It seems like we’ve got a student loan crisis on our hands. Although I generally don’t include student loans as part of the “Bad Debt” category since education is vital to getting ahead, student loans is still debt after all.

One of the best rule of thumb when deciding on how much debt to take is borrowing no more than the likely first year salary amount you expect to receive upon graduation. In other words, if you plan to be a starving artist making $18,000 a year, $18,000 is the max you should borrow. If you plan to work for Google, perhaps borrowing up to $75,000 is reasonable.

I graduated business school in 2006 with about $55,000 in student debt and paid it off in 2009 during the financial crisis. I figure it was better to eradicate debt than watch my money disappear into thin air and get nothing in return! Paying off debt feels so good that sometimes I think I should get into debt just to pay it off! You get the goodies that debt provides and the satisfaction of accomplishment once it disappears.

Here are some tips on how to save money as a student. 

Shop Smart

Sales or bust! As a student, you should treat yourself like a poor student with little to no income. This means store brands and not name brands. Target and not Gucci. Sales and not full price. Safeway ice cream not Haagen-Daz!

Make Your Own Meals

With a full schedule, you may not always feel like cooking a complex meal, but suck it up and cook that tasty pasta, Ragu marinara sauce, and tap water like a champ! Eating out is terribly expensive. Save your eating out nights for that special someone you want to impress. Plus, making your own meals is almost always healthier. Who wants to put on the freshman 15?

Take Online Classes

Of course, most students want to experience everything that college has to offer, which includes all of the events and interactions that take place on campus. Taking courses online, however, can save a great deal of money on transportation and living costs, helping you to eliminate much of your debt as you finish your degree. When taking online courses, you will still have access to the same level of instruction that you would on campus and will still have the ability to connect with your professors and other students. The only real difference is that you will learn on your own time and save money in the process.

Special Student Rates

Many local shops and stores provide discounts to those who present their student ID at the time of purchase. This is a great way to save some money on both necessities and recreation. However, the perks don’t stop here. You may also be able to get special student rates on things like car insurance, gym memberships, and phone bills. My college had everything I needed, including entertainment so I kept spending to an absolute minimum. The only thing I wish I still had 14 years later was my student ID! I lost it 4 years ago, which meant no more savings on Apple products and life tickets.

Use Alternative Transportation

Besides being bad for the environment, a car is also bad for your wallet. Cars are money holes. Between insurance, gas and the costs of maintenance, repairs and plates, they can eat up a considerable amount of your budget. If possible, try taking public transportation or using a bicycle to get around. Carpooling is another good option. I biked everywhere on campus. Much quicker, much healthier, and much more convenient.

Live At Home

Dorm rooms are costly, and because you have to share them with another person, it’s not always worth the money. If you’re going to college nearby, consider living at home throughout your education. Even if you have to pay rent, it’s likely to be far cheaper than you’d pay for a tiny dorm room. But then again, living in a dorm is a blast! To be free from your parents after 18 is priceless.

Hang Out With The Right People

The right people could be frugal students who love to save money, poor people who don’t have any money to spend and therefore always finds free things to do, or loaded girlfriends or boyfriends who will take care of you! Peer pressure is often the number one reason why young people spend more than they have. Associate with people who have similar values.

Apply For Scholarships

There was a recent article in the news where one kid received over $500,000 in scholarships just by applying everywhere. There’s tons of scholarship money out there for various types of people, interests, and achievements. If everybody just spends a little bit of time looking and making an effort to apply, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get scholarship money.

Go To A State School

Private schools regularly run $25,000-$45,000 a year in tuition alone vs. under $10,000 a year for state school tuition. There are a terrific amount of public schools such as UC Berkeley, Michigan, William & Mary, UVA, UCLA, UCSD, and Wisconsin to name a few. Graduating from college with minimal debt provides a big tailwind for your career.

Get A Job

When you’ve got no money, there’s no job beneath you! Just make sure you don’t work so much that it starts negatively affecting your studies.


Refinance Your Student Loans: Take a look at SoFi, one of the leading student lenders today. They look at you holistically in terms of where you went to school, what type of job you have, in addition to your basic credit history. They regularly offer 1-2% lower rates than their competitors.

Manage Your Money In One Place: One of the best tools I’ve used to help reach financial independence is Personal Capital. They provide great free financial tools for everybody to track their net worth! They allow you to also manage your cash flow and check for pesky investment fees.

Updated for 2017 and beyond.