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4 No-Brainer Ways to Save Money in College

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

We’ve all heard about that overused “broke college kid” stereotype.

Ramen noodle jokes aside, the stereotype does exist for a reason.

Whether you didn’t save up enough money before heading off to college, aren’t terribly good at managing your money (random Prime purchases, anyone?) or are just not used to budgeting when you’re on your own dime, many of us end up fulfilling that role quite easily.

Luckily, I had a bit of money saved up, but moving into my own housing situation left the potential for me to run out of funds very quickly if I wasn’t careful. I learned a few tough lessons in my first semester. Here are some of the biggest tips I learned for managing your money while away at college.

1. Be Thrifty at the Grocery Store

Living on my own meant that I had to buy my own groceries for the first time. Anyone who has shopped for groceries knows that it can get expensive—if you don’t know the ins and outs. I chose stores that tended to price things more cheaply. To figure this out, I considered my options before making a decision about where I would shop for the rest of the semester. Find the most affordable (Note: not always convenient) option near you. Once there, only buy food you’re sure you can eat before it goes bad.

If you can, stock up on essentials at home—if you have a lower cost of living compared to on campus. I brought as many groceries that I could from home, and then when visited I home a couple times, I stocked up again.

If you’re parents offer, gracefully accept their help. My parents were generous enough to buy me some things I needed. While it is nice to establish your independence, it can be a lot smarter to accept help when it comes to things like making expensive purchases. 

Resist the urge to by frivolous things. Shopping is fun, and throughout high school I would buy clothes whenever I felt like it. Now, I only try to make necessary purchases to ensure that I won’t struggle to pay my rent.

It can be difficult to keep yourself from buying certain things that you see and really want, but it’s important to dedicate most of your money on the essentials.

2. Swap Delivery for Pick-Up

Getting dinner from a restaurant is almost always more satisfying than cooking for yourself. Because of this, it can be tempting to get takeout very often. It’s quick, tasty and such a nice reward after a day of hard work. However, this is more expensive than cooking for yourself and it adds up quickly.

To save some cash, opt out of delivery and pick it up yourself. Delivery is a fast and convenient (lazy… ahem) option, but it’s usually not free. By picking it up, you save money you would have spent on the delivery and tip—plus you get a little exercise in. Which, if you’ve been in and out quarantine all year, means you could probably stand to get out and get moving.

It might be a pain take the time and energy to leave the house when delivery is so convenient, but the fees and tips add up quickly. Pick up your food (or heck, cook it yourself) and you’ll likely save you a sizeable amount of money.

Beyond the Ramen: Cooking for One in College

3. Walk or Bike When Possible

This is a great option if you live on or near a campus with resources close by.

Where I grew up, public transportation was not an option. There was no place where you could reasonably walk to, so everyone owned a car. Now at college, there are tons of options. People drive, walk, bike, use Uber and take the train. The most convenient options, unfortunately, tend to be the priciest.

At college, walking wasn’t actually the best option for me since I lived in a less populated area. But paying for transportation, though cheap enough, added up. Keeping this in mind, I still decided to walk to most places. Driving would have also been cheaper than public transportation, but there is still the price of gas to consider. Free and by far the healthiest options, walking and biking can be time-consuming and tiring but will save money, again, in the long run.

4. Find Unique Ways to Cash In

Look around campus for ways to make a bit of money or get some back to spend on school-related purposes. Student or faculty email surveys often offer cash or gift card reward for participating. They’re not worth a lot but only take a few minutes of your time.

Also, my university offered some funding for students living in off-campus housing (like myself), as well as reimbursement for certain tech purchases. These perks often go unnoticed by many students. Ask around and you might be surprised at what you find. I’ve regained thousands of dollars that I otherwise would have lost. Your university could offer something similar, so it is important to carefully read through the websites and information available to you to ensure that you are using your resources from school to the fullest extent.

When you’re already stretched thin and roughing it on your own for the first time, it’s pretty common to face financial woes. You may even have to sacrifice certain luxuries you were used to just to come up with enough cash to cover the basics. The scramble can be unnerving and yet rewarding. When you’re able to earn, budget and spend money responsibly, you’ll feel accomplished and confident that you can handle your finances yourself once and for all. 

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Author: Heidi Temple

I am a first-generation student at Princeton University. I am currently planning to concentrate in Molecular Biology there. Then, I plan to go to grad school and eventually pursue a career in medical research.