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How to Save Money in College for Students (27 Money-Saving Hacks)

Are you wondering how to save money for college students with low incomes? I’ve got loads of money-saving tips and strategies for college students.

How to save money for college students with low-paying jobs, seasonal work, and other priorities (helloooooo mid-term exams and senior thesis!).

woman college student at desk studying, text overlay "27 hacks college students use to grow savings"

I can't tell you how many hours I spent as a minimum-wage-earning college student worrying about this.

Was it even possible?

It felt like a never-ending loop of, “I’m broke, so how can I possibly save money”, and “if I don’t save any money, how am I going to stop being a broke student?”

Are you in the same boat?

Rest assured that not only did I find my way out of it, but I learned some incredibly helpful ways to help you save money as a student.

Which is what I'll share with you, today!

How Can Students Save Money Wisely?

How can you save money wisely?

First of all, I’ll share with you the two ways you can save money at all (Savings 101, if you will).

  • You earn more than you spend and save the difference.
  • You spend less than you earn and save the difference.

Sounds pretty self-explanatory.

So, let me outline for you the wisest way for students to save money (Saving Money 301):

The secret is to focus both on earning more money AND spending less money, at the same time.

This will widen the gap between your spending and your earnings significantly faster than if you just focus on one or the other, causing you to be able to save more of your money.

Now, let's move on to HOW to widen the gap between your spending and your earnings.

Top 10 Brilliant Money Saving Tips for Students

Ready to dig deeper into the kinds of savings you can get? I’ve got 10 brilliant money-saving tips for students.

1. Use UPromise for Yourself

Have you ever heard of UPromise? It’s this awesome college savings program that people usually sign up their babies and toddlers for, where they get cash back on purchases into an account that is to be used for college expenses one day.

Here’s a brilliant tip for you – sign YOURSELF up for an account (it’s free), then link up your grocery store and other cards, and your parents’, and anyone else’s who will let you, then withdrawal whatever accrues at the start of each semester to help pay for textbooks.

2. Get Rewarded for Saving Money

You can participate in SaverLife's rewarded savings program, where you are rewarded points just for saving money in your own savings account (that's right – no need to create a new savings account, just link your current one with their platform for tracking purposes).

Your points are then redeemable for prizes and entries into cash sweepstakes.

To be eligible, you need to be 18 or over, a United States citizen, you have a savings account and use online banking, and you’ve got a valid email address.

Here is my full SaverLife review.

Psst: Here's a bunch more savings match programs to check out.

3. Train Your Savings Muscle

Pick a percentage of your income you are going to save, no matter how much you’re making (likely, not very much).

Let’s say it’s 10% you’re going to save – resolve to save this percentage from here on out, no matter what (for both income, passive income, summer jobs, winter break jobs, windfalls, etc.).

The coolest thing about this is, right now, that might just mean $25/month (if you make $250). But once you get a full-time job? That 10% could mean $250/month, $500/month, or anything in between.

NEWSFLASH: This one habit you establish early on will save you hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars over the course of your life.

4. Consider Owning Instead of Renting

This one is a bit controversial, but I want to share it with you here and have you decide if it’s right for you.

I once knew someone whose parents helped her buy a house to live in, instead of paying room and board for college. It ended up saving them all lots of money, especially since they rented out the other bedrooms and so most of the mortgage was paid for.

Then at the end of the 4years, they had a piece of real estate property they could sell in (hopefully) an upmarket.

The reason this one is controversial? Well, you would likely need your parent’s help for a down payment. Plus, you would have to spend some time learning to be a landlord (or your parents would need to step in and handle this).

On top of that, buying a home is a more permanent situation, particularly if the market tanks within the four years that you’re in it.

BUT, having said all that, it could be a good way to get out of paying rent (yes, you’re paying the mortgage each month; but if you sell at what you bought for plus closing costs, then you essentially lived rent-free for four years).

5. Use Breaks as an Ice Trucker in Alaska Would

You have precious college-class breaks (summer, spring break, and winter break) that you need to use as sprints – both earning sprints and savings sprints.

