Saving Money in College

By Kate Riley November 8, 2016

Hello everyone, today’s topic is slightly different than the usual around here. I mentioned yesterday that this month my stepdaughter is traveling in Spain, and she returns home in a few weeks. She graduated from a university last year and will continue her education when she moves away and begins nursing school in January. We got to talking the other day about her financial choices and what her plans were for the future. She’s very sensible, she spent only what was necessary while in college to achieve her degree and is already planning her budget for her years of continued education.

I was asked by Regions Bank if I knew any college graduates that could recommend some tips for saving money during that stage of life, so this partnership was timely. I asked my stepdaughter to list for me some of her resourceful ideas that’s she utilized over the past few years to save money, and I’m happy to pass them on to you today. I know many of you have high school age children, or kids already in college, and I thought her tips were very clever. Perhaps you or your offspring will gain some insight from her savvy ideas since she’s lived them!


1. Research local second hand stores and sell your clothes there to turn a profit. You can usually either get cash (at a lower percentage of the buying price) or store credit (at a higher percentage).

2. Buy or sell your textbooks online! Often times you’ll find books much cheaper on the internet than in your university bookstore. After your course (and depending on the school) you can sell it back to your school’s bookstore and make a small profit. If not, just sell it back online. You can also rent textbooks on Amazon, Chegg, and a number of other great websites.

3. Educate yourself on your loans and pay off the ones with the most interest first. Loan grace periods vary in length so keep track of them. You usually don’t have to wait until your grace period ends to start paying, so if you can you should start doing it as soon as possible (less interest!)

4. Set a budget and transfer money from your savings to checking account only as needed. The extra step helps you not spend as easily.

5. Tutoring or babysitting are great side jobs because you can pick and choose if and when you work. Also, working local gigs or events can be a non-committal way of making money.

6. If you want to watch shows or movies, there are several inexpensive online streaming services available. Also, keep in mind you can check out DVDs from the public library, you’d be surprised how many videos are there!

7. Hot water is free at most cafes, so BYOTB (Bring Your Own Tea Bag) when you study there.

8. Shop in bulk for staples and share meals with friends. Meal prepping lunches and snacks for the week can help save too. Crock pots and rice cookers are golden!

9. Most colleges have a Free or For Sale Facebook group so take advantage of these to get good prices on books, furniture, clothes, etc. There is usually one for on campus free food/events too.

10. Get a finance app on your phone so it’s easier to hold yourself accountable. There are several available if you do a search for “financial app.” There many ways to save money while in college and every dollar counts.

11. Eat and drink at home before you go out so that (ideally) you will spend less when you go out. Also, keep track local specials for food and drinks so you can capitalize on them. Two words. #TacoTuesday

12. If you have a car and are planning a long drive home, find someone who needs a ride so they can split gas with you. Most colleges have boards for this and there are also ride sharing apps.

13.  Work somewhere that serves food and provides meals to employees so that you can eat for free.

14. Take the time to make homemade gifts and cards. Not many people print photos anymore so giving someone a nice print they may have forgotten about can go a long way.

15. Go to free events and use public transportation whenever possible. When I lived in San Francisco, I used and most cities have a similar site.

16. Exercise for free. Run or walk around your city, watch free YouTube fitness videos, or find free yoga nearby. Yoga To The People ( offers donation based yoga classes.

17. With your first job offer, learn about all the benefits that the company offers and when you need to enroll or use them by to take full advantage of them.

For more helpful tips, read 10 Things College Grads Wish They’d Known as Freshman.

Thank you to Regions Bank for sponsoring this post and these tips on saving money while in college and in post graduate years. All opinions expressed are mine and my stepdaughter’s. Proceeds from this post assist in her continuing education, so thank you for supporting this blog.


  1. Thank you to your stepdaughter for these hints! I will pass them along to my son who is finishing his degree soon (fingers crossed). I told him exactly what she said when he got a job on campus working in Food Services – free food! It sounds like she is very financially savvy. Congrats to the ‘rents on teaching those skills!

  2. I really enjoyed these tips. It’s a great refresher from time to time. Saving money is definitely a lifetime goal and not just a four year one!

  3. Nothing is free… There are always counterparts of free stuff, and be careful when going to a free event, I think youngster should know that :)

  4. Super advice. A few more ideas for the parents and students. I have 2 in college and 3 others on their way in the next 1-4 years. I am a prof and nurse practitioner also.

    Most college campuses have excellent work out facilities – pools, gyms and even classes (of all kinds) that are free to the students. Well not really free as you have paid for them in your school activities fee (or something like that).

    Online books are definitely cheaper and it seems like most profs are going that route now. But if you are someone who likes to highlight, etc than hardcover is the way to go. Also sell any books before leaving for home at the end of the semester to the bookstore, or ask your friends if they need a particular textbook if they’re in your major. Also you daughter is going into nursing and you can buy a ton of books online. Now in our syllabi we have to put down the latest edition for our books but honestly in all my years of teaching it is ok to have an older edition. Hello ebay, etc.

    Encourage your undergrads to get involved and start networking early on. There are so many nursing associations and leadership positions that are available for students. Network early and make contacts and keep in touch with your contacts.

    My oldest daughter is a first year grad student in chemistry at UNC. She went to a school in VA that didn’t have grad students in the chemistry dept so the school utilized sophomores, juniors and seniors that were recommended by their prof to help teach with the prof in the science labs. As a result, when she applied to grad school she had 3 years experience of being a TA. (BTW, TAs and RAs are not financially need based). As a result she got her tuition waived and they also pay her a monthly stipend that easily pays her rent, food, etc. Yeah for no grad student loans! Undergrads can also work for a prof in the lab (STEM classes and probably others too) for credit, pay or even volunteer. Believe me, when applying to grad school a recommendation from a prof whom you have worked for carries a lot of weight and can lead to assistantships and scholarships, or the chance to work for a prof at your new school.

    Lastly for parents. I began a career many years ago in the sciences and came to NJ to do pharmaceutical research. About 12 years ago I decided to do what I had always wanted to do and that is to work with patients. I went to a community college and got an AS degree (I already had a doctorate in the sciences) in nursing and then went on to get my FNP and ANP certification. I began teaching nursing students full time and found out that your kids can go to the school you teach at tuition free. (BTW most colleges don’t pay faculty a whole heck of a lot of money unless you are blessed to work at an ivy league or that type of caliber college, so to have $35K tuition waived really helps..). Room and board is not covered. Soon after I found that some colleges give free tuition for all employees (administrative staff, cafeteria workers, etc), not just faculty. I have worked at small private colleges where it seems to be more common. This is a great incentive to work at a college if you cannot afford college tuition or you want to limit the amount of loans your kids could have. Doesn’t hurt to research this. And believe me I see undergrad graduating form private colleges with >100K in debt all the time.

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