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Top 10 Ways to Save Money in University/College

I was fortunate enough to graduate from University with a positive net worth. My girlfriend at the time though (now wife), had a boat load of debt. How did I manage to get through 6 years of University with money in the bank?

Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik

Here are 10 ways to Save Money in College/University:

  1. Live at home if you can. If not, long term leasing of off campus housing is cheaper than staying in dorms/residence.
  2. Pack your own lunch. I’m a big advocate of brown bagging your lunch as it’s a cheaper (and healthier) alternative to eating fast food.
  3. Take public transit, or if practical, get a bicycle. If class is more than walking distance away from your home, take the bus! Another solution is to get a bicycle. Weather permitting, bicycling to class is not only cost effective, it’ll help burn off the beer gut!
  4. Party on the cheap. Partying is inevitable in college, but you can save a lot of cash if you go to house parties rather than hitting the clubs/bars/pubs downtown.
  5. Get a degree that offers paid work terms. With some institutions, degrees like Business, Engineering, Nursing, Pharmacy and Social Work offer paid work term opportunities. Not only do work terms offer experience, they usually offer pretty decent money to boot. During my work terms, I saved enough money to pay for books and tuition.
  6. Get a part time job. I had a part time job throughout University, which is probably one of the biggest reasons why I could pay for food, booze and a girlfriend. :)
  7. Buy your books used. Even if they upgraded the text book to a new edition the current semester, most of the information will be the same if you purchase an older edition.
  8. Shop at thrift/second hand clothing stores. If you have the patience to sift through the racks of clothing, there is bound to be diamonds in the rough for a fraction of the cost of buying new.
  9. Use your campus for recreational activities. If you like working out or playing sports, take advantage of the campus facilities as they are most likely discounted (or free) for students.
  10. Use your student status for entertainment. Various movie theaters, restaurants and clothing stores typically have programs that offer discounts to students. Take advantage of them.

How did you save money during College/University?

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Wiser Miser June 23, 2008, 10:21 am

    Here are some of the things I did:

    Applied for a lot of scholarships in my last year of high school and actually got a few.

    Checked to see if I qualified for any bursaries or grants.

    Had a part-time job plus worked all summer.

    Bought used textbooks and then sold them for a higher price when I was done with them. The university library was also a source for textbooks. For textbooks that weren’t available used or at the library, I checked online bookstores and compared prices; some were cheaper while others were not.

    There were lots of companies giving away freebies and promo deals during the first few weeks of the school year so I took advantage of those.

    Reviewed the additional fees the university was charging me as part of my tuition and researched which ones were refundable. It ended up that the Student Association was charging me for health/dental insurance I didn’t need since I was still covered by my parents’ plan. There were several other student organizations that also received money from me automatically so I asked them to give me back my money.

    I noticed that Microsoft now offers free software to students at qualified universities and schools via their MSDN Academic Alliance http://www.msdnaa.net/search/schoolsearch.aspx.

    • FT FrugalTrader June 23, 2008, 10:32 am

      Great tips WM. That’s one thing I regret not doing while in University, that is applying to scholarships! So many Scholarships go unclaimed every year simply because students don’t apply.

  • Julie June 23, 2008, 10:53 am

    Thanks for this great list of tips! I work at a university and in the Fall I’m going to do a workshop for first year students on ways to save. The financial guides developed by the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy for youth found here http://www.ic.gc.ca/epic/site/bsf-osb.nsf/en/h_br01493e.html – including one for post-secondary students – are excellent. They just sent me 50 copies free of charge!

    During school I kept a running total of my student loan balance on my bulletin board so that I’d always be mindful to minimize borrowed money. Also used the public library for books and DVDs :)

  • Julie June 23, 2008, 10:54 am

    Thanks again for the great tips!

  • Dividend Growth Investor June 23, 2008, 11:10 am

    Yep, that’s exactly what I did – worked part-time to full-time during college. Worked 60-80 hrs during summer/winter breaks. Studied hard, but also followed a regimen of sleeping 8 hours/day. I learned to cook for myself, which was helpful in saving. Got an off-campus house with roommates, which was cheaper and super close to campus. It was also easier to party bc our campus was a dry campus.( partying in a hose is cheaper than going to bars. And the “networking” with the opposite sex is easier at a house party).
    I didn’t buy a car untill I graduated, since I didn’t need one in my small-town university. And yes, I applied for as many scholarships as I could. In my spare time from work ,studying I joined several on-campus organizations which provided some resume building experience which helped me get a job after graduating.( I was an executive there)
    And yes, I had two internships.