Earn as much money as you possibly can; save as much money as you possibly can.

You essentially need to look at these time periods as seasonal workers (like ice truckers in Alaska) look at their pay – they need to earn enough in the season when they CAN actually work, to sustain their lives for the rest of the year.

Gives you a much better perspective on how much you’ll need to earn and save.

6. Schedule Your Classes as Part-Time (as a Full-Time Student)

My junior year in college?

I purposefully scheduled each of my classes (full credit load, mind you) for three days of the week. This opened up more days of the week that I could work – meaning I earned more money that semester.

Can you play around with your own class schedule and see if you can get 4-day weekends where you can now work more?

7. Go Deeper, Not Wider

This year? Stop buying things.

Instead, take this sage advice about going deeper with the belongings you already have in your life, rather than going wider (by purchasing a bunch more).

8. Find Your Local “Buy Nothing” Facebook Group

Go on Facebook, and in the search bar, search for “Buy Nothing Group Near Me”.

You can find a local community of people who have things to give you for free, and whom you can help with the things you no longer need. It’s a great way to save money (plus meet some locals)!

9. Grow Your Savings through Internet Search Earnings

Sign up for Swagbucks.com and search the internet through them.

You’ll win SwagBucks just for searching the internet, which you can then redeem for actual cash (by PayPal). For every 5,000 points, you can get $50 in PayPal cash, or you can cash in at 2,500, or 10,000 points.

Stick this money in your savings account (I’ve earned over $3,000 so far!)!

10. Rethink Your Smart Phone Plan

You can cut your smart phone plan by half (at least) by going with a cheap option. In our own household, I went from $83/month to $39.99, and that’s with unlimited everything!

Bonus tip: Did you know you can buy the eBook version of your textbooks for up to 80% off the prices you'll find in the used section of your school's bookstore? Now THAT'S just smart. 

Money Saving Hacks for College Students

Now I’m going to focus on giving you a bunch more money-saving hacks for students you likely haven't thought of yet.

As you go through this list, I want to encourage you to think more long-term. Because my favorite one out of this whole list? Will end up saving you money over the next decade instead of right now (if you actually do it!).

Psst: need motivation to apply these savings strategies? This article details the benefits of saving money for students.

Hack #1: Keep Applying for Scholarships While in College

Did you think that you only should apply for scholarships when you’re in high school? Heck, no! Keep applying for scholarships throughout your four years of college (or at least the first three of them).

It’s not a one-time project!

Just doing a Google search for the term “current college student scholarships” pulls up loads of resources for upperclassmen and current college students.

Here are some more helpful terms for you to conduct your scholarship search (careful – these search terms are potentially worth a lot of money…to you!):

  • “current college student scholarships”
  • “undergraduate scholarships”
  • “scholarships for college freshmen”

Sounds like a good part-time job to me (just applying to scholarships).

Hack #2: Ask for More Resources

When I knew I wanted to study abroad but didn’t have the funds to cover it, I set up a meeting with the International Studies Department head.

I simply was honest with him.

And you know what?

He gave me a $2,500 grant, right there on the spot (grants don’t have to be repaid). Can you meet with the financial aid department and discuss with them your need for more resources? It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Hack #3: Stop the Compound Interest Effect on Your Student Loans

Use some of your extra money that you WOULD put into a savings account, and instead pay down the interest on your unsubsidized student loans.

What does this mean, and why should you?

Unsubsidized student loans accrue interest just like a normal loan would (whereas subsidized student loans have the interest they normally would accrue paid for by the government).

Ever heard of compound interest? It essentially means your interest earns its own interest. It’s exciting when it happens in your savings account; it’s not so exciting when it happens on your student loans.

To stop the compound interest effect on your student loans, pay money towards the interest that is accruing each month. You’ll thank yourself later.

Hack #4: Apply for “Weird” Scholarships

Pyper from WeirdScholarships.net, shares an interesting strategy when it comes to applying for scholarships: 

“Virtually all of my friends have student loans at this point. In fact, 7 out of 10 students who graduated this year had student loan debt. But unlike the majority of my friends, I am strongly against student loan debt. Nearly every day I read horror stories depicting the difficulties newly minted graduates have managing student loan debt. During the summer after my freshman year, I convinced myself that there had to be alternatives to student loan debt.

