Top 10 Budgeting Tips for College Students

Time to read: 13.5 minutes

Date: October 5, 2023

When in college, it’s easy for expenses to pile up without even realizing–especially when financial literacy isn’t typically the focus of a high school education. So, let’s talk about money – more precisely, how to manage it well in your college years. Knowing how to budget and manage money is as important–if not more so–than the advanced degree being earned. 

Here are the top ten budget tips every college student should know. 

1. Create a Budget

Understand Your Income Sources

Begin your journey to financial stability by understanding your income sources. This includes any part-time job pay, allowances, scholarships, savings and so on. Note down each source and add them up. This total is the amount you potentially have to fund your college life.

Evaluate Your Expenses

The next step involves assessing your expenses. Make a list of all anticipated costs during your college life including tuition, rent, meals, textbooks, transportation, personal care, and occasional entertainment costs. Also remember to keep a separate category for emergencies and the unexpected.

Set Your Financial Goals

Now that you know your income and expected costs, you can create financial goals. You might aim to save a certain amount each month, or spend less in a particular category (like unnecessary shopping or eating out). Dividing your larger financial goals into smaller, achievable targets can keep you motivated.

Develop Your Budget

Taking your income, expenses, and financial goals into account, devise your budget. Assign appropriate amounts to each category of spending and stick to it. There are plenty of budgeting apps available that can help you track and manage your spending effectively.

Periodic Review and Adjust

Creating a budget isn’t a “one and done” task. To make it effective, you should review and adjust it periodically. Maybe your rent increases or you shift to a place closer to your campus; these changes should be reflected in your budget. Always remember: your budget is a dynamic tool designed to help you navigate your financial journey.

2. Save with Student Discounts

Locate the Discounts

When it comes to saving money as a college student, student discounts are your best friend. From restaurants to retailers, transport services to tech companies - there are numerous businesses offering special discounts to students. Start by doing a simple internet search for companies that offer student discounts. Also, keep an eye out for posters or advertisements around your campus and city that promote them.

Always Carry Your ID

Your student ID is your passport to savings, so always keep it handy! Whether you're buying books or having a meal, it's a hassle to get these savings without your ID. Also, having an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can get you even more discounts, especially while traveling.

Explore Software and Subscriptions

Many software giants and digital subscription services offer significant discounts for students. From the Microsoft Office suite to Adobe Creative Cloud to Spotify Premium and even Amazon Prime, you can save tons on digital products and services simply by signing up as a student. Always look for a student discount before subscribing to any such service.

Travel and Accommodations

Many airlines, bus services, and train companies offer student discounts. Similarly, some accommodations like hostels or budget hotels have a special price for students. Anytime you are planning a trip, research these options and capitalize on them.

Food, Fashion, and More

Countless clothing stores, cafes, restaurants, and even movie theaters have special student deals. Don't be shy about asking for these discounts; businesses are usually eager to win and keep the college clientele.

3. Buy Used Textbooks and Supplies

Research Before You Buy

Before you rush to the bookstore, make it a habit to research the textbooks you'll need. This includes checking out the availability and pricing of used, rental, and digital versions. Sometimes, previous versions of textbooks work just as well, and they often come at a fraction of the cost.

Explore Online Marketplaces

Online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Chegg and others routinely host vendors selling used or rental textbooks. You might just find the book you're looking for at a significantly lower price.

Check Your Campus Bookstore

Many campus bookstores have a 'used books' section, where you can find textbooks at discounted prices. Some colleges also organize book fairs or exchanges where you can get used textbooks.

College Libraries and Other Students

Don’t forget about the college library. Sometimes they have copies of the textbooks you need for your course. Another option is asking seniors or other students if they have the textbooks you need and are willing to sell or lend them.

Free Online Resources

Older editions of some textbooks might be available online for free on websites such as Project Gutenberg, OpenStax, or the Internet Archive. Online academic databases and libraries could also come in handy.

Be Resourceful with Supplies

This is not just about textbooks. Look for second-hand or discount study supplies too. Things like calculators, lab equipment, and art supplies that are often required for certain courses can also be sourced second-hand, saving a lot. Buying used textbooks and supplies saves a decent amount. Soon, it'll become second nature to choose the budget-friendly option.

4. Limit Extra Food Expenses

Plan Your Meals

The best way to resist the temptation of eating out is planning your weekly meals. Including a variety of your favorite meals will make this more enjoyable. With a meal plan, you're less likely to come home exhausted and order a pizza because you don't have any food prepared.

Cook in Bulk

Cooking in bulk and storing meals is a great way to save both time and money. Prepare large quantities of versatile dishes that can be used for multiple meals throughout the week. All you need to do when you're hungry is to heat up these meals.

Make Eating Out A Treat

Turn eating out into a reward or occasional treat, instead of a daily routine. This not only helps you save money, but it also makes dining out more special and enjoyable.

Limiting your dining out habit is one of the most impactful changes you can make to your college budget. Beyond that, it's a skill and habit that will serve you well long after getting a degree!

5. Avoid Impulse Purchases and Buy Wisely

Understand the Appeal of Impulse Buying

Impulse buys are products that you grab without planning or consideration, usually because they seem appealing at the moment. Retailers know the allure of these items, and position them strategically to grab your attention. Understanding this can help you resist the temptation.

Write Down Your Purchases

Before stepping into a store, write a list of what you actually need to buy and stick to it. This pre-planning can help deter you from deviating and making impulse purchases.

The 24-Hour Rule

This rule helps you avoid impulse buys by simply postponing the purchase. If you see something you want, wait 24 hours. Take a picture of the item, so it can be revisited or researched online. If you feel the same urge to buy it the next day, and it fits into your budget, then you might consider the purchase. Often, you'll find the urge subsides after a waiting period.

