The ultimate free and cheap guide for college students


College is a time of change, a shift from the strictures of the public school system to the autonomy of higher education, where young adults are given the opportunity to spread their wings and live four years in the angst-fueled fervor of term papers, social faux pas, midterms, finals, group projects, awkward dorm parties and late night study sessions.

It truly is a wonderful time in any young person’s life. And on top of all that, there is the looming tension of paying for it all. From tuition to dorm fees, textbooks to living expenses, college can become a weighty financial burden that is often deferred (both in payment and in concern) until graduation. Then the interest payments begin to find their way into your mailbox.

While certain expenses can’t be avoided, there are many completely feasible ways for any college student to cut back on their spending (and maybe make a little extra cash on the side) through both on- and off-campus programs.

Read more: Borrowing for the coming school year? Here’s good news about interest rates!

Use all those student services you have to pay for

To start, take a few minutes during your first week at school to peruse the laundry list of services that your school provides to students FOR FREE. These can be found fairly easily on the school’s website and will often be grouped under specific departments within the college. That’s right, college campuses often provide a number of free or inexpensive services for students ranging from the obvious like health care and athletic facilities to the more obscure like tutoring services and financial advice centers.

Additionally, a lot of schools offer special student deals for certain essential school items like pens, pencils, notebooks, binders and even software like Microsoft Office. These services are great because they provide necessary services for next-to-nothing. They can also save you the cost of retaking a class by providing tutors to assist you in subjects that you struggle with.

Don’t forget the value of a good university library. They offer far more than just books. Most public libraries provide access to movies, music, comic books as well as a variety of other entertainment services. You’ll be paying for these services every semester through student fees so there is little reason to let them go to waste. A quick search on your browser could save you serious money in the long run.

Read more: 27 discounts you can get with a student ID

Crash every campus event

In a similar vein, keep up to speed on your school’s calendar of events for the semester and plan your social schedule around them. Colleges big and small provide a slew of student-focused campus events that often provide an opportunity to make new friends, get free food and grab sweet swag.

Whether it’s a pep rally, club party or other college-sanctioned campus event, they will often provide some kind of free incentive to draw attendance, and there is no shame in taking them for what they’re worth. These incentives mostly come in the form of free food and drinks, and occasionally school gear, which can help to delay your next trip to the grocery store. Between the food eaten at the event, and the leftovers you take with you when it ends, a fairly steady stream of free grub can be brought in by attending these events.


Sell your body to science

Now, if free food and swag isn’t enough to get by on, consider opting into medical studies for extra cash. It may sound desperate and a tad scary, but there is a lot of money to be made in the business of being a human guinea pig. Now, I must warn before you throw yourself into the arms of Drs. Frankenstein or Moreau, that what I propose here is participation in volunteer case studies for non-invasive testing. These mostly include skin tests for cosmetics such as body lotions and acne fighters. They typically require participants to spend a few hours (in some cases an overnight stay is required) at a lab.

The pay for participating in these studies will vary depending on the type and length of the study, but considering the miniscule effort you have to put forth in order to qualify, the time-to-pay correlation is rather enticing. And for longer studies, participants are often allowed to do whatever they want while under observation. That means you can still get homework done or enjoy a favorite TV show or movie while making a little extra cash.

The obvious concern with these types of studies is the credibility of the organization providing the service, so please do a little research of your own before signing on the dotted line. And if possible, start with studies being conducted through your university before reaching out to private agencies. Donating plasma is another fairly easy though controversial way to earn some extra money. You can find a nearby plasma donation center here.

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Shamelessly exploit student discounts (wherever you go)

Now that you’ve got a little extra human guinea pig cash in your pocket you may feel like skipping one of the many free events on campus for a night on the town. Don’t throw your newly acquired dough away on an overpriced meal or an activity that you could have enjoyed at a discount!

One of the major off-campus perks of being a student is the power held in that flimsy plastic student ID card the school makes you use to access campus services. Many businesses near college campuses will offer student discounts. You should find no embarrassment in approaching every clerk and cashier you encounter and boldly asking, “Do you offer a student discount?” It may feel weird at first, but trust me, once the discounts start rolling in, the awkwardness will quickly dissipate into a euphoric sense of financial achievement.

While many stores will post advertisements to draw students in, some places may have no notification posted at all. It is your job to pose the pivotal question whenever possible. Now, you shouldn’t expect to find dramatic offers being thrown at you purely for your status as “college student,” but most places offer a variety of discounts (usually ranging from 10 – 15% off), or some kind of additional service that typically costs extra.

Bottom line: If you’re already going out, ask the question and see what happens. The worst that can happen is they tell you “no.”

Final thought

Now that you’re armed with these money-saving tips, go forth to your perspective college this fall with your head held high: You are a slightly more fiscally responsible young adult ready to manage your meager student funds more effectively. And remember, there is no shame in playing up the fact that you are a broke college student. Use it to your advantage. You’d be surprised how many services are out there to help you out.

More ways to save!

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