What about scholarships?

After a couple of weeks of Googling, I was able to gather a very long list of scholarship opportunities available.

At the time I copied and pasted every scholarship I ran across into a big Google sheet.

That summer I made my full-time job finding and applying for scholarships. By the end of the summer not only did I have arthritis in my fingers from all the typing, but I was able to put together $25,000 worth of scholarships from a variety of sources. I targeted smaller awards. The more unique the award the better. No more student loans for me.

All of my scholarship awards came from unlikely places. When applying for scholarships I focused all of my energy on finding less competitive awards.

In general, the harder it is to find a scholarship the less competition you will face.

You should start by defining yourself. Where are you from? What are you good at? What are you studying to be good at? What do you like to do? After you’ve defined yourself, put together a list of scholarship opportunities that fit your bill. Don’t Google “scholarships”. Instead, tailor your Google queries to yourself.

For example,

  • “scholarships for pharmacy students” or
  • “scholarships for people with glasses” or
  • “scholarships for single mothers”.

Don’t be afraid to get specific. The deeper you go the better the odds. I can promise you there is a scholarship for everything and everyone. Look for organizations or groups that could be of interest. Perhaps the local CPA association has a scholarship for college students.

These awards aren’t going to be as big as the “$10,000 scholarship! Apply in 2 minutes! No application!” scholarships, but you will have a much better shot at getting something. If you get just one $2,000 award after spending 40 hours this summer, well you’ve just earned $50 an hour.”

Hack #5: Share the Expenses

With every single expense you have or that you’re faced with in the future, I want you to ask yourself how you can share it with someone else. Sharing expenses immediately slashes the amount out of your pocket in half, and maybe in third, fourth, and fifths. Think beyond dorms/apartments, and share food costs, Costco/Sam’s Club memberships, internet subscriptions, magazines, rides/gas, textbooks (YES, you can share textbooks – more on this below), etc.

Hack #6: Use the London School Textbook Model

You can share textbooks. It’s not the most popular thing to do here in the United States, but they do it in London. In London, where I studied for a semester, the professor actually just puts a copy or two of the text they expect all students to read in the library, and you have to essentially share it with an entire class. If an entire class can manage to share 2 textbooks, then surely you can share one with someone else.

Hack #7: Buy eBook Versions of Your Textbooks

MAN do I wish this option had been around when I was in college. eBook version of your textbooks at up to an 80% discount?!? Are you kidding me? I used to spend up to $600 on the used versions of my textbooks each semester (I even knew people who picked certain classes based on how expensive the textbooks were to buy).

You should jump on this opportunity.

If I were you, I would take your textbook list you get each semester, and immediately plug them into this site to see if there is an eBook version.

Hack #8: Live Like a Student

It’s really important to remember that you’re a student with a meager income, and you should live your life accordingly. But on top of that, you need to remember that this is a temporary season of your life and that you won’t always have to scrimp by. Putting these two mindsets together will make it easier to save money because you won’t spend beyond your means (and can accumulate some savings to jumpstart the next phase in your life, post-school).

Hack #9: Increase Your Income

By increasing your income, you will have more money to both cover expenses and to set aside savings. There are lots of opportunities to increase your income with mini-side hustles. For example, I used to drive Amish to a market run every Saturday morning to earn $120 for the day (I know, I know – not conventional, but I grew up around the Amish in PA). That was pretty sweet. I also got a gig pet-sitting for the head librarian (she was my boss at my federal work-study job), and so periodically I’d get to live in someone’s beautiful home off-campus for a weekend and make $60-$100. That also led to me getting to pet-sit for the president of the college, and he paid $250 for a weekend! My college friend signed up for market research studies and once earned $300 for a sleep study. There are also hundreds of ways to make money on campus – ask the people in charge of federal work-study programs where they hire students and who needs help.

Hack #10: Decrease Your Expenses

I’m talking from every angle possible – create Savings Snowflakes (meaning, save $1.00 here, $3.00 there, and then take that $4.00 and stick it in the bank).


