Keeping Costs Down As A College Student

I haven't gone to too much college, but I did attend one year while still in high school, and then lived on my own while going to a religious post high school program. I know how difficult it can be financially as a college student, when you have lots of expenses, not much income, and not much time because you're busy studying. There's a reason why college students have a reputation for living off of ramen.
This post is a collaboration between myself and my friend Rosie, the one who clued me in about the local clothes and houseware share, just finished getting her degree, and has these ideas to share with you on how to keep costs down as a college student.

Get College Credit Via Testing

One of the most expensive things about college is tuition, and the longer you spend in college the more it costs. Even if you're lucky and get financial aid, the length of time you're in college puts more stress financially on you, as you generally can't enter the work force (at least not full time or with a decent salary) until you're finished.
Many years ago I learned about CLEP tests which are tests that are recognized at many educational institutions that, once passed, give you credit as if you took those courses. Depending on where you learn and the price of your tuition, paying for a CLEP test, even with paying for CLEP Exam Prep through places like, can end up being a much cheaper option than taking the course through your college. Additionally, there are the DSST Exams which are similar to the CLEP tests, but they are also for higher level credits while CLEP generally are only for lower level credits. is a quicker and easier way to study for credit by exam courses, and they also offer an online homeschool program, designed for flexibility and adaptability.
However, before deciding to do either the CLEP or DSST tests, make sure your college of choice does accept them. If they do, you can shave years off your education and subsequent fees by completing these tests!

Low Cost Studying Aids

When I, Penny, was learning Calculus 2, for the first time in my schooling history I really struggled with a subject, and needed to get a tutor. Fortunately, a friend of mine offered to tutor me for free, so I didn't need to pay for that. For those who aren't able to get a free tutor like I do, here's some other ideas.
  • Instead of pricey private tutors, many online resources are available with excellent videos on a wide variety of college-level topics. Youtube is an excellent place for sourcing these videos, and one of the more popular options is Khan Academy.
  • Another option is a tutoring exchange. If you are strong in a particular subject but weak in another, find a student who needs help with the subject you are good at, and is good at the subject you need help with, and exchange tutoring sessions.
  • Many professors offer office hours in which you can go to them and have one-on-one assistance in a subject, and if a large amount of students are struggling on a topic, many professors would be happy to reteach the topic. Cultivate a good relationship with your professors, by thanking them, showing up to class, and they will be happy to help you pass your exams
A laptop was the best investment I made whilst studying. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for textbooks and lugging them around, I asked my school library for the electronic version of the required reading books.
When I, Penny, was in college, my school had a program that you could borrow a free laptop from the school daily; I generally did this, and especially with the ability to save things to a cloud, you can use one of these to get the benefits from a laptop without needing to pay for the costs.

College Food -- Not Just Ramen

College students are experts at sniffing out free food, so find out if there is a social platform where you can share the locations and information in real time about where there is free food.

Caffeine is a crucial part of studying, how else will you stay awake during tough lectures when you partied hard the night before? Make sure you find out how to get the cheapest coffee. Does the coffee shop offer a discount if you bring your own mug? Does the student union provide coffee stations? Can you find hot water on campus for free and make your own instant coffee?

Take advantage of the fact you are a college student, and presumably young, and whilst you do want to nourish your body well, now is a time in your life when you can get away with slightly cheaper and less nourishing food, especially for shorter periods when cash is very low.

Don't be afraid to make friends with local stores and people in your neighborhood, my (Rosie's) greengrocer and butcher (at the local supermarket!) knew I was struggling and often gave me significant discounts, especially at the end of the day before closing. Local families will often invite you for dinner, or let you borrow their laundry machine, especially in exchange for babysitting.

I know how tempting it is to eat out often, especially as buying takeout for one person doesn't seem so expensive, and cooking for just one person may seem pointless. But even cheap takeout isn't as cheap as home cooked meals, and if you can prepare meals a drop in advance if you don't have any freezer room to store a bunch of meals, you don't have to cook every single day, and its as if you have takeout.

Extra Cash

College campuses are a hotbed for paid research, so scour notice boards to see what experiments you are eligible to take part in. These can range from big dollars for sperm/ egg donations, drug and medical product testing , or smaller amounts for blood donation (even small amounts of blood for experiments), money for donating platelets, MRI's, physical tests, questionnaire answering and so on. The medical, scientific and psychological branches of colleges have the most paid tests, but there are certainly others.

Many companies will also employ college students for low-paying jobs like data entry; these jobs, that can even be done during lectures, are in high demand, so make sure you let your friends know you are searching for one so they can help you grab it up when it becomes available.

Babysitting and cleaning are jobs that can easily fit around a busy schedule, and are usually high in demand.

Other Expenses

Sign up to every student app/ website, they will periodically have great offers or bulk buying options. I got shoes, theater and cinema tickets, water bottles, stationery and other misc items for great prices and often for free. And no matter where you are, always always ask if they have a student discount.

And of course, apply for as many grants as you're eligible for. Yes, it is a lot of work to apply for some of these, but if you are able to get these grants, they'll help financially a lot in college.

Don't forget, at the end of the semester, to check out the college dorm trash bins, for the best dumpster diving scores ever!

Are you in college? Have you been to college? What were your favorite tips to save money as a college student? Anything you'd add to this schedule?

See my disclaimer.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

Post a Comment

Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

Previous Post Next Post