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How to Save Money as a College Student: 7 Tips to Try Today

By, Sarah Fenton, Intern, Affinity Federal Union and Full Time College Student

College is expensive. Really, really expensive. Whether it’s tuition or the pizza you ordered Wednesday night, you’re constantly spending money. Add those expenses to costly textbooks, groceries and nights out with friends (students need to have some fun), and it’s easy to understand why college students are notorious for being broke.

The most common advice students hear is “get a job.” But I know first-hand that balancing a job with full-time course work is easier said than done. Instead, we need to be wiser about our spending habits. Throughout my college career, I’ve established some tried-and-true tips and tricks that can help keep your wallet full and your stress levels low.

1.  Keep an Expense Diary

College students are always on the go, making it easy to lose track of purchases. Writing everything down helps establish and manage a budget, and also allows you to see what’s sucking up the most money (maybe it’s time to cut back on weekly sushi dates with your roommates, for example). Get specific: where and when you spent the money, the amount, and how much money is left in that particular budget. Sticking to a budget isn’t easy for students like me who have ESD (Excessive Spending Disorder), but keeping an expense diary was a definite benefit for my financial status in the long run! If you’re not someone who likes to write things down, I recommend using a mobile app like LearnVest.

2. Limit Spending Money

When you’re “balling on a budget,” there isn’t room to spend limitlessly. A trick I often use is leaving the credit cards at home and bringing cash only. It’s easy to spend too much when all it takes is a swipe of a card. With cash, you can physically see the money disappear from your wallet and it’s not possible to spend more than you’ve budgeted. Your shopping spree ends when the money is gone. Additional tip: Consider shopping with your frugal friend – not your financially careless friend – who can support you in your spend-savvy endeavors.

3. Resist Impulsive Purchases

We’ve all been there: You see something and have to have it. Well, stop right there; holding the title of “thrifty college student” doesn’t allow for splurging. Before you head to the register, take a second to ask yourself – do I really need this? Sure, it might be the last one, or it’s on sale, or what a coincidence, it’s your size! But if it’s over your budget, it’s probably not worth it. Refer to your expense diary to see if you can fit it into your budget. That way you can confidently make the purchase – or walk away from it.

4. Find a Checking and Savings Account with a Strong Support System

Money management is essential and, over time, becomes increasingly complex. Many financial institutions, including Affinity Federal Credit Union, offer accounts specifically designed for students. These accounts provide students with tools and resources to help them to stay connected and to best manage their finances.

5. Embrace the Used

The price of textbooks is enough to make you lose sleep. But instead of buying new, ask friends with the same courses to borrow theirs or check with your college bookstore for used textbooks. The content inside is the same, so why not opt for the cheaper version? Not to mention, used textbooks often have great notes inside them from previous students! Make sure to also find out if your campus has buy-back deals –  selling back your used books at the end of the semester could score you some extra cash.

6. Don’t be Afraid to Spend Money on the Right Things

While purchasing a bike or a nice pair of walking shoes might create chaos in your budgeting book, these are actually practical purchases that could save you money. Since you’ll be walking or biking around campus instead of driving or taking the bus or other transportation, you will save hundreds of dollars on gas, parking passes or bus fares. Plus, walking and biking can contribute to a healthier lifestyle (and help defend against the dreaded “freshmen 15”). The goal is to spend sparingly in college, but always keep in mind that some large purchases are indeed worth it. It’s just a matter of figuring out what types of purchases are right for you.

7. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Student discounts and deals are plentiful. Take advantage of them while you can. Online student discounts can save you as much as 20%, depending on the company., for example, is a great site that offers promo codes and discounts for retail, food, fun activities and more. It’s the Groupon for college. If you decide to ditch the library and go to the mall, make sure to always bring your student ID with you because you won’t be able to receive in-store student discounts without it. Most importantly, remember to ask the cashier about student discounts: They won’t remind you, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask! You’ll be surprised how many popular stores offer student discounts. And for those of you with the travel bug, Coach USA and Amtrak have your back too, offering 15% to all student travelers.

For many, the years spent in college (no pun intended) are a special time to meet new people, try new things and achieve your goals. They shouldn’t be a time to worry about money. Saving and managing a budget doesn't have to be difficult. These simple steps will help minimize financial stress and allow you to focus on immersing yourself in what some refer to as “the best four years of your life."

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