Ultimate Saving Guide For High School Seniors Going Into College

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.

Things to Do Before You Graduate From High School Things to Do Before You Graduate From High School

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.

Apply early.

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.

Find scholarships.

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!

Important Things to Know About Student Loans Important Things to Know About Student Loans

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.

Step One: The FAFSA

Outside of searching for scholarships, your number one resource for finding financial help for college is the Office of Federal Student Aid. Your first step is usually applying with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) form. (If a school financial aid office doesn't ask for a FAFSA, that's a red flag.) After submitting it, you can look at the financial aid options that schools offer you.

Sit down with the packages and the financial aid officers of the universities as you visit campuses and consider where to go to school. They can speak with you face-to-face about your financial options.

College Grants vs. Loans

Simply put, scholarships and grants do not have to be paid back, and loans are borrowed money that has to be repaid after school. Obviously, the preference is to get more scholarships and grants. Use the College Board database to find some to apply for. Sometimes, a college itself will also offer grants. This money is usually taken from an alumni network. When you become an alumnus, you may also be asked by your school to submit a donation.

Federal vs. Private Student Loans

Federal student loans are backed by the federal government, have fixed interest rates, and offer more repayment options, and the interest you pay can be tax-deductible. You don't have to immediately start paying off a federal loan; usually, that waits until a few months after graduation.

Private loans are provided by banks, institutions, states, or other lenders. They may have exceedingly high interest rates, some almost as much as credit cards. They might require a credit check, a cosigner, or for payments to start while you're still in school. There also may be more problems with deferments and postponements.

Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Student Loans

With direct subsidized loans, the government pays your interest during certain periods, like deferment and grace periods. With direct unsubsidized loans, that's not the case. A direct unsubsidized loan is often still a federal loan; it just has a higher interest rate and different rules for repayment.

Deferment vs. Forbearance

What if you have a hard time paying your loans back? With a deferment, you can temporarily postpone your loan payments in very specific situations, such as going back to school, being unemployed, or going into the military. If you have a federal subsidized loan, the federal government will pay the interest for you during that period. A forbearance allows you to reduce or stop payments for a very limited amount of time, but you'll accrue interest. This is up to the discretion of the lender.

Other Loan Details to Think About

  • Type and Duration of Repayment Plans: When considering your options for paying back your loans, remember the rule of thumb that "short means less and long means more." In other words, long-term, 15- or 20-year loans will have a lower monthly payment than a 10-year loan, but the interest you'll pay over that longer period will make the loan more expensive in the long run. Beyond that, there are a few other options to think about.
    • Fixed Monthly Payment: Most people start with a fixed payment over a period of about 10 years.
    • Graduated Repayment: Payment amounts start low and increase over time. This makes sense because in theory, so would your salary if you're working in certain fields.
    • Extended Repayment Plan: Get a lower payment over more time, but watch out for that interest!
    • Income-Driven Repayment (IDR): Should the worst happen and you don't get the job you need, there are options. Income-based loan payments reduce your monthly bill when it's a significant portion of your annual income. You must qualify for them, and there are several options: Revised Pay-As-You-Earn (REPAYE), Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR).
  • The Grace Period: You won't need to start huge payments right when you graduate. You'll have a bit of time to get a job, typically six months.
  • Interest Rates: Watch those interest rates! If you have more than one loan, look at the interest rate of each. If you have the option to over-pay, go after the loan with the highest interest rate first.
  • Starting Salaries: Some schools will give you an estimation of your starting salary when you leave college. Sit down and calculate whether or not you'd realistically be able to pay back the loan while paying for gas, food, rent, and other expenses. Try the same calculation again if you made 20% less than what the estimate tells you.

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.

How to Save Money in College How to Save Money in College

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.

How to Make Money as a College Student How to Make Money as a College Student

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.

Federal Work-Study

Think of this less like a job and more like a scholarship that you work for. You earn at least minimum wage, and it doesn't need to be paid back like a loan would be. Pay, hours, and location may vary, but you can't be turned away as a disabled student [Please insert a link to the college savings guide for disabled students here]. There's no assurance of the number of jobs available, so if you've qualified, definitely apply early. If you've missed out for this semester, don't worry, as it's not the only method for how to make money while in college.

Other Side-Gigs and Part-Time Jobs

Here are a few ideas for how to have more money as a student without work-study.

  • Become a driver. You can be a designated driver and be paid while doing it through sites like Uber and Lyft. Just be safe!
  • Be a lab rat. Usually, if there's a research program at your school, you can get into clinical trials as a test subject and often be paid.
  • Tutor other students. If you're confident in a subject, offer to professionally note-take or tutor other students. Be wary of plagiarism, however; never get paid to write a paper!
  • Get a part-time retail job. For those who need a bit more of a commitment, working at a local mall or restaurant is always an option.
  • Professionally shop. Join a shopping company like Instacart or Shipt, or set yourself up as a mystery shopper.
  • Do paid street promotion. If you're going to college in a big city, hand out fliers to passers-by for cash by joining a Street Team.
  • Walk dogs and pet pets. New services like DogVacay allow you to pet-sit on your own time, working much like Uber and Lyft.
  • Create graphics. This one's for graphic design students. First, make sure it's OK with your professor. Then, sell that sweet thing you made for class as a print or on a T-shirt with Cafepress, Society6, DeviantArt, or Zazzle. For photography students, you can always sell stock photos, too.
  • Find non-work-study jobs at the school. Sometimes, jobs are available on campus that aren't federal work-study positions, like residential advisors (or RAs), research assistants, campus tour guides, and teaching assistants. All are needed, and they can get paid fairly well.

Getting Overwhelmed

But do you know what would really waste your money? Overwhelming yourself and getting lower grades. It's important to have enough money to get by, but it's more important to do well in college and end up with a degree. Overloading your schedule is a bad idea.

Give yourself at least one semester to figure out how you'll adapt to your course load. Typically, colleges require between 12 and 19 credit hours every semester. If you're at the average, which is 15, you only will have about 10 to 15 hours of extra time to work every week. But keep in mind that science classes with labs or difficult courses like organic chemistry can eat up most of that time with further studying!

How to Save Money as a College Student How to Save Money as a College Student

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!

Student-Discount Laptops

Discounted Subscriptions

  • Amazon Student Discount: Get Amazon Prime free for six months. After that, you'll still get a discount: It's $49 per year instead of $99.
  • Spotify Student Discount: This combines with a Hulu student discount! Get both subscriptions for only $4.99 per month. The Hulu special price is good news because there is unfortunately no Netflix student discount right now.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud Discount: Software like Photoshop is 60% off for students and teachers. This is essential for graphic design students!
  • Apple Music Discount: The service is only $5 per month for students.
  • New York Times Access: Basic online access is only $1 per week for students. But keep in mind that many schools may offer the paper free on campus.
  • Wall Street Journal Access: Pay only $49 for a year's worth of access.
  • Free Microsoft Office 365: Get Excel for accounting, Word for writing papers, PowerPoint for group presentations, plus a handful of newer tools for free.

Travel and Study-Abroad Discounts

  • FedEx Discounts While Shipping: Pack too much for your tiny car? Don't dump useful stuff in the garbage! FedEx offers 20-30% off shipping with a student ID card.
  • Amtrak Student Discount: Students in New York, California, and the Midwest ages 13-25 can get 15% off of certain fares when booked in advance.
  • Greyhound Travel Discount: Using a Student Advantage discount card, you can get 15% off on fares.

Dorm Room Needs and Other Coupons for College Students

And don't forget, CouponFollow also offers specific college coupon codes to take advantage of! For college students, savings are everywhere!