Savings Tips for College Students

by | Aug 18, 2023 | Savings

Summer is winding down, so you know what that means – another academic year begins! For students heading off to college for the first time, or heading back to campus, you’ve got a whole new year of opportunities to learn and grow. Not just as students, but also as adults, handling more of your own responsibilities and expenses.  
Unsurprisingly, that’s led to college students finding inventive ways to save money while maintaining focus on their education. We’ve rounded up some tips to help you save money as you head to campus with special additions from some of the Milli team! 

Be Strategic About Where you Study

If you’re looking to transfer schools (or are a high school student doing research), this is the place to start. Your choice of school is likely the most impactful aspect to how much your college will cost, so being strategic is a top thing you can do to help lower your education costs. But it’s not as simple as selecting the school with the lowest tuition. Here are four things to consider when doing your research:  

  1. Rate of on-time graduation: If it takes you an extra semester or year to finish your degree because of class availability or transfer requirements, that may cost you more than the salary you’d earn starting your career one year earlier.  
  1. Location: How will you get to the campus? Can you get there via car, public transit, train, or do you need to fly? How expensive will it be to get to or from campus?  
  1. Housing costs: One school may have lower tuition than another, but if the housing near the school is very expensive, that may make it cost-prohibitive. Some schools require students to live on campus for more years than others, and dorms may be more or less expensive than an off-campus rental. 
  1. Local transportation: Some schools and their cities are easier to get around on foot, bike, and public transportation, while others are car-dependent. If you don’t already have a car, taking on that expense can be significant. 
  1. Commuting: It may be more cost-effective for you to attend a school you can commute to it while living with family, even with transportation expenses. 

If you’re already attending a four-year university, chances are you’ll stick with it because you chose it for a reason. But, you can save on tuition by taking some general education classes at a community college and transferring those credits to the school where you’ll get your degree. This could help you finish a semester earlier!  Make sure you understand your university’s transfer requirements and process to ensure they’ll accept the credits from any other potential schools. 

Here’s a sample spreadsheet you could recreate to compare the costs of your various school options, pulling in the cost factors we covered above. Then see which combination works best for you! 

Sample spreadsheet comparing the cost of attendance of two colleges

Overall, it’s important to look holistically at the total cost of your education and living expenses while you’re in school.  

Make use of College Campus Resources

Your college campus likely has a wide variety of resources designed to help you succeed in your studies and wellbeing during your time at school – you just have to know where to look. The resources around campus can help you save money from paying for external tools or services. 

These various resources might look like: 

  • Library – for books, media, software, and more
  • Health center
  • Gym
  • On-campus activities
  • Career center
  • Tutoring or writing center
  • Cultural centers
  • Sororities or fraternities
  • Faith-based centers

Take some time to research what sorts of services they provide and leverage every resource you have available. Don’t be afraid to stop by, call, or email to ask for help – that’s what the staff is there for!  

Tip from Team Milli: 

“The school library helped me delay needing to buy a new laptop! Senior year, my laptop had trouble connecting to the internet. So, I did a lot of my assignments on library computers at school using Google Drive to save my assignments, and rented movies on DVD from the library for entertainment since Netflix buffered like crazy. That got me through until after graduation when I had a full-time job to pay for the replacement. I wouldn’t recommend trying to finish school without a functioning computer, but the point is to use the resources available to you!” – Hope Dorman, University of Portland Class of 2016 

Working While in College

Many college students work while in school – the latest data found 40% of full-time undergraduate students were employed, and 74% of part-time students were employed. If you’re looking for a job while in school, look for certain types of jobs that can maximize your time and provide more value beyond a paycheck, like saving time or money in other areas. 

On-campus jobs

On-campus jobs are a great place to start when looking for a side hustle. On-campus jobs are typically understanding of student schedules, and you may not need transportation to get to them, which can save money as well! Here are some types of on-campus jobs and how they can go further to impact your cash flow: 

  • Some on-campus jobs will allow you to do homework in your downtime which can allow you to take on more hours of work without sacrificing your studies, perhaps at the campus library 
  • You may be able to find a job that provides a shift meal, like in the dining hall  
  • Being a resident advisor in the dorms can provide housing and a meal plan 
  • If you’re active, you could teach fitness classes at the campus gym and get your workout in on the clock


Another classic way to save money while in college: internships. You can earn money or get college credit while also gaining valuable, relevant work experience and some fodder for your resume. The key thing is to make sure it’s a paid internship or eligible for college credit at your specific school for some area in which you need the credits, so it’ll actually save you money.  

