Saving Money: A Broke Girl’s Guide To College

saving money in college

College. University. Institute. However you decide to say it, there’s something that we all know universally: It’s EXPENSIVE! There’s no way around this fact, but there are several ways to cut costs and keep more money in your own pocket. It’s easy to lose track of your spending, especially if you’re an impulsive buyer/shopper. Trust me, I’ve been there and spent that, so today I’m here to help you avoid that unnecessary spending throughout the school year!

***This post contains affiliate links to products that I personally use and recommend. I may receive a small percentage of a sale at no extra cost to you. It keeps the blog running!***

Renting Your Books vs Buying

When I first got to FSU, I didn’t have much of a clue about books. I just took the advice of the advisors and staff, which was to buy my books from the campus bookstore. I didn’t even bother checking for the used versions, which is another money saver if you’re unable to rent a certain book. Needless to say, I quickly learned better by the time I started my sophomore year. I was stuck with books that I’d paid an arm and a leg for that I no longer needed and buyback prices were laughable.

Don’t be like me, just skip the hassle and rent your books. You’re able to compare prices across multiple sites to find the cheapest one and the shipping is free to send them back! Below are a few websites that you can choose from:





Campus Book Rentals

There’s also the trick of finding free PDF versions of books online!

If you absolutely must have a new edition, there’s always the option to sell your book at the end of the semester or year to students that are taking the classes next!


Utilize your smartphone

In this day and age, we’re always on our phones, so why not use it to help you save some money here and there? There are quite a few apps that you can use for cash back, coupons and discounts! I used these apps during my last years in college and still do to this day.



Ibotta is one of my favorite mobile cashback apps. The way it works is before you go shopping, whether in certain physical stores (mainly grocery) or through the app (way more retailers available) you check the offers that they have available and you can shop based on their cash back deals.

Not only does this give you money back, it also saves money by helping you pre-plan your shopping. For physical shopping, you have to scan your receipt to redeem your offers and for in-app purchases it’s automatic. When you sign up through my link, you’ll receive $10. Yay, free money! They deposit via PayPal, Venmo or in the form of gift cards if that’s what you prefer.



Everyone knows about Groupon, but few actually think to use it! This site/app is a great way to save a little (or a lot) of money for things you would normally do. Planning a date night? Groupon has great deals for 2 and up to 65% off on meals as well as things to do. Interested in taking a trip for spring break? There’s also a Getaways category that includes all-inclusive vacation deals both domestic and international, discounts on hotel stays per night and even last minute deals if you’re not the best planner.



This is another favorite of mine! It’s perfect for those of you have trouble putting your money away. It’s an app that saves money for you for specific goals. For example, let’s say you want to save for a road trip at the end of the year. You can automate it save an amount, maybe $20 every week ($1,040) or use IFTTT(If this, then that) to make saving for that goal simple & fun. You can round to the nearest dollar when making specific purchases, save a specific amount everytime you post on social media like Facebook or Twitter. There’s also the option to save for working out, killing two birds with one stone, if the weather is over 75 degrees or if it snows, the options are plentiful.

They also have group savings! Using the same example of a road trip, you and your best friends can all save toward a goal and chat about your plans all in the app. It makes life a lot easier!

The best thing about it is that everything is FDIC secured and they have overdraft protection. They will pause your savings if it will cause your account to go under $100, so no worries there. It’s also very simple to transfer the money from your Qapital savings account to your bank account. You choose what you want to send and it will appear in your bank account the next day.

Sign up here and you’ll receive $5 after your first deposit!

Happy saving! 🙂


Retail Me Not

Retail Me Not is another excellent app that offers printable coupons, cashback, and discount codes for most stores. There’s also a section that’s just for restaurants if you want to have a cheap meal!


