Smart Ways to Save Money at College

Some of these may require a bit of work and charisma on your part, but you will save big. I have assigned a 1-5 difficulty rating system with 5 being the most difficult.

Live off campus.

Dorms are too expensive and too small. Even with the deposit required for an apartment, you can expect to save 50-75% off of your housing costs. Whether it requires allergy fabrication, a note from your second cousin that lives near your college, or any other harmless lie, this is the best way to save money. Call it whatever you want, but if you don’t do it other students will. Keep in mind that for any excuses involving a parent or relative, a signature/letter will be required, so be prepared to produce this.

Difficulty 3 – Will depend on the university and your creativity. Take your time figuring out your reasons and cover all your bases beforehand.

Never buy a meal plan.

University meal plans are huge scams. In no way shape or form should every meal of the day cost an average of 6-7 dollars. The catch to nixing the meal plan, at least at my university, is that you are required to purchase it your freshman year unless you live off campus.

Difficulty 1 – Not hard at all once you live off campus.

Buy from graduates.

Each semester, try and find a graduate trying to get rid of stuff. See if you can get a washer and dryer set for 250-300 dollars, this will save you money in the long run.

Difficulty 2 – People always have too much stuff, but the selection is entirely random.

Exchange textbooks with other students.

Always ignore the stores. Check with your upcoming professors to find out which of your classes supposedly “require textbooks”. Search for students who have just finished the related courses. If they are your friends they may be willing to give some books to you. (Be sure to give them a little cash or at least a hug.)

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If after scouring Facebook, your university bulletin board, and your cell phone you are unable to find anybody with the books, you have two options. The first is to say hell with it and try to wing it by sharing. This is not necessarily the most polite thing to do, but most people will allow you to do this if you ask kindly enough or express a desire to study with them. The second is to find a friend willing to go in half on the book. Wait until a few days into the course to make sure this is actually required. When all else fails, AbeBooks has always been cheaper for me than Amazon or any other major online bookseller. You can sometimes get lucky with Ebay.

Difficulty 1 or 5 – If you have a hard time making friends or approaching people, this will be tough.

See if any of your friends have huge meal plans.

Some parents obligate their babies to get the meal plan so they don’t go hungry. If your friends don’t care, ride this gravy train to the cafeteria whenever they ask you to join them. If you aren’t entirely close, follow them to the cafeteria while talking. When you don’t walk through the double doors let them know you don’t have a meal plan. This is when you’ll find out not only how nice they are, but also if they even have anything to spare. (Most meal plans do not even roll-over from week to week. The goal is not to take advantage of people, but to make the most of resources.)

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Difficulty 1 or 5 – Same as previous

Use AP/IB/CLEP credit.

If you are still in high school, you are ahead of the game. By entering college with 10 classes worth of these tests, you save yourself a year of work as well as a year of cash. If you are still in high school, get in touch with whoever is in charge of administering CLEP tests at your campus. These tests only cost about 75 dollars, and allow you to trade an hour of two of your time for an entire semester’s worth.

Difficulty 4 – It is hard to be motivated enough to get tons of credit like this. For placement tests like the CLEP, it can be stressful to study and downright demoralizing when you don’t pass.

Join an internet rental service like Netflix or, my personal favorite, Gamefly.

If you rent movies or games all of the time, you will definitely save money with one of these services. For the price you pay of renting 2 or 3 games a month, you could be getting an unlimited supply from Gamefly. This is definitely worth checking out.

Be nice to cafeteria/custodial staff.

This is something you learn at a very young age, especially if you like to eat. Though many cafeterias are self-service, some are not. The people with whom you often carry on a conversation will help you out whenever you don’t have enough cash or you forget your student card. You may not save much with the custodial staff, but it is worth a shot. I usually work either really early or really late. This often gave me the chance to get to know the custodians by name as well as listen to some of the best ranting I’ve ever heard. Whenever I needed a broom, mop, or some kind of cleaning product all I had to do was ask.

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Difficulty 3 – There is often not much opportunity to talk to these people, so rapid rapport-building skills will be necessary.

Start reading a quality money publication.

Many business professors require students to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. It’s always a smart idea to start investing as soon as you can, and now that the WSJ offers both the online and print version you get all the best money information in two ways. The price tag may seem a bit steep for students, but if you are serious about investing you will be pleased with the purchase.

See if any of your friends (or their friends) work nearby.

If you can find somebody who works at a restaurant, video store, etc., see what they can do for you. Free food, free rentals, or even just an employee discount could save you tons in the long run.

Difficulty 1 – If you already have the friends this will not be hard. Usually the people capable of getting you free stuff are managers already. Don’t get anybody fired!

There are loads more, but these are just the ones I have used personally and found to be effective. Please send in ideas of your own. I’ll post the good ones and give credit.