August 09, 2023 · Budget, Credit, Education, Savings

8 Campus Money Tips for College Students

Attending college or a university can be one of the most exciting periods of anyone’s life. It provides a new environment, fresh freedoms, greater responsibilities, unexpected experiences, innovative ideas, learning opportunities, and interesting people. College also provides many types of new costs, along with methods for managing money to get regular cost savings.

Some money management tips might seem simple and intuitive before college starts, while others are less obvious and may only come from experience while at school. Here are some practical suggestions for college students that could help them handle money and control costs throughout their college career, especially if they are living on, or just off, campus:

  1. Analyze and plan a real deal meal plan. College meal plans can be complicated, with a variety of options for the number of meals, preferred dining halls and hours of operation. A student may have trouble distinguishing an “unlimited” food plan from “gold” or “platinum” level dining and how they fit with their unique eating preferences. What’s the right plan? If getting on the school’s meal plan is a preferred choice, carefully review the dining selections and decide how much meal plan food per week is optimal—after balancing out food that may be cooked in a dormitory/apartment or eaten out at restaurants. Pay attention to whether a meal plan must be purchased for an entire year and the student is locked in to the plan, or if the dining contract is more flexible and offers a cancellable quarter or semester schedule.
  2. Decide how to book books. Textbooks are necessary for students at institutions of higher learning—and, honestly, some of the books can be thick, heavy, hard to follow, and budget-bustingly expensive. While textbooks are usually required reading, with research and planning, it is possible to edit down some textbook costs. Consider how and where textbooks should be obtained because now there are many choices for getting books. Local campus bookstore or national online seller? Package deal with cost savings or individual purchases? New books or used? Buy or try, since books can be rented now? Be a bookworm on buying books, since acquiring knowledge doesn’t have to be expensive.
  3. Invest in a supply of $1 bills and quarter coins. Credit cards and cellphone payment apps don’t always work for some kinds of spending. A college freshman should bring several rolls of quarters and at least a couple of dozen $1 bills to campus. What? Why? Well, for campus vending and clothes washing machines that may not accept personal credit or debit cards or app payments—or if the machines’ electronic transaction functions are broken and then they are only able to take cash. Because of heavy use, partially broken vending machines on college campuses are pretty common, and, occasionally, old-fashioned cash may be necessary to get a drink, a snack or clean clothing. Some of these vending machines also don’t make change, so a $1 bill will work, but a $5, $10, or $20 bill can’t be used. Be sure to stash the cash in your dorm room, apartment or rented room someplace safe and inconspicuous.
  4. Look for weekly dynamite dining deals out and about. Check websites and interior signage of local restaurants for weekly deals (some especially for college students) that could save serious food money while having a relaxing night out.
  5. Make your class assignment classy consignment. Need an evening dress or gown for a special occasion, but the clothing budget is fitting a little too tightly? Maybe a fashionable sportscoat or elegant tie is essential on short notice, but currently not in the college wardrobe. Local consignment (or thrift) stores in college towns may have gently used (or unworn) tops, jeans, evening dresses, gowns, sportscoats, ties and other clothing available at less-than-new prices. Conversely, maybe something in good condition in the existing clothing collection can be recycled and offered for sale at the consignment shop for extra cash.
  6. Buy the larger pizza and save some dough. Yes. Really. Any college or university is almost guaranteed to have either national pizza chains or local pizza restaurants close to campus for hungry students and faculty. There is pretty solid mathematical research that, overall, buying a larger pizza can usually be less expensive than getting a smaller pie. An extensive analysis by National Public Radio’s economics program Planet Money determined that from looking at 74,476 prices from 3,678 pizza places around the country, buying a larger pizza ultimately saved money per square inch of pizza. The finding of the study was that “a 16-inch pizza is actually four times as big as an 8-inch pizza. And when you look at thousands of pizza prices from around the U.S., you see that you almost always get a much, much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza.” Leftover pizza makes a great second meal, also saving some dough…money, since the extra food doesn’t go to waste.
  7. Buy water filters instead of filtered water. Bottled or canned water can get expensive, take up storage space and create the waste of empty bottles. It can cost less (and generate less trash) than buying water to get either a pitcher with a replacement water filter for a dorm or apartment refrigerator, or use a portable water bottle with a replacement filter.
  8. Invest in a set of stainless steel or titanium camping utensils. Pick up a durable knife, spoon and fork set for eating. Wash and reuse these permanent utensils instead of buying boxes of disposable plastic utensils. Want to save bit more money? Don’t get a separate spoon and fork—get a combined spork instead. Some sporks even have serrated edges, so they can be used like a knife for cutting.

Interested in more no-cost financial education at the collegiate level and later in life?

For more information that may help manage both college and after college finances, check out the free Delta Community Financial Education Center webinars on a range of practical financial topics with actionable advice. You may visit the Financial Education Center's Events & Seminars page to register for its on-demand webinars.

There are more Delta Community blogs for college students and post-college workers: