It's just about time to leave high school and go to college. Are you ready? Well, with our comprehensive college student savings guide, you can be. We've created an exhaustive resource that covers things to do before you graduate high school, student loan tips, the best ways to budget money and save, options for making money, and the best college student discounts around.
College certainly can be expensive, especially when you're striking out on your own. But never fear! Taking the time to be money-wise now will save you a lot of trouble later. Prevent financial woes and save thousands by being smart with your spending, getting a bit more income, and knowing a little bit more about the many ways you can save. High school students who are smart and savvy can slice down their debt and lead much more successful lives after graduation.
There's a lot of financial advice for high school seniors bound for college out there, most of it very calm and inspirational. But this advice for high school graduates is a bit more pragmatic. We've created a quick checklist of tasks and financial goals for high school students to achieve before they leave. If your goals after high school include financial independence at college, see some of the simplest ways to ensure that that can happen.
Why waste $50 or more when you can apply early? Application fees are sometimes lowered or waived during job fairs, early in the semester, or during specific times of the year. In the long run, if you're applying to many colleges at once, you can save hundreds of dollars or more by getting ahead of the game. If you're really strapped for cash, you can apply to these no-application-fee colleges, too. (Note that there may be ways to get free help on the ACTs and SATs as well, and you can often submit your scores right after taking the test at a cheaper rate.)
Get financial training.
It seems pretty ridiculous sometimes that the education system doesn't take a lot of time to teach important stuff like interest rates, budgeting, and banking terminology. On a summer off, take a few days to get acquainted and comfortable with your personal finances. Here are some resources:
Create a bank account, or several.
There's nothing like being the sole user of a checking and savings account to make you feel like an adult!
- Consider 529 college savings plans. Typically, they're used by parents, but they can also help students save for tuition costs. They're often sponsored by state agencies and educational institutions.
- Beyond 529 plans, there are student bank accounts that offer lowered fees. Some even offer cool perks like money added to your account after a certain period, no minimum balances, and free paper checks. Check local credit unions and banks.
- Whichever bank you pick, make sure there are ATMs on campus. ATM fees can be as much as $5 or more if you're using a different bank's machine, even if you only take out $20. That can add up really quickly.
- If studying abroad in college is one of your future goals, consider creating a separate savings account with a bank that's available internationally and starting to save a small amount now.
- Set aside cash graduation gifts and put them right in the bank! Don't splurge on spending on fancy items for your dorm room yet.
Create an awesome resume.
This might not seem like a financial tip for students, but it is: A professional resume, which you might need for college applications anyway, can help you visualize your goals in a much more realistic way. Imagine adding your school credentials to your resume - how does it make you feel? Prepared? Underwhelmed? Scared? What are the other experience gaps that you want to fill to reach your career goals within the next few years? Consider internships and jobs that would help as well.
If you're not even sure what you want your career to be, don't worry. That's normal. But it may be a good idea to play around with some career quizzes, search for careers based on keywords, and/or comb through the fastest-growing careers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
You've probably heard it again and again, but applying for scholarships is probably the single best method for saving money as a college student. Check out this College Board database of scholarships, create a list, and apply for them: There's literally nothing to lose!
Try to get a stable summer job.
Federal work-study is usually not available during the summer, and if you want pocket money for lattes and fancy dorm room decorations, a few thousand extra dollars goes a long way. See if you can build a good relationship with a local business so that you can have a consistent fall-back between semesters.
Learn about financial aid.
We've got your covered in the next section!
Out of all of the ways to save money in college, knowing what you're getting into with student loans is by far the most important. That includes the ugly, nitty-gritty financial details of memorizing acronyms, understanding interest rates, and knowing what you're going to owe later. Out of all the saving tips for college students out there, directly tackling these concepts and having a plan of attack in the future is crucial and will save a lot of stress. People hear a lot of scary things about student loan debt, but with a smart repayment plan, it's not as terrifying as it seems.
Note that if you ever see anything weird with your payments, you can use the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) to make sure all of your information is correct and makes sense.
There are literally thousands of ways to save money as a college student, but you don't have to live on ramen noodles every day to be smart with your finances. Learning how to save money as a college student is a long process full of bumps in your personal journey, but it's important to start by focusing on the big concepts, like having a car, more than small expenses you're teased for, like buying too many coffees.
We listed a few of these (ways college students can save money) to inspire new ideas for cutting back, but you should always start by building a budget on a spreadsheet. You alone will know what your biggest spending problem is!