Loyalty Programs

Are you a brand loyalist? Always catching movies at AMC or buying makeup at Sephora? Sign up for their rewards programs and remember to use your card whenever you go. Restaurants offer rewards as well, usually with a punch card. These can often lead to free food, merchandise or exclusive discounts and coupons

BONUS Tip: Use the Honey extension for Google Chrome! This is an extension that searches the internet for coupon codes and applies them to your purchases for cash back, this can be anything from a hairbrush to plane tickets. They also have honey travel for discounted hotel stays!

Limit Ordering & Eating Out

This is classic advice, but so many college students continuously do it not thinking (or knowing) about how much money they’re spending. This includes going to Starbucks every day and ordering a $3-$6 drink. You know who you are! To put it into perspective, if you order 1 Starbucks drink every day for a year, that’s an average of $1,100. I’m sure you could think of better ways to use $1000+! One way to cut back on this spending is to invest in a coffee maker, like this one or if K-cups are more your style, something like this! Starbucks brand coffee is fairly cheap and it’ll last you a while.

Food is one of the top expenses for college students. I get it, you have to eat, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat fast food or Chinese take-out every night. Those meals rack up and before you know it, the $200 you had for food is suddenly $10. This is where the ramen noodles come to the rescue. You can avoid overspending on food by planning out your meals the week before and shopping with coupons + ibotta to get cash back. For those of you who use the meal plan or flex bucks that your school has to offer, be smart about how you use those as well. Try to save eating out at restaurants for a big celebration like a friend’s birthday or treat yourself after acing a test.

If spending the time to plan out meals isn’t your thing, $5 meal plan is the way to go. For $5/mo, you’ll get weekly meal plan recipes sent to you via email with meals that can be made to last a few days and frozen to be eaten later. This is a mix of dinner, lunch, breakfast, and desserts. They also offer coupons for your local stores to lessen the cost of shopping. Between this and the apps above, you’ll be a pro couponer in no time!

Homework: Take a look at your bank account and count how many times you swiped your card for food outside of grocery shopping. Add up the amount you spent and ask yourself what else you could’ve used that money for. That money could’ve gone to your savings instead!

Going Out the Smart Way

It would be a crime if I told you not to go out and enjoy yourself while you’re in college. You also probably wouldn’t listen to that piece of advice anyway. What I am going to tell you is to govern yourself when you do, whether that’s going out to eat with a group or going out to the club.

Before you head out, you need to come up with an amount you’re willing to spend that night and pull it out in cash. Leave your debit and/or credit card at home to eliminate the temptation of spending more money.

And let’s be real, do you really need to go out every weekend? Sometimes it’s good to just get away from the stereotypical college idea of fun and have a nice, free night in by yourself or with friends after a week of school hustle & bustle. Home cooked dinner and movies is a win in my book!


Dial Back the Spending

The temptation is everywhere, but you have to stop and think about the difference between needs and wants. Do you need to have your nails done every 2 weeks or do you want that? Can you see yourself wearing that more than once or twice? If you can’t honestly justify buying something to your parents (or even yourself), don’t touch it. I know it’s pretty, I know it’s cute, I know you think your friends will think it’s cool, but the hype will die down. Then, you’ll either have buyer’s remorse or add to your collection of things you need to pack when it’s time to move out, and that’s enough work without all of your unnecessary buys!

You’re a student, embrace it!

My favorite part of being a college student was the fact that everyone knows you’re broke! So, you get many things for free or at discounts. Take advantage of the free resources on campus like tutoring, counseling, food, activities, and t-shirts. Services like Apple Music and Spotify offer student discounts of $4.99/mo with a valid school email address, but Spotify also has a free option. Remember to carry your student ID with you because 9 times out of 10, there’s a student discount available in most places.

Let’s also not forgot about Amazon’s 50% off student discount for Prime. When you sign up for the Prime Student 6-month Trial, it includes the free two-day shipping, perfect for getting those book rentals in a flash. After the trial period is over, it’s $49 for every year you’re enrolled as a student. This gives you access to Amazon Video, Prime Music, the new grocery delivery service if it’s available in your area and unlimited photo storage. Once you graduate or 4 years go by, the subscription will switch to the regular price of $99/yr. If you would prefer not to continue, be sure to cancel!

