30 Budget Tips for College Students

Even without considering tuition and mandatory fees, college life is expensive. Hence, you need budget tips for college students. Between tuition, housing, food, and entertainment, many college students rack up debt that will take years to pay off. Many students will rely on their student loans and scholarships to meet ends. Some students work to get extra money, but there’s no way around it. However, a budget can save college students.

College living is pricey, and most students are cash-strapped. Yet there are hundreds of ways to save money during school.

This list will highlight 30 of the best budget tips for college students across the USA to implement into their college plans.

Table of Contents

What is Budgeting?

Making a monthly budget is the first step towards staying on top of your finances. Budgeting gives you a big-picture view of your money, so you can make informed spending and saving decisions.

It can help reduce your debt once you graduate because, trust me, you don’t want to enter the working world with $30K of debt.

Importance of Budgeting in College

Collective student loans have risen 116% over the last decade, reaching a staggering $1.5 trillion in recent years. With so much money being borrowed, students must invest in the benefits that budgeting can offer, including:

1. Avoiding Unnecessary Expenses

Budgeting helps you separate wants from needs. This allows you to identify expenses that absolutely must be paid — things like tuition, housing, and food — and are thus worthy of taking out a student loan.

At the same time, it helps you identify unnecessary expenses — like eating out, going to the movies, or another recreational spending — that can be avoided if you don’t have the cash.

2. Helping You Stay Healthy

There’s no doubt that school is stressful, and the crushing weight of tens of thousands of dollars of debt only adds to that burden. Studies show that 68% of students lose sleep over school-associated stress.

3. Teaching You Valuable Life Skills

Budgeting isn’t a skill that will ever become dated. After college, as you start your career, buy a house, have a family, prepare for retirement, and so on, the ability to maintain a budget will ensure that your expenses are properly covered at all times. 

4. Fostering a Healthy Financial Future

Finally, budgeting in college can put you in the best position possible post-school. 

Rather than racking up debt and wasting money in the present — all of which will have to be paid back with interest in the future — a college budget helps you control your spending and create the healthiest financial situation possible when you start your career.

Budgetary Principles

Budgetary principles represent values and rules that need to be considered and/or accomplished when preparing, executing, and analyzing the budget of a government or a public sector entity.

Therefore they indirectly affect different aspects of the budgeting process and the budgeting cycle, as well as many other public administration issues.

Budgeting Challenges

Check out these common budget challenges and key steps you can take to tackle them.

1. Being indecisive about finances

There’s nothing worse than being indecisive about finances. Financial indecisiveness can stop you and prevent you from accomplishing your financial goals.

Just the thought of even making a budget may be overwhelming, but the most productive thing you can do is start.

The more you procrastinate, the longer it will be before you take control of your finances. Indecisiveness is one of the biggest challenges of budgeting, but with a little financial motivation, you can successfully tackle this budget challenge.

2. Shopping impulsively 

One of the hardest budget challenges to overcome is impulsive shopping. Most people are guilty of impulse shopping. Americans make 156 impulse purchases every year. The average impulse purchase spending is roughly $450 monthly, costing over $5,000 a year!

Have you ever seen the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic? Can you relate to the thrill of purchasing a new purse or pair of shoes only to be devastated when you open your credit card bill? If so, you may have a shopping addiction, devastating to your budget.

3. Not having financial goals

The key to overcoming the challenges of budgeting has financial goals in place. If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, it can cause you to lose focus on why you created a budget in the first place.

Financial goals can motivate you to stick to your budget and succeed financially. Examples of financial goals are: saving for a vacation, building an emergency fund, paying for a wedding

Saving for a home down payment, Planning your retirement

4. Not budgeting for savings

Even if you pay your bills on time, it doesn’t mean you are budgeting correctly. For example, if you aren’t building savings into your budget, you aren’t preparing for your future.

One of the most important things to do when budgeting is to pay yourself first. The quickest way to save money is to build it into your budget.

This way, you aren’t tempted to spend it, which is a good money habit too.

5. Unexpected expenses 

Life is full of unexpected expenses, one of the hardest budget challenges.

