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Dollars and Degrees: A Guide to Saving in College for Financial Success

Financial success in college is within your reach if you want it to be. Use this advice to reduce your costs and put some money away for the future.

College students aren’t always known for having the best saving habits, but we also can’t deny the sore state of the economy right now. The ramen noodle and frozen pizza stereotype is often true just because of the affordability of such things. If you’re in your first year of school, you might not be thinking about saving money right away. While your focus should be on furthering your education, learning skills for financial success doesn’t have to wait for the future—there’s no reason why you can’t start achieving financial wellness now! Whether you’re currently a student or a family member of someone in college, there are plenty of ways to reduce your costs and put money away. Here’s how.

Find cost-effective housing

If you’re going to a four-year college or university, the cost of housing is often grouped into your costs along with tuition. Some colleges require you to spend at least one year on campus, while others allow you to live wherever you want. Unfortunately, room and board can sometimes double the cost of what you’re paying each semester. Dorm life can be a fun and unique experience, but if it’s not within your budget to shell out thousands for a dorm room and campus meal plan, living at home or finding other off-campus housing could be a more affordable solution.

A nearby apartment might have a higher price than you could afford by yourself, but living with a few other students can significantly cut down on rent and utility costs. If you want to get creative and have more independence, consider unique alternative housing solutions. The tiny home industry is booming right now—a great opportunity for nontraditional students in particular. Converting a small space into your own home can be an incredibly cost-effective way to live. For example, you can transform an inexpensive shed into a tiny home for a few thousand dollars. Of course, you’ll have to consider other necessities like insulation, utilities, interior and exterior finishes, zoning laws and locations, and laying a foundation. But if you consider yourself handy, it’s a great opportunity to experience independent living on a budget.

Start saving as early as possible

Just starting your college career? Now is the ideal time to start becoming more financially savvy, and you can begin by better understanding your financial aid. It can be a big help when it comes to your tuition costs and refiling your FAFSA each year so you aren’t paying as much out-of-pocket. Next, create a budget for your time at school. Include things like room and board (or rent), food, textbooks and other supplies, subscriptions, and any other incidentals you might need quick cash for along the way. Creating a budget might seem intimidating at first, but it will give you a clear picture of how much you can spend each month without stressing. If you’re not sure where to start, this might be a good opportunity to sit down with a parent or guardian and learn about the importance of spending responsibly.

Related: Budgeting Best Practices All Students Need to Learn

Build credit and get insured

After you have your budget set up, consider opening a checking account or getting a credit card if you don’t have them already. College is a great time to start establishing credit. Having a healthy credit score by the time you graduate college will make it a lot easier to rent an apartment or buy a car. Something else you might not think about right away is making sure you have health insurance. If you’re covered by your parents’ insurance, don’t sweat it. But if you don’t currently have insurance, make sure you get it before you head off to school, or you’ll be paying a lot more without it. Unfortunately, accidents happen. You might get sick or injured, and the last thing you want as a college student is a hefty hospital bill with no insurance. Talk to your parents about your options and research plans that fit your needs and budget.

Find fun ways to budget and save

Saving money and budgeting as a college student doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, especially if the end of the month rolls around and you have some leftover funds. It might feel hard to save when your friends want to go out all the time or you think you just can’t live without your Netflix subscription. But when you have a specific financial goal in mind and you finally reach it, it’s a great feeling. Thankfully, there are still things you can do to tuck some money away without sacrificing too many of the things you love. First, consider some non-traditional ways to save money, including:

  • Shopping at thrift stores
  • Cooking your own meals and getting creative with leftovers
  • Leaving your car at home and relying on your feet and campus transportation
  • Joining on-campus clubs and activities for perks like free food
  • Using apps like BookScouter to find the best prices on textbooks
  • Learning about investing

You can also turn your saving habits into more of a challenge! Get your family involved to hold you accountable as you start something like the 52-week savings challenge, which requires you to save one dollar the first week and increase it by a dollar each subsequent week. By the end of one year, you’ll have saved $1,378. You can also gamify your saving strategies by using apps. Some apps will even do the saving for you. Acorns, for example, rounds up whatever you spend to the next dollar and saves it in the app for you to withdraw at any time—so that $4.62 coffee gets rounded up to $5, and the difference goes into your savings account.

Related: Our Best Advice for Managing and Saving Your Money as a Student

As a student, implementing creative saving strategies now will start you on the path to financial success faster. You’ll also learn healthy saving and spending habits you can carry with you into the working world for a financially stable and less stressful adult life.

If you really want to cover your financial bases, make sure you’re aware of the things you shouldn’t do! Check out 5 Unhealthy Money Habits to Avoid Developing in College to help curb your spending.

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About Amanda Winstead

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey or just say hi, you can find her on Twitter.


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