How to Save Money in College

How to Save Money in College

College is going to be one of the best times of your life.  You’re going to be surrounded by a ton of people that are around your age.  You’re going to make new, lifelong friends.  You’re going to be surrounded by experts in just about any field that you can imagine.  You’ll learn a lot.  A lot about your major.  A lot about life.  

It’s an investment in yourself.  Your earning potential will skyrocket and you’ll be taking one more step towards a better, more comfortable life.

The drawback…. It costs money.  A lot of money.

So I’ve found some ways to make this big investment a little less expensive.

Scholarships and Bursaries

Free money is the best.  Scholarships and bursaries are just about the easiest way to help offset the costs of higher education.

Scholarships and bursaries can take many forms.  Some are income tested (they’re geared towards low income families).  Some are achievement based (they’re geared towards getting good grades).  Some are sports based (they’re geared towards putting the best football team on the field).  Some are based on some unique skills (KOR Memorial Scholarship, I’m looking at you…. $500 for implementing creative uses for the language of Klingon).

Talk to your high school guidance counsellor.  They can help you find scholarships and bursaries that will fit your major, your school, your life situation and your talents.

Apply early and apply often.  Cast a wide net.  Apply for as many as you can.  You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take, so don’t be afraid to try.

Research scholarships online.  There are a ton of great resources at the tips of your fingers.  Here are a few good spots to start:

Get paid to do what you’re going to do anyway

You’re going to have to buy groceries.  You’re going to have to buy textbooks.  You’re going to have to walk.  Why not get some of your money back?


  • Checkout51 is awesome!  Check out the app before you go shopping, buy selected items and they’ll give you cash back.  Once you get $20 in your account, you can have them send you a cheque. 
  • Ibotta is too!  It works much the same as Checkout51.

Cash Back Credit Cards

  • You’re going to spend money on groceries, textbooks, gas and general life.  Put your purchases on a cash back credit card, pay off your balance every month and reap the rewards!
  • The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is great!  It gives you 6% cash back on grocery store purchases, 3% cash back on gas at US gas stations and 1% cash back on regular purchases.  
  • Discover It Cashback Match is also stellar.  It has 5% cash back on rotating categories and 1% cash back on regular purchases.
  • Chase Freedom is generous as well.  It has a $150 bonus on the first $500 that you spend, in the first three months.  5% cashback on bonus categories and 1% cashback on regular purchases.

They all have terms and restrictions, so do your research.  Pick the one that’s right for you.  Don’t forget to pay off the balance every month though!

General Life

  • I’m a big fan of StepBet.  The app looks at your step history on your fitness tracker and comes up with goals for you to hit (4 active days and 2 stretch days).  Bet them that you can do it for four straight weeks.  That money goes into a pot with all the other StepBet fans that have signed up for the challenge.  Anyone who wins, shares in the pot (after StepBet takes their cut).  You’re guaranteed to make your money back if you reach your step goals.
  • Here’s a great article about turning your activity level into rewards (either cash or gift cards) that will help make your budget balance. 


Buying textbooks is crazy expensive.  Here are a few ways to lighten the hit to the wallet:

  • Wait until Syllabus Week before buying the texts.  You’ll be able to see which texts the professor is going to lean on.  More importantly, you’ll be able to see which texts the professor is not going to be leaning on.  Heading to the library to sign out the lesser used texts can be a way cheaper option.
  • Buy and sell used.  Your school probably has a used book sale.  Amazon is great for re-selling and it lets you have access to a much bigger market than just your campus.
  • Some textbooks have digital copies at a fraction of the price of a hard copy version.

Campus Amenities

Your student fees pay for a lot of things.  Fitness classes, transit passes and movie nights are probably included in what you’ve paid for.  Why pay for a monthly gym membership when a simple swipe of your student card gets you into a gym for “free”?

Check your student fee structure.  Sometimes there are things that you can opt out of.  If your student fees give you dental coverage, and your parents have benefits through work, you may be able to save some money by opting out of the school’s coverage.


Small Purchases

Spending $5 at the campus coffee shop doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? If you’re in school for 8 months, on campus for 5 days a week.  A daily $5 coffee habit will cost you around $800 for the school year.

  • Buying a coffee maker and a thermos will save you hundreds of dollars a year.  
  • An expensive cable package can be swapped out for a cheap streaming service.  
  • Eating in is way cheaper than eating at a restaurant.  Learn to cook.  You’ll be saving money and, probably, eating healthier.
  • Late fees are your enemy.  Pay your bills on time to avoid paying more than you have to.
  • Pay the interest on your student loan monthly.  Over the course of the loan, it will save you a lot of interest and pay off the debt much more quickly.

Cutting out small expenses can mean some big savings.

Work Hard

Extra semesters cost a lot of money.  Hit the books, learn the material and don’t pay for 5 years of school to get a 4 year degree.

Part time jobs are a good thing.  Whether you want to be an R.A., work on campus or pick up a few shifts at a local business, you’ll help offset your cost of living.

Remember the old saying, a penny saved is a penny earned!

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