You must build up your emergency savings account because you will be prepared for the unexpected. Car repairs, medical expenses, or job loss can throw you off track.

The goal is to save 3-6 months of living expenses to cover any unexpected expenses. To keep from being overwhelmed with a high number, work on saving your first $1,000, and build from there.

Read Also: Top Five Food Certification Programs To Enhance Your Career In 2024

30 Budget Tips For College Students

Check out these 30 budget tips for college students:

1. Try to attend college in a low-cost city

A student who studies in San Francisco or New York City is bound to spend more. Most things in those cities cost more than elsewhere in the US. Niche states that in 2019, Fort Wayne was the city with the lowest cost of living in America.

Luckily, the city also has some pretty good colleges. The University of Saint Francis, for instance, has many success stories. Huntington University is located just outside Fort Wayne, and its student body is given over $12 million in grants and scholarships annually.

And those are just two of the options in one of the many affordable US cities.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

2. Get a part-time job

If (non-loan) money is coming into your bank, then, of course, you’ll save more money. You may not want to work during college because it can distract you from your studies, but there are ways to make work work for you.

There are now many opportunities on gig economy apps that allow students to work as much or as little as they want and change their schedules accordingly. 

3. Be sure to have roommates

If you aren’t living in a dorm, you can choose where you’ll live. One thing that will always save you money when it comes to renting in college, however: splitting the bills with roommates.

Some people choose to live alone, but that is expensive. A single person living in a studio apartment will almost always be more expensive than splitting a two-bedroom apartment with another housemate.

4. Ride a bike to places

A wide range of American colleges is encouraging students to use bikes instead of cars. They’re so much cheaper and great for the environment.

The best colleges sell bikes to students for incredibly low rates and have bike repair shops on campus that offer free tune-ups and low-cost repairs.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

5. Use public transportation instead of driving

Many colleges in America give students free passes to access their city’s public transportation. If a student goes to a college that does this, they will save thousands on getting around if they use it.

Even if you go to a college where you must pay for public transportation, that’s still cheaper than buying, maintaining, and running a car.

6. Find out all the scholarships and grants available to you

Many students think scholarships and grant money can only be awarded before college enrollment. This isn’t true.

Many colleges have systems that reward students financially for good grades, volunteering, being an active part of the college town community, and many other things. And you can also look outside of your college for funding opportunities.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

7. Look for the cheapest healthcare procedure

Everyone knows that American healthcare is ludicrously expensive, even if you have health insurance. But there are ways of lowering the costs.

You can ask different hospitals what they charge if you need a procedure or operation. A government-run hospital may even offer the procedure at no cost at all.

8. Find out all the free or low-cost things available on campus

Every college in America, even the smallest, offers free things. Not all of it will appeal to you, but you could have been paying for something unnecessarily.

Many colleges will give their students free yoga, free entertainment, free gym memberships, free outdoor equipment, free counseling, and more.

9. Look for free stuff

If you’re going to attend college in a big city, then there’s a good chance that you can get lots of the stuff you need for free. Craigslist has a section where people post the unwanted items they want to be rid of quickly.

People who attend college in more rural areas can always see what’s on freestuff.com, which does exactly what its name says, i.e., it gives you free stuff.

And some colleges will give students things for free if they ask for them.

10. Only get used textbooks/check them out of the library/find them in digital form

Textbooks are an essential part of every single college degree. While buying a new edition at the store can seem easier, you should look for used ones on eBay, Amazon, Google Shopping, or even in used bookstores.

Some textbooks won’t be needed long-term, so you can probably get them from the college or a normal library.

11. Try to keep your utility bills low

Living without an AC system in your home can be hard, but you can still be selective about how much you use it. Some people keep it running all day and night.

You’ll end up paying hundreds of dollars a month for a cool apartment and damage the environment. Instead, you can use your AC in other ways.

12. Use free software

Many students buy Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, and other software for professional and personal use. But many of these applications have free alternatives that can do the job just as well.

Instead of Microsoft Office, Open Office has everything a student could need. Again, instead of Adobe Photoshop, there is GIMP.

