Family Checkbook: A few tips for saving money while in college

Family Checkbook: A few tips for saving money while in college


Typically, people think of spending — not saving — while in college. It's true that tuition and fees costs are fixed. However, at many schools tuition and fees may be less than half of the overall costs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in-state costs for public four-year universitites in 2015-16 totaled $19,189, with tuition and fees making up 46 percent and room and board the rest. Add in other costs, such as fun, clothing and toiletries, and tuition and fees is an even smaller percent.

You can save money on these "other" costs while in college. Let's look at three strategies used by college students that may work for you or someone in your family.

Small items add up

We often pay attention to large purchases but may not notice when we spend small amounts of money. However, small purchases that we make regularly do add up, and it can make a big difference over time. Look how much these purchases add up over a year. Do any of the following expenses resonate with you?

— One snack item a day, at $1.25 is $465.25 in a year

— Parking meter for 8 hours a week ($8) is $416.

— Pack a day of cigarettes ($7.50 per pack) costs $2,737.50.

— Lunch out five times a week ($8 per lunch) costs $2,080.

Multiply these amounts times four years of college and the amount of student loans needed to cover these costs is significant. You don't have to completely cut out these costs to save money. Stepping down how often you incur these costs helps.

Big expenses matter

Rent, internet fees, insurance and cell phone plans are common big-dollar items for college students. Before signing a contract for any of these items, take time to comparison shop. For example, apartment leases vary significantly in college communities depending on where the apartment is located, amenities, size and more.

Decide what you specifically need (versus want), compare prices, and consider alternatives before you sign a lease. The University of Illinois Tenant Union's "A Quick Guide to Renting Apartments" ( has a housing-cost comparison worksheet as well as an apartment-hunting checklist that are both excellent tools. Don't forget to also comparison shop for other big expenses such as internet fees, rental insurance and cell phone plans.

Plan other spending

College is a wonderful opportunity to try new experiences and have fun. Students need their summer earnings and financial aid to last all year. Plan how much money you can spend comfortably each week. Think about what might help you keep track of your spending. Here are some tried and true student strategies:

— Decide how much you want to spend on Friday night (or for fun during the week) and carry cash for this amount. When the cash is gone, the spending stops.

— Keep receipts in an envelope and add up the amount each week.

— Use a budgeting app to track spending.

Here's a bonus saving strategy! Peer Educators from University of Illinois Extension's Financial Wellness for College Students program have compiled 55 ways to save money from their own experiences. Take a look at this list and circle 10 or more tips that you can implement!

Whether you pay attention to small amounts, comparison shop for big items or plan your fun, you can spend less while in college and ultimately save money for yourself. Using these saving strategies will allow you to set aside money in a savings account for those unexpected costs and opportunities that are sure to arise. College is the perfect place to build your saving habits — you can do it and reap the benefits.

Are you looking for a unique volunteer experience? University of Illinois Extension's Money Mentors program may be for you! Mentors help community members who ask for help with reaching financial goals such as saving money, paying down debt and organizing their finances. To learn more about how you can become a mentor, visit or call 217-333-7672. The next training for mentors begins in October.

Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Contact her at 217-333-7672 or email

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