College is full of lessons — and a lot of them, like learning to save money, happen outside the classroom. Saving on a student budget isn’t always easy, but it is possible with a little bit of planning.
Here are eight tips to save money in college. If you can't do them all right now, don't worry. Get started with what will work for you now and you can always reassess down the road.
Track your spending: Know where your money goes and set your goals.
Avoid fees: Learn about banking fees and how to avoid them.
Manage your school expenses: Get strategic with seeking out scholarships, loans and textbooks.
Plan your meals: Reduce extra spending on meals.
Find student discounts: It never hurts to ask.
Avoid frills, but have fun: Find a financial balance you can live with.
Plan ahead for big purchases: Don't make your spending a problem for "Later You".
Track your progress: Stay on track to your goals.
Track Your Spending
The first step to managing your money is understanding your financial situation. Start by tracking your spending in a journal that covers all your purchases over a one-month period — every latte, grocery run, and concert ticket — so you can get a sense of where every dollar goes. You can easily track your spending in a spreadsheet or BECU's Money Manager.
From there, subtract your total spending from the money you've earned that month and compare this number to your money saving goal. Need help setting a savings goal? No problem. We can help you learn how to build a budget that works for you.
Financial institutions might all seem the same on the surface, but where you keep your money could be costing you. Some even charge a monthly fee just to keep your account open or if your account balance drops below a predetermined amount.
Check to make sure you have a free account - for instance, a BECU free checking account with no minimum balance requirement. While you're at it, you can set up account alerts that will let you know if your balance gets low.
Manage Your College Expenses
College is a big investment but saving a little money can really add up. Make a habit of applying for scholarships and grants. Set aside some time every month to look for new scholarships and work on applications.
Another way to save is by becoming a textbook bargain hunter. Shop for used books or find textbook rental options — you'll be amazed how much you can save.
Plan Your Meals
Eating out every day can add up. With a little creativity, you can save big by cooking your own meals. A great way to fit cooking into busy schedule is learning a few crock pot recipes, or splitting cooking duties with a roommate. Great meals don't have to be expensive.
When you do eat out, be flexible about when and where you dine. Most restaurant's lunch menus are more affordable than dinner menus, so be sure to ask around about daily deals. Chances are, your fellow students know where to find a nearby Taco Tuesday or half-price burger night.
Find Student Discounts
There's a whole world of student discounts out there to help you save money in college. Look around online for college student discounts on movie theaters, restaurants, clothing stores, theme parks and more. If you're not sure whether your favorite shop has a student discount, it never hurts to ask!
If you're a BECU member, you can also sign up for our free Passport Discounts program that will connect you with special discounts on travel, entertainment, and more.
Avoid Frills, but Have Fun
Reaching your savings goals means building a monthly budget plan you can live with, but that doesn't mean you can't have any fun! Make room for the things you love while finding other ways to cut back on spending. Start with a goal of trimming $20 - $30 off your monthly expenses. A great place to start is dropping subscription services you aren't really using (Netflix, PlayStation Plus, etc.) or by opting for public transportation rather than springing for Uber or Lyft.
Plan Ahead for Big Purchases
Credit cards and By Now Pay Later (BNPL) services can make it easy to overspend. Avoid getting misled by the illusion of “affordability” while exposing yourself to the risk of late fees, accumulating debt and more.
Don't make your fun purchases a problem for “Later You.” Make a habit of saving for those splurge purchases ahead of time. Even one night's sleep can give you a new perspective on those must-have items in your shopping cart. If you do decide to purchase an item on credit, don't forget to make your payments on time.
Track Your Progress
No financial plan is perfect, so you'll want to keep checking in on your progress as you figure out what's working and what isn't. If you're a BECU member, you can use our Money Manager tool to keep an eye on your spending and saving habits, or you can review your monthly account statements.
Remember: Increasing your savings is all about slow and steady progress — great savings plans aren't created overnight. Test out these tips, find what works for you, and adapt based on what you learn in the process.