19 Habits That Can Save College Students Thousands of Dollars a Year

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19 Habits That Can Save College Students Thousands of Dollars a Year


College, without a doubt, can be a stressful time. Not only are you trying to do well academically, but you’re inundated with living expenses. Everything from textbooks, to housing, to food seems to be just another cost you’re struggling to pay. But what if you could save thousands of dollars a year, just by making a few changes in your daily life?

We’re going to walk you through several small changes you can make in order to save huge amounts of money. For this article's purpose, we’re going to assume that an average academic year has 30 weeks. We'll do some example calculations of each of our tips to show you that little savings can add up to big money.

Get Your Caffeine Fix For $500 Less

Caffeine is an essential part of life, especially for hard-working college students. While getting your caffeine fix is non-negotiable, there are some ways to do it without breaking the bank.

Maximize your Starbucks Rewards

We all know that getting Starbucks everyday can add up very quickly. One way to maximize your Starbucks purchase is the free in-store refills they offer to Starbucks Rewards members.

If you find yourself in need of some serious caffeine and a place to study, you can get free refills on brewed coffee (hot, iced coffee, or cold brew) and tea (hot or iced) during your visit regardless of your original beverage purchase.

Bring your own cup

Another easy and environmentally friendly tip is to carry around your own mug or thermos. Starbucks offers 10¢ off your purchase, and other coffee shops and chains offer a similar incentive. Not only can this help you save a little money, but it’s much better for the environment.

Make the most of your meal plan

And speaking of carrying your own thermos, don’t forget to get the most out of that meal plan you (or sometimes, your parents) are paying for. If you’re already paying for a dining plan, it makes sense to get your coffee from one of the dining halls on campus.

The price of Starbucks can really add up — if you get one latte every weekday for the entire school year, you’re spending around $600 per year on just caffeine. Just by making an easy switch to dining hall coffee, you could save over $500 in a school year.

Invest in your own coffeemaker

If you really can’t give up nice coffee, consider getting a coffee maker or French press for around $20. If espressos and lattes are more your style, there are espresso makers for around $70. Split this with friends and just pay for beans, and you have yourself delicious coffee without sacrificing taste. Assuming $2 a pound for coffee beans, which makes about 48 small coffees, we can calculate the cost of your first 48 coffees with a coffee maker as being 46¢ per coffee versus a $2 drip coffee from Starbucks. With that one bag of coffee and coffee maker, you’ve just saved yourself almost $74 dollars.

Don't Spend Thousands on Textbooks

They’re an unavoidable and expensive part of college. According to the College Board, the average full-time undergraduate at an in-state, public college will spend about $1,298 on books and school supplies each year. But instead of dropping $300+ on one textbook, here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind that could save you thousands of dollars.

Ask your friends

Share or borrow from friends! If you know someone who took the class last semester, ask if you can can have their textbook or make an offer for it. Most likely, they’ll appreciate that you’re saving them the hassle and effort of selling a textbook they no longer need. If you’re taking a class with a few other friends, consider splitting one textbook or just borrowing one from a classmate.

Compare textbook prices and shop around

It pays off to check other retailers, like Amazon or Chegg. Not only does it save you a trip to the bookstore, but it can save you significant amounts of money. Also consider buying the used book instead of the new one. I know it  can be tempting (especially for freshman), but usually the textbook will be in excellent condition and you’ll have saved yourself some major dough.

A common textbook in a lot of biology classes is Campbell Biology. The list price (if you were to get it directly from the publisher) is $259.60. But a quick comparison puts the same textbook at $196.99 on Chegg and $175.99 on Amazon.

Buying used gets you even more savings — a used hardcover copy is $177.99 on Chegg and $124.94 on Amazon. With just this one tip, you’ve already saved over $60 on this one book alone. If we assume that you're taking 8 classes per year, and saving an average of at least $60 per book, you could save around $500 per year just by doing some easy price comparisons online.

Consider older editions of textbooks

Consider purchasing older editions of the same textbook — the content of textbooks tends not to change significantly from one edition for the next. For example, a used copy of the current (11th) edition of Campbell Biology is on Chegg for $177.99. The used 10th edition is $48.99.

This tip can save you a lot of money, but obviously is a bit of a risk. The changes between editions of the same textbook tend to be just images/diagrams and page numbers, but be sure to do a little extra research before choosing this method.

Visit your school library

Use your school’s resources. Often, school libraries will have the textbooks you need for your classes, and professors will frequently put those textbooks on hold so that students can access them. Before committing to a textbook purchase, check your school library as well as your local community library for physical as well as digital copies of the books you need.

Wait to make your big textbook purchases

Don’t buy a textbook until you’re sure about the class. Two weeks into the semester, you could realize that the class isn’t a good fit for you and be stuck with an expensive textbook you don’t need.

Also, make sure that the textbook is actually necessary: professors will sometimes assign a textbook and not reference it at all in the course. Or, they may only assign a short section of reading from a huge textbook. Course reviews and past class takers are a good way of finding this information. 

Either way, it's a win-win — if it turns out you don’t need the textbook, you save yourself some money. And if it turns out you only need a short section, you can read or scan that section from a friend, library book, or possibly find the section online. Wait until you’re sure about the class and that the textbooks are actually required before making any big purchases.

The Internet is a valuable resource, too

Google Scholar and Google Books both have large online collections of academic papers and textbooks. Even if a book isn’t available online, they will tell you which libraries have access to it.

If you find that a book you need is available at another university, you should see if you can request that it be sent to your school’s library. Most universities have agreements with other universities that allow cooperative lending, allowing you access to a ton of useful texts for free.  

