How to Save Money in College

how to save money with low income

Saving money.

Everyone wants to do it but very few manage to execute it perfectly. You probably understand that in order to be successful in life you need to master the art of saving money. However, how are you supposed to save money on a low or zero income? 

This sounds like an impossible task!

While it would be nice to be able to wave a magic wand and make your money problems disappear, the truth is that saving money is not as hard as you think it is. In fact, a lot of it has to do with the mindset with which you approach money. Combine this with a few simple practices and you’ll be on your way in no time.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best ways for you to save money starting today.

Curb Your Impulses

One of the things that is guaranteed to wreck your budget is to buy something on an impulse. The checkout line at your grocery store is notorious for this sort of thing. It’s easy to spend a dollar here or there on things you don’t really need but feel nice to possess anyway. 

One of the first things you need to do is learn how to differentiate between needs and wants.

Needs, as the name suggests, are things you cannot live without. Clean drinking water is a need. Healthy food is a need. If the location you live in has no reliable public transport, your car is a need. The thing that trips up most people is that wants embed themselves within needs.

For example, you need to eat healthy food but do you really need to be purchasing organic, grass feed beef from New Zealand? Don’t think of this as singling out organic food, that frozen pizza you chuck into your oven is as much of a want as the grass fed beef is.

Distinguishing between needs and wants comes down to evaluating your priorities. While it would be great to be able to afford all of your wants, how crucial is it to your well being at the end of the day? You shouldn’t eliminate all of your wants from your life but you can do without the majority of them.

50-30-20 ruleImage by © The Balance 2019

So take the time to list out the things you cannot function without and the things you’re okay forgoing. Anytime you have an impulse to purchase a want, remind yourself of this list.

Another tactic you can use is to simply tell yourself that you’ll buy it in thirty days.

Track and Budget

You might be tracking your budget already and might be religiously adding all of your spending receipts. However, there is a little line item you are probably ignoring right now and that’s the one regarding entertainment/splurging money.

That’s right!

In order to save more money, you need to set aside a little bit of your monthly income to blow on whatever it is you want.

No one can survive under extremely harsh and tight conditions for long and you should strive to be as kind to yourself as possible. This means catering to your wants every now and then. Make it a rule to set aside 5-10% of your monthly after tax income on treating yourself to something you really look forward to. 

It could be something as simple as buying two scoops of Belgian chocolate fudge ice cream, who cares? It’s your money and use it to treat yourself better!

Fix Your Thinking

Here’s the deal: Your money problems are not an accident. They are the direct result of what your thought processes around money and success are all about. So should you find a shrink and grab a couch as soon as possible?


Instead, learn the mindset you do need to adopt and start behaving like someone who wants more money in their lives. The poverty mindset has you focused on how little money you have right now instead of trying to manage what little you have well. Stop wishing for more money or wishing things were easier all the time!

Instead, manage what you do have responsibly and make it stretch as far as possible. Be kind to yourself with what you do have and you’ll find that your brain will begin to look for solutions to your problems by itself. 

  • If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting. – Benjamin Franklin

Get interested in learning how you can maximize your quality of life with your budget. Look at solutions to problems instead of focusing on what could be or what should be.

If you learned a set of bad behaviors you can easily learn a new set of correct behaviors and beliefs as well. Believe in yourself! You already have everything you need after all.

Make More Money

Make more money? Easier said than done, you might be thinking! Making money might not be the easiest thing for you right now but a big reason for this is due to your focus on reducing your spending. Your brain is currently focused on making things less worse, instead of focusing on how to make things better.

Understand this: You’re not going to div out how to make a million dollars overnight (unless you want to do something unsavory). However, shifting your focus to positive channels will allow your brain to div out solutions to your issues.

In short, you’ll be focusing on the solutions to your problems instead of ruminating on them. The way out of your current income issues is to make more money, not save more. Saving money will help you in the short term but do you really want to be in the same situation ten years down the line?

So start focusing on how you can earn more money. It doesn’t matter how little it is, get your income producing snowball started right now. It all beings with your intent!

Invest in Yourself

If you want to improve your situation and increase your income you’re going to have to think and perform better. So how do you do this? Well, the best way is to invest in yourself.

But how do you invest in anything if you barely have any spare cash at the end of the month?

First off, you need to make this a priority. 

Put it this way: Would you ever consider foregoing drinking water or even consider the possibility of not drinking any in order to save money?

You wouldn’t would you? Do the same with investing in yourself.

This doesn’t mean you need to buy yourself a fancy car or attend a fancy school. You can invest in yourself by reading books at a library, by taking some time away from your regular life and pursuing new and novel experiences like walking in nature.

You can explore a different part of town. Blowing your money on something that makes you feel good is a way of investing in yourself. It is your well being after all. Another action you could carry out is to walk into the lobby of a fancy hotel and just spend some time there.

You might feel like an impostor but spend some time there and soak it all in. Get used to being in rich environments. You’ll find your daily life a lot more bearable and you’ll find yourself improving in the things you do!

Choose Your Environment

Here’s the thing: We are the sum of the five people we interact with the most. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how talented you are, you will rise or fall to the level of those you associate with the most.

So who do you interact with the most and what sort of conditions are you subjecting yourself to?

Sometimes we can’t help but be around negative people who undermine us. It’s easy to say that you need to cut these people out of your life but much harder to do in real life. It takes time and it’s a messy thing to do.

As much as possible, surround yourself with people who think about money positively. Stay away from people who are trying to ‘save’ money and associate with those who are more concerned with ‘making’ money. 

You already know how to save for the most part. Start learning how to make more money!

Avoid Debt

If you’re like most people you probably have some levels of debt right now. This is fine. What you need to avoid is adding to that debt mountain. Do not skip payments and pay off the principal as much as you can. Sacrifice some things in your life if need be.

Trying to grow your net worth with debt is like trying to drive a car forward with the handbrake on. You’ll never make it.

So make reducing your debt or not increasing it a priority.

So what are your preferred ways of saving money and how do you manage to do it on a low income? Is it possible for you to take action on these tips and create a wealthier life for yourself? Start today by changing your focus and the rest will follow!

Vivek Shankar - Get Advice How to Save Money in College

Vivek Shankar has previously worked in the financial industry with stints at Freddie Mac, JP Morgan Chase and RBS in Chicago and the New York City area. He is passionate about all things finance and has ghostwritten books on personal investing and trading strategies along with thought leadership articles for executives in the financial sector.

One thought on “How to Save Money in College”

  1. David Thomas says:

    I am one of those people who would rather earn more than save on foods and drinks. However, this doesn’t help me to avoid debt. Having read the info above I need to find another article on how to get out of debt and then start saving money. I once bought a used computer instead of buying a new one. I would like to think that it is a good financial habit. So far, according to the pie chart, half of my income goes to needs and a half to want. I do want to save some to go to Cabo this summer. Is there any way you could advise on the budgeting apps?

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