How To Save Money in College: 15 Hacks for Living on a Budget

If you’re a college student, you’re working with a tight budget. From food to shelter to fun, you need the least expensive and most effective strategies to take care of yourself. If this is your first time living on your own, creating a sustainable budget is especially essential. 

Here at Red Pocket, we believe in the importance of sticking to a budget, regardless of your age. Keep reading for some practical advice on how to save money in college. 

How Do You Start Saving Money? 

We get it. You can’t “personal finance” your way around inflated living costs and tuition bills. Still, a strong personal finance strategy can make the big obstacles in your life seem more manageable. 

Here are some simple ways to manage the money you have already worked hard to get. 

1. Write Out Your Financial Goals 

When writing out your financial goals, try to be more specific than just “save money” or “make more money.” 

If you can, attach an actual dollar amount and deadline to any saving or earning goal. In addition, consider setting goals like buying a car or paying off a loan. 

Once you have your goals on paper, lay out your game plan for reaching them. The game plan will look different for everyone. Determine how much you can afford to save every month or how much you need to save to meet each financial goal. 

While you make your game plan, you may find yourself a little lost. This is an ideal time to research everything they didn’t teach you in high school and set yourself up for success. Whether you want a book, a blog, or a podcast, make sure you’re listening to a reputable source. 

2. Write Out Your Budget

You can’t spend money you don’t have. 

The last thing you want is to go into deep credit card debt. Be sure to pay off your credit card statement monthly. As you write out your budget, begin with essentials like tuition, rent, car payments, and bills. Don’t forget to leave yourself a monthly safety fund to pay for things like damage to your car, medicine, or any other rainy day situation. 

Work your savings into this budget, and treat the amount you’re setting aside as just as essential as paying rent. Finally, similar to a workout regimen, budgets only work if you actually stick to them.

3. Open a High-Yield Savings Account

If your savings account is earning you less than 3% interest every year, you’re missing out on extra money. 

Most traditional savings accounts set their interest rates at only a fraction of a percent. That basically means you gave your money to the bank as an interest-free loan. You don’t want that. 

There are several banks, some traditional and some new, that offer high-yield savings and checking accounts. Opening a new bank account like this is very easy, but do your research on the specific bank and account ahead of time. 

How Do You Form Healthy Spending Habits? 

We’re not about to tell you to stop buying lattes; you need all the caffeine you can get. Suppose lattes are a small source of joy and motivation in your day. In that case, that’s a $4 investment that may be well worth it to you.

Nevertheless, you can form healthy spending habits by making small changes to how and what you buy.

1. Practice Mindful Spending

Before you hit add to cart or impulsively drop stuff in your cart at Target once again, take a few minutes to practice financial self-care in the form of mindfulness. 

Take some time to examine your spending habits. Here are some questions to consider each time you find yourself tempted by retail therapy: Does this thing actually fill a need in your life? Do you want it enough to make the price worthwhile? Why do you want this thing?

If you often find yourself spending money on things you later regret or get rid of, it may be time to sit down and write yourself a shopping list for the month. For one month, don’t deviate from the list of things you planned (and budgeted) to purchase. 

Keep track of all the things you had the urge to buy but didn’t. At the end of the month, review your impulse list. Odds are, most of those things will seem trivial, and you’ll be proud of your self-restraint. 

2. Don’t Buy From Unethical Fast Fashion Labels

Want to make a choice that will feel good for both your wallet and the planet? Resist buying from fast fashion brands in favor of more sustainable shopping. 

When you shop for clothes from fast fashion brands online, it’s very easy to overspend because the individual items are cheap. However, they’re cheap because they’re low-quality and often made in unethical factories. 

They may be trendy, but trends come and go like the wind, and Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste annually. Don’t contribute to that waste!

Ethical clothing labels are an excellent alternative, but they can get a little too pricey for many people. a well-made article of clothing that will last you several years is a worthy investment as long as you can afford it (and actually keep it for years.) If you choose to look for cheap but ethical clothing brands, watch out for greenwashing! 

Instead, shop second-hand. Thrift stores are insanely fashionable right now, so this habit might be something you’re practicing already. 

You could also organize or attend swap meets. Your college is the perfect venue to organize a clothing swap; you’re around so many people your age who likely have similar styles. 

Many schools already host similar events, so why not clean your closet and get some new-to-you outfits from your classmates? 

3. Ditch Unhealthy Habits

Let’s differentiate between activities and habits. 

Many people drink alcohol in college. It’s a normal activity, but when drinking becomes a habit, it’s destructive to many aspects of your life and becomes expensive. Think of the habits in your life that you know you should break or moderate. Drinking alcohol, smoking, eating fast food, and impulsive online shopping are all common examples.

We’re not here to shame you; all these things have a time and place. However, if they develop into habits, they can really wear you — and your wallet — down. 

How Do You Save on Essentials? 

Some of your living expenses are impossible to avoid. Existing is expensive! However, there are a few ways to ease the burden of essential bills. 

1. How To Save Money on Food

The easiest money-saving hack for on-campus dwellers is to utilize your campus’s student portal to stay up to date on all on-campus free events. Many of these events serve free food, and if they do, they’re worth a visit. You’re killing two birds with one stone; you get to explore all your school's extracurricular offerings — and you get some free pizza! 

If you have a meal plan, you already have a sunk cost into your food bill for the semester. So squeeze that dining hall for every meal you can. Don’t get in trouble, but if your schedule doesn’t allow you to hit the dining hall every day for every meal (which it probably doesn’t) take some food home with you. 

For consistent savings on food, shop at discount grocery stores like Aldi, Lidl, Bargain Outlet, and other similar locations. The cost of groceries has gone up across the board in the past two years, but some stores are still cheaper than others. 

