How to Get Through College on a Budget

Some of the most important things you learn in college don't come from class; they're the life lessons you learn along the way. Of those lessons, one of the most important is how to stretch a limited income to meet your needs and still get the college experience. A little know-how allows you to have a college experience to remember, not regret.


  1. Image titled Get Through College on a Budget Step 1
    Line up all of your expenses. A quickie list won't do when you're using free local papers to wipe your bum because you didn't budget for toilet paper. A thorough list might include cleaning products, food, tuition, books, office-type supplies, phone bill, rent, entertainment, utilities, laundry, transportation costs, clothes, make-up, internet, hair cuts and of course the list goes on. Make sure you don't neglect anything!
  2. Image titled Get Through College on a Budget Step 2
    Think about which things you might be able to cut out entirely. Some easy ones are cable television, expensive cell phone packages, nights out at the bar, take out food, clothes etc.
  3. Image titled Get Through College on a Budget Step 3
    Try to balance your list against whatever your income is. Prioritize your needs- of course food and rent should come before beers and take-out.
  4. Image titled Get Through College on a Budget Step 4
    Prioritize your needs on a time scale as well; perhaps you truly do need a new coat, just buy it with birthday money or work a few extra hours. For instance, you could work a lot of overtime in the summer in order to be able to afford to get check-ups at the doctor- this way you won't stress yourself out too much during the year.


  • Always take advantage of student discounts wherever possible.
  • Always try to get used text books, or rent them from sites like
  • Take out a certain amount of money for the week and spend the money you use sparingly. (ex $150.00)
  • Utilize public transport to it's fullest extent. It is significantly cheaper than car ownership and significantly less stressful to ride.
  • It always helps to have roommates. If you can stand living with others, do it! Nothing cuts up your expenses like simply sharing the burden with others.
  • Buy in bulk.
  • While having pets is fun, it is also expensive- make sure you can be a responsible pet owner before committing to the emotional and financial burden of this extra mouth to feed.
  • Investigate your school and see whether they have discounts on things you need like software, bus passes etc. Often they do.
  • Buy clothes second hand rather than shell out the money for all new things. Likewise, wait for sales prior to buying new clothes. You can often get very stylish items at very low prices this way.
  • While you shouldn't steal, per se, take advantage of opportunities for pens, paper, etc. whenever you can.
  • Most bars and restaurants near your campus know, that you are not able to afford many meals out, therefore they will try to attract costumers with big portions and some special offers. Keep track of those offers and know which joint has the best option every given day.
  • Find things you can do that cost little or nothing- sledding, going to the beach, bike rides, kickball, coffee, union movies and events etc. are just some of the many things that you can do which are almost always under $5.
  • Food is one area that often gets cut very quickly in lower budget households. Don't starve yourself, but there are many local and low-budget chains such as Aldi that sell food at a much reduced cost. You can save a lot of money if you don't get too picky about brand names of food.
  • If you're in a bind, remember that entire bills don't always have to be paid in full. Most cell phone companies for instance, will let you go months with a balance and won't even charge late fees. Just don't let yourself get too far behind!
  • Throwing down for liquor with a few friends is way, way cheaper than going out. While it is fun to go the bars, don't let the pressure of going out strain your budget too badly.
  • Share expenses wherever possible with your friends
  • If you do end up getting delivery food, take-out etc., see if you can save the containers that it came in. This isn't just good for the environment, it's also good for you when you have reusable dishes that ultimately don't matter that much. Resealable plastic containers, like the kind Chinese food comes in, are a great substitute for Tupperware.
  • You can often dumpster dive for CD's and books thrown out behind Half Price book and record stores and either a) score some cool swag, or b)sell them right back a few days later.
  • If you're really poor, you can send local mail for free by affixing the return address to be the same as the intended recipient. Just put your address in the send-to line. This only works for local mail.
  • Rather than paying for over-priced cell phone plans, get a prepaid phone that you can buy minute cards for, like a Tracphone. You save a lot of money this way!
  • Donating blood can offer a wealth of free snacks- both now AND later if you bring a backpack. Also, when you donate, you get drunk a lot faster- and cheaper, because your body's fluid volume is lower than normal. Don't do this a lot though, since it's terrible for you over time.
  • 1-800-free-411 is a terrific alternative to using the traditional *411 which costs up to $2 per call. It's Free!
  • Most cities have a free clinic where you can go and get free condoms and also get checked out for little or no cost.
  • Donating plasma is an okay way to earn a few bucks on the side if you aren't too scared of needles.
  • Always print out projects and research for free in the library. In fact, why even own a printer when you can print for free at school- you are essentially paying for it anyway, why not?!


  • Limit your credit card usage. Credit cards can be a major hazard- especially since the ones that target college kids- Chase,CitiBank, Capital One have higher interest rates and larger monthly return rates. Better just to wait or save than to risk getting into huge financial burdens.
  • Make sure that while in college, you don't build up such a fortress of debts that when you graduate you cannot afford to pay them back- particularly if you're not even sure what you want to do out of school.
  • While dumpster diving is a really fun way to get free stuff, be aware of trespassing laws in your area
  • Letting your bills slide a little is fine here and there, but remember that every time you put it off it will still be waiting for you later
  • As with all blood donation activities, it is your responsibility to ensure you are disease free and in good health prior to donating.
  • Reducing one's monthly service plan on a cell phone is a great way to save money- but don't cut back so far that you have to end up paying for overage minutes

Article Info

Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College