Ways to Save Money while Attending University

The cost of sending a child to university varies between US and Canada but there are areas that students in both countries could cut back on to reduce their overall expenditure.


As alumni of many universities would attest, buying textbooks from the campus bookstore is not the way of frugal students. Exploring online shopping sites like eBay and Amazon for used textbooks, scouring local used bookstores, and checking the school bulletin boards for relevant items on sale would help in overcoming this necessary expense. Another modern-day development is the option to rent textbooks (for Canadian students) from websites like BigMama.


Students who stay at on-campus residences are provided the option of a meal plan. Students who are averse to cooking and/or consider cooking as an avoidable inconvenience during a critical phase of their life may be better off with the meal plan. For the rest, doing their own cooking may help to reduce food costs and save money that could be diverted to other needs. Another benefit is the chance to learn a valuable skill and become more self-reliant.

However, if a student is incapable of preparing their own food and orders takeout often and/or thrives on macaroni and cheese, then it might be a better idea to let them utilize the meal plan and assist in maintaining their health.


Most universities are in cities that are well-serviced by the local bus system and subways, where applicable. Living without a car can save the money that could be spent on gas, maintenance, parking permit, and insurance. On-campus residents can get their dose of necessities from the nearby store that is usually located within walking distance. If not, car pooling with friends for those weekly or biweekly grocery trips can help. For those students who cannot find/afford a residence on or close to campus, a car may become a need, especially in winter (assuming the car does not bring its own set of problems). If it is a must, then researching well and following some basic auto tips can minimize transportation costs.


Since a cell phone is deemed essential by many college students, it might be worthwhile to at least select the right plan. A prepaid plan is probably the cheapest but it has to be considered with one’s requirements. If text messages and local calling are the key modes of communication, then selecting an expensive plan with cheap long-distance calling does not make much sense. There are many plans being offered these days that it takes some time to figure out the best option.

Also, since many students have a laptop or desktop, students can use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and utilize VoIP to communicate with family and friends without breaking the bank.


All work and no play is not fun at any time. Going out is an essential part of a student’s social life but selecting the right places and hitting them at the right time can save a few bucks. Planning activities around Happy Hour, a restaurant’s Wing Night, or Discount for Students nights can provide much-needed social bonding at a cheaper price. Potluck events, either at a shared lounge or at a park (weather permitting), can also offer good opportunities to get to know others better.

Apart from cutting costs, there is also the possibility to work part-time and earn some money. However, this depends on the coursework and available spare hours. Working part-time to the detriment of the primary goal of completing a degree is not a wise decision. In addition, taking advantage of scholarships/bursaries/grants that are offered at the university and researching other government benefit programs are useful things to keep in mind.

How did you keep your expenses low during university days? Do you think some of your tips may not be applicable in today’s environment? Any other useful pointers for students going to university this fall?

About the Author: Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.

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Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.
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Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance
9 years ago

When I was a student in college, I bought used textbooks, rented some and borrowed from friends on the senior level. I went to a college within the city and lived with my parents so that I can save on housing, food, and transportation. I take the public transportation and brought my own water, juice, homemade salads and sandwiches to school.

9 years ago

Transportation – walking is great, biking is even better as increases one’s range dramatically. Many Canadian universities are located in places where bikes are viable year-round. Cars are such a luxury and a crippling expense for a student. I got my first at 26.

Food – i am amazed at the amount of money I see students wasting on bottled water (ever), and soft drinks and snacks bought at stands or convenience stores at 8-10x the cost of bulk purchases. Also, the amount of restaurant dining is pretty impressive given the financial resources. Some students have LOCs owing over 100k by the time they are done.

I would say that the biggest thing to save money is to be aware of what things truly cost. Above all, no credit card balances!

Steve Zussino - Canadian Coupons
9 years ago

The first lesson to take before going away to university is learning to cook.

Just a few basics, like eggs, a roast, how to use a crock pot, muffins. In school you have a lack of time but the earlier you start saving, the easier it is when you are older!

9 years ago

I wish I had been able to cook for myself in first year! In the residence where I lived, you had to buy a meal plan – it was a requirement. Our kitchenette had a hot plate, over crowded fridge and nothing else. There was no where to store food or cook anything, even if you did bring your own pots, pans and prep tools!

Unfortunately, it was only upper year and grad student residences that had full kitchens. If I had gone to a university where apartment style accommodation was an option, I would have paid more for that kind of room and done my own cooking. It pays to factor both into your decision.