I talk a lot about student loan debt on Six Figures Under, but the truth is that I have never had a single student loan to my name. I completed my bachelor’s degree without any debt. There were many factors that made that possible, but the one I want to focus on today is living frugally during college.
If you’re a regular reader here, then you have a pretty good idea of what frugal living looks like for our family of six. Now we’ll rewind a decade or so and give you a taste of what living frugally during college looks like.
Whether you’re in school now, are going soon, or have children who are still young, these tips will help you (or help you prepare your children) save money in college by living frugally.
- Research various housing options including, on-campus, off-campus, and if you’re staying local, living at home. Don’t just settle for what everyone else does or what is normal. For example, where I went to school it was standard for freshman to live in on-campus student housing. After doing some price comparisons, I found an off-campus apartment (with some fellow frugal freshmen) for much cheaper than the dorms on campus.
- Skip the meal plan. Making your own food is cheaper than a campus meal plan or eating out. If you don’t already cook for yourself, now is a great time to start. Think of simple, healthy meals you can make for yourself.
- Avoid eating out. Sure there will be some occasions when you’ll go out with friends, or grab a meal for convenience, but make these the exception rather than the rule.
- Pack your lunch. College campuses make fast food very convenient, but you’ll save money (and your waistline) by brown bagging it instead of buying lunch. Here are some tips for packing lunches.
- Go car-less. Between maintenance, insurance, and gas, cars can be a big money-suck during college. Most college campuses are pretty accessible without a vehicle.
- Take the bus. Before I went to college, I had never taken public transportation and I was a little timid at first. It’s a very economical way to get around. Don’t be afraid of it! College students can usually get discounted (or even free) passes for public transportation.
- Walking and bike riding are both great forms of exercise that are easy on the wallet. You’ll also get fresh air and a good dose of thinking time. I used to study my flashcards (especially when I was studying Chinese) on my walk to and from campus.
- Share rides. When you’re going out of town for the holidays or heading home between semesters, hitch a ride with another student going the same direction and split the price of gas. Your school might already have a program to coordinate rides like this.
- Buy used books. While going to the campus bookstore might be the easiest way to get the books you need for your classes, you can save big by shopping around for used books. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find used textbooks for a fraction of the price of new ones. Find out the books you’ll need for your classes as soon as you can so you can get a used book before they sell out and you’re stuck with the expensive new ones.
- Shop at the thrift store. There’s nothing quite like the eclectic look of a college apartment. This might go without saying, but don’t buy new furnishings for your college apartments. Thrift stores in college towns are loaded with everything you need because everyone who graduated last semester just donated all of their stuff. Have fun and save money by shopping thrift stores first.
- Stay away from alcohol. The frugal perspective alone on this might not convince you, but I have to put it out there because it makes for a huge savings. Alcohol is expensive! I don’t drink (and I went to the #1 ranked stone-cold sober school), so I’ve never paid for alcohol, but I know it sure isn’t cheap (and neither are some of the side-effects). If you can avoid partying and drinking during college, you’ll save big time!
- Find free or cheap fun. College campuses are filled with low-cost activities for students– take advantage of them! Get creative and plan fun dates that aren’t your standard “dinner and a movie.” Pinterest is full of free and frugal fun ideas for college students (and beyond).
Tips for parents of younger children:
Teach your kids life skills starting at a young age to set them up for successful frugal living in college. Although our kids may have seen us do these things for years, doing them on their own may bring a rude awakening.
For example, while your kids are young, teachable, and living at home you can:
- Teach your kids to cook so they are comfortable cooking their own meals.
- Teach your kids how to shop for groceries.
- Teach your kids to set and live by a budget.
- Teach your kids to comparison shop and find the best value for their money (both online and in the store).
- Show your kids that there are plenty of ways to have fun without being paid to be entertained.
How about you?
What tips do you have for living frugally during college?
Kali Smith says
You forgot one of the best free resources: Use your public library, don’t buy books, check them out, same for music and some movies.The library has a wealth of options, opportunities and resources…usually free.
Another thing when it comes to text books – make sure you’ll even need the textbooks that they say you’ll need for your classes. It took me two years of college to figure this out myself, but frequently I found that many of the “required” texts that I’d pay through the nose for ended up being barely used at all throughout the year, and in some cases weren’t even used at all.
What I would do was I would wait to buy textbooks until I actually needed them (ie. we were actually using them in the class). That way I wasn’t wasting money if there was a textbook or two that we ended up not using at all.
Great tips! I would add checking out if the library has the books that you need- sometimes the older versions are there and you can use them for free.
Also, there is always free food somewhere! Checkout which actives are going on and go to the ones that will feed you 🙂
Some other tips would be to apply for every scholarship you can even if it is small as they can add up quickly. Also start school in the summer or at a slower time. Sometimes costs are prorated or at least you can get a job before everyone else heads to campus.
Finally, graduate early! I went to school year round which saved me costs in the long run.
[email protected] says
Living off campus and cooking for myself wasn’t an option at the college I attended. All students were required to live on campus and purchase the meal plan (unless they were married). However, I really enjoyed the community built in the dorms. So many great memories that I wouldn’t trade! Other frugal tips would include getting a part-time job, becoming an RA so that your housing is paid for, applying for any and every scholarship out there, and staying in to have fun.
[email protected] says
That list is great. Let me add a few others that helped me. Graduate early. No reason to take four years to graduate school if you don’t need to and save some of that money. Go to spring or summer semesters if they are cheaper. Usually they have smaller classes and sometimes there were special scholarships to students who went during the “off” semesters. I lived at home and rode my bike (which was actually faster that driving since I had to park miles away at the basketball arena) and graduated debt free. Can’t always be done, but anywhere you can save ahead of time is great. Nice list!
Good tips which I will share with my children who are in college. Unfortunately, both my daughters’ schools require non local students to live in the dorms and buy the meal plan! Ugh!!! My younger child is paying 2500 a year for food she doesn’t even like!
Look into if a doctors note would allow her an exemption. I was able to do that one year and saved a ton of money!