Instead of Norton Antivirus, many other anti-virus options are money-saving and recommended by respectable websites.

13. Look for student discounts

You may not realize all the places that offer student discounts or extras. Here are a few amazing discounts available to all students: Apple has a wide range of student pricing options (and free Beats headphones with many student purchases.) Greyhound has a student discount card that saves 10% on fares.

Amazon Prime has a free student plan for six months and just $6.49 monthly (including its streaming service.) FedEx gives students between 20% to 30% off shipping.

And this is just what large companies are offering. Whenever you’re purchasing anything, ask if there’s a student discount.

14. Shop around for cheaper providers of essentials

Everyone in the 21st century needs a cell phone plan. But many people in America are overspending on their plans. Instead of $40 a month, they could spend $15 for unlimited talk, text, and data with Good2Go Mobile.

The only catches are that the data becomes slow after one gigabyte of 4G LTE usage per month and that you need to sign up for auto payments to get the offer this cheap.

You may find similar deals on insurance, internet, electricity, banking, and other essential services.

15. Do not get cable

With the internet, students have so many more ways to access entertainment. Some students can be just as content watching YouTube as TV. And if you want a TV, consider an option cheaper than cable, such as Sling, which can get you dozens of TV channels for just $15 to $25 per month.

One streaming service, like Hulu or Netflix, is cheaper. Hulu’s plans start at $5.99 monthly, allowing customers to access thousands of shows and movies.

Netflix is a little more pricey, at $8.99 per month, but the advantage is that there are no commercials.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

16. Sell things when you are done with them

If you had a textbook in your first year that you don’t need in the second year, why not sell it to a student below you? Both of you will get a deal, as you’re making money, and the next student will get the book for a cut price.

Read: 20 Best Apps to Learn Coding as a Beginner

17. Buy and cook groceries with roommates

If you live with people, you’re social with; you can save lots of money by pooling the grocery budget.

If you like certain meals, buy the ingredients in bulk and split the costs. And you can turn this cost-cutting measure into a social activity by cooking and eating meals together.

18. Buy food that has a longer shelf life

This doesn’t have to mean that you only buy tinned goods. Anyone who has ever worked in a supermarket will tell you that employees put fresher food and drink behind the older food and drink.

Therefore, dig into the back of the stack if you want something that lasts longer before going bad. It might annoy the supermarket managers, but no law says you must get the items at the front of the shelves.

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

19. Look for all the money-saving offers out there

We all know that a coupon has many offers, some amazing and some less than amazing.

Of course, students can use the good deals on that site, especially when they want to treat themselves on a budget.

But other apps have similar yet different functions to coupons, allowing you to have nice things at a lower cost.

20. Keep a close eye on your expenses

Many people don’t realize how much certain things cost them when added up. And you may have subscriptions to things you haven’t used in years.

Therefore, budget-conscious student needs to spend time looking at their bank statements. It isn’t fun, but you could discover that you’re spending money on something you haven’t used in years or paying more than you thought for leisure activity.

If so, cancel the subscriptions, cut costs, and save.

21. Embrace second-hand and thrift store buys

Every student needs to buy clothes. Getting them from department stores can quickly rack up these costs. Thrift stores are filled with clothing at a reduced rate. And pre-owned shopping can stretch beyond just clothing.

If you want to save money on electronics, furniture, equipment, tools, jewelry, and more. Always look for pre-owned items first.

Nowadays, students have more opportunities than ever to find pre-owned goods. eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark, and many other websites and apps let students find the best-priced used items.

22. Buy things far in advance or offseason

Unsurprisingly, if you want to buy a plane ticket, the earlier you buy it, the better! The trick here is to plan well for your future travels during the study.

This also applies to buying things off-season. If you need a new coat in winter, buy one in the middle of the summer! If you’re going to need an AC unit, then buy it in the winter!

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

23. Find the cheapest possible prescription and over-the-counter drugs

Not many people realize that the costs of drugs in America can vary wildly for several reasons. One is that name-brand drugs are sold much faster than generic drugs.

