7 Crazy Things College Students Have Done to Save Money

By Rebecca Lake
August 1, 2019

Being a broke college student is a rite of passage. But that doesn’t mean having no money is any fun. 

When you don’t have a lot of cash to spend, you have to get creative with your funds. And, finding outside-the-box ways to save money can help you stretch every dollar.

If you’re looking for inspiration to help pad your savings account, check out these 7 extreme money-saving stories from some formerly broke students.

1. Recycle for profit

When he was in college LaRon Hayes, marketing manager for Premier International Transportation, discovered that one man’s trash is another’s treasure – literally. 

It started when he came across a Craigslist ad from someone giving away free books. He snagged the lot, then resold them on eBay to make his first $100. From there, he started regularly picking up free items he could resell for a few extra bucks. He was able to use the money he set aside from upcycling to pay down his student loan debt after graduation. 

If you’re interested in reselling, take advantage of all the different ways you can do this to make money. For example, you can sell free or found items on:

  • eBay
  • Amazon
  • Craigslist
  • Local Facebook bargain groups

In addition, don’t count out yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, consignment shops and used bookstores. These can be great resources for finding and reselling your wares. 

2. Take Extra Credits to Graduate Early

Cutting down what you pay for tuition is one way to save money as a student. Marc Andre, founder of VitalDollar.com, was able to trim a big chunk off his college budget by fast-tracking his way through school. 

“The base tuition was the same for 12-18 credits per semester, so I took 18 credits most semesters because it didn’t cost anything extra,” Andre says. 

He graduated a semester early and saved around $8,000 on tuition and fees to boot. 

If you’re still in school, consider whether graduating ahead of schedule is doable. Check with your registrar and financial office to find out how many hours you can take each semester and run the numbers to see if you’d save anything by getting your diploma a semester or two early.

3. Stock up on freebies

Steffa Mantilla, owner of Plantsonify, saved money in college by building a personal stockpile of free samples.

“My dentist’s office would often let me take multiple toothpastes, toothbrushes and floss,” Mantilla says. 

“Some companies will even send you samples if you email them. Combining this with using hotel shampoos, soaps and conditioners, I rarely had to purchase any toiletry items during college.” 

Assuming you spend $50 a month on toiletries in college, that could add up to $600 a year you could stash in savings. Some other ways to grab money-saving freebies include:

  • Hitting the makeup counter at your favorite department store for free samples.
  • Signing up for birthday freebies at your favorite restaurants and retailers. 
  • Take surveys or watch videos online to earn free gift cards.
  • Join a freebie website like FreeFlys.

Just remember to read the fine print on freebie websites to make sure they’re legit. 

4. Live Harry Potter-style

Communal living can be a great way to save money in college and Megan Robinson, personal finance expert at Dollarsprout, took it to the extreme.

“I lived in a one-bedroom house with two other girls, three dogs and three cats,” Robinson says.

Splitting the rent three ways allowed Robinson and her roommates to each save about $200 per month.

“I’m 90% sure my bedroom used to be a pantry or a laundry room, but the rent was cheaper than anything else in the area.” 

You don’t necessarily have to live in a pantry or broom cupboard, but if rent payments are straining your budget, consider whether taking on a roommate or two might help. Or, think about downsizing altogether and renting a single room in someone else’s home. You can get your own space at a fraction of what it might cost to rent an apartment. 

5. Skip buying textbooks

Buying textbooks can be a financial drain. Becky Beach, founder of MomBeach.com, came up with a creative solution. 

“I read all my textbooks in the campus bookstore so I didn’t have to buy them,” Beach says. 

Now, if you don’t have time to hang in your college bookstore all day, there are a few other ways you can save money on textbooks. For example, you could try:

  • Checking out a copy from the campus library.
  • Buying used textbooks online. 
  • Using digital versions instead of print versions to save money.
  • Renting textbooks on Amazon or another textbook rental site instead of buying. 
  • Sharing textbooks with a classmate.

And once you’re done with your textbooks for the semester, get some of your money back by reselling them. Get a quote on a price from the campus bookstore, then compare that to what you might be able to make by selling your books online or through a student reselling group on Facebook. 

6. Sell real estate in your spare time

Starting a side hustle in college can help bring in some extra cash. Morgan Riddle, interactive media manager at LoveYourMelon.com, took things just a bit further. 

“I was looking for a way to make money and ended up getting my New York real estate license as a junior in college,” Riddle says. 

“I sold and rented apartments on days I didn’t have class or between my classes junior and senior year.” 

When it was all said and done, Riddle ended up making over $15,000 to add to her savings account

Pro tip: If you’re considering starting a side hustle or business, think about whether you’ll need any money up front to get started. In Riddle’s case, it cost $350 to obtain a real estate license but that investment proved well worth it in the end. 

7. Lock up your savings

If you struggle to hold onto your savings, it may be best to make it untouchable. Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, says he knew a grad student who had a system for this.

She opened a second account at a bank that had no branches nearby and cut up her ATM card for that account. Then when she got paid, she’d write a check to the second account and deposit it using the bank’s mobile app. 

“Her savings were safe there because getting the money out was just too much of a hassle,” Steiner says. 

You could try something similar by setting up a separate account for savings if you don’t have one yet. 

Do you have a crazy savings story?

Saving money can sometimes be a struggle, especially in college. 

Do you have a wild savings story in your past? Or, are you doing something extreme right now to save and earn more money?

Whatever it is you’re doing, keep making saving money a priority. Setting aside money consistently is the best way to end up wealthy long after you leave college behind!

Rebecca Lake has been writing about personal finance and business for nearly a decade. Her work has been featured on CreditCards.com, Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and other personal finance sites.

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