10 Frugal College Students Tips to Save Money on Books and Food

Even with scholarships and grants, college can be expensive. Nearly all college students, except those with rich uncles, are struggling financially. Here are ten tips to help you save some green on two of college’s biggest expenses.

Save Money on Books

College textbooks are one of the best-known college expenses. According to a study completed in 2006, the average textbook price was a stunning $56.24. Those of you who are in college can testify to the fact that those prices have not stopped rising. The frugal college student, however, has a number of opportunities available to get books for less.

1. Before even considering buying a book, ask around. Chances are, someone you know has the book already and will be willing to lend it to you.

2. If borrowing is not an option, buy your textbooks used. Many college bookstores stock used textbooks, as does Amazon.com and other online bookstores.

3. Hardcover books are often less expensive than their softcover counterparts because of weight and portability. If do not mind a little extra weight, you can save some money and get hardcover books.

4. Do you have last semester’s old books still laying around? Sell them! Many online marketplaces are offer excellent opportunities for used book sales. If you are not interested in the extra hassle of shipping and working with the customer, you can easily sell used textbooks to your college bookstore (But expect to get much less than you originally payed).

Save Money on Food

Another huge expense category for today’s college student is food. If you are like most humans, you have to eat often – at least three times a day. With wise planning, however, food-related spending can be reduced, and money can be saved.

5. Break the coffee habit! Even just one $3 cup a day will cost you more than $700 every year. Use Hugh’s Coffee Calculator to find exactly how much money you can save by cutting coffee. If you still want a daily mocha, at least make it yourself – you will still save some green.

6. While we are talking about drinks, avoid buying bottled water. Patronize your local tap water and drink for free. If the tap water tastes disgusting, invest in a high-quality water filter that will last a lifetime.

7. Want a cheap, healthy breakfast? Oatmeal is good for your body, your time, and your budget. Depending on how you cook it, oatmeal takes about two to five minutes for preparation. Even if, like most college students, you do not know a frying pan from a roasting pan, you can still easily make your own oatmeal.

8. Avoid eating out! Whenever possible, prepare your own food. It is unbelievable how much you can save by not eating out. Not only do you save money on the actual meal, but you also avoid transportation expenses, tipping costs, and the temptation to buy unneeded extras.

9. Collect coupons and follow the local sales. Not only will you save money, but you will also enjoy a more varied diet. Avoid shopping at upscale markets like Whole Foods. When you shop there, you must pay extra for the pleasant environment.

10. If you live on campus and pay for a meal plan, use it! Some meal programs do not restrict you from taking food to go and eating as many meals as you want.

By being as frugal as possible, you can attend college on a much lower budget than many think is possible. Of course, these ten tips barely scratch the surface on the topic of frugal college life.

What is your favorite way to save money in college? Please share it in the comments.

Photo by scui3asteveo.


  1. lori:

    Half.com has great textbook prices.usually better then Amazon.

  2. lagerlizzy:

    Also, buy the international version of the textbook you need. Mine was only $30 vs. $200 at my campus bookstore and was exactly the same as the US version.

  3. Carlos:

    I agree with slashing your coffee habit. Caffeine is not good for your health at the same time you get to save money.

  4. Dany:

    Hi thanks for giving great information about new offers.If you want more information about more discount offers Visit :http://www.cannyprices.com it can provide different shopping products for discounts.


  5. 2horseygirls:

    Another great website for used textbooks is http://www.directtextbooks.com

  6. ChiliBean2:

    We use Chegg to rent textbooks all the time and I have a promotional code for a discount on your order. Just put the code in when ordering and hit the “apply” button. If you’d like to sell Chegg your used texts, the code will give you an extra $5.

    The code does not have an expiration date so it can be used at anytime. Feel free to pass it to your friends. Here it is:


  7. Kit:

    The other thing is that for classic literature, your English lit prof might not care if you get the paperback edition at the college bookstore or other editions. First ask your relatives and friends or the local library if they have the book and borrow it. If not, try a used bookstore or library book sale and see if you can get a used edition real cheap. If that fails, try the front of the mall bookstore — most retail booksellers have a bargain section. Chances are, many of the classic titles will be there for maybe $3.99. Most profs don’t care what edition you read. However, if there is a Q&A section or reader’s guide in the college bookstore edition that the prof is gonna use in class, ask if you can just photocopy someone else’s before you pay full price for it. Nine times out of 10, though, the prof doesn’t assign those special sections and any version of the title will do.