    If I were going to school now I there are several things I would have done differently:

    1) Purchase a house rather than rent. A monthly mortgage payment for a house in the university town that I studied was twice as much as the monthly payment for rent. But if I had a 4 bedroom house with 400/month in mortgage and then rent 3 apts @ 200/month, I would have come out even ( after prop taxes, fixing stuff etc).
    2) Network even more with fellow students and create a wider network of contacts
    3) Try to have your major picked out as early as possible, so that you don’t have to stay the whole 4 years, but maybe 3 years.

  • Student Joe June 23, 2008, 11:14 am

    I heard that some schools allow students to pay their tuition bills with credit cards. Use a credit card with a rewards program (like Cashback) and save at least 1% on all your purchases.

  • john June 23, 2008, 11:51 am

    you can also try getting scholarships and grants so you dont have to actually pay for school

  • guinness416 June 23, 2008, 12:20 pm

    Good suggestions! There are no fees in Ireland, but some people there still manage to blow a lot of cash; the cost of 4 years of photocopying, beer and canteen lunches can add up. I also left with a significant positive net worth, even after all the travelling I did. Living at home and working are the big ones in my opinion. I was a bartender at a hotel, which provided plenty of hours at weekends and over night (and kept me fit, provided free booze and food, and made me many friends). My parents let me do my thing, as ever, but some of my classmates’ folks didn’t want them getting jobs at all. It amazed me that parents wanted to coddle their little angels (strapping energetic young men for the most part) away from the real world, and told them they shouldn’t work.

  • Chuck June 23, 2008, 12:28 pm

    In my university and program scholariships were hard to come by, I applied to most as got a little bit each year.

    A couple of things that really helped was I had a part-time job through school and was able to get good summer jobs – though not career-related they paid well.

    I also put a focus on physical and mental well-being. I found if I got my 7-8 hours of sleep and jogged or worked out 6 days a week, my marks would fall into place.

    Outside of that, the other system that worked well was I got my roommates to agree to a common list of household chores to keep the house neat and tidy. Women liked to come to our place because it wasn’t a disgusting mess like a lot of other guy’s places.

  • Cow June 23, 2008, 12:32 pm

    I would add, “Don’t go to college in the States.” My bad, there.

    I worked full time all the way through undergrad, but still had to take out some student loans to cover my $27,000/year (at a state school, even) tuition. They’re -almost- paid off, now, though, only two years after graduating–and my net worth is positive, finally.

    (I’ve been saving and investing at the same time as paying them down, since the loans are between 4-6%.)

  • MikeG June 23, 2008, 12:49 pm

    [ RANT ON] I goto the University of Calgary, and if you goto the Student Centre (where all the restaurants etc are) you will see that there are alot of not poor students, eating $8-12 meals and wearing designer clothes… [RANT OFF]

    That aside:

    – How about getting a trade 1st? you could become a carpenter in about 4-5years out of high school. You could save more than enough during the 5 years, learn a very useful skill. And if you like it enough, it may just save you from going to school in the 1st place… Alot of people goto school to study a major with no career potential and then work at Safeway or construction ,etc.. Also you could funnel your money into dividend paying stocks and actually have positive net cashflow during school…

    – Share a bedroom, I know it sucks for “networking” (lol, perfect term btw)… But I rented a house and rented out every room including part of my own and ended up paying a whopping $35 in rent per month (thats not a typo, $35 a month)…

    – You can share a text book with a fellow student, each pay half to buy it.. Then sell at the end of the semester and split the sale price..

    – Most campuses have “free” gyms that are included in your fees.

    – Most campuses have food banks if you’re actually that poor.

    – You can get alot of free entertainment and friends at your local church..

    – You do not need a laptop (maybe if your in Comp. Sci) or even a home computer.. Most campuses have plenty of computers, with free IT teams to maintain them, You just have to schedule yourself right, ie. no late night papers.

    – I personally scrapped the idea of working during school in order to boost my GPA in hopes that I would get more scholarships.. last year I received a good internship and $1000 scholarship because of my GPA..

  • Telly June 23, 2008, 1:21 pm

    A lot of smart college / university kids! A positive net worth at graduation is pretty impressive.

    Sadly, I followed a number of FT’s rules (lived at home, partied on the cheap, earned a degree that offered good paying ($18-20/hr + OT) work terms each year) but still ended up with student loans and a negative net worth after it was all said and done. Kind of embarrassing really. I’m not sure where it all went but I know I blew a good chunk of it by travelling to the Caribbean at the end of each year to celebrate making it through another year.

    I’ve come a long way since then, and they were GT’s so no real regrets but it does make me think how much earlier I could retire if I had done things a bit more like FT!