Put the plastic water bottles down

Buying plastic water bottles is one of those expenses that sneak up on you. Of course, it’s great to drink water, but do it the smart (and environmentally friendly) way! Get yourself a reusable water bottle with a filter and fill that bad boy up throughout the day to stay hydrated. It doesn’t hurt to keep a pack in the pantry or under your bed just in case, though! This can also be handy for carrying other liquids around instead of buying them like juice.

Free movies!

No, I don’t mean the movies on the internet…not that those aren’t an option, but I mean free movie pre-screenings! I used to be the queen of finding pre-screening tickets and would always request 2 so I could bring a friend. It can be a task to get the passes, so I made sure to register my email to get alerts for my city and also casually scavenged the sites from time to time. First come, first come! When you do get passes, try to get there an hour early because seats aren’t guaranteed just because you have tickets. Cell phones also aren’t allowed, for obvious reasons, so make a plan to leave them in the car or they may collect them at the door. Here are the sites I use to find free screening passes:


Advanced Screenings

Stock up on snacks

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to get hungry after running across campus from class to class. As easy as it is to pop into a campus store and grab a snack, it’s much easier on your time and wallet to bring a snack or two from home. This could be anything from a ziplock bag with chips, popcorn, or fruit to a full-blown snack-meal like leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Cheap breakfast

Go Wireless

One of the most useless expenses in college is having cable. It’s certainly not a necessity, so don’t go out of your way to sign a cable contract outside of your apartment offering it. Most dorms have a common room that will have a TV, which can make for fun gatherings and you can meet new friends. On top of that, there are so many ways to watch your favorite shows on the internet. Your family could all use one Netflix and/or Hulu account, you can subscribe to HBO, STARZ or Showtime with Amazon Prime, grab a Fire TV Stick from Amazon, try out streaming services like PlayStation Vue and Sling TV or find live streams online.

For the college football and basketball fanatics, attending watch parties is a fun and mostly free way to enjoy the games. I used to watch my Noles play at Buffalo Wild Wings and split wings with my friends, fun times!


P.S. As much as we all love our furry little buddies, if you don’t need them for therapeutic reasons, skip out on them. Not only can they be expensive to take care of, but they can take up a lot of your time and cause you to miss out on some great opportunities.


P.P.S. Don’t forget to be on the lookout for free meals, discounts, and free products on your birthday! There’s a long list of available freebies here, but plenty more out there.


P.P.P.S. There’s nothing wrong with shopping at discount stores like Marshalls, Ross or TJ Maxx. You can find a lot of name brand items such as handbags, hair products, and clothing items here for 50% off or more. In fact, many of the items I bought for my apartment were from Marshalls. I love that place!


So, those are my top 10 ways (with a few extra) to save a buck or two in college, hope it helps you guys out! Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more tips!

Let me know in the comments if you have other ways to save money!

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  1. January 12, 2018 / 6:09 pm

    These pointers take me back to my school days! I agree renting books was so much more affordable! Great tips <3

    • January 23, 2018 / 6:13 am

      Thank you so much, Adrina! Renting books is affordable and helps saves space around the house, haha!

  2. January 13, 2018 / 2:23 pm

    Good tips! These also apply for medical school and more people need to get on the boat! Thanks for sharing,

    • January 23, 2018 / 6:13 am

      Thanks, Jani! I think everyone can use most of these tips, really!

  3. January 23, 2018 / 4:54 pm

    Awesome post! I’m a Financial Aid Counselor & this is a really great resource for all of those personal/life things that are so hard for students to plan for!!

    • January 23, 2018 / 5:00 pm

      Thank you, Alea! I’ve been through the struggle and nothing says giving back to the community like helping my peers save money and develop good financial habits!

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