  8. Kit:

    I used to work in a mall bookstore. Employees got employee discounts plus double discounts at Christmastime. Our particular chain also had this club you could join for a nominal fee, and it’d give you 10 to 20% discounts. Our manager was real liberal with the discounts and permitted us to take both the employee discount and the club deal. A coworker cleaned up on this. He was a college student, and before each semester he’d register for his classes early, then ask his profs what books they would assign. He’d use his club card, employee discount and Christmas discount and order the books by their ISBN #s for a real cheap price. On that club thing after you spend X number of dollars, you’d get another book free or half price or something….and you can imagine how quickly that kicked in with his texts! He’d get brand-new books that were dirt cheap for himself, his roomate and his girlfriend. He’d try to buy as many as he could in December, as much as a year ahead. After the classes ended, his girlfriend would go sell their books at the campus bookstore and they’d make some cash back. So college students, if you can possibly get hired at a bookstore, do it! Or maybe talk one of your relatives in to getting a job there.

  9. Hi scui3asteveo!
    This is indeed a good article. This will guide especially college students who are struggling financially. College books are really expensive but if students have the initiative and good thinking on how to get cheap books and get source with out spending much $. Searching online or using the internet is one of the best way.

    Neil Bartlett

  10. Jen:

    I lived about an hour away from the college I went to, so I visited it a few days before people started coming back to campus and I had my pick of the best used textbooks. I would go through the used textbooks and find the ones that had the least marks and buy those. Some of them had barely been touched and others were totally abused, so it paid to show up early and get the good ones.

  11. kevin:

    I really like searching for my books using http://www.bigwords.com I have found that their site is the best price comparison site out there for college textbooks. I really like how they only search legit companies that have proven track records. Cause some times if you order your books online you can be waiting for your books for eternity!

  12. Joe:

    I have to agree with Cindy on making sure you get the right edition of your school textbooks. I remember helping a fellow student out a few years ago by scanning 5 or 6 chapters of a book because she got the wrong edition.

    There’s a website I don’t see mentioned here, http://www.addall.com which searches up to 36 book websites for all books, not just school books. They give you all of your costs in an easy to understand display including how long you’ll wait for the books. You can imagine my classmate’s reactions when I walked into class with the same book as their new ones, same condition but costing a little over $100 less!

  13. Dave:

    A previous commenter said: “If you are buying books online, be sure to make check the edition and don’t cut corners by getting an older edition. There can be drastic differences.”

    I disagree. I graduated college 2 years ago and bought my textbooks almost exclusively online for my last few semesters. For a brand new book that sells for $100, a used copy of the same edition might be $70. A used copy of the previous edition might be as low as $3 shipped. On the first day of class I would compare my previous edition to the current edition (looking through my fellow student’s book or my professor’s). 90% of the time, the previous version of the book was perfectly acceptable, and in the rare case that it was not, I could simply go online and buy the current edition that evening (I only had to do this once). The significant savings are worth the small risk and effort.

  14. @ CB550SC
    You are right. Health food stores do have some inexpensive items; plus, eating healthfully saves money on medical bills. Therefore, buying from stores such as Whole Foods can be a good idea; especially when you buy in bulk.


  15. CB550SC:

    Hey, just a few critiques I wanted to offer.

    Generics > coupons. The gap between brand-name and generic prices is just too wide for the vast majority of coupons to make up. Discount stores like Save-A-Lot and ALDI can knock a full third off of a grocery bill, and while I can’t vouch for all, you’re not sacrificing quality at ALDI (it’s often better, as this is the same company as Trader Joe’s). I do wholeheartedly agree that the weekly supermarket sales flyers should be followed religiously, but if you pick up “just a few other things” at their inflated prices, you’ll quickly defeat the whole purpose of shopping sales, so discipline is required.

