The Top 10 Budget Tips for College Students

Whether you’re headed off to college, in the middle of a semester, or have a college-age son or daughter, these budget tips for college students are your ticket to learn how to manage money better during the school year. You can have fun, enjoy your independence, and still keep your finances in check!

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This post is sponsored by Discover, however, all opinions and fairly responsible college years are 100% mine.

Whether you're headed off to college, in the middle of a semester, or have a college-age son or daughter who's ready to take the leap, these budget tips are your ticket to make smart choices during the school year. You can have fun, enjoy your independence, and still keep your finances in check! #budgeting101 #budgetingforbeginners #frugalhabits #frugalhabitsforstudents #budgetingtipsforstudents #collegestudentsadvice #tipsforcollegestudents #frugalliving

I still can’t believe it’s been 10 years this month since I walked into my first college class. I was young, naive {but then again, weren’t we all at that age?}, and had no idea what the college experience was all about. That didn’t hinder my excitement though — I was finally entering what I thought was the real world!

Well, kind of. I guess you could say my choices weren’t exactly typical.

I went to a community college for 2 years while living at home to save money. Then I married my best friend and finished out the last 2 years at a state university. I never lived in a dorm, and I wasn’t much of a partier — okay, not at all! But I still experienced first-hand what it meant to control my own money and make financial choices, as well as having my own bills to pay and a part-time job.

These were the years that helped shape me into a responsible adult. Not only did I learn a lot about life in general, I also learned how critical it was to be smart with money, and how much my choices during this time would prepare me for the real real world ahead.

Maybe you’re headed off to college, are in the middle of a semester, or have a college-age son or daughter who’s ready to take the leap. The budget tips for college students I’m sharing today will set you up for future success, without losing that sense of fun and independence the college years are all about!

Curious about what other lessons I wish I had known earlier in life? Here’s more advice to my younger self.

1. Apply for Student Aid

The world of financial aid is incredibly confusing, but you can’t ask for anything better than FREE, so it’s worth the effort to at least apply. The best known website, FAFSA, gives aid via Uncle Sam and it’s money you don’t ever have to pay back. Once your FAFSA is complete, take a look into other websites and programs to see where you’re eligible for additional assistance.

Budget Tips for College Students | Creative Savings

2. Budget for Expenses

Absolutely no one wants to spend time creating a budget, then pouring over a spreadsheet to keep track when they could be out with their friends on a Friday night. And honestly, I don’t expect you to. But you need to at least know what money you have coming in and going out.

Possible expenses:

  • Gas for your car
  • Apartment costs
  • Food
  • Tuition
  • Books
  • Extra spending money

Be sure to have enough leftover to pay student loans and cover emergencies. If you want to get a little more detailed, you can print and use my expense tracker, play with, or download the YNAB app {FREE for college students} to track expenses digitally on your phone. We all know that’s one device that never leaves anyone’s side. 😉

3. Start a Checking Account

If you don’t have a checking account yet, it’s time to start one. Depending on where your college is located, you might want to bank with company that’s close by and has ATM withdrawal capabilities right on campus. That way you can avoid extra fees as much as possible.

 4. Avoid Full-Priced Textbooks

I still don’t know why textbooks need to cost so much, but they are a necessity. Try to buy used as much as possible — take a peek on Amazon and to see what’s available — and scout out any local used bookstores before heading to the more expensive one on campus.

Budget Tips for College Students | Creative Savings

You should also:

  • Not buy the book unless you’re absolutely sure you’re going to keep the class.
  • Not buy all the suggested materials unless you have a good idea of what your professor will and will not use.
  • See if you can use a previous edition. Sometimes there’s not much that has changed in the last year, but talk to your professor to make sure.
  • Borrow from a friend…..or sibling!

5. Take Advantage of Discounts

Your student ID is a badge of honor and your ticket to all sorts of savings. From movie tickets to restaurants, you can anywhere from 10-60% just by flashing your card. Another great perk is to sign up with Amazon Student, which gives you exclusive discounts and FREE 2-day shipping. You’ll also get access to all the movies, music, and TV shows available through prime.

6. Be Smart with Credit Cards

College is usually when most young adults get their first credit card, but it comes with just as much responsibility as it does perks. If you have a credit card, always treat it like cash and pay your monthly bill in full. You may find it easier to exclusively charge gas or travel expenses until you get the hang of a new card.

College Student Credit Card by Discover

Discover currently offers the Discover it® chrome for Students card, a no annual fee credit card for students, with 2% cash back at all gas stations and restaurants, and 1% cash back on everything else. Plus, for new cardmembers only, every reward is doubled for the first year, and as part of their recently released Good Grades Reward Program, you get an extra $20, each year for up to five years, just for maintaining an above 3.0 GPA!

7. Learn to Cook

Eating out every day isn’t the best for your health, or your wallet! Quick and simple meals are very easy to prepare. You might want to pick up a Betty Crocker cookbook {my cooking staple!}, as well as 101 Things to Do With Ramen Noodles  you know, to give this typical college favorite a bit more flair.

8. Find a Part-Time Job

Classes might not leave a lot of time for a job, but a few hours a week will boost your income so you can save for life beyond the university. Internships for college credit are always a great choice, and Teaching Assistant {TA} positions are also pretty flexible. If you have a computer and love spending time online, you also might want to consider virtual assisting to offset college costs.

Budget Tips for College Students | Creative Savings

9. Repurpose and Reuse

My friends loved dumpster diving after the college students left for the semester — primarily because they always threw away really good stuff! Maybe you don’t want to take everything home with you after school lets out, especially if you live far away, but I would still list your items on Craigslist, donate to a thrift store, or consider saving them for next year.

You’ll save so much money reusing what you already have!

10. Have a Debt Plan

Almost everyone I know has graduated with some amount of college debt, and if that’s you, you need to strongly consider what your plan is when you graduate. Put every extra penny you can into paying off your loans — it’s hard to go into a marriage, career, or both, with loads of debt tied to your name — and make sure whatever job you take is able to meet your living expenses, plus enough to tackle a good portion of your debt.

College is a really exciting time, but it’s also a critical gateway from high school to young adulthood.  Spend smart, save up for the future, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment!

What are the Best Budget Tips for College Students You’ve Found?


Discover stands by their mission to help consumers spend smart and save more, by providing the best products and programs for their money. In addition to branded credit cards, Discover also offers private loans, checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts. You can learn more about Discover HERE.

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. This is an article that every College student who ends up broke every 2nd half of the month should read. I especially like you point about taking up part-time jobs/ internships/projects along with academics. This not only gives the students an opportunity to earn that extra money, it also helps them to gain work experience & Skills, that they will need immediately out of college.

  2. I didn’t figure out until I think my Junior year that you should wait until you are actually required to use your textbook in some way that you should go and buy it. I had SO many classes where either we didn’t use the textbook literally AT ALL, or we opened it once or twice the entire semester. And then as you said, when you do need to buy one, hit up Amazon or Chegg. Buying a brand new textbook is like buying a brand new car – it loses half its value as soon as you leave the bookstore!

    1. Yes — I completely agree! I was shocked at how many times you didn’t need the textbook at all for class and could have saved anywhere from $80-over $100 dollars by just waiting.

    2. Definitely agree, Simon. I always used to buy my textbooks before classes started and that was always a mistake. Once I figured out I could wait until it was absolutely necessary to buy, I started saving money on textbooks.

      I was fortunate that some of my professors put the textbook on reserve in the library. I could check it out for an hour each day to read it or make copies of useful pages. Instead of paying a hundred bucks for a textbook, I ended up only spending a few bucks each semester on the copies.

  3. I have a top money tips for college students and I think this post fits in beautifully with it. College students are at a pivotal time, even though they often don’t recognize it. Learning about money (how to manage it and earn it) while in college is such a better option that learning it later on in life. I wish I learned about student loan debt before I went to law school — I would’ve made very different choices.

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