  • If you eat off-campus, get a foot-long hoagie, and immediately cut it in half to save the other half for a meal the next day.
  • Shop for clothes at the thrift stores (this can be really fun!).
  • Buy things you use repeatedly in bulk from member clubs (like Costco or Sam’s Club).
  • Bring your bike from home to campus so that you can just get around town on that instead of driving.

Money Saving Plan for Students

You need a money-saving plan, especially for a student dealing with different kinds of schedules/jobs and a smaller amount of money.

I’ve got a student money-saving plan for you – take what you like, leave what you don’t. But most importantly, take ACTION on this plan.

Step #1: Set a Savings Goal (Examples for Students)

When you set a savings goal, you really do two things:

  • Set an intention for your money
  • Know the target you’re trying to reach

Both are very powerful when saving money.

Example student savings goals include:

  • First apartment deposits: You’ll need to save up for your first apartment. Typically, you need enough money to cover the first + last month’s rent, as well as a deposit (which is generally equal to one month’s rent).
  • A car
  • Expenses to search for a job
  • Relocation expenses (unless you think you’ll be finding a job near your college)
  • Study abroad spending + fees

Step #2: Set Up a Savings Percentage

Get in the habit, NOW – while your income is still small – of saving a minimum percentage of every single dollar that comes your way. For example, if you choose 10%, then that’s 10% of Christmas money, birthday money, textbook buyback money, tax refund money, job money, federal work-study money, etc. that gets put into your savings account.

This will serve you well as your income increases over the years.

Step #3: Maximize Your Time Off for Savings and Earning Sprints

You can do earning and savings sprints during your summer breaks, winter breaks, and spring break. (That’s right – just because you have an in-flush of cash, you shouldn’t increase your spending).

Think like an Ice Road Trucker in Alaska who earns an entire year’s salary in just a few months due to the weather. That money has got to last him/her and their family for the rest of the year.

Step #4: Set Up Automatic Savings for Students

Since your income is going to vary a bit, setting up an automatic withdrawal from your checking to a savings account is a little more complicated. You will need to tweak and adjust it, seasonally.

An alternative you could try – on top of manually sending money to your savings account, as you can – is to sign up for the automatic savings app Oportun.co. It uses an algorithm to determine your normal amount of spending and figure out how much you can afford to put into savings. Then, it puts money into a savings account for you, in little bits ($5.46 here, $3.46 there).

Using this app, I’ve saved a total of an extra $4,215.37 that never would have made it to my savings! It’s pretty awesome.

You’ll want to then take action on all the ways I’ve outlined in this article to save money and to decrease your expenses – so that you can start setting aside even more money towards your savings goals.

How to Save Money for College Fast

Do you need to know how to save money for college, fast?

Let me give you a few ideas for how to make this happen:

  • Do a Savings Sprint: Going extreme at something for an extended period of time will lead to burnout. But doing something like saving every penny you possibly can for a short period of time? Well, that can turbo-boost your savings. Set a duration of time for how long you’ll not spend one extra dime on all the extras, and instead funnel that money towards college savings. Could be two weeks, one month, six months, or even a year – just don’t do it for so long that you end up springing back the other way and unleashing your spending (the elastic effect).
  • Make it Your Job to Apply for Grants + Scholarships: Grants and Scholarships do not need to be paid back. So, you want to get as many grants as you possibly can for college. Make it your part-time job (evenings and weekends) to apply for as many grants and scholarships as you possibly can. What would someone who works for a living applying for grants do? Well, they would set a goal amount of opportunities to apply to each week. They would create an Excel database of new opportunities, and fill in the contact information + mission statements of each organization so that they can make themselves more attractive as a candidate when they do apply + keep everything organized. They would track the money received to keep motivated with some sort of savings tracker. Think in terms of being an employee, and work accordingly.

You’ve got the tools and strategy now, but it’s completely up to you to put these items into action and start funneling money into your savings account. Spend just 1 hour each week working on implementing, and you won’t believe how things can look up by the end of this semester!

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.