Tip from Team Milli: 

“I was lucky enough to secure paid internships all the way through college. I found my internships through references from professors who took note of my interest in their class and through groups working in the same room but on different things. If you’re looking for paid internships, I recommend starting as early as possible, and make sure to ask about opportunities within your network, like your academic advisor or professors.” – Jonathan Guerrero, University of Nebraska-Omaha Class of 2012 

Traditional jobs with education benefits 

Some national employers provide compelling education assistance benefits. For example, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks, and UPS are three well-known companies with a tuition benefit for their team members.  

With some employer education benefits, you may be required to take courses through their university partnership (such as Starbucks being partnered with Arizona State University), but it can be a way to save thousands on the cost of tuition.  

Working full-time while in college

10% of full-time students and 40% of part-time students work 35 or more hours per week. If you’re in that camp, you may be financially supporting yourself, your family, or mitigating how much you rely on student loans. If working full-time while also going to school is the only feasible economic option for you, you may want to consider mentally prioritizing work and view your studies more as part-time. It may take longer to finish your degree, but if the priority is to meet your living expenses and/or mitigate student loans, this might be the best option for you. 

Tip from Team Milli: 

“I worked and went to college full-time at the same time to support my family. It can be done, but there are tradeoffs to consider. I also made it work by strictly budgeting for the entire month.”  -Travis Zoucha, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Class of 2016 

Saving Money with Student Discounts, Coupons, and Extracurricular Activities

For all the things you need to buy along the way – groceries, school supplies, and extracurricular activities – there are plenty of ways to save money. You’ll need to operate with a resourceful mindset to make the most of your budget, but getting creative to make lasting core memories is what the college experience is all about!

Student discounts 

Society knows students are on a budget, and many companies are happy to help students save a little money by offering student discounts. These may be from big retailers that will offer you a student discount with a student email, or local businesses surrounding campus that offer discounts with a valid student ID. 

Tip from Team Milli: 

“Look online for student discounts. There are quite a few places that offer discounts for college students if you actually try and look (i.e. Hulu and Spotify’s student discount program which offers both services combined for $5.99 a month.) This can apply to local college-town businesses as well as big companies/services.”  – Hayley Golden, Iowa State University, Class of 2022


Going out to eat? Getting groceries? Remember, discounts don’t just apply to students. Check out regular coupons and deals within rewards apps from grocery stores, drugstores, and restaurants. For more tips, check out our couponing blog! 

Saving on extracurricular activities and events

College is a learning experience beyond just the classroom. It’s important to immerse yourself in the activities that you’re most interested in. However, it’s also important to know some of those activities might cost a little extra.

Look for on-campus activities or school-organized events that may have the cost subsidized. Various parts of your school between the student government, student clubs, residence life teams, sports teams, and academic departments likely have a full calendar of events! Many are free, and those that do have an admission price are likely lower in cost.

Don’t forget to venture off campus occasionally, especially if you’re attending college in a new area! To find budget-friendly opportunities off campus, look up free events and resources offered by your city or county. Check out free parks and museums to explore the area a bit more. 

For those casual times hanging out with friends, remember – you can always make a regular day memorable by working with whatever you have on hand and not spending additional money. Maybe it’s a movie night in someone’s dorm room or a themed dress-up party to celebrate a birthday. There are still limitless memories to be made on a budget! 

Tip from Team Milli: 

“My friends and I didn’t have money to go out to eat a lot, so we’d go grocery shopping and find some elaborate meal to cook together. Sometimes the meals turned out to be disasters but sometimes they didn’t, and it was always a fun time.” – Jenna Swaney, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Class of 2020


College is a formative experience because of what you learn both in and outside the classroom. Chances are, it’s the first time in your life you have the independence and freedom to choose what you want to pursue and where you want to live. You may also be figuring out how to handle the costs of college, so we hope you found our money-saving tips helpful. 
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use bank that can help you learn how to better manage your money, download the Milli app today! With helpful spending insights, savings automations, and customizable Jars, Milli is here to help you spend effectively so you can save for what’s next – whether it’s next semester, a study abroad trip, or life after graduation! 

Keep reading on the Milli blog: 

5 Ways to Live Sustainably and Save Money 
Jumpstarting Your Savings: Five Money Management Tips for Gen Z 
Budgeting for Beginners (Just 3 Categories!)