September 14, 202310 Strategies to Maximize Your College Budget

Heading off to college is an exciting time. You’ll meet new people, explore new places, and experience new things. But it’s no secret that college isn’t cheap. That’s why it’s crucial that you have a budget that’s both realistic and flexible.  

To help enhance your college experience, we’ve put together ten tips to help take your money further while limiting how much you need to borrow in student loans. 

Creating an Ideal Budget 

Before we jump right into the money-saving tips, you must start with a reasonable budget. College life is always on the go and forever changing, so you need a flexible budget. Start by listing all your sources of income, such as scholarships, grants, student loans, and money you have saved.  

Then, begin detailing all your ongoing expenses. It’s best to overestimate these costs initially. Then, you can start filling in more accurate figures during the first couple of months at school as you adjust to your new settings. 

1) Save on Textbooks & Supplies 

Books and supplies can eat up your budget in a heartbeat. Luckily, there are ways to reduce how much you spend. First, most universities have an on-campus bookstore that might offer deals. If those prices are too high, fear not – you still have options.  

For example, if your school bookstore only sells costly hardcover books, you can try to find a softcover option online that is more affordable. Many businesses offer textbook rentals. rents the digital version of many textbooks via its Kindle app. Other companies, like, provide both physical and digital textbook rentals at steep discounts. 

Explore all your options to ensure your budget isn’t wiped out before the semester begins. 

2) Maximize Your Meal Plan 

If you’re living on-campus, you probably purchased a meal plan. Don’t let these meals go to waste. Many university meal plans allow you to buy food at various locations, so if you don’t like one place – explore others. It can be fun dining out with friends but ensure you’re making the most of your pre-purchased meals. Otherwise, consider switching to a cheaper meal plan alternative, if available.  

3) Ask for Student Discounts 

Never be afraid to ask about student discounts. College towns thrive on the presence of students, and businesses of all types create discounts specifically for this group. These savings aren’t limited to only local companies. Many online businesses also offer student discounts. For example, often offers special student prices on their various software programs and apps. 

4) Choose the Right Financial Account 

Funds can be limited while in school, so you don’t want a checking account that eats into your budget. Stop by the credit union before you leave to open your free checking account. You’ll also want a debit card to access money as needed. Lastly, become familiar with digital banking to easily track expenses, monitor transactions, and prevent fraud. You have 24/7 access to your PEFCU accounts on PEFCUMobile and PEFCUOnline. 

5) Track Expenses & Balance Regularly 

College is likely the first time you’ve lived entirely on your own. The first few months can be challenging as you grapple with all the new costs. It’s vital that you track all your expenses and balance your budget regularly.  

You’ll likely get off track with your budget at first. That’s fine. Remember, your goal is progress – not perfection. Identify all regular expenses and incorporate them into your budget. If you overspend, learn from your mistakes to prevent them in the future. As time passes, you’ll build the ideal budget for your new lifestyle. 

6) Limit How Much You Borrow 

Most people can only afford to attend college with the help of student loans. However, you only want to borrow what’s necessary. Many people will borrow extra money and assume it will be easy to repay once they graduate. That’s rarely the case. Instead, do your future self a favor and determine the minimum amount you need in student loans. Try to offset additional costs with money saved over the summers or by working part-time. 

7) Work a Part-Time Job 

Juggling a job and school simultaneously can be challenging. However, if you clock several hours a week, it could drastically reduce how much you borrow in loans. For example, earning $150 to $200 a week would amount to $4,500 to $7,000 a school year (not including money you earn over the summer). That’s a significant amount of money that can be applied to tuition or living costs.  

8) Use Credit Cards Wisely 

Credit cards are one of the most convenient ways to pay today. However, as a young adult, you likely have a limited credit score. That means your credit card rate will probably be relatively high, especially if it’s a store-sponsored card. Aim only to use credit cards for emergencies. Otherwise, costly interest payments could quickly devour your budget.  

PEFCU’s Visa® Credit Card comes with great rewards, low, fixed rates, no-fee balance transfers, and more great benefits! Click here for more information on PEFCU’s Visa® Credit Card*. 

9) Split Costs with Roommates 

If you have a roommate, consider splitting many costs. For example, you might buy a mini refrigerator while your roommate purchases a microwave. Decorations, appliances, and entertainment all cost money. Any opportunity to make your money go further is worth considering. 

10) Build an Emergency Fund 

College life is always on the go and forever changing. Joining groups, clubs, a fraternity, or sorority – everything costs money. Traveling with friends on a weekend getaway and jetting off for spring break are likely not in your budget.  

That’s why an emergency fund is so crucial. While it’s there for financial emergencies, it can also fill in for unplanned expenses. Use your summers to earn money and build your emergency fund. Keep this money stashed away so that it’s there when you need it most.  


Join PEFCU’s FREE personal finance program! Reach your financial goals one step at a time with Financially Fresh. Find out your Money Personality, build financial skills, and get incentives for completing courses! Click here to get started. 

We’re Here to Help! 

Preparing to embark on your college career is an exciting time. To make the most of your experience, responsible money management is a must. Use the above tips to help make your money go further.  

If you’re interested in learning more about our financial tools for college-bound students, we’re happy to help. Please stop by any of our convenient branch locations or call 800-226-6673 to speak with a Member Advocate today. 


Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact PEFCU when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.  

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