Online Shopping Traps

Beware of online shopping traps, like "One-click buying," or "Customers who bought this also bought…”  or “only one left in stock”. These digital prompts can easily lead to impulse buys. By curbing impulse spending, you can significantly cut unnecessary expenditure and keep within your budget. 

6. Manage Utility Bills Strategically

Monitor Electricity  and Water Usage

The first step to managing your utility bills is being aware of your electricity consumption. Unplug devices when they're not in use, turn off lights when you leave a room, and be mindful when using electric heaters or air conditioners. Opting for energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs is also a great way to cut costs.

Reducing your water usage can result in substantial savings. Simple changes like turning off the faucet while you're brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, and fixing any leaks promptly can greatly reduce your water bill.

Plan Your Internet Usage

Take note of your internet usage habits. Are you paying for more data than you need? Or might there be a cheaper plan that still suits your needs? Sometimes, it's more cost-effective to share a plan with roommates. Remember to use free Wi-Fi in public libraries or other areas on campus.

Regular Bill Checks

Regularly checking and monitoring your utility bills can help identify any unexpected spikes and address the issue promptly. Also, make sure to compare rates from different providers as some may offer better plans or student discounts.

7. Save on Transportation Costs

Embrace Public Transit

Public transit is a cost-efficient way to travel, especially for routine commutes like going to campus or part-time work. Many cities offer student discounts for public transit, so be sure to take advantage of this if available in your area. 

On top of that, many universities have their own bus systems that are available to all students in order to get to class. This can also reduce other transportation costs associated with owning a vehicle, like parking permits, gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs.

Get on Your Bike

Biking is not only eco-friendly but also pocket-friendly. It cuts down your transportation cost and is also a great source of exercise. Many college campuses now have bike lanes which makes this option even more viable.

Walking: The Original Free Transport

If your destination is within a walkable distance, why not go the old-fashioned way? Walking is healthy, free, and reduces carbon footprints. Plus, it gives you some time to de-stress and soak in the surroundings.

Consider Car Sharing Services

If you occasionally need a car for a weekend trip or big shopping days, car-sharing services can be a cost-effective alternative to owning a car. You'll save on insurance, maintenance, and parking, which quickly add up.

8. Get a Part-Time Job or Internship

Understand Your Free Time

Before seeking a part-time job or internship, analyze your schedule to see how much free time you have. Balancing school and work can be challenging, so it's crucial that you don't overcommit and stress yourself out.

Job Hunting

Numerous on-campus jobs such as library assistant, research assistant, or tutoring can fit well within your academic schedule. Off-campus, consider part-time opportunities in retail, restaurants, fitness facilities, or any other area of interest. Use job boards, university resources, and networking to find these opportunities.

Paid Internships

Paid internships are another great way to earn money while gaining professional experience and potentially earning college credit. Many companies offer internships to college students, and these not only pay a stipend, but can also give you a glimpse into your future career field.

Freelancing or Gig Economy Work

Consider freelancing if you have a marketable skill such as graphic design, writing, or social media management. Similarly, the gig economy offers flexible options like rideshare driving, food delivery, or pet sitting.

9. Smart Credit Card Tips for Financial Control

Understand Your Credit Card

The first step to keeping your credit card in check is to understand how it works: the interest rates, penalties, credit limit, and the rewards program offered. Always read the terms and conditions of your credit card agreement to avoid any surprises.

Pay Off Your Balance Every Month

Aim to pay off your credit card balance in full every month. This helps you avoid interest charges and reduces the risk of falling into debt. If you can't afford to pay off something within the month, you should think twice before charging it to your card. On top of that, paying off the balance of your credit card can build your credit for future purchases like cars, leases, and mortgages.

Set Spending Limits

Even though your credit card company gives you a credit limit, it's often a good idea to set your own spending limit that's less than that. This can help prevent overspending and maintain a lower credit utilization rate, which can positively impact your credit score.

Say No to Cash Advances

While the idea of getting cash quickly in an emergency might seem appealing, it could end up hurting your wallet because of the high interest rates and fees often associated with cash advances.

Be Diligent with Your Statements

Check your credit card statements regularly to ensure all charges are correct and there aren't any false charges or transactions. This will also help you keep track of your spending.

Use Alerts and Reminders

Most credit card companies allow setting up alerts when you're close to your credit limit or when your bill is due. Use these features to help manage your credit card more effectively.

10. Have an Emergency Fund

Understand the Concept

An emergency fund is money you set aside specifically for unexpected expenses. The purpose of these funds is to improve financial security by creating a safety net that can be used to meet surprise expenses without derailing your budget.

Start Building Your Fund

It doesn't matter if you start building this fund bit by bit—what's important is that you start as quickly as possible. Even setting aside a small amount every month can eventually build up a substantial fund.

Set a Target

Aim for an amount that could cover at least one months worth of living expenses. This should be sufficient to carry you through most financial surprises like a sudden car repair, an unexpected trip, or medical expenses.

Choose the Right Account

Where you stash your emergency fund is crucial. Ideally, it should be in an easily accessible account—one that allows you to withdraw money without penalties. A savings account that earns interest is an excellent choice.


So, there you have it - the top ten budget tips every college student should know. As you settle into your college journey, always remember that smart financial management is a skill worth learning early. From creating a budget to building an emergency fund, every step counts towards achieving your financial goals. 

When you start making savvy, educated decisions about your money now, you'll be setting the foundation for a healthy financial future post-college. Steps may seem small at first, but remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got this!

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