Here are some quick saving-money ideas for students!
Learn what's free with your tuition.
Quite often, colleges don't just create a list of free items, so you'll have to ask around with other students. Do you get free access to a local museum? Do you get free Wi-Fi and computer access on campus? Do you get a free student newspaper? Do you get to use other local libraries for free? Explore your options; don't realize that you've been missing out on something essential senior year!
Fully use your meal plan, or don't get one.
Meals can be upwards of $20 per meal. If you already have a meal plan, there's no real reason to go off of it. You might get sick of dining-hall food, but there are ways to get creative. If you're off the meal plan, avoid paying campus prices! It's definitely important to learn to cook in college at some point. Many students will start to make that transition off campus in their sophomore or junior year.
Bike or walk rather than drive to work.
If you don't absolutely need a car to get to class while at college, don't have one. Maintaining it, paying for gas, and making sure it's not keyed by passing partying freshmen is too much of a hassle.
If you must have a car, see if you can get a deal on auto insurance with good grades. Allstate, State Farm, Geico, Nationwide, and many other insurance agencies offer "good grade" discounts. Also, if you have a lot of valuables with you off-campus, consider bundling your auto policy with renter's insurance, too.
Avoid end-of-year toss-outs.
Many college students over-pack for their first year and need to go home with far too much to travel with by air. Rather than shipping what's too hard to cart home, some wealthy students dump useful things like rugs, vacuums, textbooks, and lamps. This happens so often that the practice of college Dumpster-diving is quite common. Don't dump your stuff.
Try using cash.
It might seem like it's from the Stone Age, but cashing your paychecks occasionally and dealing with the money in your hands can help you realize how much you're spending. If you force yourself to use cash, you can also avoid shopping binges on sites like Amazon.
Borrow and sell used books.
It's true that some professors are a pain, but usually, you can ask if the course requires that exact edition of the textbook. Then, buying used books can be much easier. Only keep the books that are likely to be useful to you later in your career. There's also sometimes the option of finding digital versions of the books for cheap.
If you're short on credits, take them at a community college.
As long as you know for certain that you'll be able to transfer them, snagging a few credits at a cheaper school when you're short makes a ton of money sense.
See what free or cheap entertainment the school offers.
From museum tickets to libraries to student theater to free comedy shows, many colleges have cheap entertainment for their students regularly. Talk to your student affairs office, check bulletin boards, and see what's going on. Also note that you can often get either free admission or cheap tickets for most athletic games, including women's sports teams, which quite often need more love.
Wherever you go, always ask about student discounts!
When you're polite, there's no harm in asking. More local business support their community with college discounts than you think.
Use the school gym, or get credit for a gym class.
Part of the reason so many students suffer from the "freshman 15" is access to unhealthy food combined with the lack of required physical education. At many big schools, you can take an athletic class like fencing, dance, or martial arts for credit. Don't waste money on paying for a gym membership.
Avoid credit cards.
Historically speaking, credit card companies love to target college students. This is because college students haven't usually had a chance to learn how to live within their means. If you're concerned about building credit and really, truly trust yourself, you can use a credit card on expenses for traveling home to earn airfare points or cash back, but pay the card off as soon as the semester starts back up.
Yes, buying coffee every day can get expensive!
o many people with student money tips zero in on this, and it's true that it can be costly. On the other hand, there are often cheap or even free places to find coffee on campus. Coffee isn't the problem; paying Starbucks prices is!
Cut back on vices.
Drinking and other activities are simply expensive. Take a break. It's not only good for your wallet but often your grades!
Get your money's worth by networking and developing relationships.
So few college students understand that you're not just buying classes: You're buying the potential for real connections with other people in your desired industry. It might be easy to hide in your dorm room, but to really get your money's worth out of college, you need to get out there. Find a mentor who can walk you through your studies.
More often, young people are so focused on cutting spending that they never realize making money in college is an option, too. Balancing the budget works both ways, and having a bit of pocket money for textbooks can help avoid credit card debt. If you're wondering how to make money as a student in college without taking a full-time job, there are plenty of other options. While some people will attempt to work full-time and go to school, most would burn themselves out, but there are other jobs that don't require a 40-hour work week that cuts into your full-time studies. From part-time jobs to paid gigs to tutoring, here's how to make money in college.
There are thousands of discounts for college students out there. We've summarized some of the absolutely most necessary college coupons and the best student discounts for getting through your school year. Some of these drops in price are ridiculous; you'll definitely want to buy these products before you leave school, so save up!