25 Realistic Ways to Spend Less and Save Money in College

Last updated on November 15, 2017

If there’s ever one point in one’s life where they learn the most about money, it certainly has to be college. Most college students have and earn next to nothing, so they have to make the most of what they have. They wisely take tips from upperclassmen who have figured out all of the great ways to get by for less, which is a necessity for most college students.

After a few years of college experience under my belt, here are 25 different and unique tips that I have learned that can save any college student a significant amount of money.

Don’t worry, this is not some lame advice from some writer who hasn’t seen the inside of a dorm for 20 years either, this is from an actual college student who’s been there and done that in the last few years.

Textbooks

1. Buy your textbooks online.

They will be cheaper in 100% of cases compared to the bookstore. If the campus bookstore doesn’t provide ISBN numbers, email your professors and they will tell you.

Take the ISBN number of the book that you need and place it on Chegg.com, textbooks.com or BetterWorldBooks.com. It’ll find you the best price out there when it comes to textbooks.

2. Only buy the textbooks you need.

In a lot of classes, you won’t need the textbook. I recommend that you don’t buy your books until two weeks after the semester starts.

If you haven’t needed to use a textbook by then, you’re not going to need the textbook for the entire semester.

If you absolutely need a textbook right away, just borrow one from a friend in the class until you can order it.

3. Buy used copies, international versions, and old versions of the book.

Your professor will generally require that you get the latest and greatest edition of the textbook that you have. However quite often you can get by with a version of the textbook that’s a couple of generations older, and save tons of money, often as much as 90% of the purchase price.

You can also get international versions of the book which aren’t technically supposed to be on sale in the United States, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t! Of course there’s never anything wrong with a used textbook, sometimes they come pre-highlighted too, which is another bonus!

4. Sell your old textbooks back.

Most of the time bookstores will buy back books at the end of the semester, and most of the time they don’t check and make sure you actually bought the books from them.

There was one semester that I bought a book for my economics class online, and sold it back to the bookstore for a higher price!

If the bookstore doesn’t want your old books, place them on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace to subsidize your purchases of textbooks next semester.

Food

5. Stay away from fast food.

College students don’t have a lot of good food available to them, and aren’t really adept at cooking in most cases, and when they want something half way decent, quite often they go out to eat. This is fine in moderation, but most college students let it get a bit out of hand.

Minimize your tips out to eat and make use of that meal plan you already paid for.

6. There are lots of free pizza opportunities available.

Each and every club wants to draw members in at the beginning of each semester. They usually will have welcome meetings for potential new members and offer free pizza or other food as an incentive to come.

Go ahead and take the free pizza, there’s a pretty good chance it’s paid for by the university’s activity fund too!

7. Don’t let your meal plan go to waste.

I’ve noticed that either students will use their meal plan up a month before the semester ends and have to buy food, or they have way too much money left over on their meal plan that gets wasted.

Most food-service monopolies don’t allow you to carry your balance over semester to semester, so make the most of it.

Buy a bunch of candy bars or pop if you have to, but don’t leave a big balance on your meal plan at the end of the semester!

8. Opt out of the meal plan if you can.

Most of the time university food is ridiculously expensive and let’s face it, not very good. If you can get out of having a meal plan, you should. This will enable you to buy groceries for a lot less money and do some decent cooking. When you are paying for a meal plan, you’re essentially eating out for every meal, and it is that expensive.

It’s not uncommon for university students to be paying $350-$500 a month to the university just for their meal plan! This could feed a family of four in groceries!

9. Be smart with your groceries.

You’re going to get sick of university food sometime, but when you do, be smart with your purchases.

Go buy some groceries, but only buy stuff that you know you’ll eat in the next week. Make sure to use plenty of coupons and get generic brands while you there. It’s fine to get groceries, just be sure to get stuff you’ll actually eat and get that stuff at a good price.

Alcohol

10. Don’t drink alcohol.

If you don’t drink, you’ll never have to pay a penny for beer.

Of course this is totally un-realistic for most college students. Honestly, I don’t drink, but the typical college student does.

I asked a couple of my frequently un-sober friends for some advice to save money on drinking, and here’s a couple of tips that offered me.

