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7 Ways to Save Money during your First Year of College 

Learning how to save money in college may be the last thing you want to do while you’re, well, already learning in school. But starting responsible spending habits early on can give you a valuable financial head start. Imagine being able to pay off your student loans or other debt right after graduation, or even put a down payment on a home.

While there are many ways to approach this, we know it can get overwhelming for even financially savvy people. 

This is why we’ve put together 7 smart ways to save money in college. Believe me, these tips will put more (er, some) money in your pocket.

1. Track Your Expenses

When building a college student budget, you’ll want to start by getting a sense of the current state of your finances. Track your incoming funds and how you spend that money to better understand your habits and where your money goes.

“Your fixed expenses may be your rent, internet, gym membership. Your variable expenses may be dining out, entertainment, tuition, and school supplies,” said Sandy Yong, financial speaker and author. “Understanding what you spend [your money] on is very important to determine how to tweak your budget.”

Take advantage of the digital tools available to make tracking your finances easy. Your bank or credit card likely has an app with a budget feature. Alternatively, you can use an app like Mint, which integrates all your accounts to help you track your spending and create a budget.

2. Avoid Buying New Textbooks. 

Textbooks can be surprisingly expensive. Before you hit the campus bookstore, see if you can borrow books from a fellow student or from the university library. If not, buy or rent used textbooks at Amazon.com. You can also rent books from Chegg or Barnes & Noble’s textbook service or order digital textbooks through sites like iFlipd, which offer a pay-as-you-go model.

3. Spend Below Your Means

One of the most foundational pieces of financial advice is to spend less than you earn. Ensure you are spending below your means and have money left over at the end of each month. If you are spending more than you earn, then you will need to find ways to get out of debt.”

When creating your budget, make sure your total spending is less than your income. If you don’t currently have an income, divide your total available funds by the length of time you expect to live off that money. For each month’s allotment, do your best to spend less than you have. Overspending can fast-track you to debt, especially if that spending is mostly on credit cards.

4. Start Building your savings 

Always prioritize setting aside a portion of your budget for savings. Having an emergency fund for the unexpected can save you from financial hardship — whether it’s medical bills, car problems, or a pandemic-related unemployment crisis. A significant amount in savings will also set you up for achieving longer-term goals and making large purchases.

Even a couple hundred dollars can go along way with a surprise purchase. With every check or payment you receive, no matter the amount, and whether it comes from a job or from parents, it’s essential to get in the habit of depositing (ideally) 10% into a savings account of some type.

5. Keep Searching for Scholarships

One way to add some wiggle room to your budget is to relieve the burden of tuition. Many students stop seeking scholarships once they begin college, but you can qualify for funding throughout your whole time as a student.

Many scholarship money often goes unawarded because no one applied. Some [scholarships] are focused on BIPOC, athletics, outstanding grades, community service, participation in student organizations — just to name a few. An application may take a few hours of your time, but you could reap the rewards of thousands of dollars that can help you pay off your tuition and student loans.

6.  Choose housing wisely

One of the best ways to save money in college is to live in a shared house or apartment, rather than living alone. By splitting your rent between a group as opposed to paying it all yourself, you’ll save a significant amount each month. Plus, you will also be able to split the utility bills and the cost of any shared furniture, saving you even more money each month.

7. Look for extra income

An excellent way to save money in college is to take on an extra job or two alongside your studies. Although a great deal of your time will probably be spent with your nose deep in a textbook, you can likely afford to spend 15–20 hours a week earning a bit of cash on the side. 

Looking for some ideas beyond working in a cafe, bar, or restaurant? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Become a virtual assistant. Virtual assistants are hired remotely from clients living all over the world to help them manage their day-to-day lives. This mostly means answering emails, booking flights, and organizing schedules, all activities you can fit around your own timetable.
  • Become a student brand ambassador. Brand ambassadors work on behalf of a particular brand and promote their products to other students on campus. 
  • Sell your lecture notes. By the time the end of semester rolls around, students who weren’t particularly present during lectures find themselves desperate for lecture notes. This gives you an opportunity to make a little bit of money by selling your lecture notes either directly to them, or to an educational platform such as Nexus Notes.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how to save money in college. Saving money at any stage of your life, but especially while you’re in college, takes a little common sense and discipline. Remember that you’re in college to learn and earn your degree. Meeting your academic and budgetary goals will not only help you make the most of your college experience – it will help you start your financial future off right.

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