How to Save Money in College – 6 Creative Tips for Students

Heading off to college, but want to save a little extra money? There are numerous ways to save extra cash, but we want to highlight a few of of easiest for every college student. here are 6 creative tips on how to save money in college:

Take Credit Hours at 2-year Public Colleges

As a transfer student, I think back to the cost of online classes at the university I attended. One study indicated that 2-year public schools are typically at least half of the cost per credit hour than 4-year public schools, sometime much higher. The map below shows what states rank highest per credit hour vs. the lowest.  Vermont came in at #1, at $466 per credit hour, with New Mexico being the cheapest at $133 per credit hour.

Highest Cost Per College Credit Hour

Source: Student Loan Hero

Buy or Rent Used Textbooks – Check Online

Buying new textbooks accounts for nearly $1,200 per year for college students, according to the National Association of College Stores. Here are just a couple of sites that are worth checking out:


While there are many outlets to find the one book you need, be sure to see if they have a reseller or return policy. Renting is also a great option if the purchase price is significantly more expensive.

Choosing Colleges on a Budget? Pick Quality over ‘Prestige’

Perhaps the biggest cost-saving tip in this entire blog. Always select a quality college over a ‘prestigious’ one. While there are some exceptions as to why you might want to go to Stanford – (like an A+ high school student who lives in Palo Alto, California, with a summer internship at Google) – repaying the loan is simply not worth it.

The cost of schools like Harvard, Stanford, Duke Yale, Darthmouth (or pretty much ALL Ivy League schools), is upwards of $60,000 per year. If you still want to attend a reputable 4-year college at an affordable price, you need to check out the Kiplinger’s List of Best Colleges by Value. I can personally vouch for #1 on the list as an undergraduate – Go Heels.

At the end of the day, it is your ability to pay back a student loan that matters. If you have scholarships to cover the cost of attending schools like Duke or Yale – go for it! However, if you’re still stuck on what major to pursue, it can be an extremely costly option.

Again, it varies on how much money you can expect to earn with the degree that you are passionate and competent at obtaining. If you are passionate about programming robots, perhaps MIT is the best place to go, considering you will likely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually upon graduation. However, if you’re still on the fence about things – which is perfectly okay in many cases – stick with the more affordable 2-year or 4-year schools.

Don’t Be Afraid to Shop at Thrift Stores

Looking to impress? Don’t overlook thrift stores in town. In my experience flipping clothing found at local thrift stores like The Salvation Army or Goodwill, college towns typically have the trendiest clothing of any in the area. You will find brands like Patagonia, The North Face, Vineyard Vines, Peter Millar, Southern Tide, and many other trendy lifestyle brands everyone loves.

At my local Goodwill – button-down shirts are around four bucks, with jackets somewhere in the 5-dollar range. Try visiting them once a week for a month. You’ll be surprised at the brands you will find over time – and the money you will save on great brands.

Use Free College Transportation

Many colleges have bus lines specifically for transporting students, and is one of the best ways to save money while in college, depending on the size of your campus. When I lived off campus, you would be surprised how many miles per gallon I wasted in my 15-mile-per-gallon Chevy Silverado while stopped at red lights during rush hour.

The bottom line is that transportation costs will add up if you are not smart about carpooling or using public transportation. Even if you do have a car, only driving it on the weekends could save you a few hundred dollars per month in fuel and maintenance costs.

Opt Out of Purchasing a Full Meal Plan

If your college offers a reduced meal plan, opt out of the full year plan. A college board survey found that these plans can cost anywhere from seven to eleven dollars per meal. If having a meal plan isn’t required, consider opting out in favor of doing your own meal prep (at least part of the time).

If ditching lunch isn’t for you, maybe try to cook in the mornings for breakfast, or budget a few nights per week where you will cook in the apartment or dorm. You might want to check out these 22 Healthy College Recipes You Can Make in Your Dorm Room.

While in college, get creative when trying to save as much money as possible. The average amount of student loan debt in the United States is estimated to be about 37 thousand dollars. In addition to finding a part-time job (either online or near campus), mixing in a few creative ways to save money will be key to quickly getting rid of any debt after graduation.

Leave a Comment