11 Clever Money-Saving Tips For College Students
Stretch Your Dollar Beyond Just a Savings Account
As a college student, summer is your prime time to work, save money, and financially prepare yourself as much as you can for the next semester or two.
Like you, I had a summer job or an internship lined up and I was super excited to dive deeper professionally and line my pockets. Then the COVID pandemic put my plans on pause.
Now, without having the benefits of summer savings, how can we make sure we're spending our money wisely and getting the best bang for our buck?
I did some research and thought about my own tried-and-tested money-saving tips to share with you! What are the most clever money-saving tips for college students?
Some of the most clever money-saving tips for college students include:
If you are buying something because it’s on sale, only buy it if you are saving more than you are spending.
Turn off your browser cookies on your phone, laptop, tablet, etc to reduce the number of targeted marketing ads you see.
Check your college library (in-person and online) for textbooks before you buy them. You might be surprised to find that your university library might have them already!
Use the 72-hour rule before you buy something. If you really want something, you’ll still be thinking about it 72 hours after you were initially going to buy it.
Join local Facebook groups, attend local swap meets, or follow the Instagram pages of local businesses to score great deals on furniture, food, clothing, etc.
But there are so many more helpful tips and tricks out there, so let's take a look!
1. If you are buying something on sale, only buy it if you are saving more than you are spending.
Sales are great. Who doesn't love discounts?? A great sale at any of my favorite stores always makes me browse for things, even if I don't necessarily need them. But with online shopping, there are constantly good deals and sales at my favorite places to shop. So how do I keep myself from constantly buying things?
I created a rule for myself. I only buy things on sale if I'm saving more than what I'm spending! If the sale isn't more than 50% off of the retail price, I don't consider it to be that great of a deal because I know the price will almost always come down later on during final sales and clearance clearouts! You could also make sure to shop around because it's likely that other stores have the same or similar products for a cheaper price altogether.
2. Buy things to replace items you already have rather than buying additional things.
Another great shopping tip, which is also one of the main principals of minimalism, is to only buy things as a replacement for something you already have. There's no need to buy a new (or another) pair of shoes if you already have several pairs in good condition! Purchasing items with a purpose helps keep impulse and unnecessary spending at bay.
UniDays and ID.me are websites that verify your student status to offer you student discount codes to dozens of stores and restaurants! If you haven't heard of either of these, they are great websites to sign up for to make sure you're using your student discount as much as possible. All you need to sign up is a college or university email!
4. Turn off your browser cookies on your phone, laptop, tablet, etc to reduce the number of targeted marketing ads you see.
Most people don't realize that browser "cookies" are used to track your web traffic and web searches. Your "cookies" are then used by marketing companies to present you with targeted ads, which are often very persuasive in making people spend money on things they want but don't need! Turning off or limiting your browser "cookies" on your devices can help reduce the targeted ads you see on webpages and your social media feeds.
*Bonus tip: If you clear your cookies before and during a search for airline flights, you might find cheaper flights!
5. Pay with cash as often as possible because you’ll find yourself spending less money when you have to physically trade currency.
One of the worst feelings about spending money is giving away cash in exchange for something else. You physically give it to someone else, you watch someone else handle your hard-earned cash, and you can see the stacks of bills in your wallet deplete as you spend it.
But, this is great if you want to spend less money! Paying with cash has a psychological effect on people that causes them to spend less money, so try switching to dolla' dolla' bills if you find yourself spending too much.
6. Check your college library (in-person and online) for textbooks before you buy them. You might be surprised to find that your university library might have them already!
Here's a quick pro-tip: Check your university and local library for your textbooks before you buy them elsewhere! You might be surprised to see that your school library already has some because professors and students either donate them after they're done using them, professors assign common literature books, or your school has copies because people have requested them in the past!
If your library doesn't have one but a different local library does, request an inter-library loan. All it will cost you is a couple of days for it to arrive in the mail!
7. Test out of general education classes through CLEP exams to save time and money.
One little known fact about the higher education system in the United States is that you can actually test out of every single general education class even if you didn't take any Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school!
The College Board (yes, that college board) offers CLEP exams, which are essentially comprehensive exams on all of the topics taught in a general education class. Currently, there are 34 exams that translate to 3 college credits if you pass the exam with a C+ average. HUNDREDS of schools accept CLEP credits, and the exams are only $90/exam, so save yourself the time and the money by self-studying (free online prep courses are offered through ModernStates) and passing some exams!
8. Use budgeting apps to track where your money is going and when.
Budgeting apps can make it so much easier to take control of your finances. They can track how much money you're earning, what you're spending, where your money is going, and even set aside your extra dollars each week into a savings account! Some of the best budgeting and money-saving apps include Mint and Albert, whereas Qapital and Acorn are great for stashing money away.
9. Pay your bills on time each month to avoid costly late fees and interest rates.
Paying your bills is a tedious process, but be sure to pay them all on time. Some companies will charge you late fees and penalties if you don't pay your bills on time, and others, such as credit card companies, have high interest rates for late or missed payments!
Try setting up auto-pay for as many of your bills as you can. Some companies even offer a discount on your bills for signing up for auto-pay! Auto-pay is especially helpful for credit card bills, so if you usually have a monthly balance between 8-10% of your credit utilization, pay off your credit card balance in full at the end of the month. If you use your credit card for larger purchases, pay at least the minimum balance due to save yourself from expensive fees!
10. Use the 72-hour rule before you buy something. If you really want something, you’ll still be thinking about it 72 hours after you were initially going to buy it.
Another quick shopping tip I use is the 72-hour rule. If you're in a store and you're really tempted to buy something but you're questioning the price or whether or not you really want it, wait 3 days. Chances are, the product will still be there, and if you are still thinking about buying it, then it's likely something you truly want and will use. I love to apply the 72-hour rule even on sale items because it can be so easy to buy something on sale in a pinch simply because it is on sale and not because you truly want or need it!
11. Join local Facebook groups, attend local swap meets, or follow the Instagram pages of local businesses to score great deals on furniture, food, clothing, etc.
If you're like me, you went to school out-of-state and you're generally unfamiliar with the inner-workings of your local community. Many people don't think about joining local Facebook groups for tag sales and swap meets, but they are highly underrated shopping hotspots for anything you might need! It's like a thrift store but from your phone! Be on the lookout for these pages to score great deals on everything from food to furniture, room decor, and clothing.
As the holiday season approaches, use these tips (or stack them together!) to get the most bang for your buck and save money in little ways! Happy saving!
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Our current project investigates financial literacy and education in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This publication is one in a series offering basic financial literacy guidance and education to young adults.
Written by Avery Moon, United States.