8 ideas to save money as a college student As the price of college continues to climb, it helps to know how to save money as a student. September 8, 2023 For many people, college is the first time they’re truly in charge of their own finances. While it’s often a challenge, creating and maintaining a savings account for students is a foundational lesson for building healthy financial habits that last a lifetime. And saving money as a student has its short-term, practical benefits, too. “Life throws a lot of expenses our way that are hard to plan for—like when your car suddenly refuses to start when you’re running late for class,” says Jacqueline DeMarco, a freelance writer specializing in personal finance content. “That’s why building out a solid emergency fund is something that every college student should prioritize.” So, how can you save money as a student in college? These savings tips can help give you some monetary breathing room and a financially secure start in adulthood. Can you make your bank accounts work for you? First things first: Make sure you have a good place to keep your savings. That means finding a bank that’s convenient and offers the features and benefits that work best for you. DeMarco notes that students may feel limited to banks available on or near campus. “If they aren’t happy with their on-campus bank options, college students may find that an online bank is a better fit for them,” DeMarco says. “Not only do online-only banks offer all of their services digitally, they also tend to have lower fees and offer higher interest rates than banks with expensive brick-and-mortar locations to pay for.” Whichever bank you choose, DeMarco says there are two accounts every new student should strongly consider opening: a checking account and a savings account. Setting up both a savings account and a checking account can be done online within a few hours at the bank of your choice. How can students save money? Once you’ve set up your checking and saving accounts, it’s time to take the next step toward financial responsibility. One of the best ways to save money for students is by setting up a budget. How much should a college student spend per month? To determine that, DeMarco recommends subtracting your monthly expenses (essentials like food, utility bills, etc.) from your monthly income (whether it’s from a part-time job, student loans, or money from a parent). Doing this simple math will help reveal how much you can safely spend each month on fun stuff like new clothes or going to the movies—after you’ve put aside a portion for your savings, of course. Looking to add more wiggle room to your budget? Try these money-saving tips for students: Shop at consignment and thrift stores Consignment and thrift stores offer previously owned clothes and other items at a discount. The primary differences are that thrift stores tend to be nonprofit organizations, accept more donations, and are generally less selective in what they choose to sell. Consignment stores are often more selective about the donations they accept, and they pass a portion of the sale to the person who donated—or consigned—the product. DeMarco notes that consignment stores are not only a smart option for saving money—they’re also a way for students to make extra money by selling unwanted items. Buy used textbooks Textbooks can cost students hundreds of dollars if they’re new. Instead of paying full price, consider buying or renting used textbooks. “Many college bookstores offer used options, and online platforms often provide affordable alternatives,” DeMarco says. You might also be able to recoup some of the money you spent once you’ve finished a class by reselling your textbooks to a used bookstore or an online vendor. “Sometimes I could even sell a book for more than I bought it,” DeMarco says, referencing her time as a student. Cha-ching! Think about meal planning So busy with classes and assignments that you find spending money at vending machines for on-the-go snacks easier than planning ahead? Stop, shop, and save. Set aside a few hours each weekend to prepare all of your meals for the week to come. Or, if you live in a dorm, hoard some extra items from the dining hall so you’re ready when those late-night study session cravings inevitably strike. “Planning meals in advance gives students the chance to make a shopping list and stick to it,” DeMarco says. “As a bonus, having their meals planned will make it easier to avoid the temptation to dine out after a long day of classes.” Explore free activities Who says you need to splurge to have a good time? There are plenty of ways to have fun without spending money. Chances are, multiple free activities are happening on and around your campus on any given night. You can look up event calendars online or keep an eye out for announcements. Groups and clubs are always looking for participants and potential new members, so you can bet they’ll be happy to have you. (Plus, a lot of these events have free food.) Ask for student discounts It’s common for stores on and off campus to offer student discounts. To reap the benefits, always keep your student ID in your wallet, purse, or cellphone case so you can flash it and save some money. “You’d be surprised how many retailers, restaurants, theaters, and entertainment venues offer discounts specifically for students,” says DeMarco, who relied on student discounts to help build her professional