As a college student, running out of money halfway through your semester is probably your worst nightmare. You need that money to last and we’re here to provide you with the tips to make that happen. It’s all about the plan and we are good at that over here.
Chances are when you take out student loans, you receive a lump sum of money at the beginning of the semester when your loan funds are distributed, often known as a financial aid refund.
This means you have to ration all that money to last you for several months. And since this is most likely a new concept…this can be incredibly challenging to budget for. Unfortunately, if you can’t manage your money in college, you might have to take extreme measures and borrow money from your parents or even worse, rack up a credit card. Which is a slippery slope.
So what can you do to make sure your cash lasts you all semester long? Follow these tips and let this be a guide to becoming more financially savvy. Your future self will thank you.
1. Evaluate how much money you have to spend weekly
When you get all your money deposited into your bank account at the beginning of the semester, you might feel like the wealth will never fade. But the most important thing you should do right away is to calculate how much money you have available to spend on a weekly basis.
This might seem daunting, but actually, it’s quite easy. All you have to do is count how many weeks stand between the beginning and the end of the semester. A typical semester is 15 weeks long, but make sure you count your specific school’s semester calendar just to be safe.
Now, take the total amount of money deposited into your bank account from the loan and divide that by that number, 15 weeks, give or take.
For example, say you have $5,000 for the whole semester. $5000 divided by 15 weeks leaves you approximately ~$333 available to spend per week.
2. Budget your weekly money
Now that you know how much money you have per week available, it’s time to start budgeting.
If you’re new to budgeting, this basically means allocating where you plan on spending your money, in this case, it would be each week. Typically a budget is used to ensure that you don’t overspend your money
The most important part when it comes to making a budget is also planning for unexpected expenses. We tried our best to cover everything on one spreadsheet, but since everyone has different backgrounds and experiences, it’s important to account for everything that could possibly require you to pay upfront.
Don’t forget to set aside money for entertainment and dining. Though at first, you might say that you won’t spend money in these categories, but truth be told it’s bound to happen and you should be prepared for it when it does. We certainly don’t want to ruin all of your fun, so work these into your budget, just do so sparingly.
If you do have extra money even after you’ve allocated everything, you should consider making interest payments on your unsubsidized loans. This might seem ridiculous for someone who has no money, but it can actually help you out immensely upon graduating and prevent your balance from growing while you’re still in college. The goal would be to avoid accruing all the interest that would eventually be added to your principal balance over the course of your tenure, but any amount towards interest can be helpful.
Making a budget isn’t meant to torture you, in fact, you should feel liberated that you’re getting your finances in check so that you don’t stress if your money runs out and you have nothing to show for it.
3. Don’t spend your money on non-essentials
We know you’re calling us fun-suckers right now. But to be honest, we are just trying to save you down the line.
When you take out a loan, you ultimately have to pay back that loan AND any interest that accrues on top of it. That means, if you spend your money on things that you don’t absolutely need, you will just be paying interest on those items/services in the future.
Spending your money frivolously also just ensures that you’ll run out of money sooner than you anticipated which could lead to even more money spent on credit cards (and even higher interest on those).
We’re not here to say, “don’t have fun.” We’re just here to say, “be smart about having fun.”
If you’re looking for tips on how to not over-spend and over-indulge, try these out:
- When going to the bars with friends, allocate a set amount of money to spend for the night and take that with you in cash. Once you’ve reached the limit not only have you probably avoided a massive hangover tomorrow, but also the regret of looking at your bank account and wondering how you managed to blow $100 on drinks and drunk snacks.
- If you have a shopping trip planned. Limit yourself to purchasing one thing (reasonably priced). If you look at it as a situation that is a reward rather than a punishment, that purchase will make you feel really great and you won’t get the post-spending blues.
- If you have to go grocery shopping weekly, do it on a full stomach. You’re less likely to over-buy this way since you’re not thinking with your stomach but your head. Also, be mindful of the things you know you’ll eat vs. things that you always end up throwing away. It can be as simple as buying a smaller package of lettuce rather than thinking you’ll eat salads all week and opting for the bigger one. Small savings can lead to big changes in your finances.
