24 ways to save money when you're a broke student

Feb 17 2017, 7:36 pm

Saving money as a student is hard, and sometimes seems impossible. On top of instructors surprising you with “mandatory” textbooks or software there’s having to pay for living expenses like laundry and food or getting around the city.

Money can get really tight, really fast. Even though this is written with post-secondary students in mind, many of these will help anyone save some extra coin.

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Take advantage of student discounts

Be that annoying person who asks if a student discount is offered. You can get cheaper school supplies, meals, and even movie tickets at some places this way. Don’t be afraid to hunt around a little.

Look for used supplies:

There’s usually no rule against using used supplies. Getting supplies second-hand might not be glamorous but it’s definitely cheaper than buying new. Besides, if you buy used supplies from another student, you’re not only saving money, you’re helping another student out!

Sell last year/semester’s books:

stack of books in home interior

If you don’t need your textbooks from last semester or last year, try to sell them to new students. They’ll appreciate it, and so will your wallet. Some books might come in handy later in life, but most of them serve their entire purpose once you’ve finished the year.

Buy groceries over eating out

Eating out is definitely more convenient, but if you buy groceries and make your own meals, you can have much more food for a fraction of the cost. Cooking your own meals is often healthier for you too! If you don’t have time in the mornings to make yourself a lunch, try making something the evening before.

Don’t buy apps

Even though it’s just a dollar or two or five, but just don’t. That’s money you could spend on groceries, or a movie ticket, or literally anything else. Whether it’s a health tracker, or even a game, there are hundreds of free apps to choose from that do the job just as well.

Use public transit

Image: Calgary Transit / Shutterstock

More often than not, if you need to travel through the city, buying a monthly transit pass is significantly cheaper than paying for a car. Some post secondary institutions even offer free transit passes for full time students. Even if yours does not, a transit pass is a smart investment.

Consider a more basic phone package

Some cell phone plans can cost over $100. Do you really need seven gigs of data for your phone? Cut it back a bit, and you can be saving some serious money for not that much of a sacrifice.

Consider e-books or the library

Many textbooks offer an e-book version, and it’s always much cheaper than a physical copy. Many school libraries often keep copies of textbooks as well. This could work to your advantage, but don’t lean on that too hard. There will be other students who want to check out those books as well. Some post-secondary institutions even offer free access to an online version of most textbooks.

Make your own coffee

latte art


When you spend a few minutes in the morning making your own coffee and putting it in a thermos, it will save you an astounding amount of money that’s just going to a café. When you make your own coffee, you also reduce the risk of a barista making your drink too strong, weak, sweet, bitter, etc. Good coffee in bulk also doesn’t cost very much.

Bring a water bottle

Water is very good for you, which is obvious, but what’s not so obvious is that drinking coffee throughout the day is really dehydrating. You can combat this by buying bottled water (which is actually a huge money sink, and is killing the planet but that’s a whole article by itself), or you can buy a reusable BPA-free bottle, which will save you money, and benefit your health.

Open a savings account

Put some money aside and let it accumulate. Different banks will have different rules regarding them, but really, you don’t need to set much aside for savings. Just a little bit at a time, and it’s amazing how fast it accumulates into something sizable.

Get a job


Dream job/Shutterstock

This one isn’t about saving money so much as actually making it, but getting a part time job will be really good for your finances. Many schools have job placement aid, and you can often find something that works with your nauseatingly busy schedule. You don’t have to work every evening or weekend. Something as little as two or three shifts a week is enough to make a difference.

Try not to live on residence

Every post-secondary institution offers on-campus residency, which is fun and convenient but far more expensive than renting a moderate apartment or even a house. Try to find a roommates to split costs with. There’s no shame in living out of a shared suite.

Look at bursaries, scholarships, and grants

It’s free money. You usually need to fill out some form, or write some letter, but these are opportunities for free money that you totally, in no way, need to pay back. Some aren’t that large on their own, (some are even as low as $50), but nobody does this. There’s so much free money just sitting around for students to take, so go for it.

Use the school gym

Equinox Gym Vancouver/ Luis Valdizon

Most campuses have a gym on-site that students are allowed to use for a discounted fee if it’s not entirely free. Most public gyms are expensive, and even a membership can cost around $100 per month. You don’t have to avoid the gym to save money, if you take advantage of the tools your campus provides.

Take advantage of flyers and coupons

It’s a stereotypical “old person” thing to do, but they do it for a reason. It will save you some serious cash.

Consider cutting your own hair

There are lots of fashionable hairstyles that are very easy to cut if you have the tools, and those usually aren’t that expensive. Alternatively, if you know someone who is learning how to be a hairdresser, you can “volunteer” to be practice for him or her. They’ll appreciate it, and you get a free haircut.

Withdraw cash at your own bank

There’s always a “withdrawal fee” when you withdraw cash from a different bank, so try to do it only at your bank. Also, using cash rather than debit is a good way to keep track of your spending.

Eat less meat



Have you gone grocery shopping, and you get a lot of vegetables, fruit and staples, and then you go to the meats and it’s suddenly very expensive for not very much? Meat is pricey, and Canadians eat way more of it than we need for our health. Try going vegetarian for a couple days a week (or as long as you can, lots of people live the veggie lifestyle and they seem very happy), your wallet will thank you.

Netflix instead of cable

A lot of us are already onboard, but Netflix is amazingly cheap compared to even the most basic cable plan. On top of that, most network websites let you watch the most recent episodes of their shows for free.

Shop at thrift stores

Woman in thrift store flea market vintage clothing shopping (Rishiken/Shutterstock)

Vintage clothing shopping (Rishiken/Shutterstock)

People sometimes associate “thrift stores” with “trash bins”, but you can find some really nice things for not very much money. Clothes, silverware, even video games, DVD’s or books are all available. If you keep your eye out, you’ll definitely find some hidden treasures.

Write shopping lists and stick to them

It’s too easy to be meandering a store and thinking, “yeah, I could go for this box of donuts/case of pork chops/huge jar of sauerkraut/etc.”. Avoid this by writing a shopping list and making yourself stick to it.