How to Save Money as a Frugal College Student


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
College was an awesome experience for me, but to be honest, it was also kind of challenging. And I don’t just mean scary because of general stress and the looming finals exams. College can be challenging because of money… or should I say lack thereof? Yeah, the thing about being a college student is that our earning potential is pretty limited. There are a lot of work opportunities for us, but they don’t pay as well as jobs for people with degrees. And here’s the rub: our earning potential isn’t very good, but we need just as much money – maybe even more – like regular people.

So that’s one of the biggest challenges of college life. How do you earn enough to keep your head above water when your earning options are a bit limited?

I’m here to share some methods that help save you money. As the title of this post implies, I was a frugal college student, just like most of you. I was pretty stressed out during my first two years in college, but I had a mini-breakthrough when I started making money online. These earning methods were game-changers for me. They allowed me to earn without distracting from my studies. I’ll be sharing those money-making methods in future posts but first, let’s tackle how you can save money.

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Lifestyle Changes for Frugal Student Living

Okay, if you’re really serious about saving money, you’re going to have to make some lifestyle changes. Some of these changes can be drastic, while some can be pretty minor. But you will have to make changes. I know it sucks. As college students, you have little creature comforts as it is. And now I’m telling you to downsize a bit? Yes, I am. Because while it doesn’t look like you spend a lot of money, you actually do. I had a friend who easily spends hundreds of dollars on Uber and Lyft rides. And I think that money could be put to better use, like starting a time deposit account or buying a fresh set of socks (you know who you are).

No matter how tight your budget seems, there will always be room for scrimping. Below are some areas where you can try to save money. Not all of these will be appropriate for all students, of course. For example, if you are studying music production, you will need an Uber to haul your valuable equipment around. Since this is an extensive list, you can pick and choose which ones apply to you.

My list of ideas will cover several general areas: food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment. I need to get real with you – you might not like all of these saving methods, but they are things you totally need to hear (er, read). And trust me, changing your lifestyle to save money only sucks at the beginning. When your finances loosen up, you’ll be grateful you started.

So let’s get this show on the road!

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1. Food

Avoid ordering and eating out

This one’s pretty basic – having food delivered costs a lot of money, and so does eating out. I know eating out with friends is very important, but for those times when you don’t really have to order or eat out, you could save your money instead. I used to think a burger here and a grande mocha frap there didn’t really amount to much… until I got honest with my finances and started counting how much I was spending on food. The amount surprised me, and I didn’t have to spend that much money to keep me well-fed.

Make time for cooking

If you don’t order out, you should just cook your own food. Before you throw your giant pile of research papers and reports at me, I get it – as students, you don’t have a whole lot of time to cook. Sometimes you might not even have space for it. But hear me out: the key is to do most of your cooking over a single day or weekend. When you do a week's food preparation in a single day, that frees up a lot of time for homework… and even partying. Of course, this is only an option if your dorm or apartment has a kitchen. But if you live near home or a relative’s place, you can always do your food prep there.

Buy food with a long shelf life

If you can’t eat fresh food all the time, you can get canned food. These foods will keep for literally years, so they’re cheap, convenient ways to feed yourself. I suggest getting the low-sodium variety of whichever food you’re getting… low-salt tuna in vegetable oil and corned beef are favorites of mine.

Stop drinking… or at least minimize it

Okay, you can stop reading for a few minutes while you fume over this suggestion. But to be clear, I’m not telling you not to enjoy yourself. But like eating out, drinking is a major money drain. Unless you have sufficient reason to go out drinking, why not save that money? (Your liver will also thank you for it.)

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2. Living quarters

Get a roommate

This one’s a no-brainer. Having a roommate drastically reduces the cost of rent and utilities. But you need to veto who your roommates are, for sure. The last thing you want is for a roomie to flake out on you at the last minute… which is what happened to me during my senior year. I had signed the contract for a modest studio apartment. A friend, who I then thought was solid, agreed to split everything with me down the middle. And for the first few months, everything was good. That is until he decided to bail on me. Luckily, I had all these side hustles, so I was able to keep paying the rent. But it sucks because I didn’t have to pay the entire amount myself. This story isn’t meant to discourage you; all I’m saying is you need to pick a roommate who isn’t flakey.

Move out of campus

Here’s a radical method, but it works. I found the nearer I am to college, the higher the rent costs. Just a couple of miles translated to a couple of hundred dollars in rent prices. After my lease ended, I moved into a one-bedroom 30 minutes away from school. Nothing beats living within walking distance from school, the savings more than made up for it.

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3. Getting Around

Use less ride-sharing

I mentioned Uber and Lyft earlier in this blog post. And while it might be tempting to use them all the time, you can get by without them. We survived without ride-sharing before, and we can do without it now.

Use public transportation more often

Public transportation is (usually) reliable, and also cheaper. Taking the bus or train is definitely my first option when I’m going far. If you’ve been spoiled by Uber and Lyft as I have, taking the bus might take some getting-used-to. But once you’ve re-” acclimated” it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Now, I love taking the bus. It’s interesting to see the different people go about their days. You can’t get that experience in an Uber!

Get a bicycle

And here is my personal favorite. Bikes are awesome. They’re affordable, easy to use, easy to “park” (just lock it to a bike rack or light post), and better for the environment. Best of all, you can also build up your cardio while biking. Save money while getting stronger. What’s not to like?


4. Entertainment

Cut down on your hobbies

I’m a diehard gamer. I have two consoles, a gaming PC… and that’s just for starters. I’m also a devoted tabletop gamer. You can imagine how much money all those hobbies cost to maintain.

I was already making good money, but I knew I could save even more money if I streamlined a bit. At some point, I decided to cut down my hobbies to just one – tabletop games. The savings have been immense. I took the money I saved and placed them in a high-yield savings account. I don’t know what I’ll do with that money when my account matures. Maybe buy more games? Just kidding.

But I’m not telling you to quit all your hobbies. You can go on a temporary hiatus on some hobbies, and come back to them when your finances are more stable. I know I’m going back to console gaming – and I’m looking forward to building a powerful gaming PC – when I start working.

Organize “Streaming Nights”

Going out to the movies can be expensive. What my friends and I like to is organize streaming nights in our dorm where we binge on certain shows instead of going out. You’ll be surprised at how fun it is. Even if you’ve seen a particular show or movie dozens of times, it becomes new again when you’re watching it with a bunch of friends. To save more money for our host, my friends have even agreed to contribute to a shared streaming service account.
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