How to Save Money When You Go Away to College

Posted by Kristen on August 19, 2014

Whether you or your child is headed to college for the first time this Fall or you’re going back for another semester, you know it’s going to be costly. It doesn’t have to be hard to save money in college. Here are some simple tips to save on your college checklist:

School_Rupert Ganzer

Photo Credit: Rupert Ganzer

Dorm and Apartment

  • Find out what’s already provided. Sometimes dorm rooms already come with a fridge, freezer, and microwave. Find out what already comes with the dorm so you know what you’ll need to bring and what you can save on not buying. Besides in the actual dorm room, check to see if there is an area, like the kitchen, that gives you access to a toaster, microwave, hot plate, and so on.
  • Use what you already have. After you make your college living checklist, take inventory of what you already have. You don’t have to buy items brand new. Don’t forget to scour the garage, attic, and closets to find items you may be able to use.
  • Coordinate with your roommate or roommates. If you’re sharing a dorm or apartment with someone, be sure to communicate with them on what they’re bringing. Share items you can bring, and see what they can offer.
  • Ask your family and friends. Let your family and friends know what you are on the hunt for including furniture, kitchen gadgets, or whatever else you need. You never know what people have on hand that they’d love to give their college bound friend.
  • Shop for used furniture. Head out to thrift stores, second hand stores, flea markets, garage sales, and yard sales to see what you can score on used furniture. Always be sure to inspect and thoroughly wash items to prevent mold, bed bugs, or any other types of critters or bacteria that could be on used furniture.
  • Shop at the dollar store. The dollar store is a great place to stock up on glasses, plates, silverware, and even microwavable dishes. You’ll also find items to do a little cheap decorating such as artificial flowers, picture frames, vases, decorate dish towels, and more. You never know what you’ll find.


  • Take inventory of what you already have. Before you head out to buy a new wardrobe, use as much of what you already have first. Instead of buying new items, try and pair items you already have for a new outfit or accessories differently.
  • Be practical. If you are going to buy something, be sure it is something that you’ll be able to get a lot of use out of. A jacket to keep you warm while walking to your classes, durable and comfortable shoes for walking, and jeans you can wear to class and out with friends would be a good example of more practical options.

Textbooks and Supplies

  • Find out what you actually need and what you already have. If you’re going away to college, you may automatically think you need to buy a new laptop or printer. But actually, many colleges offer 24 hour computer labs so you would have free access to a computer, internet access, a printer, and ink. Before you purchase the book on the syllabus, reach out to your instructor or professor to see if it is required or if it is just suggested reading. You can also ask if there is any way to make a copy of the pages that are required.
  • Borrow supplies instead of buying. As I mentioned in my article on saving money on textbooks, before you run out and pay for your textbooks (or other supplies) try to borrow them from your college’s or local library instead.
  • Shop second hand. For books, hit the used section first in your college bookstore. You can also find used books online at or Ebay. Used book stores may have the book you need as well.
  • Keep supplies in good shape. Try to keep your books and supplies in the best possible shape. Limit highlighting, notes in the book, underlining, and wear and tear. This way, if you do not have a need for them after the class you’re taking, you can sell them back to your book store or online.

General Tips

  • Create a budget. Just like with everything else, you should create a budget when you’re gearing up to head off to college for all of the items you want to purchase. Calculate how much you can afford to spend on getting settled and all of your gear. Then you can allot how much you want to spend on each item. You may need to do some juggling to make the figures work, but this way you aren’t spending more than you are intending to spend. Keep track of how much items cost and how much you are spending to not go over budget.
  • Find the deals. Whether it is furniture, books, or clothing, shop the deals. Follow stores on Facebook and Twitter to find out about promotions, sales, and coupons. Sign up for their e-mail list for deals and coupons. Call the stores to find out when specific items will go on sale. Always keep your receipt in case you find a better price elsewhere or something you like even more.
  • Shop through Upromise. If you’re doing any shopping online, sign up for Upromise to earn money towards college. You create an account that can link to your Sallie Mae student loans or a college savings plan. You earn money by using the links on their website while you’re shopping. You can also get a discount by shopping with your Upromise account as well. Completely free to sign up, you can register your credit cards, debit cards, and store loyalty cards to earn money as well. In addition, you can ask your parents, family, and friends to sign up as well or at least shop through your link.

What money saving tips do you have for those shopping to head off to college? How do you save money in college? What’s your best money advice for college students?

More Ways to Save for College Students

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