There are so many ways to “hack the system” and save money in college — look for free food on campus, hit up the library for free textbooks, visit the Academic Success Center for free tutoring, plus many more.

There are, of course, the big ways to save money in college — make a budget, look for scholarships, find an on-campus job. But how can you save money on a daily basis? What are some cool money-saving “hacks” you can use to save on everyday purchases? Well, that’s exactly what you’ll learn about today. Here are 10 (unconventional) ways to save money on the small things in college — straight from someone who’s done them all herself.

1. Bring your own food to campus instead of eating out — you’ll save money and eat healthier


Food on campus adds up quickly. A $10 deli sandwich here. A $5 Starbucks there. That $2 bag of chips between classes. A $2 Coke for that midday caffeine rush. It’s easy to sacrifice money for convenience when you’re laser-focused on passing exams. But if you cook more food at home, it can be cheaper and healthier. My top two “hacks” for easy eating at home are to:

  • Have grab-and-go snacks ready throughout the week. This could be cut-up fruit, trail mix, nuts, granola bars, boiled eggs, pretzels — really anything you can grab as you dash out the door.
  • Meal prep on Sundays. Look for healthy meals that involve rice, pasta, dried beans, and other cheap proteins. Many buildings have microwaves, so grab an ice pack and take your meal to campus if you can’t run home for lunch.

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2. Make coffee or tea at home instead of buying it at the cafe

On-campus coffee can easily cost $3 or more. Coffee at home can be as cheap as $0.16 a cup. I’m not saying you should kick your coffee habit — I personally don’t plan on it any time soon. However, college campuses are littered with coffee shops just begging to take yo’ money. Silence the siren sounds — and keep a few extra dollars in your wallet — by bringing your own cup of Joe to the quad. Read more: How to save money and keep your coffee habit — 6 easy changes that can save you hundreds

3. Shop at thrift stores and consignment shops for clothes and other items


The cool thing about living in a college town (or city) is that there are tons of trendy clothes, dorm room essentials, and barely used textbooks that get funneled into consignment shops and thrift stores every day. So why not hit them up for all they’ve got?! Studies show you can save 80% or more by shopping secondhand versus buying brand-new. So the next time you need something, check out Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village, or any local consignment shops in your area.

4. NEVER pay full price for brand-new textbooks!

Textbooks can easily cost $500 or more a semester. And when a single class calls for three or more books, well…. eye roll. 🙄 But here’s the truth: unless you’re taking some really niche college courses, you should be able to find cheaper versions of the textbooks you need. For instance, you can:

  • Buy used textbooks, rent them online, or look for digital copies. Amazon and are two of the best sites for scoring used textbooks and textbook rentals on the cheap.
  • Share textbooks with friends or roommates. Go halfsies on a textbook with someone who’s taking the same class as you. Brownie points if you can borrow a textbook from a friend who’s already taken the class.

5. Rent books, movies, and magazines from the library instead of buying them

The library was my JAM in college. Not only did I work there all through undergrad — #librarynerd — but I also scoured the shelves (both physically and virtually) for free books, magazines, and even movies. And here’s one of my best-kept secrets for college students: many libraries have popular textbooks you can check out for free, which can be yet another way to save money in college. Plus, who’s going to turn down free wifi and a desktop computer for those times when your tiny laptop screen just won’t cut it?

6. Find free events on campus and in the community (bonus points if they have free food!)


Hey, I’m not judging here. If you see there’s a free event on campus that’s giving out free food (because, hello, how else do you bribe college kids to show up?!) — TAKE THE FOOD! Every meal you snag for free is a meal you don’t have to buy on your own dime, so eat up, my friend.

7. Limit yourself to one night out per week (or even per month)


How many times do you go out with friends during the week? Again, no judgment. But another way to save money in college is to gradually step this number back. For instance, say you dine out with your besties five times a week. See if you can keep it to four times a week for the next month. Then, knock it back to three times a week. This doesn’t mean you can’t hang out with your friends or have fun. Free or low-cost things to do can be just as fun. The key is to “trick” yourself into spending less money going out. (The same way I tried to “trick” my cat into using a human toilet… That one didn’t work, though.)

8. Take public transportation or walk instead of paying for parking or gas

Parking on campus can easily run you a few hundred dollars a semester. (I remember vying for premium parking lots every semester like I was trying to win tickets to a Taylor Swift concert.) But if you live in an area with good public transportation — or you’re close enough to walk or ride a bike to class — give it a try. You’ll save money on parking and gas. Plus, all those exercise endorphins will make you feel great.

9. Invest in a quality backpack and laptop case to avoid damage and repairs

College campuses are huge. While you’re bustling across the green, all it takes is one drop to crack your phone screen or damage your laptop. And let’s just say, those bad boys aren’t cheap. So, protect your sacred electronics by getting a backpack with a laptop compartment (and maybe even a separate laptop sleeve) for added protection. And if you live in an area where it rains a lot, invest in a waterproof backpack. I learned this lesson the hard way when I rolled up to class freshman year (after hustling across campus in the pouring rain) only to find my laptop sitting in my backpack in a pool of water. Drenched… and dead.

10. Look for free tutoring services


Many college campuses offer free tutoring through the Academic Success Center. If you feel like you’re struggling to keep up in a class — or simply want to make sure you stay ahead — take advantage of these free services. And if for some reason you’re in an advanced course that doesn’t have tutoring, create a study group with friends. It can be an easy (and cheap) way to land a good grade in a class.


These 10 ways to save money in college may not put oodles and oodles of cash back in your pocket right away. But even small stacks add up. So channel your inner Frugal Franny and use these tips and tricks to save on everyday college expenses. Featured image: Luis Molinero/

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About the author

Cassidy Horton
Total Articles: 52
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,, 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 or LinkedIn to see what she’s up to next.