce? and What sort of sacrifices would I need to make to swing buying a new pair of shoes this month?
Need a quick start guide to budgeting? Check out our budgeting 101 guide here!
1. Do the math
“One tip that has helped me save money is to budget. My mom owns her own business, so it helps having her around to give me tips. She showed me percentages of how I should split up my money.
I have a binder where I put 50% of my paycheck towards rent, 15% towards groceries, 10% towards gas, 10% towards utilities, 10% towards extra, and 5% towards extra school stuff. This has really helped me with managing my money. At first it didn’t make sense, but now that I actually have money for everything, it makes sense at the end of each month.”
—Alexandria B., Liberty High School
2. Write it out
“One tip that helps me save money is to write down my expenses. I write down what I am spending my money on, and try to portion out my money at the beginning of every month to make sure I have enough to pay for rent and other such things.
I also balance my checkbook old school style. There are many sites and apps that help you do this but I believe that if I do it manually, I am really taking charge of my money and seeing where my money goes.”
—Ashley H., Manhattanville College
3. Make a plan
“One tip that helped me save money is planning. For at home meals, I planned the meals throughout the week, made a list, and then would only buy what was on my list. This prevented me from buying costly purchases in spur-of-the-moment scenarios.
Also, I plan my errands with routes I will take throughout the city. Backtracking is a waste of time and gas which both require money. So, I made a route schedule to make sure I was getting the most out of it. Also in my routes, I would make sure I swung by the cheapest gas station in town to get the most for my dollar.”
—Christen H., Arizona State University
4. Have fun for free
“One tip is to initiate plans with people that I am willing to pay for before they can suggest something expensive. Everyone in college is in a different financial situation; some people are here on scholarship, some are barely scraping by.
So, if I want to save as much money as possible while still enjoying my college experience, I invite my friends to go out and have fun doing things that are cheap or even free. It is amazing what a bunch of college students can come up with when they are on a budget. We have found out that sometimes the most fun things in life really are free.”
—Paige C., North Carolina State University
Strategy: Make lifestyle changes & smart money-saving choices
By making simple tweaks to your everyday habits and being mindful of your money, there are a number of ways you can cut corners (and coupons) to save cash. From making meals at home to saving strategies, there are a number of tips to help you balance your budget.
Along with planning out your meals, here are 18 easy tips for saving money on groceries!
5. Cook at home, prep in advance
“One tip that has helped me save money is meal planning and meal prep. By planning out the meals two weeks in advance I am able to make a grocery list based on the meals that I will be making instead of going to the store and just purchasing random items and then having to go to the store every day to pick up items. Planning my grocery list also helps me stick to a list and not purchase items that are not needed.”
—Sierra B., National University
6. Leave home without it
“The major way that I save money is by leaving my purse/wallet in the car whenever I go somewhere where I might like items and make an impulsive decision to buy. By leaving my wallet in the car, I have to think heavily on the worth of the item that I am going to purchase.
It makes me put a lot more thought into buying things and sometimes saves me money because I decide that I either do not need the item or I find it cheaper online. Another major way that I save money is by price matching or looking online for discounted popular items.”
—Julianna L., McEachern High School
7. Maximize savings
“The best tip that has consistently saved me money is to always look for a coupon code when buying online. My mom taught me this and it has never failed me. This simple search of a few trusted coupon sites like Coupons.com has netted me free shipping, promotional items, percentage off discounts and more. I rarely pay full price for anything, I save gas and time not driving all over town, and I can get exactly what I want for less.”
—Noah R., duPont Manual High School
8. Stay out of reach
“In order to save money more effectively, I keep it out of reach. Spending money is tempting when you know you have it, in order to avoid spending money I make it unattainable to myself.
Whenever I receive a larger sum of money I do not keep it to myself, I put it in a college fund. My college account is purely off limits and cannot be touched under any circumstances. By making that money unavailable to myself it gives me more self-control and validates my saving.”
—Sagel E., Marina High School
Strategy: Save your money
Let’s get down to brass tacks: The only way to save money is to…well, save money. The fulfillment that comes with making impulse purchases is transient, but saving money is an investment in the security of your future. It can be tempting to live in the short term, but those adult bills will start rolling in before you know it, and the sooner you educate yourself and start saving for the future, the better off you will be 5, 10, or 15 years down the line.
9. Stick to your savings
“One big tip that has helped me save money has actually come from my sister. She used to work as a hostess, too, and she gave me many tips when it came saving money.
The best one she gave me was to put away every single pay check that I received into my savings account. She suggested to use my tip out as my spending money instead of as my savings. This allowed for me to be able to participate in so many fun activities and still be saving money up for my future.”
—Rachel A., Willow Canyon High School
10. Pay yourself first
“I always follow the advice to ‘pay yourself first.’ I always save at least half of my paycheck in a bank account that I do not touch unless it is an emergency. This has allowed me to be smart with my money, and has allowed me to see how much money I can save if I put some of it away.
With the remaining amount, I pay for my gas money, minor expenses, and spending money for food or small items that I need. This approach to saving money has proved to work. I will definitely continue this in the future.”
—Krysta L., Loyola University Maryland
11. Identify wants vs. needs
“I ask myself “do you really need to buy that extra thing?” The answer usually is no. I don’t need to buy anything extra while trying to save money and stay on a budget. For instance, it’s okay to go out to eat sometimes, but don’t allow yourself to do it every day or multiple times a week! Life may be less-convenient sometimes, but it will all be worth it when your expenses are paid off!”
—Camille B., Utah Valley University
12. Invest in needs
“The best thing that has helped me save money is think through my purchases first. I never buy something right away. I always comparison shop first and think through my needs before completing the purchase. Often, if I wait a day or two, I can come up with a solution that is cheaper or altogether free.
When I have to purchase something that is fairly expensive, like tires, I perform a full cost analysis, comparison show, and have retail prices match each other until I am confident I have the best deal.”
—Asif A., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Developing good financial habits like these at a young age will earn you an A+ in your initiation into the adult world. We’d love to hear from you: How do you save money?