    Before you knock Whole Foods for saving money, consider the bulk aisle. Herbs, spices and grains at prices vastly below normal retail. Examples such as roughly 2 cup of Hungarian paprika for ~$1.50 vs. $6.50 for a tin of the same.

    For the dorm dweller, a slow cooker, hot pot, and rice cooker will all pay for themselves and keep paying dividends in delicious food after graduation.

  16. Fawn:

    I agree on the oatmeal thing. With regards to books Try Bigwords.com. It searches many book websites for both buying and renting; including Amazon, Half, and Abebooks.

  17. Student:

    Be careful when buying used books. Many books today come with software which requires a key to use. If you buy used, you are not buying the key with the book and software and end up having to buy another set of books – new – in order to get the software to work. You end up spending MORE money…much more. If you are buying a book that comes with software – buy new. It will cost you less than buying two sets of books.

  18. JamieG:

    I have been renting my textbooks through two different sites. Chegg.com and Bookrenter.com are both great sites. You can rent the books by how long you need them…quater, semester or summer and you can save up to half the price of buying new or used. The books are in new to slightly used. Chegg allows for minimal highlighting and you simply print a pre paid UPS label so there is no additional cost to after the rental. I have rented the majority of the books I didn’t feel I would ever need to use again however you do have the option to buy the books outright after you rented them.

  19. I forgot to mention…check your library! If you are in a literature class you may only need a book for a couple of weeks. If you have a friend working at the checkout desk, they may be able to check a book out for you for an entire semester. If not, you can give it your best shot to keep renewing. As long as it is not on hold, you can usually renew a book indefinitely.

  20. My college did not have the best used bookstore situation. Eventually I discovered I could save hundreds of dollars, by doing a little online research. I made some mistakes, but even with the cost of the mistakes I saved $$$ as compared to buying used books from my campus bookstore. I used a combination of Amazon.com, Abebooks.com, and Half.com. It wouldn’t hurt to do a search for used textbooks and compare across various websites as I’m sure more have popped up since I graduated. The most important key is to know the ISBN # which can usually be found on the back of the book with the barcode. This will ensure you order the correct book as opposed to the study guide.

    Another money saving idea is to check with the professor to see if you can use an earlier version of the textbook. This can be especially handy if your syllabus is asking for a book that is newly published. Often times the difference between versions will be minimal. I got away with this in a business law class, which saved me over $100.

    Selling your books back is another way to recoup your costs. I made a lot more money off Amazon.com than I did from my campus bookstore. I was even able to sell books that my campus bookstore was no longer accepting.

  21. I read somewhere recently that because of the poor nutrition of most students, the government is encouraging them to apply for food stamps. I was surprised to read it but it makes sense since so many students have part time jobs as well as going to school full time. If you are buying books online, be sure to make check the edition and don’t cut corners by getting an older edition. There can be drastic differences.

  22. Becky:

    Another thing about buying used books for college. I found out that many international books from the same author, subject and edition are the same exact books they sell in the states, except for the cover! I have saved a lot of money buying the international version books online. There was not one word of difference, just the cover. Once I bought an onternational used book for twenty something and it would have normally cost me over one hundred for a used state-side version.

  23. Hel:

    College students should also check out chegg.com for textbook rental. You can rent for 60, 89, or 125 days. You can highlight a reasonable amount (or use frixon highlighters, highlight as much as you want, then microwave the book to erase the highlighting!), and they pay for shipping the books back to them.

  24. I was born when the stock market hit rock bottom, almost 3 years after the 1929 “crash.” The issue of TIME magazine that was dated August 8, 1932, the day I was born, had a picture of Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate for President that year, and the cover story was about a
    Socialist picnic.

    It was easy to learn thrift, in those days, because people didn’t have money to spend. Also there were no such things as credit cards.

    Kate Baker, a first cousin of my grandfather, kept a kind of diary that was like a ledger. In it, she always mentioned when she’d bought clothing, etc., on sale, for half-price. One of my cousins, who got that book when she died, sent me a photocopy of it.

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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

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