A College Student’s Guide to Saving Money




While tuition, room, and board are college costs set in stone, day-to-day shopping offers some of the best ways to save money in college. That’s why we put together this simple guide on how to save money as a college student by shopping online. These money saving tips for college students can save you thousands of dollars!

a student in denim jacket carrying some books

How to Save Money as a College Student on Essentialnan

Let’s face it, when you’re a student, money is tight. What little money you have, you want to spend on fun nights out, concerts, and Spring Break, and not boring essentials like textbooks, food, clothing, and furniture. Here are some tips for saving money as a college student, so you can afford to enjoy your college years. 

1. Ways to Save Money in College on Textbooks

One of the best ways to save money as a college student is borrowing, renting, or buying used textbooks. With college textbooks costing the average student more than $1,200 a year, this is an area you can save some real money. 

Depending on your major, or electives, the required books may be in the public domain and therefore free. If you’re taking a literature class, the classics may be available from the school library, Project Gutenberg, Amazon’s Kindle Store, or Google Books. Don’t forget about the library in your hometown too. Even when you’re away at school, you can check out ebooks and read them via the Libby or Overdrive app. 

For courses that require textbooks, consider renting them or buying them used instead of purchasing new books from your college bookstore. You can save up to 90% by comparing prices and shopping online for textbooks. While Chegg‘s was the original go-to for textbook rentals, check out DirectTextbook, TextbookRentals, ECampus, CampusBooks, and even Amazon for the cheapest place to rent your textbooks. 

If you prefer to have your own, you can still save money by buying textbooks online. While Amazon and eBay might be the first two places that come to mind, there’s a long list of websites that sell them. That’s why Bookfinder.com is a great place to start as they aggregate textbook listings from a variety of sellers, like BookRun, AbeBooks, and Biblio.com, and instantly show you the lowest price. 

Check Out the Best Sites for Buying Textbooks

2. Ways to Save Money in College on Food

If you’ve moved out of the dorms, it’s time to re-think that expensive meal plan. With the average college meal plan costing $4,500 for eight months of meals, you’re actually spending more than $550 a month on food. In comparison, Mint’s Grocery Budget Calculator outlines a budget of $175 (thrifty) to $225 (cost conscientious) a month for one person. Ditching your meal plan and eating at home is one of the biggest budgeting tips for college students, because it can save you over $3,000 a year! 

Most, if not all, grocery stores now offer ways to shop for groceries online. It’s convenient and easier to compare prices and purchase your items from the store with the best deals. A recent study by Cheapism found that Aldi is the cheapest place to buy groceries. They analyzed the prices of 41 items and found that Aldi is 14% cheaper than Walmart. If you don’t have an Aldi near you, buying your groceries at Walmart is another way to save money in college. While their prices may be a little more expensive than Aldi, they are still cheaper than most grocery stores.  Meaning, you don’t need to live stingy on ramen noodles and PB&J in college. You just need to grocery shop smart!

students outside the shopping boutique

3. Ways to Save Money in College on Clothing

Yes, you can order clothes on Amazon or from your favorite store’s website, but have you considered buying clothes from a popular online thrift store? Whether you need a new coat, loungewear, or you’ve got a formal coming up, it’s one of the best ways to save money in college and decrease fashion waste. Take a look at Thred-up, the world’s largest online thrift store, Poshmark, which has over 200 million items for sale, or Mercari, which sells clothes, furniture, and other items with the option to pick up locally (sometimes even from other students at your college!). 

4. Ways to Save Money in College on Furniture

If you’ve moved into an off-campus apartment, buying used furniture is one way to save money in college. Perhaps you brought your bed from home, but you need to furnish the rest of your place without spending a lot of cash.

Between Freecycle online groups and local buying and selling websites, it’s easy to find people giving things away or selling their old stuff. You can score great stuff in the Craigslist free section just for offering to take it off other people’s hands. If buying used isn’t your thing, check out cheap furniture stores like Ikea, Walmart, or Target, where you can score a desk, chair, and bookcase from $250, total!

Read 6 Tips for Buying Furniture Online

woman leaning on the wall while checking her phone

How to Save Money in College: 5 Ways to be a Savvy Online Shopper

Whether you’re buying books, groceries, food, furniture, or other items, there are some shopping strategies you can use to save even more money.  Here are five money tips for college students to save cash while online shopping. 

1. Download Shopping Apps

A plus to shopping online is that you can easily save money with literally a few clicks and nothing else. You can install shopping apps on your internet browser or smartphone, search for, scan, and apply coupons without any extra steps on your part.

There are tons of popular shopping apps out there, and you can activate all of them and start automatically saving! Once installed, these shopping apps and plugins should help you save money on everyday purchases and give you the best price on items!

Download the Piggy Coupon App now

2. Look for Price Drop Refunds

Have you ever bought something one week, only to see that the price dropped the next? Luckily there are a few ways to take advantage of price drops and get the money refunded!

CamelCamelCamel is a free Amazon price tracker that alerts you to price drops. If an item you recently purchased has a price reduction, you could look into getting a price drop refund. This is a little laborious, which is why Paribus is so popular. After signing up for Paribus, you connect it to your inbox and let it do its thing. Paribus, which Capital One owns, will automatically search for price drops and refund you when there is a drop on something you recently bought!

3. Always Search for Coupons

We aren’t talking about clipping coupons from the Sunday paper! Before clicking “submit order” on any online order, do a quick google search to see if any coupons are available. Type in “Coupon code for X” and insert the title of the shopping website you are using. If you have a Student Advantage Discount Card, don’t forget to check their site for coupon codes too!

Learn How to Automate Your Coupon Search

student on her bed shopping online with her laptop

4. Comparison Shop

A misconception with online shopping is that it’s always cheaper to buy online.  Don’t be afraid to shop around on other websites or use a website comparison tool like PriceGrabber or Google Shopping before you purchase something. It only takes a couple of minutes and can save you real money!

5. Unsubscribe from Emails

You might be asking yourself how unsubscribing to emails will help you save money with online shopping, but it does! It is bad enough to pull out our smartphone and buy an item in an instant without thinking it through. When trying to save money, we don’t need a daily reminder from our favorite stores on their promotions or sales. Whether you create a burner email for all of your retail emails and coupons or unsubscribe, decluttering your inbox is a way to cut out impulse purchases of things you don’t need. 

Find More Shopping Tips & Hacks to Save Money in College


Author Bio: Michael Dinich is a personal finance expert, podcaster, YouTuber, and journalist with bylines in MSN, The Ladders, Yahoo Finance and more. Michael is the founder of Your Money Geek, a rapidly growing personal finance and pop culture website. He has a passion for side hustles, sci-fi and all things geeky. 

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