The Poor Student’s Guide to College

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The Poor Student’s Guide to College

Avoid racking up debt your freshman year by following these money-saving tips.


Collectively, students spend around $11 billion per year on snacks and beverages. (1)

Buy in bulk. It’s okay to be a freshmen stereotype and buy a 50-pack box of Ramen noodles at Sam’s Club. Just make sure that you don’t buy things that expire too quickly.

Free samples are free. Walking through Target and trying all the free samples might equal a small meal.

Use coupons. You might think coupon cutting is for old ladies. But that 2 for 1 deal might just help cut your grocery bill down a few bucks.

Don’t eat out. Just don’t. And if you have to, eat fast food or stick to the kid’s menu.

Furnishing Your Apartment or Dorm

The average student spends $907.22 furnishing their dorm room. (2)

Goodwill and thrift shops. Shop there. These places will become your second home.

Dumpster dive. Sounds gross. And possibly illegal. But it’s not. And hey, if someone throws out a perfectly good chair, why not pick it up?

Check out yard/garage sales. Peruse neighborhoods and look for gently used furniture this way. Most people are willing to negotiate prices, too, unlike retail stores.

Everyday Living

84% of undergraduates have credit cards with an average balance of $3,173. (3)

Use campus facilities. As an undergraduate, you pay all kinds of fees. One of these fees is a facility fee, meaning you’re paying to use things like the campus gym, pool, computer labs, and even health services. Take advantage of all of these.

Recycle everything. You might be surprised what you can wash out and save for later. Finish that gallon tub of ice cream? Wash it and use it to hold your cleaning supplies or makeup.

Get a roommate. Get two roommates. Get three. Get as many as you can handle to bring down the cost of rent.


It is estimated that a college student spends around $1,200 per year on textbooks alone. (4)

Rent or borrow textbooks. Never buy textbooks unless they’re in your major and you know they’ll be useful to you in later classes.

Rent everything else, too. Need a fridge for your dorm? Rent it. Need a washer and dryer for your apartment? Rent it. This will keep you from using credit cards to buy expensive things. Plus, it’ll get you used to paying for things on a monthly basis.

Get some vinegar. Vinegar can clean just about anything, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying individual cleaning supplies for every surface or room.

Going Out

The average American spends around $2,700 annually on dining out. (5)

Don’t. Learn to love staying in and mooching off of someone else’s Netflix account.

Check out campus activities. Universities often have rec rooms for students looking to get out of their dorms.

Look for free activities. Google local, free concerts or art festivals. If you live in a bigger city, there is usually something going on.


Gasoline accounts for 5.1% of the average American’s yearly spending. (6)

Don’t use your car. Don’t even own a car. Use university and public transportation as much as you can.

Consider studying abroad. See the world on your university’s dime. Don’t let your friends talk you into any expensive vacations to Mexico while you’re a poor college student.

Carpool. If you have to have a car, share rides with friends and split gas money.


The average American household spends more than $1,100 per year on electronics. The average adult spent $652 on consumer electronic products in the past 12 months. (7)

Download software through your university. Most universities offer discount software to students, and sometimes they’re completely free.

Don’t go for the latest devices. Yes, we all want the newest iPhone or tablet. But it might be best to get by with what you can for your first year. Media and messaging packages on brand new phones can get expensive.

Use campus computers. Some universities even have 24-hour computer labs for all your computer needs.

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