Higher-end grocery chains, like Vons, Giant, or Whole Foods, will invariably overcharge you for everything, from produce to frozen chicken nuggets. Try to skip these stores whenever you can in favor of cheaper options.

Speaking of, if you have access to a kitchen this semester, cooking your own meals will always be cheaper than ordering take-out or buying frozen dinners. Even if you’re not an amazing chef, college is a perfect place to learn. No matter your tastes, there are a ton of cheap and easy recipes out there to help you save without starving. 

2. How To Save Money on Rent

If you live on campus, the cost of your housing is probably not up for debate. In some cases, living off-campus can save you money.

To determine if it’s more cost-effective to live on or off campus, take a look at the cost of living in your area. If you go to a school like NYU or UCLA, the odds are good that off-campus won’t be better than on-campus. 

However, if you go to a small school in a more rural area, you can get a better bang for your housing buck by looking at housing off campus. 

Furthermore, if you live off campus, get a roommate or two. Each person you can stand to bunk with slashes your personal rent cost. Finally, look for older but well-managed buildings, as new construction often comes with unnecessary expenses.

3. How To Save Money on Tuition 

To start, complete your FAFSA. 

Completing your FAFSA is the first step to being granted financial aid from your school. Many American students are eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant. If possible, opt for financial aid and scholarships in lieu of student loans. The former does not need to be repaid, and the latter will have you paying more in the long run. 

If you’re a college student-to-be, pick an in-state school if possible. Consider starting at a community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year school to save some money.

College is a monumental investment, so don’t just choose a school because your friends like it. Be sure to have a clear idea of your educational goals before deciding which university to invest in. No degree is useless if you pursue it with intention! 

4. How To Save Money on Textbooks

Do not purchase your textbooks from the campus bookstore.

First, check the library. You may be surprised how many campus and local libraries have the textbooks you need available for free. 

Next, try to find your books available as PDFs online. Numerous websites supply free and cheap textbook PDFs. 

For another option, check Facebook Marketplace or your school’s student buy/sell/trade group on Facebook to find the textbook for cheap — or maybe even for a book barter. 

Finally, check your local used book shop or websites like ThriftBooks. Failing all of the above, check Amazon, where a book will still be cheaper than at the on-campus bookstore. 

5. How To Save Money on Your Cell Phone and Cell Phone Plan

The best way to save money on your phone and cell service while in college is by switching to Red Pocket.

Why waste money on an expensive, impersonal plan from the major carriers when you can get the same coverage for a way lower price from Red Pocket

Really, the coverage is exactly the same because Red Pocket uses the exact same networks as the nation's major carriers. Red Pocket has monthly and annual plans to fit every budget. There’s always a huge deal going on as well, so be sure to shop the sales if you’re tired of overpaying for cell phone service. 

Need a new cell phone? Before you head to Best Buy or the Apple store, shop with Red Pocket! 

Red Pocket has student-friendly prices on new Apple and Samsung devices. Staying connected to your classmates is critical to the highly anticipated college experience, so don’t let a glitchy old phone stop you from hearing about those weekend plans. 

6. Put That Student ID to Work

Your student ID is your universal coupon. You’ll be shocked by how many retailers offer student discounts. 

For one, the major entertainment subscriptions offer student discounts. You can easily save on Hulu or Spotify by verifying your student status. Plus, even some grocery stores near college campuses offer discounts for students. 

Let the phrase “do you have a student discount?” become a part of your daily vocabulary. Your student ID will also grant you entry to your college campus’s gym (or even gyms plural), so there’s no need to pay for a gym membership if you’re a college student. 

How Can You Make More Money in College? 

Many people have a side hustle (or two or three), including some college students. 

Right now, if you’re a full-time student, just being a student is your main job — but it’s a job that costs you money instead of paying you. If you’re able to find a part-time gig on campus, that’s wonderful! However, those jobs are few and far between, and some people may not qualify for work-study programs based on their financial aid needs. 

So you’re probably on the hunt for a side hustle or two. Assuming you already have a part-time job, here are some extra cash suggestions.

1. Join an On-Demand Service 

Instead of working at a coffee shop, why not just deliver coffee on your own schedule? 

There are a ton of apps that let you sign up and start working. Anyone with a car can be a delivery driver with Instacart, DoorDash, or Postmates. If you have a car and don’t mind other people in it, you could try Uber or Lyft. 

No car but plenty of skills? Consider Taskrabbit, Fiverr, or Thumbtack. The gig economy has made it almost too easy to pick up a side hustle. 

2. Be a Part-Time Caregiver

For a gig that’s extremely part-time but more personal and consistent, consider becoming a caregiver. 

Babysitting, pet sitting, dog walking, house sitting, and even plant sitting are all completely viable (and sometimes high-paying, depending on the client) gigs for college students. 

You can utilize a service like or just old-fashioned word of mouth.

3. Get Creative

Can you make something? 

Anything from an app to cupcakes to earrings to a graphic novel could be a marketable product. You don’t have to go all-in and make this your new life goal, but if you have some free time to create, why not take your creations to market? 

There are a million and one platforms for you to sell with: Etsy, Depop, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, The App Store, iBook Store, and even just the sidewalk. If you have something homemade to share with the world, now is the ideal time.

Save Your Hard-Earned Money

Since the first 9 AM class, college students have needed hacks to save a lot of money quickly. 

Saving money in college boils down to a few simple rules: don’t overpay when you don’t have to, and do your research about personal finance early so that you can make wise moves when managing the money that you have. 

While these money-saving tips won't pay your tuition, they might help you save just enough to have a little fun on spring break. 


What Is A High-Yield Savings Account? | Forbes Advisor

What Really Happens to Unwanted Clothes? | Green America

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