For College Students

How to Survive on a Student Budget

A student budget is tough! Here are creative ways to cut costs and save money in college, but still have fun.


As a college student, you’re likely grappling with how to stretch your limited budget. Sure, there are the obvious tips, like avoiding daily takeout and skipping that pricey latte. But what if you could go beyond that? Think about making smart grocery choices, utilizing campus amenities to their fullest, and even exploring the world of thrifting. Surprisingly, these small tweaks could lead to significant savings, easing your financial stress. Intriguing? Let’s discuss some creative ways to cut costs and save money while in college.

Understanding Your Income and Expenses

Before you can start saving, you’ve got to know exactly what’s coming in and going out – yes, I’m talking about understanding your income and expenses. It’s like trying to hit a bullseye blindfolded without knowing where the target is. See, you can’t make a game plan without knowing the players, right?

First, let’s talk about income. This could be your part-time job paycheck, scholarship money, or that birthday check from Grandma. Jot down everything that adds to your bank balance.

Next, we tackle expenses—the money that’s flying out of your wallet. These range from tuition, rent, and textbooks to the coffee you can’t resist every morning.

Now, it’s time for some number crunching. Subtract your expenses from your income to see where you stand. If you’ve got a surplus, awesome! If you’re in the red, don’t panic.

Lastly, make a budget. This isn’t a villainous plot to restrict your fun. It’s a roadmap to financial freedom. It’s about making sure your money’s doing what you want it to do. So, grab a pen and paper or your favorite budgeting app and get started. Your wallet will thank you later.

Smart Grocery Shopping Tips

Now, let’s explore five smart grocery shopping strategies to stretch your dollar further.

  1. Plan your meals: Before stepping foot in the store, jot down a week’s worth of meals. This not only saves you time but also prevents overspending on impulse purchases.
  2. Shop with a list: Stick to your list! It’s easy to get swayed by tempting deals, but remember, you’re on a budget.
  3. Buy in bulk: For non-perishable items and things you use regularly, buying in bulk can be cheaper in the long run.
  4. Don’t shop hungry: It’s a proven fact that shopping on an empty stomach leads to buying more than you need. Grab a snack before you go.
  5. Choose store brands: Often, they’re just as good as name brands but cost less.

These tips aren’t rocket science, but they require discipline. So, arm yourself with a well-thought-out list, resist those tantalizing treats at the checkout, and watch your grocery bill shrink.

Scoring Affordable Course Materials

Just as you’ve become a pro at saving on groceries, let’s tackle another major expense in your college life: textbooks and course materials. You’ll no longer need to dread the start of each semester when new books drain your wallet.

First, consider buying used textbooks. They’re often in good shape and cost considerably less than new ones. Websites like Amazon, eBay, and Chegg are gold mines for finding affordable books.

Next, look into renting textbooks. Companies like Campus Book Rentals and Amazon offer this service. You get the book for a semester and return it when you’re done. Simple, isn’t it?

E-books are another option. They’re often cheaper and save space in your backpack. Plus, you can highlight and make notes digitally.

Don’t overlook the power of the library. Your campus library likely has copies of the textbooks you need. Getting your hands on them may take some patience and strategy, but it’s worth a shot.

Utilizing Campus Amenities

Delving into the sea of campus amenities can significantly lighten your financial burden; believe it or not, you’ve already paid for them with your tuition. These resources, often overlooked, can save you a small fortune during your college years.

To help you out, here are four amenities you should take full advantage of if you aren’t already:

  1. Fitness Centers: Most campuses have a gym or fitness center. Instead of paying for an off-campus gym membership, hit the campus gym.
  2. Career Services: They offer resume reviews, mock interviews, job search resources, and occasionally, free professional attire.
  3. Health Services: Your tuition often includes access to health services, like counseling and health clinics. So, take care of your mental and physical health without an extra penny spent.
  4. Libraries: Besides book lending, libraries often provide free access to computers, software, study rooms, and sometimes even tech gadgets.

The bottom line? Your tuition pays for more than just your classes. So, don’t be shy about utilizing these amenities. They’re there for you and can make your college journey a bit more affordable.

Cheap Entertainment and Socializing Ideas

Beyond textbooks and tuition, a vibrant social life is an essential part of the full college experience, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are numerous inexpensive ways to have fun, engage with friends, and make lasting memories without emptying your wallet.

You don’t have to be rolling in dough to have a movie night. With streaming platforms offering student discounts, you can host a fun evening right from your dorm room. Just add popcorn and friends! Additionally, consider exploring the great outdoors. Hiking, picnicking, or beach trips aren’t only healthy but also budget-friendly.

Next, tap into free events on campus. Universities often host guest speakers, concerts, or movie nights that don’t cost a dime. Finally, game nights are a tried and true way to socialize on a shoestring budget. A deck of cards or a board game can provide hours of entertainment.

Mastering the Art of Thrifting

Embracing the thrifty thrill of hunting for unexpected gems, you’ll find that thrift stores can be your gold mine for affordable clothing, furniture, and more. You’ll save some bucks and simultaneously contribute to recycling—a win-win, right? However, mastering the art of thrifting isn’t just about walking into a store and making a purchase; it requires strategy, patience, and a keen eye for hidden treasures.

Here are four key tips to get you started:

  1. Timing is Everything: Most thrift stores restock on certain days. Find out when these are and plan your visits accordingly.
  2. Examine Thoroughly: Always inspect items for damages before purchasing. Remember, thrift stores have no return policy.
  3. Don’t Rush: Unearthing great deals takes time. Spend a fair amount of time looking through the racks.
  4. Think Outside the Box: Don’t limit yourself to your size or gender section. Oversized shirts or men’s jackets can be a chic addition to your wardrobe.

You Can Survive a Shoestring Budget in College

Just like a crafty pirate steering through treacherous seas, you, too, can master the art of living on a shoestring budget in college.

Chart your course with a detailed budget, stock your ship with savvy grocery shopping, and unearth treasures in affordable textbooks. Seek solace in campus amenities and revel in low-cost merrymaking.

Unearth hidden gems in thrift stores, and with resourcefulness and creativity, you’ll successfully sail through your college years without sinking your financial ship.

Related Reading

About the Author

David McCurrach

David McCurrach is the founder of Kids' Money. Following a career working in finance for several banks and credit unions, David started Kids' Money in 1995 and has since published three books on kids' financial literacy and allowance programs.

Last updated on: April 4, 2024