wardrobe as she neared graduation. “Plenty of major mall brands offer these discounts.” Get a cheap coffee maker Relying on caffeine to get through those late-night study sessions—or just to get moving each morning? Save money on java by buying a coffee maker and becoming your own barista. DeMarco says that a cheap or used French press is easy to use and could save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Rethink the car It can be tempting to bring a car to college—whether for grocery runs or the occasional road trip. But the costs of gas, maintenance, and parking can add up quickly, DeMarco says. So leaving that set of wheels at home is another way for students to save money. Most college campuses are great for biking and walking. And many also provide shuttle buses and rides to essential off-campus places like grocery stores—as well as safe rides at night. Track your savings As you put these ways for students to save money into practice, DeMarco suggests tracking their positive impact on your budget. That way, you can see how your small saving techniques can add up over time. There are even money-saving apps for students you can download to measure your progress. “You’d be surprised how many retailers, restaurants, theaters, and entertainment venues offer discounts specifically for students.” Where should college students keep their savings? As you’re finding new ways to trim your budget, where should you put the money you’ve set aside? DeMarco says you’ve got a few options to consider: Rewards checking account While there are better places for long-term savings, rewards checking accounts are a valuable tool for college students as they begin to manage their own finances. Certain online checking accounts will provide cash back rewards based on how much you spend. For example, the Discover® Cashback Debit Account provides a 1% cash back bonus1 as well as overdraft protection if you overdraw your account. Checking accounts are an ideal place to keep your spending money, funds for paying bills, and income earnings from part-time jobs or side hustles since they allow you to access the cash you need at any time. High-yield savings account Starting a high-yield savings account, like the Discover Online Savings Account, in college can make a dramatically positive impact on the rest of your financial life. DeMarco recommends a high-yield savings account for any money that students may not immediately need but still want to keep available. “That way, their savings can earn interest, but they can access those funds if needed,” she says. Call it a sunny day fund—online savings with no monthly fees Learn more Discover Bank, Member FDIC And putting aside a set amount of money each month into a high-yield savings account can start earning you compound interest. Even depositing a small amount of savings while you’re in college can add up over the years to make a sizable stash down the line. CD CDs, or certificates of deposit—especially those with a longer maturity term—can provide a higher return than a savings account. Use CDs for savings that you don’t expect to need over the CD’s term. The term length for CDs can vary widely. For example, Discover Certificate of Deposit terms range between three months and 10 years, with competitive annual percentage yields. “If a student has a solid chunk of savings they know they won’t touch for a while, they may want to consider keeping their money safe in a CD, where it’s guaranteed to experience growth,” DeMarco suggests. Retirement account If you’re ready to start preparing for the more distant future (always a good idea), you can start by contributing money to an IRA, or individual retirement account. While some college students wait until they have a full-time job that offers a 401(k) plan to begin saving for retirement, the sooner you can get a head start, the better. Discover offers both IRA CDs and IRA savings accounts. Why not start saving while in college? There’s really no better time to start saving than in college. To make your savings dreams a reality, set goals at the start of each semester and check your progress periodically. Maybe even reward yourself (nothing too extravagant, of course) for staying on track. Something as small as the occasional special meal or an activity that doesn’t blow your budget can be a fun way to celebrate those financial milestones. Saving money can also create some amazing memories with the new friends you’ll be making. Ramen might seem dull, but challenging friends to see who can come up with the best recipe using cheap instant noodles can spice up the fun. College can be a wonderful experience. And weaving these saving tips into that experience can help build the foundation for a comfortable and secure financial future. Just think: It could all start with a high-yield savings account. Articles may contain information from third parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information. 1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), online sports betting and internet gambling transactions, and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as Venmo® and PayPal®, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple Pay® is a trademark of Apple Inc. Venmo and PayPal are registered trademarks of PayPal, Inc. Samsung Pay is a registered trademark of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Google, Google Pay, and Android are trademarks of Google LLC.