10 Money Management Tips for College Students

illustration of a piggy pank representing money management for college students

Unless you have recently won a massive lottery prize, managing your money is probably a priority for you. Money management can be a challenge even for the very well-off, and when you’re a student, balancing that bank account might seem doubly difficult.

Going back to school may have prompted you to drop your work hours in order to balance your new load of homework plus your other life responsibilities. Or it’s possible you’ve just never really had to pay much attention to how much you spent on groceries or where that monthly streaming service subscription left your checking account.

Whatever it is that’s sparking you to get a better handle on your budget, you know you need some help with managing money in college, and we’re here to help. We’ve gathered tips from both financial experts and college students like you. Take a look at these 10 quick tips for mastering money management.

10 Money management tips for college students 

1. Budget for everything

The first step to getting your financial house in order is having a clear picture of where your money is being spent—and that’s where a budget comes in. It can be easy to assume recurring bills are the only thing you need to include in your monthly budget. Think again! Those coffee runs can add up fast.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is to have a budget for practically everything,” says Yogin Patel, a sophomore at Arizona State University. “That means dedicate funds every month towards eating out, going to the movies, late-night snacks, books and supplies, socializing, etc. Keep in mind, these budgets should let you save a portion of money every month, which is key.”

So where do you even start with creating a budget? Check out these basic budgeting apps!

2. Don’t overlook student discounts

Being enrolled in college can sometimes lead to discounted prices or deals. Movie theaters, streaming services, insurance providers, major retailers and more are known to offer these benefits. It won’t hurt to look into your options, but you’ll still want to keep your guard up somewhat.

Remember, saving ten percent on something you didn’t really need is the same as spending 90 percent on something you didn’t really need—so mentally frame those purchases accordingly.

3. Automate your savings

It might feel fruitless to put away a bit of your paycheck into savings each month, but that kind of perseverance pays off in the long run. If you struggle to save a portion of your earnings on payday, make the decision once and for all and automate your savings. Most banks have a link on their website in order to help you set this up. If you run into questions, call your bank teller and inquire about your options.

4. Get creative & find fun for free

It’s tempting to go out to eat and plan social activities that revolve around spending money. After all, what else is there to do in life that doesn’t cost money? Well—a lot of things!

David Bakke, a finance expert at Money Crashers®, suggests replacing a few nights of going out on the town with some at-home entertainment. Host a game night or rent a movie and enjoy a little entertainment for minimal expense. There’s a good chance you can find a few friends who are on board with saving some cash as well.

5. Get automated payments in check

This is different from automating your savings. We live in an age where “lazy” shopping is becoming the new norm for many. Automated payments for subscription services like Spotify® or Audible® can add up quickly. Beware of media, fashion and other shopping subscriptions that require a monthly fee. Instead, allocate that money toward some necessities—or just save it altogether!

While you might miss your regularly scheduled box of makeup samples or weekly meal plan kit during school, bypassing those fees will help you trim your overall expenses.

6. Cook at home

Cooking at home doesn’t mean you can never go out to eat—you don’t have to avoid all simple joys. But if grabbing a salad from the local deli or swinging by your favorite fast-food spot after dinner has become a habit, try and cut back a bit.

Cooking at home can be fun, inventive and even a great social activity. While it may require some planning ahead, a lot of money can be saved by purchasing ingredients from your local supermarket and making the most of leftovers. Look up some easy low-budget recipes and master them—remember, inexpensive doesn’t mean bland if you know what you’re doing.

7. Earn some extra cash

“Work as much as you can without hindering your studies,” says Chenell Tull from Hustle 2 Startup. “Even a part-time job is great to give you some spending money and help pay off student loan interest while you are in school.”

Depending on what you’re majoring in, freelance work may be a great option to make a little money on the side. If your degree doesn’t offer many opportunities for freelance work, consider other creative ways to make money. Start an Etsy® shop, sell some clothes you’ve been meaning to get rid of or host a garage sale with your friends.

8. Try to stick to cash for your non-essential budget

Swiping your credit card at the register is simple—sometimes a little too simple! It’s easy to forget that equates to actual money. Once you get your paycheck and allocate what needs to go to tuition, bills and other monthly payments, use cash for other areas of your budget.

Handing a crisp $20 bill to the store clerk might feel different to you than paying with plastic, but it will help you avoid overspending. Seeing the cash physically leave your hand can have a subtle psychological effect that may make it easier to say no to an impulse purchase.

9. Use online coupons

Many businesses offer different deals online than they would if you were to purchase in store. There are also plenty of online applications that can help alert you to promotional codes a website may offer.

George Ruan helped create the browser extension Honey® for just that purpose. “Using Honey can help college students save a lot of cash when they are shopping online and helps stretch a student budget,” Ruan says. “It works on everything from pizza to textbooks!”

10. Beware the “It’s only five bucks!” mentality

“You can 5-buck your way to poverty and debt more quickly than you think,” says Tana Gildea, author of The Graduate’s Guide to Money. She explains that while a dollar a day spent in the vending machine may seem harmless, it equates to $30 per month.

“Did you really want to allocate $30 to soda, candy and crackers?” she asks. “Probably not, but it sneaks up on you. Try to reverse that trend and save a buck a day.”

Consider your purchases carefully, and include those extra snacks and smartphone app purchases in your budget. That way, you’ll be sure to keep your finances in check.

There’s more where this came from

Incorporating these tips and tricks into your daily life is a great way to start managing money in college. These simple money management tips for college students can help you feel more confident in your financial standing while earning your degree.

Looking for more ways to save some money in school? Scholarships and grants can dramatically reduce your out-of-pocket expenses. Learn more about the best scholarships and grants with our article “A Beginner’s Guide to Grants and Scholarships for Adult Students.”

Money Crashers is a registered trademark of Money Crashers, LLC.
Spotify is a registered trademark of Spotify Technology Holding.
Audible is a registered trademark of Audible, Inc.
Etsy is a registered trademark of Etsy, Inc.
Honey is a registered trademark of PayPal, Inc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated.

About the author

Jordan Jantz

Jordan is a freelance content writer at Collegis Education. She researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen University to help empower students achieve their career dreams through higher education.

Jordan Jantz

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