5 Money Tips for College Students

Start an emergency fund

Having an emergency fund is a must for anyone, but starting while you’re still in college gives you a good start.  By keeping a bit of money in a savings account, you won’t have to go into debt for small, unexpected bills and you will have a nice starting point to build on for after you graduate.

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr


Startingan emergency fund in college is also a little bit easier than starting one later in life.  Chances are, your potential emergency expenses are low and you will most likely have a lot of outside resources that you can still rely on (such as your student union and your parents).

I’d suggest having a $500 emergency fund.  It’s enough to pay for things like emergency dentistry (which is usually still partly covered by your parents’ plan or your student health plan!), small car/phone/computer repairs, and unexpected bills.

$500 is easily attainable within 6 months.  Here’s some ideas:

On a typical work-study salary of $14/hour ($600 a month), you could reach $500 simply by putting away ~$65/month for 8 months during your first year of colleague.

If you received a grant/scholarship/bursary for more than your tuition and book cost, put the extra into a designated emergency fund account.

Instead of letting your parents furnish your dorm room with cheap Walmart accessories (most of which you could get on Craigslist for free), ask them for $500 cash for your emergency fund.


Learn how to keep your food costs low

For many people, college is the first time they will have to cook for themselves.  Take advantage of this challenge by setting yourself up with good food habits right from the start.

The best way to learn any new habit is to make it easy!  It’s easy to cook when you have lots of food in the cupboards that are easy to prepare.  It’s also easy to NOT buy snacks and frivolous items if you make sure you are prepared throughout the day.

Here’s some ideas:

  • Buy meat in bulk, split it into portions appropriate for cooking, and freeze it.  Buying in bulk (larger cuts of meat, whole chickens, etc.) brings down the cost.  Splitting your meat into freezer portions makes it easy to simply pull out a portion of meat in the morning before class and have it ready and thaw by the time you get home.
  • Buy seasonal fruits and veggies.  Sure you might crave a peach mid-winter, but is it worth paying $2.99/lb for?  Probably not.  If something’s on sale, buy enough for several servings and use it during the week.
  • Make a food budget by figuring out how much you need to spend to buy all the necessities of a healthy diet.  Not sure how?  Here’s how I did mine.
  • Learn a few go-to recipes that produce large servings of food (which can be divided into multiple meals) that are healthy, tasty, and use flexible ingredients.  Casseroles, fried rice, stir fries, and soups are all great, flexible meal options.


Make connections in your program


I am as socially introverted as they come.  However, meeting people and making new friends, especially within your program or major, will save you lots of money over the course of your degree.  Get to know people and be willing to help out and people will be willing to help you out in return.

While I won’t go into how you can meet new people, here’s some ideas on how meeting new people helps your wallet:

People will often have textbooks that you need.  You do not want to pay $150 per science textbook.  If you make friends in your program, you might be able to buy or even borrow their textbooks after they’re done with them.

Study groups are a great way to help each other learn.  When you have a good social circle within your program, you will probably do better than someone who doesn’t have that support group.  Failing a class is a huge waste of time and money.  Friends will help you succeed!

The more people you know, the more connections you have.  And often, connections = jobs.


Make Craigslist your friend


I wish I had used Craigslist MORE when I first went to college.  There’s just so much free stuff available!

When you are in your college years, everything is very transitory.  You’ll probably move often, you may have roommates who want to squeeze their crap into the apartment, and you may end up taking an internship abroad or finding a job in a different city.  So why sink money into a brand new couch, bookshelf and TV?  It’s far better to get it for free and worry about buying “nice” things when you are more settled down.  As well, when you get things for free or cheap, it hurts a lot less when someone dents a corner during a move or spills their beer on it during a party!

Here’s some ideas:

  • IKEA stuff and kitchen stuff is readily found on Craigslist.  You can easily find pots, pans, plates, cups, bookshelves, cutlery, ugly lamps and older TVs for free.  Get as much of this stuff for free, figure out what you’re missing and then…
  • Hit up the thrift stores.  Now you can get more particular items.  A few wine glasses perhaps or a night table to go with your bed.  If you’re still missing stuff…
  • Go without.  Honestly.  Do you need a rug *now* ?  Probably not.  I still don’t have a rolling pin.  Give it some time, browse Craigslist, and chances are, you’ll find something suitable that you can buy used or grab for free.  You’re not furnishing your forever home, so you can afford to be patient!


Spend money where it counts

Sleeping: Make sure you have a good mattress.  Get the cheapest frame you can, definitely, but get yourself a decent mattress.  Getting a good night of sleep is worth more money than getting a free mattress that jabs your back with a spring every night.  Plus it might have bed bugs –EWWWW….

School: You’re already paying tens of thousands of dollars for your education.  Presumably, you think it’s worth it.  So if you start getting behind, office hours aren’t enough, and you can’t seem to make friends with that super smart keener – spend some money on a tutor.  Honestly!  I did this for my math courses when I went back to school for my second degree, simply because it’s been soooooo long since I’ve touched calculus and I am so happy that I did.  It cost me $20/h for a personal tutor, but my grades and my own understanding of the material improved immensely.

Start Saving: With all the smart spending that you’re doing, you may actually have some money left over!  Open up an RRSP with a $50/month contribution to get an early start on retirement savings or start a TFSA and sock away money for a down payment on a post-graduation condo or car.

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So those are my ideas!  Anything I missed?

Posted in: Food and Grocery, Life Hacks, Minimalism and Frugality

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