  • Telly June 23, 2008, 1:26 pm

    Dividend Growth Investor,

    The problem with buying a house as a student is that the income just isn’t high enough to get approved for a mortgage, but even if it were possible, where could one get a 4 bedroom house with a $400/month mortgage?!

    Being the landlord of student housing is not glamourous, and it’s definitely not something I could have done as a university student. Most of the problems that occur seem to arise during exams!

  • FT FrugalTrader June 23, 2008, 2:16 pm

    Guinness, I didn’t know that Ireland had fully paid for University/College. What an opportunity that is! Is it common practice in Europe to have free education?

    Telly, I would say those fancy Caribbean vacations as a student would take a bite out of the net worth. :) I would say they were worth every penny though!

    Dividend Growth, I’m with Telly on the subject of buying the house instead of renting. In order for that to happen, the student would definitely need a co-signer/parent for the mortgage.

  • guinness416 June 23, 2008, 2:26 pm

    I think the UK used to have free education but no longer does? Plonkee would know that. Your first degree is paid for by the taxpayer in Ireland …. if you have to repeat a year, or want to get another degree or a masters you pay market rate, but that’s still nothing approaching what I’ve seen some americans and canadians say they pay in fees. To be honest we don’t appreciate it enough until we talk to people from other places.

  • Chuck June 23, 2008, 2:52 pm

    My one friend did the buy a house and rent it out. Yes you need a co-signer.

    In his case in early to mid-90s in Waterloo you could rent a room for $250-$325. He had 6 rooms in his house and seemed to do ok with it.

  • personne June 23, 2008, 5:11 pm

    here are other ways..

    * buy day old donuts.. better, week old donuts are free!
    * charge visiting friends for food you serve them
    * when going to those inexpensive house parties drinking cheap booze, you might find a fortune in between couch cushions


  • Rachel @ Master Your Card June 24, 2008, 8:10 am

    I lived at home and got a grant when I was at university which was a big help. I walked from home to university so had no transport costs. I did not buy second hand books but I did sell the books when I had finished with them. I didn’t drink which saved me a fortune and hardly ever bought new clothes.

  • Maiku June 24, 2008, 1:52 pm

    Hi, I’ve been following your blog for a while and I keep meaning to post on some of your very interesting topics but never get around to it in time. Anyway….

    I would say that scholarships are an excellent way to save money. In my case I went to BCIT and their staff actually phoned me to ask me to sign up for scholarships because they thought I had a good chance of winning them. I won one internal one and one external which paid for my whole first year. It would have paid for more, but I bought a laptop and traveled (I slightly regret traveling but not the laptop since I was in Computers). I didn’t work during school in order to keep my GPA up (BCIT is renowned for having a very demanding course load and they actually recommend that people don’t work during their program). I did try to join activities at school though and wound up being Valedictorian.

    On top of that, although I lived at home going to BCIT taught me to be frugal. To this day I still don’t own a car because I can get to most places I need to by bus. So I got an education and life lessons and came out of it with a positive net worth!

  • Erin June 24, 2008, 6:45 pm

    My biggest tip. GET MARRIED!!! Me and my husband both have our bachelors degrees and two kids while going to school and my husband was only working part time to support us. Because we got married we were not considered under our parents household for taxes so it looked like we barely made any money. Both of us were able to qualify for the full amount of grant money that the government can give you each year plus we were able to qualify for some state grants. Plus I had 2 scholarships through my parents jobs so in the end we were payed to go to school pretty much until our last year of school when we had our second child. We left the university with both of us having bachelor degrees, 2 kids, and only 5000 in school loans and did it all in 5 years with only a part time job for extra income.

  • Matt July 4, 2008, 7:38 am

    I didn’t bother going to uni, and now I own land and property all over the world at the age of 20. Topping things off when I finished college I got with somebody and it lead to me being homeless so I had to live in a hostel for a few weeks until I was housed by the council. 1 year on and I am rich, how did I do this? I was patient and cut back on everything, listened to what people had to say and worked my arse off to get a job and changed jobs every 4 months. I now work as a web designer for an estate agent, but work from home too so I save lots of money, plus I now live with my partner, who also brings in her fair share of money, in a flat that her cousin owns.

    So my tip, don’t bother with Uni.

  • Topwaystosave August 13, 2008, 12:51 am

    When I was in school I took my time and graduated a 4 year school in 5 years. I always wish I could have went back and not messed around so much. I wish I could have buckled down more and got in and out. Instead I had to pay for another year of college and then missed a year of not having a real job.

    My advice is work hard and get in and out in at the most4 years. I had friends who even graduated in 3.5 years. Just focus and get it done. You’re paying so get your moneys worth and get that degree.

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