- Cut out any subscriptions you pay for that aren’t necessary. Sure we know Spotify is a must, but you don’t need that subscription to Hulu, Netflix and DisneyPlus+. Limit yourself and save a lot of money.
4. Signup for Amazon Prime for students
This is hands down the best place you could spend any money because of all the perks that come with having an Amazon Prime membership.
The best part… it’s free for six months (and then only $59 per year after that, which is less than $5 per month)
Just to name a few of the Amazon Prime perks:
- Free two-day shipping (and free same-day delivery if it’s available in your area)
- Access to streaming of thousands of TV shows and movies…that means axing your Netflix subscription (;
- Bonus deals for students
- Unlimited photo storage
- Unlimited access to over one thousand e-books, audiobooks and magazines
You can cancel your subscription at any time without any penalties, so trying out Amazon Prime for 6 months is a no brainer.
The cost savings are insane and who knows, maybe your next textbook will be available for free.
5. Rent your textbooks or buy them used
Speaking of textbooks. Renting textbooks, or buying used textbooks is a surefire way to save money. After all, who wants to spend close to $1000 on textbooks each school year? Certainly not you!
When making your budget, you have to account for the cost of books so why not overshoot your budgeting dollars, and underspend on your textbooks? Sound too good to be true? It’s totally not.
It’s the first place (besides the library) you should go to get the textbooks you might only use once a semester…or never. Cruel of professors to force you to buy a book that you never use. But I digress.
Plus with that Amazon Prime membership, you copped above, you’ll get free 2-day shipping on most of your rentals.
If you do decide to buy your textbooks for the semester, there’s actually a place where you can sell back your textbooks too.
All in all, you can’t lose when it comes to Amazon’s services, and you should definitely take advantage of them!
6. Limit your streaming services
It’s pretty overwhelming how many streaming services there actually are now. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, Apple TV. Just to name a few
That’s a lot!
And they all offer different shows so they can get you sucked in easily and effectively.
But having a subscription to every streaming service would run you a lot of money each month.
If you’re trying to take the most cost-effective method…take full advantage of your Amazon Prime membership.
Amazon Prime offers thousands of movies and TV shows free with your Prime membership.
Plus, it’s free for your first 6 months, so why not get a taste of what they have to offer, find a new show to binge and enjoy all the savings of canceling your other streaming services.
And hey…I’m sure you have a friend or two that has all of the others, so capitalize on your resources and you won’t miss a thing, including your precious money.
7. Buy a refurbished laptop
So your laptop dies halfway through the semester, or just face it, you need a new one before yours does die right before that thesis is due.
You don’t have the budget to go drop $1100 on a new one, so getting a refurbished one.
A refurbished laptop is just one that has been either pre-owned and cleaned so it works like new, or it’s been reproduced using parts from parts that are in perfect condition.
If you’re worried about the warranty, you’re in luck, many refurbished products come with very similar warranties as new ones.
This refurbished Macbook Pro has a retail value of $1299 and is on sale on Amazon for $426!
That’s almost 50% off the original price and it works just the same!
It’s like getting a whole new laptop for a fraction of the cost!
8a. Maximize the benefits of your dining hall
One of the greatest parts about being in college is never being required to cook your own meals (unless you want to).
Most colleges and universities have a dining hall that takes care of that for you and has a plethora of options right at your fingertips at all times.
The best way to take advantage of your school’s dining hall is to always think ahead. If you know you only have time to get to the dining hall once a day, make sure you’re stocking up on the most nutrient-dense foods they have, that way you can stay fuller for longer throughout your day.
Some schools also have programs where you can take food to go. If yours does, this is an easy one.
Go in for one meal and make sure you take a meal to go. They typically will allow you to fill the container as much as you can, so do your best to fill it and grab stuff that will last all day.
8b. Buy your own groceries and save a ton of money
If the dining hall isn’t your jam, that’s ok too!
You can definitely get away with buying your own groceries and putting that money you’d spend for a meal plan and divide it up weekly.
The most important thing to remember when grocery shopping for yourself, is it’s better to underbuy than overbuy.
Buying your own groceries is also the best way to make healthier choices during your week.
