Frugal Secrets From a Cash-Strapped College Student

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laur davidson
Personal finance writer Laura Davidson

No one knows how to live and love life on the cheap like a student. So it is with great pleasure that I present a guest blog post by Lauren Davidson. Lauren is a freelance writer from the US who specializes in personal finance. She is also super stylish and has firsthand experience of what it is like to live the frugalista life as a student.

“There is no getting around it: college is expensive. The cost of tuition is high. Most graduates already have over $30,000 in student debt, and unless you manage to score a scholarship or grant, you’ll have to pay that amount to attend. But there are ways that you can still save money as a budget-conscious college student, from living on the cheap to saving on food, transportation, books and more.  Read on to learn how you can save money if you are a cash-strapped college student.


At many colleges and universities, living on-campus is required for a freshman.  But if your college doesn’t require you to live on-campus, start researching off-campus options to determine how much money you could save by moving out of a dorm and into an apartment, house or other alternative living arrangement.

Start by teaming up with friends, checking online for housing options, or even thinking outside of the box if you’re open to different living situations.  Local residents might be renting a room in their house for a low price, or a family might even be willing to let you live in their house rent-free in exchange for getting their kids on and off the bus each day.  Just be clear on your expectations before going into any living arrangement.

Of course, you are at college to learn, so make sure that wherever you choose to live, you’re still able to get to class.  You don’t want to choose a place to live that is so far away that you can’t realistically get to class — wasting your tuition dollars or forcing you to spend money on transportation in bad weather.


When it comes to dining, cooking at home is key to saving cash.  If you live in the dorms, a home-cooked meal may be hard with just a microwave, so a dining plan may be your best bet.  But if you have access to a full kitchen, avoid the meal plan and teach yourself to cook to reduce your expenses and save some serious cash.

You should also avoid eating out whenever possible, and choose to pack food when you know you’ll be on campus during meal times.  While it may not be as fun as grabbing a slice or a burger, it’ll be a lot cheaper (and healthier!) in the long run.


After tuition and housing, one of the biggest expenses facing many college students is books — which can be shockingly expensive and tend to be updated regularly with new editions.  The best way to get books for cheap is to shop early to find used editions.  Can’t find them at the bookstore? Check online to find used ones for a fraction of the price of new books.


Aside from learning, one of the best parts of college is the memories that you’ll make having a good time with your friends.  The things that you do don’t have to cost money — in fact, most of it can even be free! While it can be tempting to spend a night on the town at bars, the cost of alcohol can add up really quickly — and bust your budget.  Instead, take advantage of free or cheap student events, many of which your college will offer right on campus.  Think sporting events, talks and lectures, musical events, and different get-togethers around campus.  You can also just hang out with friends — nothing beats just spending time together.


If you choose to live off-campus, chances are good that you’ll need to find a way to get from place to place — and the bus may be just the ticket.  Your city or town may offer free bus rides to students with a valid college ID, or rides at a discount.  You could also try walking, riding a bike, or sharing rides with friends or classmates to get to where you need to go.

By Lauren Davidson, a freelance writer specializing in personal finance”

Have you had to make ends meet as a student?  If so, what are your top frugalista student tips?  

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