11. Be cheap with your drinks.

Buy the inexpensive beer such as PBR and Keystone Light. When you’re going to a bar, go to whichever one has specials that night, and if you do drink heavily, be sure to drink a bit before you go out to the bar.

The stuff from the grocery store is always going to be cheaper than the bar.

12. Everyone loves free beer.

If you’re in a college town, chances are there’s going to be lots of parties, and chances are there’s a few that you can go to and not have to pay for the beer.

Just make up some lame excuse and bum alcohol from your friends.

Entertainment

13. Quite often universities will partner with the local movie theater and offer specials for college students.

At my university, we have the option of $1.00 movie nights every now and then, which can’t be beaten! Be sure to make special use of these promotions.

14. Don’t buy movies and music.

This is not an endorsement of piracy, but if you do want to watch a movie, chances are someone on your floor has a huge collection that you can borrow from.

My RA last year had over 200 movies in his collection, and it was pretty much a rental store without any of the fees. If you want to listen to music, head on over to Pandora.com.

15. Make your own movie theater.

Frequently we’d invade one of the hall lobby’s that featured a nice big plasma HDTV for us to watch. We’d hook up a DVD player, make some popcorn, and have our own Wednesday night movie theater with all of the fun, and none of the price.

Dating

If you’re a guy, you know that paying for dates, flowers, chocolates, cards and the like can get rather expensive. Here are a few tips to cut down on the cost of keeping your girlfriend, fiancé, or possibly wife happy.

16. Chocolate on the cheap.

Women love chocolate, but they’re not too picky about what type of chocolate they get. Don’t bother getting a big fancy heart full of chocolate when a 75 cent Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar will do just fine.

17. Student Discounts on Flowers.

Both of the flower-shops in town offer a 10% discount on flowers for college students, which come in quite handy. They know that you’re in college and don’t have a whole lot of money, most of the time you can get something decent for your special someone for under $20.00.

And remember, Birthday’s, Anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day are a must for flowers!

18. A Dinner In.

If you’ve been dating a woman a while, chances are she would find it absolutely romantic if you were to cook for her and have a candle light dinner. You’ll spend a lot less, and chances she’ll like it much more than if you just want somewhere and wrote a check.

Shopping

19. Chances are there’ll be a lot of free samples available in the campus bookstore, or just around somewhere.

Whenever they have them, grab as much as whatever they are giving out. Axe dropped some stuff on campus once, and I got over a year’s supply of deodorant for nothing!

20. Don’t buy software.

There’s a major chance that your university already has site licenses for Windows, Microsoft Office, and all of the other productivity software that you need.

Most of the time you can get a copy of these programs for next to or nothing from your university’s technology department.

21. Consignment shop.

If you’re a guy, you probably rarely ever worry about buying clothes. Most of the time the women in our life will buy us clothes when they think we aren’t dressing very well.

If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely need to buy clothing, go look for a consignment sale shop. You’re buying used clothes, but hey, you’re getting used prices too!

22. Laundry

If you live in on campus housing, you know that paying for laundry sucks quarters right out of your pocket.

When I lived in the dorms, it would cost me $2.50 to do my clothes per week, and that’s just because I mixed my whites and darks and washed it all on cold. I can only imagine what women have to do.

Bring your clothes home to wash them whenever you go there, if you know anyone in town, ask to use their laundry machines, because it’ll be a lot cheaper. If you don’t know anyone, comparison shop the local Laundromats along with the university’s prices.

Everything Else

23. Don’t pay for a gym club membership.

Chances are you already have one through the university. If you did pay for a gym club, statistically you wouldn’t make very good use of it anyway.

Most of the time universities partner with local fitness centers and recreation centers to get their students discounted or free memberships.

24. Driving.

Whenever you go home, usually you have to drive there and gas gets expensive. Try to carpool home on weekends with people from the same town as you to save on gasoline.

If no one likes you or there’s no one else from your town at the university, make sure your vehicle’s in tip-top shape to avoid wasted gasoline.

25. Don’t move off campus.

There is very rarely ever a situation where it will be cheaper to live off campus than on campus. Even if it looks a little bit on paper, you will find yourself eating out a lot more, spending more in gasoline, and spending more on your utility bills than you expected.

Only move off campus if you have a very good reason to.