The life of a student can be a difficult one. In addition to studying and getting good grades, you need to juggle expenses such as housing, tuition, and a whole lot more. It’s no wonder students are carrying such massive debt. In fact, it’s estimated total student loan debt in the United States is $1.5 trillion. Yes, trillion with a ‘T’. Unfortunately, most students enter college and university with no idea how to handle their finances. You basically have to instantly know how to be a functioning adult. This only exacerbates the problem. The good news is there are a lot of simple steps you can take to get the most out of your money (and maybe even save some of it at the same time).
To help get a handle on your monthly budget, here are 11 easy ways to save extra money as a student.
11. Buy or Rent Used Textbooks
Students spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars a semester on textbooks. While buying shiny new ones from your campus bookstore is convenient, it’s not your only option. Do some research and see if you can find a used book online. Many students resell their old textbooks and for much lower prices. Some school bookstores will also allow you to rent books for a semester or two, but the downside to this is you won’t be able to write notes in the pages.
Also, make sure you check which textbook edition your professor will be teaching from. Having an old edition can be frustrating, as the pages and content may be different. However, since textbooks are one of your biggest expenses, it’s worth doing a little work to find the best price.
10. Cut Out Vices
Listen, I’m not going to tell you not to have fun. If you want to party every weekend, that’s your decision. Keep in mind though that enjoying the nightlife a little too much can get expensive quickly. If you’re not careful, you could end up blowing hundreds of dollars a month on alcohol alone. Same goes for other vices like nicotine. There’s a lot of social and peer pressure to spend money on these things. After all, you’re only young once, right? But ask yourself what’s more important — your finances or unhealthy (and expensive) habits? If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume it’s the former. So if you’re serious about saving money, cut back on the vices. Your wallet and future health will thank you immensely.
9. Learn to Cook
The stereotype of college students eating ramen noodles for every meal largely stems from two things: ramen is both very cheap and easy to make. However, there’s no reason you need to order takeout to eat food with some greens in it. Learning to cook is one of the best skills you can adopt, as it not only builds confidence but will help your budget too. The internet has no shortage of easy recipes to follow that are both healthy and require little skill in the kitchen.
To cut down on your time in the kitchen, cook big meals and pack the leftovers in to-go containers. Sure, meal prep can be a bit boring, but it will help you avoid buying lunch or dinner when you don’t feel like cooking. If you have roommates, buy groceries together so you can save on bulk items. Take turns cooking to help share the load. There will be days when eating out will be unavoidable but by preparing your own food more, you’ll save a lot more money in the long run.
8. Make Your Own Coffee (When Possible)
Coffee has to be one of the most insidious things many of us buy. Spending a couple dollars a day on a cup of java may not seem like much but over a month, it can really add up. It gets even worse if you go in for the specialty drinks, which can cost $5 or more. Steve Adcock of ThinkSaveRetire.com did a little thought experiment and found that if you spend $5 a day on Starbucks — a not unreasonable amount for some — it will cost you $100 or more by the end of the month ($5 x 20 days). I don’t know about you, but that seems like an absurd amount to be spending on coffee — even if it is pure bliss in a cup.
Luckily, there’s an alternative: make your own! Sure, it’s not as convenient and won’t taste as good as that caramel dolce latte but it’s so, so much cheaper. A kettle and french press are great investments that can be found on the cheap. Make sure to invest in a good travel mug too, so you can take your home brew with you to class.
7. Don’t Buy a Car
Cars are one of the worst investments you can make. This is especially true if you’re a student. While having your own car will provide a high level of freedom, it just doesn’t make financial sense in most cases. If your parents gift you a car for getting high marks, that’s one thing. However, if you’re in a position where you’re considering using your own money to buy one, don’t do it!
Walking, cycling, and public transit are much more affordable options. Plus they are better for the environment too. Besides, many universities and colleges provide transit passes as part of your tuition (or at least offer great discounts), so you’d be foolish for not taking advantage of these perks. Save the car buying for when you’re ready to earn a steady income.
6. Get A No-Fee Bank Account
If you don’t pay close attention to where your money’s going, life can feel like death by a thousand fees. Bank accounts are no exception. You’d be amazed how many banks have monthly fees on checking accounts. Having a checking account is pretty much a necessity, so why should you have to pay a bank just to access your money? Fortunately, you don’t need to. Many banks offer student plans that waive fees and there are quite a few that offer no-fee checking accounts as standard.
While you’re at it, open a savings account too. The idea of saving money may seem laughable to many students who are struggling to get by. However, it’s never too early to start putting money away for the future. It’s recommended you save 10% of whatever you earn each month to help build an emergency fund. If that’s too much, don’t worry; just save whatever you can afford. Even two or three percent is better than nothing.
5. Use Cash
Just because you’re sticking to a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun! The key is to build your budget with discretionary spending in mind. And for this, cash is your friend. Why? Well, spending cash can have a different psychological impact than using debit or credit. Since cash is much more tangible, the act of spending it makes you realize how much something really costs.
Start by figuring out how much you spend on activities like eating out or social events in a given week or month, then withdraw that amount in cash. Once the cash is depleted, cut yourself off from spending more on these activities. It’s not a foolproof budgeting method by any means, but it’s one that may work for you.
4. Pay Off Your Credit Card Bill Each Month
Credit cards are something many students sign up for, as establishing a good credit score early on can help with getting approved for a mortgage or other investments later on. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into massive debt with credit cards, especially if you lack self-control on finances. This is why if you do use a credit card, you should try and pay off your balance each month.
Credit card debt has very high interest and can really hurt you financially if you let it get out of hand. In general, if you’re looking to pay off debt, always start with the high-interest debt first. Pay off as much of this debt as you can afford each month. The longer it stays with you, the more it will cost you over the long term.
3. Use Coupons
No, that’s not a typo. Believe it or not, coupons aren’t just for little old ladies trying to save money on cat food. They may not scream “cool” but coupons can save you quite a bit of money. Extreme couponing didn’t become a budget fad for nothing.
The best part is coupons aren’t just for groceries. In fact, you can find coupons for just about anything if you know where to look. If you’re not into the idea of physically cutting coupons out of a flyer, mobile apps such as Ibotta and SnipSnap make the experience much more convenient. If you’re looking to price match, check out apps like Flipp, which gives you access to all the sales flyers in your area.
2. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
One of the great things about being students is that most businesses recognize you don’t have a ton of disposable income. This is why you’ll find student discounts pretty much everywhere you shop. You’d be foolish not to take advantage of them. In most cases, your student ID card will be enough to access these discounts in and around where you go to school. However, if you’re looking to take advantage of discounts abroad, the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is a great option. A good rule of thumb is to always check if a store offers student discounts because odds are, they do!
1. Borrow As Little As You Can
Until the system is overhauled, student loans remain an unfortunate necessity for many attending college or university. Unless you have very generous parents or are already wealthy, you’ll likely need to borrow money to pay for your education. If this is the case, try and borrow as little as you can. Since student loans are often paid out in large lump sum amounts, it’s difficult to stretch that money out over a long period of time.
There’s also the temptation to spend it, as it can be liberating to suddenly have thousands of dollars on hand. However, if you start out with a low balance to pay back, it can help you in the long run. After all, student debt cancellation may be picking up steam politically, but there’s no guarantee it will ever come. Better to not be saddled with that debt in the first place!