College is about furthering your education, meeting new people, living away from home, and figuring out what you want to do with your life—but all that comes with a price. According to data from the College Board, average tuition costs and fees were about $10,740 for full-time undergraduates paying in-state tuition at four-year public universities during the 2021–2022 academic year—with private schools costing more than three times that amount at an average of $38,070. Even though your funds might be tight as a student, you still need to look out for and take care of yourself, including treating yourself for all the hard work you’re doing in college. Here are a few fun ways to spoil yourself without breaking the bank.
1. Bake your favorite treat
Enjoying your favorite snacks or sweets is a great way to indulge. A warm cookie or delicious cupcake is the perfect reward! But if you want to save money on treats, consider baking or making them yourself. This could help you learn or improve a useful skill while also helping you stay on budget. And don’t worry—you have multiple options for cooking without a full kitchen.
2. Buy a new book
There’s no better way to relax than with a good book. Used books are typically cheap to purchase and offer an incredible number of options, whether from a local bookstore or online. If you’re an Amazon Prime Student member, you may already have free access to books available through Prime Reading. And if regular reading isn’t for you, audiobooks are a great way to kick back, close your eyes, and let someone else do the reading for you.
3. Catch a matinee flick
There’s nothing quite like sitting back in a movie theater and enjoying one of the latest blockbusters, especially if it’s not costing you much. See if any of your local movie theaters have student discounts or low-price days to help you save money and treat yourself to a good film. Consider going during the day since matinee prices are often cheaper, and maybe even go during the week when you’re not in class to avoid crowds and really get the relaxation you’re looking for.
4. Enjoy the outdoors
There’s rarely a cost for going outside and enjoying nature, and the return is often immediately noticeable—you’ll typically feel better for simply being in the fresh air and soaking up some sun. Check out your local parks and green spaces to find locations you like spending time in, especially if you’re a college student who hasn’t explored the area yet. If you have state or national parks nearby, see if there are discounted passes for students or if they offer occasional free days.
5. Explore free attractions
Despite what you may think, not everything costs money to attend. If you research events and attractions in your area, you may find many that are offered for free. Your community might hold events that are open to the public, and you could also find free college events on or near campus for students.
6. Get all the birthday treats
Is your birthday coming up? If so, consider signing up for birthday freebies from the large number of restaurants and stores that offer them. This could be an easy and low-cost way to score some free ice cream or other free food, clothing from stores that you like, and even free entertainment depending on what’s available in your area. The best thing? These special freebies are guaranteed every year!
7. Go for a run or walk
It might not seem like it at first, but one way to treat yourself is by staying active and taking care of your body. How often do we all put that aside when our schedules get too full? Physical activity, including just going for a walk, could help reduce the risks and effects of depression, anxiety, and other health concerns. This is due in part to the opportunity for increased endorphin production during exercise, which can offer you a natural mood boost.
8. Have a game night
Whether it’s video games, board games, or something else, it doesn’t typically cost much to gather some friends to get together for game night. This could be in-person or online—the onset of the pandemic saw many board game developers creating virtual versions of their games—but the point is to find some time, set a date, and have some fun. And, of course, inexpensive snacks are encouraged!
9. Search your local thrift shops
Scratch your shopping itch by avoiding expensive name-brand stores and exploring local thrift shops instead. You never know what you might find in one of these stores, which is part of the fun. But the best part is getting an almost guaranteed deal on the prices, so you can treat yourself to a little shopping spree without the anxiety of the large bill you’re racking up.
10. Start a new show
Going out can be fun, but sometimes you just need to stay in and chill. If that’s the case, it could be a good time to start a new series on your preferred streaming service. Certain cell phone plans offer free trials of streaming memberships as a perk, which could include Netflix, Disney+, Paramount+, Discovery+, Hulu, or HBO Max. It might be worth checking your phone plan to see if you can get one of these services for free. And if not, you’ve got to have a friend or family member willing to share a username and password with you.
Tips for saving money as a student
If you want to take some monetary stress off your plate, looking for smart, efficient ways to save money is key. Consider these tips for saving money as a student:
- Use student discounts: Discounts are your best friend, and they’re likely more plentiful than you think. It never hurts to ask if a discount is available anywhere, and leveraging your position as a student could save you a lot of money.
- Start a side hustle: There are multiple ways to learn how to make extra cash, even as a busy student. Taking online surveys and using free online shopping apps are a few options to get started.
- Earn credit card rewards: If you’re already making purchases, including groceries, you may as well earn rewards for them, right? Start earning money back on all your purchases by signing up for a credit card with a rewards program; just make sure you do your research on the best credit cards for students to maximize the opportunity.
Going to college and earning your degree can be expensive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself as a student while staying on budget. Being creative, looking for simple solutions, and always taking advantage of free or discounted offers will ensure you can still have fun without spending too much.
Not confident in your budgeting skills? Our article Budgeting Best Practices All Students Need to Learn covers everything you should know to start being money-conscious in college.