How I Saved Money in College

August 28, 2012

This time next week, Canadian students of all ages will be heading back to school. New backpacks will be filled with empty notebooks and sharpened pencils, pulled onto the shoulders of boys and girls clothed in new outfits and ready with open minds.

I get a bit nostalgic every September, as back-to-school was always one of my favourite times of the year. For any student, it’s perhaps even more meaningful than New Year’s Eve, as the school year rules the calendar and each September is an opportunity to start over.

This is the first semester I won’t be in school, in more than two years. I don’t need a new backpack or school supplies and I also don’t technically need any new clothes (although my smaller waistline would beg to differ). But that doesn’t mean I can’t share some of the things I learned in my final years as a student. Most importantly, here are a few of the ways I saved money in college:

1. Choose Free Banking
I am a long-time and loyal member of Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, where all of my bank accounts are free (and some are high-interest). When I first became a student, the average student chequing account cost around $6 per month and came with a limited number of transactions. While many banks now offer students “free” banking services, there are always fees for overages, statements, etc. that you need to watch out for. I avoided all of that by only using accounts that offered free unlimited transactions.

2. Say No to Cable
Before moving this year, and getting a great deal on a bundle from Shaw, I had cancelled my cable. And, trust me, I’m a huge fan of television. But $50+ per month is not chump change to a student. $50 is a week’s worth of groceries. Or a cell phone bill. Or a tank of gas. Or half a bus pass. It could even be a student loan interest payment. And with so many other ways to watch or download shows, I knew it was a “want” and not a “need”. (If you really can’t part ways with it, find out if your provider offers any deals to students!)

3. Buy Cheap(er) Textbooks
One of the best lessons I learned in school did not come from a textbook; it was about when and how to buy them. In my program, I learned pretty quickly that I could get through some classes without ever needing to crack open a textbook. So, even if it pushed my first week of participation back by a few days, I waited until reading through the entire syllabus before purchasing the “required” textbook. Then I either bought a used copy on Amazon or I rented an eTextbook through CourseSmart.

4. Sell Textbooks Immediately
The minute I submitted my final assignment for a class, I listed the textbook for sale on Amazon. In total, I did keep 4 or 5 from my program that I would like to either re-read (social media stuff, mostly) or keep for a future Master’s program (Communication theories are probably important there). But the rest of my books were gone before the program ended and I happily pocketed a few hundred dollars as I packaged them up and shipped them off.

What is/was your favourite way to save money in college?

  • Amy August 28, 2012 at 4:18 am

    These are all great tips. I’d never heard of Course Smart, I’m going to have to check that out. Another great site for students is abebooks.com, you can get used textbooks cheap.

    One of my favorite ways to save money is going out to eat on half-price appetizer night, or wing night, can’t pass up a $10 (or less) bill compared to $20!

    • Cait August 28, 2012 at 5:38 am

      Good one, Amy! And thanks for sharing the link.

  • Rob August 28, 2012 at 4:26 am

    “But if you know you’re only going to have a few glasses of wine, why not do that at home and then leave just in time to hit the dance floor?”

    I would agree with most of your suggestions on how to save money except for the last one. Around here if you tried that one and got stopped by the cops for a road breathalyzer test you might regret it (what with zero tolerance) – unless of course you had a designated driver with you (which a lot of young people forget about since they all think that they are can handle their drinking). Best to play safe and not drink – period – no pre-drinking – if you are the one doing the driving.

    • Cait August 28, 2012 at 5:37 am

      Sorry, I thought it was a given that people wouldn’t drive after even one drink. The blood alcohol limit is so low in BC – with the consequences and fees so high – you could blow over after just one. I always caught the bus downtown ($2.50) and shared a cab home. So maybe that’s a sixth tip! Thanks, Rob.

  • Savvy Scot August 28, 2012 at 5:13 am

    Haha – I agree with your last point… Pre-Drinking was the big one for me :) We always got a taxi / bus into the bars and clubs so drink-driving was NEVER an issue

    • Cait August 28, 2012 at 5:46 am

      Absolutely! Thanks, Scot.

