To Spend or Not to Spend? That is the Question

What to spend your money on in college

As far as I know, the majority of college students don’t have money to mess around with. More often, we’re all penny pinching and coping with money-related anxiety. Bills, tuition, groceries-forget it! If I had some money to spare on those gorgeous boots at J.Crew, you bet I would-but can I afford it? Probably not. So here’s the question, what should you not spend money on in college?


Save on College TextbooksIf you think textbooks are something to splurge on, think twice. There are countless resources for getting your textbooks on the cheap, including with our website, CollegeFocus. Though it’s tempting to buy them for full price and get it over with, you can’t save hundreds by renting or buying used online.  Remember that most of the time, your textbook ends up collecting dust by the end of the semester-if you don’t plan to use it much, check if your university’s library has a copy; that way, you can skimp on buying it altogether.


I’m not saying go hungry; however, college students are notorious for turning a blind eye to price when it comes to food. For the majority, college campus food is poor and pricey. Shopping for food outside of school can do double duty: starting good eating habits and saving you money in the long run. Try to overlook that five-dollar bagel with an extra two-dollar cream cheese charge on campus and remember you can get a pack of bagels for three bucks at any grocery store. There’s no reason why you should be spending twice the money for 1/6 of what you can get.


We get it, you’re in college. It’s not unknown that college and alcohol have an undying love for each other. But remember that alcohol is something that won’t really do you any good on any spectrum. Alcohol is both detrimental to your health and your bank account. Every year, college students spend around five and half billion on alcohol, which is more than books and groceries combined. So if you can help it, nix it altogether.


Save on college furnitureThough rent can be pretty pricey, furnishing that apartment might do damage of its own. When buying furniture, try to collaborate with roommates and never go over budget. Remember that it’s unlikely that you’ll keep this piece of furniture post- college, when it’s not unlikely you could move to a completely different location. Invest in furniture later, when life is a little more stable. Until then, that furniture in your parents’ basement and Craigslist are good ways to go.


Save on clothes for collegeThough men generally don’t have such a tough time with avoiding this one, typically anything retail is not going to be beneficial to your savings. Investing in a few key items is important, like a winter coat or warm boots, but just because it says 50% off doesn’t mean you should buy it. Buy things that are necessities and basics and leave the extras for when you get that job you’re going to school for.

The monetary side of college winds down to the strong distinction between ‘want’ and ‘need’ (though unfortunately, in America these are often interchangeable).  Although men and women tend to spend money on different things, students as a whole spend entirely too much money on the same things, which are not affordable in terms of their income.

When balancing college, work, and social life, it’s tough to spend less. Alleviate some of these problems by a simple mental checklist (Is it a priority purchase? Do you need it right now?) that you should quickly go through before making a buy. Being conscious of your purchases and budget is one of the most important things to do as a young adult. Avoid spending money on these five things in the future and remember: a penny saved is a penny earned.

Author Bio: Mariya Rakutko is a junior at the University of Colorado and a staff writer for CollegeFocus, a website dedicated to helping students deal with the challenges of college, including housing, finance, style, health, relationships, and transferring from a community college to a four-year university.

You can follow CollegeFocus on Twitter and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of TutorhubukTheWallStreetJournalBlog, Everydayyardsale, and Yahoo

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Leave a Comment:

Dee @ Color Me Frugal says December 10

Great tips, especially about the food! College campuses may vary, but at least the ones I attended did not exactly serve the healthiest food, although I don’t recall them gouging us too much on the prices. For the most part I’m sure the grocery store has healthier and cheaper food!

    Grayson Bell says December 17

    My college did not serve the greatest or healthiest foods. That has changed, but after I graduated.

DC @ Young Adult Money says December 10

I know this post is focused on the spending side of the equation, but at minimum college students should have part-time jobs to help ease the pain of college finances. I would even recommend getting two part-time jobs if the first one doesn’t yield you many hours.

John S @ Frugal Rules says December 10

Wow, that is crazy spending on booze! Though, to be fair, I did my fair share of spending on that as well. 😉 Good tips, saving money in college can be done, especially if you’re intentional about it.

Stu @ Poor Student says December 10

I don’t spend very much on some of these things, but I do have a really good foundation for what I want vs. what I need.

Pauline says December 10

I spent very little in college, there was not a lot of peer pressure and we had decent amenities that were affordable, like the cafeteria which served you a good lunch for $4. Rather than focusing on small expenses I’d look for a way to spend less on tuition, via scholarships or part time work.

Joshua from CNA says December 10

Great tips! Food is always cheaper in the grocery store! Ohhh and my gosh, talk about crazy prices. College books are nuts! Thanks for the great read!

    Grayson Bell says December 17

    You are correct there Josh. The food in our college market was way overpriced.

Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet says December 10

When I was in college I had used everything; Used textbooks, furniture, clothing. Ok, maybe not used food or alcohol, but I did try to buy things used as much as I could. I still buy used today and I am sure it will save me a ton of money over the long haul.

    Grayson Bell says December 17

    Used items are a great buy in college. Except for the used food and alcohol 🙂

Michelle says December 10

We spent too much on alcohol when in college, and we definitely still spend a lot now. Luckily it’s not as bad as our alcohol spending once was.

Laura @ says December 10

Great tips! Cutting back on alcohol can save you so much – like you said, I know in college you’re supposed to go crazy and have fun, and you can! You just don’t have to have so much alcohol-induced fun! It’s too expensive to justify.

    Grayson Bell says December 17

    Alcohol is super expensive. Cutting back will help your wallet and your health.

Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says December 10

I was on the cutting edge in college when I was buying my books used online. When I went back to grad school, I was blown away at the concept of renting textbooks. It’s a great idea to use for all your courses that you only have to take in order to meet your college’s requirements.

Laurie says December 11

My husband hates spending money on food out for that very reason: you can usually buy several meals for what you’ll spend on any kind of restaurant or take out food. I love reading those stories about college students who eat beans and rice throughout college and graduate debt free. What a great feeling that must be!

    Grayson Bell says December 17

    You are right there Laurie. Eating out is way more expensive than home-made meals.

KK @ Student Debt Survivior says December 11

Good tips. I sure wish I could get back all the money I spent on take-out and booze. I did do pretty well with scoring free furniture and buying used books (at least I did some things right ;-))

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