How to not be a broke college student

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Many of us accept the cliché, beggar student lifestyle, staving off hunger with instant ramen and microwave dinners, but there are many simple methods to use in order to not go broke in college.


Establishing a decent savings account is more important than tackling an Amazon wish list. Whether it’s the engine light flashing or forgetting to pay an enormous bill, a savings account can be a saving grace. 

“A savings account is important because if you have money saved up you, won’t need to go into debt if something unexpected occurs, [and] you also gain a little bit of money for doing nothing,” said Sean Cardon, a senior Spanish major from St. George.

Cardon also mentioned that budgeting is key to saving.  

“The best way to save money in college is to have a budget,” Cardon said. “Don’t spend money you don’t have, rent books instead of buying them, and always, always stick to your budget.”

Most students think a savings account is impossible to grow, but by simply making small deposits over time can yield great results. Regarding a good nest egg for rainy days, Katie Adolpho, academic adviser in the Udvar-Hazy School of Business, referred to author Dave Ramsey, saying to “keep at least $1,000 in savings at all times.”

Wise, Objective Spending

After enough money has been saved in the bank, the next step is tallying liquid assets. No, it’s not those brewskis in the fridge, but assets that can be converted into quick cash. The most common liquid assets for college students are funds in the bank. So, how much is in there and where is it going?

The biggest expenses for college students are tuition and living expenses. 

“The reason students are broke is because they [pay] for tuition and books, or are saving up for the same for next semester,” said adjunct finance professor Brooke Call in an email.  “They also spend money repeatedly on small things that add up and don’t realize where the money goes.”

Tuition is easy to notice sliding out of our wallets, but other spending like gas, Swig cookies, and midnight Denny’s runs typically goes unseen. Spending must be tracked if it’s to be mastered. 

A good way to monitor cash flow are smartphone apps or banking tools like “My Money Manager” from Mountain America. Tools like these open up the blind eye of hasty spending. 

Once money has been tracked, ways to save can be created. 

“Look for ways to save money that are outside of the box,” Adolpho said.  “[And] opportunities to find free things on campus.”

Many student activities offer free food or clothing on campus. Consider getting a Starving Student card to get discounts at local eateries. 

“Staying at home is a good way to not spend money,” said Kyle Shaw, a junior English major from Ogden. “Find activities with friends that are no cost or low cost.  For example, I have friends who go bowling for $4 on Mondays [because of the discount].” 

Shaw also mentioned the importance of handling big purchases over $500.

“You need to make sure that those purchases are [something] you need and will have sustainability rather than something that’s hard to maintain and [may] cost more in the long run,” Shaw said. 

Planning for the future

It’s good to save and spend little, but other factors of college expenses can shape a financial future more sharply. For example, saving $20 today is great, but saving $20,000 in a lifetime is better. 

Since tuition is the main cost to students, education must be taken seriously. 

“To avoid going broke, get good grades to get scholarships,” Call said.  “Budget what little money [you] do have so the funds go to their top priority and are not wasted.”

Scholarships and grants are great money-savers.  According to The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Feedback Report 2014, about half of DSU students used a grant, scholarship or federal loan between $3,800 and $7,000 to save money in college in 2013.  Avoid loans since that money will eventually have to be paid back.   

Students should take advantage of DSU’s tuition caps.  

“Take as many credits as you can handle [since] everyone pays the same tuition for 12-20 credits,” Adolpho said.  “This way, you’re basically getting more bang for your buck.”

For students unsure about what classes to take, an academic adviser can help them explore various fields of study and careers to save money.

“If a student doesn’t know [what courses to take] they might be taking classes that may or may not help them,” Adolpho said. “That’s a waste of tuition sometimes.”

The Career Center offers internships and tests to explore possible careers.  

“We have awesome resources on campus [such as internships and work studies] to get experience and something on a résumé,”  Adolpho said.  “That way you don’t waste money — as a junior or senior — on a major you don’t like.”