Sell back your textbooks

After the semester's over, don’t let your textbooks gather dust! Unless you have specific reasons for keeping textbooks, sell back your textbooks to make some of your hard-spent money back. You can usually even sell your textbooks to the school bookstore — if you got a textbook for cheap online, you might even be able to earn some profit by selling it back to the bookstore. If not, there always options like Amazon, Bookfinder, and CampusBooks.

Save Money On Dining

There's no need for explanation — we all need to eat. But what we eat (and where we eat it) can greatly effect the amount of money we spend per week, and ultimately per year. See our food-related savings tips below.

Grocery shop in your dining hall

As we’ve mentioned before, it's super helpful to get the full value out of your meal plan. Aside from the free coffee, you should also the dining hall as a potential source for ingredients. If you’re allowed to take a takeout box out from the dining hall and have access to a kitchen, you can take ingredients from the salad bar like carrots, broccoli, or cooked chicken. Use them as ingredients in a quick stir-fry, or add them to your ramen to make it more nutritious.

Always grab something on the way out

If you don’t have access to a kitchen or you aren’t allowed to take boxes of food out of the dining hall, just grab a piece of fruit or another easy snack on your way out so you aren’t tempted to spend money on something to nibble on later in the day.

Pack your lunch instead of buying one everyday

A tip that can benefit everyone, not just college students, is to pack your own meals. If you know you’re going to be out and about during lunchtime, or if you've opted out of a meal plan, always pack a lunch for yourself. 

Making yourself a delicious and convenient lunch will only cost you a few dollars, while the cheapest meal when dining out will be at least $5. Packing a lunch during weekdays in this way would save you at least $20 a week, if not more. Over the course of the semester that’s $600!

Cut Out Vices (Or Just Reduce Them)

Drinking is a large part of the college experience for a lot of people, and it may seem that giving up alcohol, while cost effective, will diminish your social life. But instead of giving up on drinking cold turkey, consider just reducing the amount you drink.

For the sake of your liver and your wallet, drink less alcohol

If you’re someone who goes out twice a week and has five drinks every time you go out, that means you’re spending at least $50 a week on alcohol. By just going out once a week and only getting 2 drinks, you could save $1,200 a year just by drinking a bit less.

You could also consider buying alcohol from a local liquor store or, in some states, a grocery store. A normal vodka drink runs at $5, on average, and usually includes 1 shot (unless you know the bartender). A normal shot is around 45mL. 

A bottle of vodka at the store can retail at around $10, less if you're lucky enough to live in a state where they sell alcohol in grocery stores. A bottle holds 750mL of alcohol, which is a little over 16 shots. So by spending the price for just 2 drinks out, you're getting the equivalent of 16 drinks to make at home.

Extra Tips For Extra Savings

Save on printing costs

Depending on your school’s policies about printing, it might be quite a money saver if you were to invest in your own printer. There are universities where printing is free, but a fair number of them charge anywhere from 5 to 10 cents per page printed.

A laser printer that comes with high yield toner (for printing up to 2,600 pages) costs around $135. Add to that 5 reams of paper (or 2,500 pages) for $16.43 and you’ve got 2,500 pages of printing for around $152. That breaks downs to around 6¢ per page.

If you print more than 2,500 pages over the academic school year (about 83 pages a week) and your school charges more than 6¢ per page to print, it’s definitely worth it to consider getting your own printer. After the initial cost of the printer, you just need to buy toner and paper and you get the convenience of printing in the comfort of your own home.

If the thought of using so much paper is distasteful to you, you can invest in an e-reader. Though a pricier investment initially — the popular Amazon Kindle will run you around $80 — it can save you money in the long run. After that initial investment, you can easily carry around your assigned readings and even get digital editions of textbooks (which are often cheaper than their physical counterparts).

Have a "no spend day"

A good habit to get into, and one I’ve found useful to keep track of my spending, is to have a no-spend day. Once a week, try to have a day where you don’t spend any money: bring food from home and skip that tempting detour through the mall. Rather than a punishment, no-spend days are an easy way of realizing the little ways you might be spending money frivolously.

Eat one or two vegetarian days a week

Another easy adjustment you can try is to eat vegetarian once or twice a week. Meat can easily become the most expensive part of a meal, whether you’re eating out or cooking at home.

Instead, have a day where you don’t eat meat. Try relying on beans or tofu for your protein. Not only will the animals thank you, but so will your wallet. A study in 2015 concluded that a vegetarian diet instead of a diet with lean animal protein could save you almost $750 over the course of a year.  

Always look for coupons

Before you make any purchases, whether online or in-store, make sure you’re always looking for coupons, discounts, and promo codes. It might only take you a few seconds, but it can add up to tons of savings in the long run.

If you have a store that you really love to shop at, sign up for their email list. Not only will you be informed of any sales or discounts they may have, but many stores will give you a discount just for signing up for their newsletter.

Additionally, there may be special discounts and promo codes specifically for college students. Just using your .edu email address when signing up for sites might save you a ton of cash!

Other worthwhile places to check are coupon and discount code sites, like Dealspotr. By now, you're pretty much able to find a promo code for almost anything. But Dealspotr distinguishes itself by having codes that actually work.

All too often, you’ll find an amazing code online, only to find out that it doesn’t work. Because its users regularly check the site's codes (like Wikipedia), Dealspotr has the best promo codes on the internet.


There’s no need to be a couponing queen, or to be constantly on the search for the greatest deal. Just by using these easy-to-incorporate tips each school year, you could end up saving a lot of money.

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This guide was published on January 17, 2018, and last modified on January 17, 2018.
Stores related to this article: Amazon, Starbucks

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