  • Michelle August 28, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Great tips! I really recommend not buying from the bookstore. So many people do that and I don’t know why!

    • Cait August 28, 2012 at 5:47 am

      Me either! Even buying new off Amazon will save you some cash, versus buying from the bookstore.

  • Sean@OneSmartDollar August 28, 2012 at 8:32 am

    I always did #5. Saved so much money on a night out.

    • Cait August 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      Towards the end of school, when I was paying off debt, I turned into the DD – Designated Driver. But, before that, #5 saved me a lot of money (errr… extra credit card debt).

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life August 28, 2012 at 9:48 am

    These are all great ideas! I started using course smart in second year and it probably saved me hundreds of dollars in text books.

    • Cait August 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

      Right? A couple times, a few of us even split the cost of the rented eTextbook and shared the login information. Now *that’s* a way to save even more on textbooks!

  • jefferson @seedebtrun August 28, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Hahaha.. Great tips, Cait. We always did our big drinking before hand, altho the $5 college keggers were not exactly wallet-busters.

    One of the best ways to keep your finances in order is to get a part time job on campus tutoring or working in one of the computer labs…

  • Asia August 29, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Great call on pre-drinking. I remember shot gunning in the club parking lot in order to save. I used to make tea with hot water from the bathroom (grosss I know) but it worked. I also had an amazing thermal cup (starbucks stainless) that kept my morning coffee warm until noon. Another thing I did was pair up with a friend on buying text books. We did all our assignments together so we only needed one book.

    • Cait August 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      Yes! Love the idea of sharing textbooks.

  • Canadianbudgetbinder August 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    When I went to University for the first time in the UK the money I had I saved working all summer and worked part time while in school. I brought a lunch to school or just ate when I got home. I certainly didn’t blow money down at the pub like me mates although once in a while I did go. I was more the get in,get out type of guy when it came to education. I sold all my textbooks and I wore jeans an t-shirts… life was simple for me because I knew that I didn’t want to spend more than I needed to. I went on to buy my first house at 19 years of age and the rest is history. Now I’m on my third house and just finished my second 5 year stint at school but in Canada and am happy to say that what I did and learned when I was young I’m SO thankful for. I hope others who read both our blogs learn a thing or 10 about finances so they too can make informed decisions. Cheers Mr.CBB

    • Cait September 4, 2012 at 5:27 am

      Lots of great lessons here, Mr. CBB. I also worked all through school and never spent much money on new clothes, etc. But I definitely didn’t buy my first home at 19. What a concept! Good for you.

      • Canadianbudgetbinder September 4, 2012 at 6:06 am

        I was probably closer to 20 when I bought it and although it was just a flat it was home and it was mine. I’m just happy I did what I did. We live and learn I guess.

  • Andrea (@nickelbynickel) August 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Great tips! The only one I haven’t really mastered yet is the textbooks, I always get screwed with those and make the wrong decision. I’m going to see if coursesmart will work for me this year!

    • Cait September 4, 2012 at 5:29 am

      Check it out! Sometimes it’s still $50-60 for a textbook, but you could always split that and share the login with someone… or just be happy that you’re not physically purchasing a textbook you’ll probably never look at again afterwards.

  • Drop that Debt August 30, 2012 at 9:30 am

    I definitely did the textbook resale, but often times the next semester my brand new text would be out of date because they constantly update the editions.. basically another way to get a money grab from students, and frustrating because there were several books I just could not sell. Pre-drinking saves a ton as well!!

    • Cait September 4, 2012 at 5:30 am

      I sold most of my textbooks on Amazon, which helps because there are lots of students out there who may only need your same edition. It sometimes cost me up to $15 to ship, but to make back even $40 was better than nothing!

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  • ES_PR220 October 2, 2012 at 7:39 am

    These are all great tips for any student, be in Canada, Australia, anywhere! Great tip about buying cheaper textbooks and reselling as soon as they are no longer needed – every student can probably relate to having textbooks sitting in their cupboards gathering dust after only using them for a semester. Perhaps another tip you could discuss is cutting down on money spent on food on campus, I’m sure all students could empathize with that! Thanks for the great read.

    • Cait October 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      Thanks for the great comment! :)