13 Realistic Ways to Save Time and Money in College
March 11, 2021
No matter what sort of realities you'll face in college, you can probably use some tips for stretching your dollar—and schedule—further.
The transition to college can be stressful, no matter how prepared you are. As a student, you have many decisions to make, like what to major in, which classes to take, and how to get involved on campus.
Add in the responsibility of paying for school, keeping up with a part-time or full-time job, and a steady load of coursework, and it's easy to become overwhelmed and financially overextended. As a college student, I learned the hard way what happens when you procrastinate and overspend.
The good news? My experience taught me plenty of ways to make sure I had enough time for school and my personal life, and enough money to support myself. Here are a few tips you can use to save time and money in college, so you can worry less—and feel confident about your future.
How to Make the Most of the Time You Have
Learning to manage your time is an essential skill to being successful in college (and in your future career). While the best approach to time management may look different from one person to the next, here are a few ideas to get started.
Once you've picked your classes and have your course syllabi for the semester, buy or create a calendar. From here, outline the semester, highlighting essential dates for midterms, papers, presentations, and other assignments. You can color-code it and get as creative as you like—the point is to see every deadline coming your way. Once you have this completed, try these things:
1. Plan by week
Schedule out your week in a daily planner, whether on paper or your phone. If you're like me and like to schedule everything, record when you'll go to the gym, break for meals, spend time with friends, study, and pursue other activities. If you prefer a rough outline of your schedule, jot in any significant deadlines for a given week. This technique will keep you on track and help you avoid pulling all-nighters, which can mess with your schedule and, potentially, your grades and mental health.
2. Start with the simple to-dos
Completing easy tasks immediately after class—or as soon as you can—are an easy way to cross off your to-do list without worrying about anything on it falling to the wayside. One of my undergraduate classes required self-reflection pieces each week. I always completed them right after class because the material was fresh in my head, which made the writing process quicker and in a way, more genuine.
For a larger writing assignment, calculate how much time you have to complete it and divide that by the minimum number of pages you're required to write. For instance, if you're assigned a 20-page paper and you have 12 weeks to complete it, you'll need to write about 1.66 pages per week to get it done. It seems much more manageable when you look at it this way.
3. Back up your work
Technology is a beautiful thing, but when it fails us, it can have catastrophic effects. Ever have a 15-page paper due the next morning, and your hard-drive dies? It happened to me after working on a lab report and having it eaten by a dead computer. Thankfully, my professor was understanding. Yours may not be, and I would guess that you'd prefer to do without the frustration (and extra work) that a similar incident could cause.
After this happened, I would be sure to email myself a copy of the writing assignment I was working on and save a copy on a USB. This way, if my computer died, I had two options for getting it back. You can also use Google docs to save your work. It never hurts to have multiple copies of your work.
4. Make use of office hours
I highly recommend visiting office hours, especially if you have a Teaching Assistant (TA). By seeking out yours, you may receive hints and helpful advice on assignments and reading, which can save you so much time. I also found going to office hours before midterms and finals especially helpful. My TAs would often highlight which material to focus on, which would help me save time and streamline study sessions.
5. Find out who's already taken the class
If you know someone who took a class ahead of you, ask for their input. They'll be able to describe the class's format and workload with a degree a detail that will help you form expectations on how to best manage assignments and organize your time. Many of my peers would also give me their notes so I could add additional information to the notes I would eventually take on the same subject. This tactic sped up studying and ended up saving me at least an hour per week per class.
6. Keep distractions at bay
I can't stress this enough; there is no more significant time waster than setting aside time to get work done and getting distracted by friends, your cat, the weather, the TV, anything. If you know that you are easily distracted at home, then seek out time at the library or in a study room. If you struggle to focus, set aside an hour to study, take a break, and repeat.
7. Divide and conquer assignments
This approach divvying up coursework is like group work without any chance that one person will have to do all the work. As a student, I would gather with a group of friends from a class to split up the required reading. Let's say a professor assigned 70 pages of reading due the following week, and there were seven of us in the group. We would all read a select ten pages, and take notes that we'd share via email.
8. Look into online courses
Many colleges and universities offer online courses that count for the same number of credits as on-campus courses. One of their significant benefits is a complete lack of commute. You'll save even more time by taking multiple online courses in a semester, and scheduling them in a way so that you'll only need to be on campus part-time.
Let's Talk About Money Management
Money is probably one of the most significant stressors facing college students, thanks in part to growing tuition and fees, additional academic expenses like textbooks, and the limited time to devote to earning money. Here are some ideas on how to maximize your time on campus while maximizing your budget, too.
9. Look for freebies
As the old saying goes, "the best things in life are free." This sentiment rings especially true as a college student. In my experience, most of the outings with friends, guest lectures, and concerts I attended were free and found through the local paper, word of mouth, and social media. I made such a routine of it that by junior year, I had barely paid anything for entertainment and other events. The best part was, my friends became so curious about my adventures that they all started tagging along—and saving money too.
10. Change up your grocery shopping habits
Want to save money on food? Know that thinking cheap doesn't have to mean scrimping on quality. Most towns and cities have a farmer's market that offers seasonal produce and other goods at a severely discounted price. If there isn't a farmer's market in your area, consider splitting a membership to a warehouse store like Costco, BJ's Wholesale Club, or Sam's Club with a few friends or roommates. Planning for regular shopping trips may be enough to let you opt-out of your campus meal plan—and save a fortune on food.
11. Skip the restaurant
As great as not having to cook is, in many cases, what you order at a given restaurant can almost always be made at home for less. For those who see heading out for a meal as a time to catch up and socialize with friends, consider inviting a group over for a communal meal. Not only will you save money, but you'll also have leftovers and the added fun of making a meal together.
12. Consider living at home
The College Board reports that the average cost of room and board in 2018–2019 ranged from $11,140 at four-year public schools to $12,680 at private schools. Given the numbers, living at home—when possible—is a surefire way to save a considerable amount of money. If you're worried about losing out on the opportunity to meet new people, look to form relationships in class, through clubs, and at student events. It's a myth that you won't make friends unless you live on campus.
13. Digitalize or borrow textbooks
Did you know that you can buy PDF copies of your textbooks for a fraction of the cost? Given their typically high expense, many publishers recognize that an increasing number of students are looking for alternative ways to acquire textbooks and are moving to an online format. Save yourself money (and clutter) by buying the PDF. According to Investopedia, the average PDF or E-textbook can be up to 60 percent cheaper than its print equivalent. If you have a laptop or tablet to access it, you're good to go.
If you prefer physical books, consider exploring your campus library. Generally, college and university libraries allow students to sign out a book (textbook or otherwise) for up to 12 weeks. It's a policy that will give you time to do your readings and save money on something that you may never read again.
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