15 Tips to Live Frugally as a College Student 
There’s a reason why most college students are flat broke. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s because going to college is one of the most expensive things you’ll ever do. Between that and only having access to minimum wage jobs, it’s going to take a lot to even summon up the willpower to start to save. Fortunately, there are ways to live frugally as a college student.
1. Preparing to Live Frugally as a College Student!
- The first thing you should do is realize that this is the first time you’re really on your own. You’re an adult now.
Make sure all your financial aid and living arrangements are worked out BEFORE you get there. You don’t want to arrive at University, only to realize that your FAFSA hasn’t been approved. Don’t put yourself in that sort of situation!
As a student, financial aid is difficult to come by. Unfortunately, advanced education is one of the most expensive things you’ll ever pay for. Therefore, it’s good practice to apply for every grant and scholarship you are eligible for. Do not take out a student loan unless you have to!
Tip: Do AP and Dual Enrollment classes while you’re in high school. This will minimize the number of credits you will need to graduate.
Textbooks are a large portion of what makes university so expensive. The ability to live frugally as a college student when you have to spend $500+ on textbooks every semester is difficult, to say the least.
Luckily, there are ways you can minimize that cost. The biggest piece of advice I can give you about textbooks is:
Wait until the first day of class to see if you actually need the textbook. Many courses will say that a textbook is required for a class when in reality, the professor won’t use the textbook at all throughout the entire semester.
Second, always rent online or used textbooks!
Many universities give you the option between buying/renting used or new textbooks. The best deal is going for renting a used textbook unless the others are of the same cost.
An amazing site to look for used textbooks (if your university doesn’t offer them) is Chegg.com.
2. It’s best to work while you’re in college…at your college
If you’re not a freshman, then this isn’t your first rodeo, so you likely know this already:
Getting a job suuuuucks.
But you can’t exactly save money or live frugally as a college student without it, so prepare for the hardship of having a place of employment and/or side gigs while you’re also studying. There are, fortunately, ways to do this without collapsing from exhaustion every night.
The two best things I recommend for you are:
1.Jobs at school
2. Freelance side gigs
While a retail job or fast food place is an option as well (it’s possible, trust me), these options have better benefits.
For one, many colleges offer jobs to students. The best thing about these jobs (despite generally paying minimum wage) is that they allow you to study while you work.
It may not pay much, but it saves loads of time that you’d otherwise spend studying at home. To apply for one of these jobs, I’ve found that most universities email students about available positions. You can also check the social media site of your college, or speak to an advisor.
As for the free-lance side gigs, these can help supplement your income as well. Or you can make it your full-time income depending on the job.
Personally, I have had online jobs as well. These are also great because they often pay more than the minimum wage.
Here are some extra side gigs for those of you who like lots of flexibility.
Really, this depends on whether you commute or live on campus. I’ll cover both in this list.
Use a Bike:
If you live on campus, then it’s best that you don’t even bother with a car. The cost of insurance, gas, and maintenance is not worth the struggle for someone that lives on campus. The best way to live frugally as a college student (regarding transportation) is to own a bike or walk.
Use your City Transit Bus or Carpool:
Many universities off buses to and from the city, so be sure to ask an official on whether your college does as well. And, If you already have friends, it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to pay them $5 in gas and have them drive you wherever you need to go.
It also doesn’t hurt to join gas station reward memberships if you like to save on gas. And, for the love of God, don’t run your AC or turn down your windows unless it’s summer. It lowers your fuel efficiency. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.
Bonus- If you sign up with GasBuddy, you can save 5 cents per gallon for life! Don’t worry, it’s free.
If you’re a lover of travel, then you have nothing to worry about. Though it does kinda go against living frugally as a college student, it’d be crazy to not share this amazing website with you. On contiki.com, exclusive student tours are offered across the world for beyond insane deals. They even have a deal to pay for your passport if you’re a first-time traveler!
If you’d rather plan your own trip, then check out CheapFlights to save on money for flight tickets.
Firstly, actually use your meal plan:
Campus food is normally much better quality, so there’s no need to avoid it. You’ll thank me later. At my personal campus, we’re offered the cafeteria, several restaurants, and the campus store to use our meal plan at. So it’s not like your options will be limited.
Also, avoid the vending machine at all costs! The vending machine is your enemy!
Plan Ahead and Use Coupons:
Studies have proven that people that use a shopping list spend less on groceries.
It’s also good practice to meal plan, that way you don’t get home from school and realize you only have eggs and rice in your house. To do this more easily, it’s extremely helpful to use a meal planning app.
It also doesn’t hurt to learn to cook (believe me, you’ll save tons of money on this, especially if you’re having friends over).
Don’t forget your coupons when grocery shopping! If you’ve never clipped coupons, here’s a helpful guide to get you started.
Bonus: Use cashback sites to save on groceries and other goodies. It’s worth it.
Buy the Generic Brand:
Personally, I buy groceries at Aldi and Lidl and save about $150 per month because of it. Seriously, where else can you find three pints of ice cream for $1.75? If you can, use a generic brand over the original one.
Attend Events On Campus:
Most, if not all, universities and community colleges offer a large variety of events. Luckily, a good bit of these also offers free food. Make sure to check your local college event board so you don’t miss out on these deals!
If you do decide to eat out, try to go to fast-food restaurants that offer student discounts. Be sure to also keep track of their promotions and meal deals!
And, as I said before, drink water. Not only will it be healthier, but you’ll save at least $1.50 off your bill.
As far as entertainment goes, money will likely always be an issue. Luckily, there are some ways to counteract this deadly phenomenon.
Music and Books:
Firstly, do NOT buy your music. Anymore. Ever. Until you leave college, you should be listening to Pandora or Spotify, no matter how tempting that $1.39 song is. It adds up in the long run, so just trust me on this.
The same goes for books. No matter how much you love it, sometimes it’s better to just visit the library.
Movie Nights & Discounts:
If you enjoy doing movie nights (who doesn’t) or going to arcades, make sure to always double-check for a student discount. In my area, premiere cinemas give out a student discount with proof of ID. This brings my total from $9.71 to $7.35. Like I said, every bit counts. For more information on available student discounts, check here.
There’s really no point in keeping that gym membership when your school has a free one. Drop that and hit the gym at UNI. Plus, many schools have sports available as well. Why pay money for access to something you can get for free?
I honestly don’t think the younger generation even does this anymore because, let’s face it, it’s just a giant waste of money. If you’re wanting to live frugally as a college student the right way, then use the internet. Whether it be Hulu, Netflix, or HBO, I PROMISE: It will be more affordable than a cable bill.
Hobbies are also a great way to spend your time during University. Not to mention, it really isn’t that difficult to live frugally as a college student and have hobbies. If you already have a cheap hobby to keep you entertained, then that’s great! If you don’t, make sure you check out some of these.
6. Pay your bills early to Live Frugally as a College Student!
Now, unless you’re a commuter, you shouldn’t have many bills (and I have a section for you guys as well, don’t worry.)
The only one you may have to worry about (maybe) is a phone bill and medical insurance. This depends on your familial status as well. For those of you that can barely afford either, here are some tips for both.
If you’re one of those people that don’t need a lot of data or texts (ahem, me), then it shouldn’t be hard to find a cell service that is wayyy more affordable than your current one. Personally, I use the FreeUp mobile service plan. With it, I get 1000 free minutes or texts a month. If I wished to upgrade, it would be $15 for unlimited text and talk, and 1 GB of Data, which is awesome, as I only use my service for emergencies (you’ll likely have internet everywhere, the need for service is almost abysmal). Here are some other cool service providers.
And don’t forget, your current service provider likely offers a student discount! Use it!
As for medical insurance goes, check around your school and/or job for affordable medical plans. If nothing turns up, many cities in the USA also offer free or sliding-scale clinics for those with low-income.
7. Saving Money you Actually Have
Chances are, you have at least a little bit of money to your name. If not, don’t worry, you will soon. Anyhow, one of the first things you’ll want to do is open a checking account (so you can actually buy things online, duhhhh).
While many checking accounts charge ridiculous fees, like minimum monthly payments, overdraft fees, etc. There is a way to avoid this with free online banks. Many of these have no overdraft fees and don’t charge you to use ATM’s!
If you do want to stick with your current bank, then be sure to be mindful of the money in your account at all times. Overdrafting is a scary place to be.
Save your Spare Change:
If you’re bad at saving money, then there’s no need to worry. Even I have problems with putting up money from my paycheck. Luckily, there are apps that do this for you!
Live Frugally as a College Student (Off-Campus):
As for commuting students, buy your car used if you don’t already have one. Pay insurance in advance. And carpool!
As a commuting student myself, I pay $300 upfront to my insurance company (instead of the $600 something it would’ve been) and travel to school every morning with my friend, who helps pay for gas as well. This will save tons of money in the long term and will give you someone to talk to on your way to school.
If you want to live frugally as a college student, you’re going to have to rely on yourself to do your laundry. As such, there are certain things to do remember:
Do not wash your clothes if it’s only one shirt and a sock!
That’s just asking to waste money. The laundromat is not cheap and it’s not efficient to wash clothes until your hamper is full or you have next to no clean clothes. If it helps, try to schedule a day to wash clothes each week, or do so with a friend.
Firstly, you’re not going to survive on your own unless you have roommates! Rent is expensive and having someone to help you pay it is worth the trouble. To find a roommate, post an ad on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Ask your friends or family if they’d be interested. And set some ground rules to make sure you can coexist comfortably.
Pay bills early:
It’s not fun to come home to find your waters been cut off. With that being said, please keep up with your bills! Here are some helpful apps to make sure you’re kept up to date with your bill payments! (Including rent)
Watch your Utilities:
Remember when your mom told you to turn the light off if you’re not in the room? She wasn’t kidding, it does add up. Make sure you don’t use any more electricity or water than you have to.
Keep your Security Deposit:
Generally, you’ll need to pay upwards of $1000 for a security deposit. This is to make sure you don’t damage any of the property during your stay. Luckily, as long as you don’t damage anything, you get that deposit back. With that being said, be careful!
Live with your Family:
Lastly, the cheapest thing to do in this situation is to live with your family. Living frugally as a college student if difficult, but it’s easier if you don’t have to pay rent. Therefore, if you have the choice, it’s best to stay at home until you can afford to move out on your own.