Also, the costs differ from drugstore to drugstore.

Lastly, some government-run hospitals offer discounted prescriptions to people who are on low incomes.

Read: College Student Budget Template: How To Track Your Spending In School

24. Look for ATMs that don’t charge

Using an ATM that charges is so annoying. It’s a charge for a service that you can get for free elsewhere. You can ensure that trips to expensive ATMs are minimal by doing a little research. Most banks and card companies have tools on their websites that let you search for ATMs that don’t charge.

You can also search for your bank’s ATMs on Google Maps if you’re unfamiliar and can’t find a free ATM. It only takes a second, and it could save you money!

25. Plan days where you don’t spend any money

Most people spend money on something every single day. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You’ll often have a stockpile of activities and resources, meaning you don’t need to spend extra money to have fun.

You can spend a whole day reading a book, watching TV, or relaxing in a park without paying anything. Perhaps, you’ve got enough groceries in the fridge to eat well for an entire day.

This may seem like an incredibly austere way to live, but if you go one day a week without spending any money, that means you’ve got more money for the other days!

This is one of the budget tips for college students.

26. Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach

When you’re buying food and hungry, it all looks so delicious. The result is that you’ll end up with too much food. Not only will some of that food go to waste, but so will the cash that you spent on the food.

27. Get haircuts for free

It’s possible to get a haircut for no cost whatsoever. All you have to do is look for someone training to be a barber. Some hairdressing/barber schools will proactively ask for volunteers so that their students can gain some much-needed experience.

28. Choose the right student bank account for you

There are many bank accounts for students. Perhaps the best is Chase’s, which has no fee for five years as long as there’s $25 in the bank.

But there’s also the fact that the bank gives students a $100 bonus for opening an account. However, new student bank account offers to appear all the time.

It could also be that a local bank in your region has an enticing offer, so ask people in your college (students and staff) about what’s available and what’s best for you.

29. Quit smoking and other expensive habits

This tip ranks low, as only 13 out of 100 people aged between 18 to 24 smoke. But for those who do, it’s an incredibly expensive habit. The average smoker spends $2,292 on smoking per year.

Luckily, most colleges are happy to provide free assistance to students who want to quit smoking. This tip also applies to excessive alcohol usage and other expensive bad habits.

Even if you can’t give up entirely, reducing your habit will have a positive financial (and personal) effect!

This is one of the effective budget tips for college students.

30. Eat less meat

Only 5% of Americans are vegetarians or vegans. But vegetarians save a lot of money because meat is one of the most expensive things in the supermarket.

You don’t have to give up meat entirely, but you could decide to eat meat-free meals three or four days a week to cut down on your spending.

FAQs on Budget Tips for College Students

What are the 5 tips for budgeting?

Make a budget. Create a spreadsheet and compare your income and expenses for the next year
Track your spending
Differentiate ‘needs’ vs ‘wants’
Stick to your budget
Look out for free money

How do you budget as a student?

Be smart about how you pay school fees.
Don’t waste your meal plan dollars
Save money on textbooks
manage your money effectively.
allocate appropriate resources to projects.
monitor performance.
meet your objectives.
improve decision-making.
identify problems before they occur – such as the need to raise finance or cash flow difficulties.
plan for the future.

What are the categories of budgets?

Budgets are classified into three categories-balanced budget, surplus budget, and deficit budget.

What makes up a successful company budget?

To be successful, a budget must be Well-Planned, Flexible, Realistic, and Communicated.
The Budget Must Address the Enterprise’s Goals.
Budget Must be a Motivating Tool.
The Budget Must Have the Support of Management.
Budget Must Convey a Sense of Ownership.
The Budget Should be Flexible.


From learning life skills to securing your financial future, budgeting is essential while attending college.

It’s understandable if the severe lack of income and excessive debt makes you want to throw your hands up and give up on the entire budgeting process from the get-go.

Nevertheless, college is one of the most important times to track your expenses, limit your debt, and set yourself up for a promising financial future.

So put in the effort now to establish good habits. You won’t regret it down the road for this budget tip for college students.



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