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How to Save Money in College

It’s back-to-school season again and college is expensive! But you know that and during a time that can be stressful we want to help you stress less over personal finances. Whether you are going to college in Denver or heading out of state, we have tips and tools to help you stay on top of your finances this school year. Theres a lot to unpack here but its worth the read. 

If you are going to Denver for college visit the Credit Union of Denver Tivoli branch. We’re available to answer any finance questions you may have. Attending college out of state? Don't worry! We are a Co-Op shared branch credit union. This means members have access to over 30,000 free ATMs and over 5,600 Shared Branches across the U.S. 

1. Set a budget

When planning how to save money in college, the first thing you need to do is make a budget. Creating a personal budget prior to move-in day will guide you to financial success during the semester. Start by creating an overall budget and then you can break it down further into weekly budgets. This way you can plan your week, and more importantly, your plans for the weekend. While its important to monitor your spending, don’t lock yourself up all weekend to save a few bucks and miss out on having fun!

Items that you want to make sure you budget for include tuition and fees (minus any student loans, scholarships, or grants you may have received), housing, school supplies, food, transportation, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Extra expenses are where having a part-time job can really come in handy. Even if your income is minimal and only covers weekend spending, that’s still a huge win to keep your bank account afloat during the semester.

Looking for a tool to help you create and sustain your college student budget? We offer members free access to online budgeting tools, including MX – MoneyDesktop. MX online personal budgeting tools include features like Bubble Budgets, Expense Tracking, Debt Management, and more. Not only will you be able to see all your financial accounts, balances, and transactions in one place – but the data you enter is then graphically displayed making it a breeze to interpret. MX lets you put strategies in place to help reach your goals.

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Earning your degree is not cheap! Applying for scholarships and grants helps, while it may not cover the entire cost of college, it can lessen your debt.

Financial aid is money lent or given to you to help you pay for college. Grants and scholarships are kinds of financial aid that you don’t have to pay back, that’s why they’re called gift aid. All kinds of students are eligible for gift aid. Most scholarships are merit based and most grants are need based. Some sources of grants and scholarships include governments, colleges, and private organizations.

Before you fill out a scholarship application, please review the general eligibility requirements and any specific requirements before submitting the application to the organization.This is important as some scholarships may have unique criteria or exceptions, so make sure to carefully review the scholarships and follow the application instructions, including deadline, and document requirements

Be sure to allocate time researching these opportunities, as they could help you save money on your college education. A great place to begin looking is our SmartStuffEnrich “Borrowing smart and preparing for higher education” course. You will learn how to effectively maneuver through the process of taking out federal student loans, with an emphasis on smart borrowing.

Looking for a way to learn more about financial literacy? All our financial education courses are free and a great place to learn about your money situation. Take a financial wellness quiz to understand your personal money situation and get recommended courses to enhance your knowledge/skills.

The SmartStuffEnrich program includes many tools, articles, and has over 20 courses regarding money management. It’s a one-stop destination from budgeting to debt management, repaying student loans, worksheets to build reasonable budgets, and so much more!

Track your progress monthly and win prizes!

Come back often to enter our $1,000 monthly challenge and make progress on building financial skills!

3. Become an RA

Housing is a major cost of attending college. You can mitigate this expense and save money as a student by becoming a resident advisor (RA).

You’ll have to work some nights and handle other administrative tasks, but plenty of students see this as a fair tradeoff to reduce the cost of housing.

4. Consider getting a part-time job

Once you get settled into your new routine on campus, consider getting a part-time job to make some extra money. One way to help save money is to make money, to offset your expenses.

Look for a job either on campus or off campus. On-campus jobs are particularly appealing because they’re easy to get to and can be a great way to meet other students. Plus, most on-campus managers are willing to work around your class schedule because they recognize that your degree is top priority. Depending on where you go to school and what surrounds your campus, you may be able to find local businesses to work a few hours after classes.

Regardless of whether you work while at college, it’s smart to work during your school breaks, particularly over the summer. This way, you can save up money for the upcoming school year and still have some cash on hand for summer fun. If you can work during the winter and spring breaks, even better.

