My youngest sibling is currently in their first year of college, and is constantly talking about how broke they are. Not too long ago, I was in the same boat, scraping together money for food and rent while trying to find a balance between work, classes, and not missing out on the things that I enjoyed. Here are some of the money saving tips I wish I had known to try when I was in college, as well as a few that I still do to save money today.

  1. Instead of shelling out money for Netflix or Hulu Plus, borrow DVDs or TV shows from the library. If you don’t want to walk that far, share a few Netflix and Hulu accounts with friends so it’s cheaper for everyone.
  2. Borrow all your required textbooks from the school or public library. You can also rent textbooks online at sites like Chegg rather than paying hundreds for books you only need for three months. If that doesn’t work for you, find older or cheaper editions of your required reading so long as your professor says that will work. You may also be able to find a friend who had that class and has that textbook already.


    Adding an egg and other simple ingredients to a cheap packet of instant ramen is a simple way to spice up your dinner while saving money. Image: Vernon Tang via Flickr CC.

  3. Get your coffee, but for less. You get free refills at most coffee shops including Starbucks on your basic coffees and teas. Get the smallest size and stay at the store to study and get free refills. This method is cheap but efficient! If you don’t want to be tempted to splurge on that fancy espresso drink, skip the café altogether and make your coffee and tea at home. Invest in a coffee thermos and bring your coffee to the library or to class.
  4. Hack your ramen. Add an egg or two to your ramen packet to make egg drop soup. It adds protein but is still cheap and delicious. You can also add other veggies or proteins to your ramen to spice it up a bit. I love adding green onions, soft-boiled eggs, and chili flakes to the occasional bowl of ramen even as a post-grad!
  5. Snack smart and always be prepared. Keep snacks on you for days where you will be on campus all day so you avoid buying overpriced food in the student center. Know your meal plan and see what going to a dining hall can get you.
  6. Work with your friends to make dinner cheaper. If you live off-campus have each roommate cook dinner each night and that way you only spend on food a few nights a week and have food ready when you get home the other nights. Or have each person pitch in on ingredients you already have.
  7. Work somewhere where you can get free food. Get a job at an on-campus shop or bakery and you get to eat for free. You can also work at an off-campus restaurant and you can often get several meals for free or at a discount. Also attend all school events that involve free food.

What money-saving wisdom would you impart on your younger self?