However, it’s also easy to fall victim to all the fad diets and expensive healthy food costs that make you think you’re eating healthy but you’re mostly just draining your bank account.
This is a surefire way to save money and also avoid food waste.
Also, the best part of grocery shopping for yourself is the ability to bring your own snacks to campus. You don’t have to feel guilty spending extra money when you don’t need to and you have the full liberty to eat what you want. I call that a win.
Packing your lunch and snacks for class for the week can save you a lot of money in the long-run, probably even more than you would save having a meal plan so if you aren’t required to buy your school’s meal plan, consider this option!
9. Stop buying coffee out and bring your own to class
Coffee is one of those necessary evils in life. We love it, but damn it can really add up your weekly bill if you’re buying it every single day.
If there’s one thing I could suggest, it’s to buy a Kuerig for your dorm and bring your coffee to class.
You will likely need coffee for all those long days and late nights, but you don’t need to go broke funding your caffeine addiction.
Let’s just hypothetically say you buy a coffee every day of the school week. And each coffee costs you approximately ~$2.99 (excluding the bagel and cream cheese that always smells so delectable as you walk in the coffee shop).
$2.99 x 5 days a week is a total of $14.95, which is a total of $59.90 over the course of a month.
That’s a pretty cheap cup of coffee too, most places cost a lot more, but you get the picture. For the price of one month of coffee, you can buy a coffee machine and only have to buy pods. The savings speak for themselves.
This coffee maker is extremely reliable and small enough to fit on your desk without taking up too much space.
I also highly recommend this travel mug to take your coffee to class without it getting cold or spilling everywhere
10. Get into the money-saving mindset
Sometimes a little can go a long way if you play your cards right. Since you know your dollars are limited, become a bargain hunter.
Did you know your student ID can provide discounts for you at a lot of places?
On top of your student ID saving you money just by showing it, you also can utilize apps on your desktop such as Honey, which looks for discount codes for you and automatically applies the best one so you can save the most money.
Take advantage of things on campus that are free. A lot of universities will hold free movie nights, events, crafts, games, etc and most of the time food will be provided. You can grab some friends and make a night out of this and not spend a dime!
If you’re trying to plan a night out with friends, suggest doing a potluck. Everyone brings a dish and you can eat a full meal in the company of friends at a huge cost-savings for you!
Plus these can be a ton of fun!
Rather than go out to the bars, take advantage of going to house parties. Buying beer at a grocery store is much cheaper than buying it at a bar or restaurant.
11. Don’t use your credit card unless it’s an emergency or strategy
Credit card debt is the one thing you CAN control in college. You absolutely, 100% DO NOT need to rack up credit debt so long as you’re mindful of your spending.
Once more? You got it? Good! Now that that’s been established…
Credit card debt is insurmountably high for everyone, including you on a fixed college budget. And you definitely don’t want to commit your future dollars to pay off interest and principal if you don’t have to.
But that being said, there can be some strategy for spending money on credit cards. If you have your budget planned out perfectly and you have a credit card that can earn you cashback or rewards. Then, by all means, spend accordingly. Just be sure you pay it off on time and don’t leave a balance on the card. You can (and should) reap the benefits of your credit cards to save extra money where you can.
Some credit cards will give you a percentage for anything you buy, while others are more specific to gas, groceries, dining & entertainment, etc.
So long as you are prepared and have the means to pay it off.
Your money can last all semester so long as you plan
Now that you have a plan, you have no excuse not to make your money last all semester, and avoid putting yourself in even more debt!
The biggest reason students find themselves in tough financial situations is that they don’t take the time at the beginning of the semester to form money habits that are actionable and effective.
But now that you have this plan of attack, you can assure that that doesn’t happen to you.
The best part about money habits is they will stick with you forever. A budget now means a budget in the future that will be much easier to follow. Think of this as your hardest money hurdle and the rest will be a cakewalk!
We recommend this budget planner for college students to make budgeting easy and fun.
Saving money down the line
When it comes to taking out student loans, the hardest part is finding the best interest rates. It requires research and a pretty deep understanding of exactly what to look for which most students don’t have time or energy for.