It is very easy to go into debt during the first year of college. The college loans themselves kick off the trouble. Plus you’re old enough to start using credit cards which can definitely spell trouble. And then there’s the combination of low-paying part-time jobs and the expense of maybe living on your own for the first time. How can you save money with all of these things going on? Take it one step at a time.

Here are 20 top tips for saving money in your first year of college:

  1. Live at home if you can. This is cheaper than living on campus or living with friends even if your parents do ask you to kick in a small amount for rent.
  2. Limit what you spend on textbooks. You have to get them, of course. However, try getting them used, renting them or downloading online versions when possible to save on the high costs.
  3. Take classes without extra fees. Science classes and art classes often require extra materials fees. If you can avoid taking these classes in the first year of college, do so.
  4. Sign up for a financial literacy class. If your college offers a basic class in budgeting and finance then you should take it to learn more about saving.
  5. Apply for scholarships. Keep an organized calendar of scholarship deadlines for the entire year. Continue applying regularly. This is free money!
  6. Don’t get a credit card. There are enough changes happening in your life this year. Worry about learning how to use a credit card in a year or two instead of taking on this burden now.
  7. Work at least part-time. You may not be able to work too many hours or earn a lot per hour but every little bit of income does help.
  8. Create a food budget. Students who are just learning to shop and cook for themselves often waste too much on eating out or buying expensive foods at the grocery store. Have someone you know help you create a reasonable food budget and stick to it.
  9. Get free food. One way to stick to your food budget is to learn how to find free food. Informational lectures and clubs on campus are one good place. Buffets where you can stuff some extras into a doggie bag as you eat are another option. Dumpster diving is even popular with college kids. Get creative.
  10. Get enough rest and enough exercise. This will help you to stay healthy during the stressful times of the semester. This way you can spend less on medicine.
  11. Avoid dieting. A lot of college kids go on diets their first year. They’re afraid of getting fat with the “freshman fifteen”. Or they want to bulk up with protein shakes. Temporary diets are usually expensive compared to just eating healthy.
  12. Give up your car. If you live on or near campus then you don’t need a car. Walk, take the bus or ride a bike. It’s a lot cheaper than paying to have and maintain a vehicle. Get a car again in a few years if you want when you really may need it again.
  13. Consider participating in on-campus studies. Graduated students doing research often post fliers offering small stipends for people who participate in their studies. Often this just requires answering some questions. Take the money you earn from these studies and use it to pay off debt or create a savings account.
  14. Stay on campus during breaks. If you’re going to school away from home then you can save a lot of money by staying on campus during holiday breaks. Some colleges don’t allow this but even crashing in a local hostel can be cheaper than going home.
  15. Set small savings goals. Decide to set aside 10% of your paycheck. Or aim to have at least $100 left over from your grant money at the end of the semester. These small savings goals may not seem like a lot but they add up. Plus they help you establish good saving habits for the future.
  16. Take advantage of campus services. If you have a free pool and rec center at school then don’t pay for a private gym. If you can get homework help on campus then don’t pay for a tutor. Whatever you need, see if the campus offers it first.
  17. Track your spending and cut out what you spend the most on. Spend the first semester tracking everything you spend money on. Where you have the biggest costs can be where you make the biggest difference. In your second semester, cut back on this spending category by at least fifty percent.
  18. Always ask if you can get a student discount. They’re available in many different places. It’s one of the top perks of being a student! This includes getting discounts on big ticket items like computers and software but it also works at small spending spots like the theater.
  19. Find one small way to be trendy. College students want to fit in. That’s okay. But you can spend a lot of money on hair, clothes and accessories in an effort to be trendy. Figure out a way that trendy works for you. Maybe it’s that you have the coolest free apps on your phone or that you have the best selection of gloves and tights. Stick with smart purchases in that trend-setting area. Save by avoiding latching on to other trends.
  20. Encourage your parents to set up a long-term savings account for you. Parents often want to help you out during your first year of college. They may try to give you cash or offer to buy you clothes or food. Talk with them and see if they’ll invest in a long-term savings account (such as a CD) for you instead. This will give you a nest egg when you get out of college.

Have you been out of college for awhile? What’s your number one money saving tip that you wish you could go back and tell your old college aged self?



San Francisco based blogger for businesses and writer for the web. 10+ years of professional writing experience across a diverse range of different interests.