Who says you can't achieve financial independence at an early age? From investing $20 a month to finding a part-time gig on campus, we’ve got you covered.

Financial independence is all about:

🌈 Having more control over your life.

💖 Not being dependent on others (like your parent or guardian).

🌞 Having less stress and anxiety around money.

As a college student, you may not have a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working towards financial independence now.

Here are nine tips to get you started.

1. Decide what “financial independence” looks like for you

Have you ever thought about what you want to do when you’re financially independent? Maybe you want to…

  • Be an entrepreneur so you have more control over how you spend your days.
  • Take a gap year after graduation.
  • Become a digital nomad and travel the U.S. in your Instagram-worthy sprinter van.

Whatever it is, you need to have a clear idea of what you want before you can become financially independent as a student.

So, for this first step, get specific on what “financial independence” means for you. Ask yourself:

  • If I had $1 million in the bank, how would I spend my days?
  • How much money would I need to afford this lifestyle?

2. Look for ways to attend college for free (or at a reduced rate)

College is mega expensive. The average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year public university is over $35,000 per year.

So, if you want to become financially independent as a student, finding ways to attend college for free (or at a reduced rate) is a must.

There are tons of out-of-the-box ways to save money on college, but your first stop should be to look into:

  • Grants and scholarships: Fill out your FAFSA to get matched with grants or visit your target school’s financial aid office to see which local scholarships you qualify for.
  • Work-study programs: Your FAFSA will tell you if you’re eligible for the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program. If you are, chat with your college’s financial aid office.
  • Community college or trade schools: A four-year university degree isn’t your only option. Community colleges and trade schools can be a great way to keep education costs low.
  • Employer tuition assistance programs: Companies like Starbucks and Target offer tuition assistance programs for employees. There could be strings attached, but it’s still worth looking into.

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3. Find a part-time job or side hustle

I know … your college schedule may already be bursting at the seams with classes and extracurriculars.

But even if you have a few extra hours to spare each week, a part-time job or side hustle can help you achieve financial independence as a student.

For instance, you could:

  • See if you qualify for an on-campus work-study program.
  • Get a part-time job on or near campus.
  • Become a driver for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, or Instacart.
  • Sell gently used clothes on Poshmark, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace.
  • Walk dogs.
  • Become a freelance writer.
  • Tutor other students in your class.

Brownie points if you pick up a side gig doing something you enjoy. That way you won’t mind putting in the extra work.

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4. Invest now — even if it’s just $20 a month

If you want to reach financial independence as a student, you have to start investing now. There’s no way around it.

Even $20 a month could turn into thousands of dollars down the road. Here’s proof:

Say you start investing $20 a month at age 18. By age 65, you could have $256,384 saved up for retirement — even though you technically only saved up $11,280 (assuming a 10% average rate of return).

That’s the power of compound interest. It allows you to take $11,280 and turn it into a quarter of a million dollars.

Bump up your monthly savings rate even more, and you could become a millionaire with relatively little effort:

If you start investing this much a month at age 18……you’ll have this much at age 65.*
$20$256,384
$40$512,768
$60$769,152
$80$1,025,536
$100$1,281,920

*assuming a 10% average return rate.

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5. Keep a watchful eye on your spending

Becoming financially independent as a student isn’t about denying yourself everything you love in life. You can still enjoy that coffee, that video game, and that night out with friends.

But becoming financially independent as a student does require you to be more mindful of your spending.

This means planning your spending in a way that allows you to buy more of what makes you happy and less of what doesn’t.

So, if you really enjoy a nice car, you may rent a smaller or cheaper apartment so you have more wiggle room in your budget for a larger monthly payment.

On the flip side, if you don’t care about cars at all but love international travel, you may drive a used vehicle so you can spend your money on what truly matters to you —  plane tickets.

Read more: When it’s ok to spend money

6. Live below your means

“Spend less than you earn and save the rest.”

Becoming financially independent as a student hinges on this one life principle. If you can master it, you’ll be better off than many of your classmates.

There are tons of ways to save small amounts of money here and there:

  • Find a cheaper phone service (my favorite is Mint Mobile).
  • Shop around for cheaper car insurance (if you’re footing the bill yourself).
  • Stick to a shopping list at the grocery store so you don’t overbuy.
  • Limit yourself to one night out per week (or even per month).
  • Shop at thrift stores and consignment shops for clothes and housewares.

Each time you save one dollar, you’re buying “future you” one dollar’s worth of financial freedom. And as you saw in tip no. 4, even small amounts add up.

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7. Make smart choices with your credit cards and student loans

College is a time when many students make silly mistakes with their money — mistakes that can take decades to recover from once they’ve thrown their graduation cap in the air.

If you want to avoid these mistakes — and really become financially independent as a student — learn how to be smart with credit cards and student loans.

For student loans, this means only borrowing enough money to cover your tuition and expenses. Don’t take out the biggest loan you can just so you can buy a 4K TV and fund a spring break trip to Panama City.

For credit cards, get into the habit of paying your bill in full every month. Avoid interest charges like the plague — high-interest debt makes it really hard to experience financial freedom as a college student.

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8. Sell used textbooks and other unwanted items

When I was in college, I was the queen of Poshmark and Facebook Marketplace. I got a thrill digging through my belongings to see what clutter I could turn into cash. It made me a minimalist and helped me be more mindful of my spending.

What items do you have lying around your dorm room that you don’t use? It could be some cute clothes, that bike you bought freshman year, or even some old textbooks.

Create a pile of stuff you don’t need. Then, see if there are any takers on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Poshmark, or a local consignment shop.

Read more: How to make your money last this semester

9. Invest in yourself

Even though you’re in college, you may have interests and passions that lie outside the classroom. It could be freelancing, photography, or even improving your communication skills so you can land a great job after graduation.

Nurturing these skills could help you earn more money in the future. So, if you have time to spare, consider signing up for courses through sites like Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, or LinkedIn Learning. Your school or public library may even have a free subscription.

Summary

While many college students rely on parents or guardians for financial support, there are a number of ways you can start to become financially independent while you’re still in school.

It requires a bit of time and upfront effort, but the payoff is more than worth it.

Featured image: Personal Belongings/Shutterstock.com

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About the author

Cassidy Horton
Total Articles: 45
Cassidy Horton is a finance writer who specializes in banking and insurance. She earned her MBA and bachelor’s degree in public relations from Georgia Southern University — and has since published hundreds of finance articles online for Forbes Advisor, The Balance, Money, Finder.com, and more. When she's not helping Millennials and Gen Zers gain control of their finances, you can find Cassidy hiking around the Pacific Northwest, cuddling her two cats, and eating way too much fried chicken. Connect with her on cassidyhorton.com or LinkedIn to see what she’s up to next.