College is full of life lessons. And a lot of them, like learning to save money, happen outside the classroom. Saving on a college budget isn’t always easy, but it is possible with a little bit of planning.
Here are eight tips to save money in college. If you can't do them all right now, don't worry. Get started with what will work for you now and you can always reassess down the road.
- Track your spending: Understand where your money goes and set your goals
- Avoid fees: Learn about banking fees and how to avoid them
- Manage your school expenses: Get strategic with scholarships, loans and textbooks
- Plan your meals: Less takeout equals more savings
- Find student discounts: it never hurts to ask
- Cut back, not out: Find a financial balance you can live with
- Find a good side hustle: A little extra income goes a long way
- Track your progress: Stay on track to your goals
Step One: Track Your SpendingThe first step to managing your money is understanding where you are right now. That means tracking your spending and your income. Try creating a spending journal to track all your purchases over a one-month period - every latte, grocery run, and concert ticket - so you can get a sense of where every dollar goes. You can easily track your spending in a spreadsheet or BECU's Money Manager.
From there, subtract your total spending from the money you've earned that month and compare this number to your money saving goal. Need help setting a savings goal? No problem. We can help you learn how to build a budget that works for you.
Step Two: Avoid FeesFinancial institutions might all seem the same on the surface, but where you keep your money could be costing you. Some even charge a monthly fee just to keep your account open, or charge you a fee if your account balance drops below a predetermined amount.
Check to make sure you have a free account - for instance, a BECU free checking account with no minimum balance requirement to maintain your account. While you're at it, you can set up account alerts that will let you know if your balance gets low.
Step Three: Manage Your College Expenses
College is a big investment, but saving a little money where you can really adds up. Make a habit of applying for scholarships and grants, for example the BECU Foundation Scholarship for members. Set aside some time every month to look for new scholarships and work on applications.
Another way to save is by becoming a textbook bargain hunter. Shop for used books, or find textbook rental options - you'll be amazed how much you can save.
Step Four: Plan Your Meals
Eating out every day can add up. With a little creativity, you can save big by cooking your own meals. A great way to fit cooking into busy schedule is learning a few crock pot recipes, or splitting cooking duties with a roommate. Great meals don't have to be expensive - you can buy ingredients like rice or lentils in bulk and add your favorite vegetables, spice or sauce to make it exciting.
When you do eat out, be flexible about when and where you dine. Most restaurant's lunch menus are more affordable than dinner, and be sure to ask around about daily deals. Chances are, your fellow students know where to find a nearby Taco Tuesday or half-price burger night.
Step Five: Find Student Discounts
There's a whole world of student discounts out there to help you save money in college. Look around online for college student discounts on movie theaters, restaurants, clothing stores, theme parks... you name it. If you're not sure whether your favorite shop has a student discount, it never hurts to ask!
If you're a BECU member, you can also sign up for our free Passport Discounts program that will connect you with special discounts on travel, entertainment, and more.
Step Six: Cut Back, Not Out
Reaching your savings goals means building a monthly budget plan you can live with, but that doesn't mean you can't have any fun! Make room for the things you love while finding other ways to cut back on spending. Start with a goal of trimming $20 - $30 off your monthly expenses. A great place to start is dropping subscription services you aren't really using (Netflix, PlayStation Plus, etc.) or by opting for public transportation rather than springing for Uber or Lyft.
Step Seven: Find a Good Side Hustle
Earning a little money on the side as a tutor, freelancer or part-time worker can be a great way to hone some skills, have fun and build up some savings. Once you start earning money, set a savings goal for yourself for every paycheck. Committing to put one penny from every dollar you earn in your savings account will add up.
Step Eight: Track Your Progress
No financial plan is perfect, so you'll want to keep checking in on your progress as you figure out what's working and what isn't. If you're a BECU member, you can use our Money Manager tool to keep an eye on your spending and saving habits, or you can review your monthly account statements.
Remember: increasing your savings is all about slow and steady progress - great savers aren't made overnight. Try out these tips, find what works for you, and adapt based on what you learn in the process.
And if you need help, we have more tips for managing your college budget, plus our exclusive purple and gold UW debit card to start you on the road to financial success with a little Husky flair.