Put your money in an account that is not only free, but it pays you!

With our Cashback Rewards Checking Account you can earn 5% cashback of your total debit card transactions, up to $5 each month.

5. Avoid new textbooks

When searching for ways to save money in college, it makes sense to first look at some of your biggest costs. New textbooks can be quite expensive, so look into buying them used or renting them. Used and rented textbooks are often in great shape and sometimes come with notes and important text highlighted. Asking students who’ve completed the class to sell or loan you their books is also a great way to save money as a student. Just make sure the required textbook didn’t change.

Once you’re done with your textbooks, sell them! While the return on investment isn’t great, an extra hundred dollars at the end of a semester can mean a lot to a struggling college student.

6. Eat on campus

Another tried and true way to save money in college is to take full advantage of your meal plan. There’s no sense in regularly spending money dining out if you have access to prepaid meals on campus.

If the dining hall food isn’t great, plan eating a certain number of meals there a week, paired with making your own meals, and using you dining out budget. You could even make it an event where you and your friends cook a group meal together and divvy up expenses. Look for recipes online and rotate who hosts the event. Not only is this an effective way to save money as a student, but you may learn new culinary skills, and have an excuse to hang out with your friends.

Use Zelle in your Credit Union of Denver app to send money to your friends for covering that meal out when you forgot your card or any other reason you need to send or receive money. It’s fast, safe, and an easy way to send money directly from your bank account in minutes to friends, family and others you trust into their bank account, using only their U.S. mobile number or email address. With Zelle, you can also receive money directly into your bank account within minutes.

7. Take advantage of college student discounts

Between studying and going to classes, it’s important for college students to take time to have some fun. Going out to dinner, catching a movie, or visiting a local attraction can help you step away from the stress of school, but these outings can be costly. It’s very common for local businesses to work with universities to offer college students discounts on their goods and services. Put that Student ID to good use!

Also, keep an eye out for free or discounted on-campus events or services. For example, many colleges have free fitness centers for students to use. Gym memberships can get quite expensive and could put a hole in your budget.

A great way to cut costs that you may already have is by utilizing your student status, it can usually get you discounts on digital subscriptions like Amazon Prime Student, Audible, and Apple Music to name a few. Service discounts like public transport, museums, movie theaters, and more. As well as, software and app discounts, retail shopping discounts, and event discounts. Some great sites to find out more about student discounts are UNiDAYS,, and StudentRate.

With all that being said, take advantage of all those perks when you can — your budget will thank you!

8. Use credit wisely

When looking for ways to save money in college, it's important to keep your spending habits in mind, especially when it comes to credit. It can be easy to forget credit cards aren’t an infinite source of cash and you do have to pay them back. This can be especially hard when you’re in a new environment, maybe living away from home for the first time, and juggling various responsibilities and things to remember.

Students can become victim to high credit card balances, missed payments, and high interest rates. It’s important to be responsible with credit cards by not charging more than you can afford when the bill comes due. It’s also ideal to try to pay off the amount every month to avoid high fees and rates. Also, keep in mind that having a credit card and successfully paying it off will help build positive credit.

If you’re thinking of opening a credit card, consider our Secured Rewards Mastercard.

Current Rate: 19.49% VAPR* (as of 02/01/2024)

Our Secured Rewards MasterCard can help build or rebuild your credit. It works like a regular credit card, but your credit limit is determined by the amount of money you deposit and hold in a savings account, and it even earns interest! Just deposit money, use your card, pay it back, and build your credit – it’s as easy as that! You’ll even earn reward points while you work on your credit without all the fees usually associated with other cards.

Overall, saving money before and during college will set you up for financial success in the future. Some of these ideas may suit your situation, while others might not apply, so consider the cost-cutting measures that can help limit or monitor your spending - without missing out on the fun of college! Try implementing some of our tips to help build positive financial wellness habits for years to come.

Good luck! We wish you a great school year.


Sources & enhanced by Credit Union of Denver:

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