Finance Life School

6 Ways I Earned and Saved Money In College

Unlike many college students, I was very fortunate that my parents were able to pay for my college education. Because of my parents, I didn’t have to work throughout college or graduate with student debt. However, despite having this luxury, I still found opportunities to make and save money as a college student. By doing this and being frugal in grad school, I was able to pay my parents back for my college education just two years after graduating. Here are six ways I earned and saved money during college.

How I Earned Money

1. I kept applying for scholarships

6 Ways I Earned and Saved Money In College

In my opinion, scholarships are emphasized more heavily when you’re in high school than when you’re in college. As if the only time to earn scholarship money is before you start attending. But just because you’re already in college doesn’t mean you can’t keep applying for and winning scholarships.

So, that’s exactly what I did. And I ended up earning more scholarship money in college (over $30,000) than I did in high school. How? I kept my eyes and ears open for opportunities to apply. I paid attention to flyers on bulletin boards around campus and department newsletter emails that announced upcoming scholarships. Then I applied to any scholarship I was eligible for.

Most of the scholarships I applied to and won were only offered to students at my university or in my specific major or college. And since winning scholarships isn’t usually on most college students’ minds, I had less competition and better chances of winning. Even the national scholarships that I didn’t think I would win, I still applied for them anyways because what did I have to lose? Turns out nothing really and I actually ended up winning one, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

My tip for college students: Pay attention to bulletin boards and department newsletters for scholarship opportunities. Increase your chances of winning by applying for scholarships specifically for your major or university. Just apply! You have nothing to lose and even if you don’t win, you’ll have written an essay that you might be able to use for the next scholarship application!

2. I made money off of my hobbies

During college, I got really into group fitness classes, specifically step aerobics. Yes, just like those Jane Fonda 80’s workout videos, but without the big hair and leotards.

6 Ways I Earned and Saved Money In College
This was basically me, but without the big hair and 80s leotard

Because I enjoyed these fitness classes so much and went to them so often, I became friends with one of the instructors. She encouraged and helped me audition to become an instructor. I figured it’d be fun to learn how to teach and again, what did I have to lose by trying out? So, I auditioned and got selected to become an instructor!

During my last two years in college, I taught group fitness classes in my free time and made around $11-12 per class. Since teaching these classes was already so much fun and rewarding for me, the money I earned was just an extra benefit.

My tip for students: Think about your hobbies and see if you can make some extra money from them. Some ideas for making money include selling your old clothes online through eBay or Poshmark, tutoring your favorite subject, coaching your favorite sport, or becoming a fitness or yoga instructor.

3. I pursued opportunities to work throughout college

Since I was planning on going to graduate school to earn a PhD, I knew I needed to gain research experience. So, during my freshman year, I emailed several professors to ask if I could work as a research assistant in their labs. One professor offered me an opportunity to work in his lab for the summer. On top of that, he paid for my housing and gave me a small stipend ($1500 for 8 weeks) while I worked in his lab.

Every summer after that, I applied to undergraduate research experience programs (REUs) at various universities in the US. Although these programs didn’t offer as much money as corporate internships, they did cover my housing expenses and provided me with a stipend ($4000-4500) for the summer. By participating in these REUs, I was able to gain valuable research experience at top universities, like UC Berkeley and Stanford, as well as travel to/live in different cities each summer. And I got to do all of this for free.

Additionally, during my senior year of college, I was offered a part-time job as a grader for a course I had taken the previous semester. Since I had a fairly light class load, I accepted and made some extra money grading homework assignments and exams. 

My tip for students: Look for work opportunities throughout college. If you’re interested in research, REUs are a great way to gain research experience and have your expenses paid for. Tutor, grader, or teaching assistant positions can help you make extra money or even have your tuition paid for. My brother got his tuition waived for two semesters by working as a teaching assistant during college. Working as a resident assistant is a good way to live rent-free in college.

How I Saved Money

4. I took advantage of free and discounted stuff for students

There are so many free things offered to college students: free T-shirts, free food, free gym membership, free movies, free concerts, etc… During my four years in college, I milked as many of the benefits I could get from being a student.

Most of my clothes were free or cheap t-shirts I had received or bought from school events or student organizations. I took public transportation everywhere since rides were free with my student ID. I ate free food at meetings and events for the student organizations I joined (Tailgates were the best way to get delicious BBQ for free!). As a student, I got to work out at the university gym for free. And thanks to my student ID, I got free or discounted admission to university and city museums as well as to movies and concerts hosted by student organizations.

I even got travel to Europe for free in college! During my senior year, a professor offered to take students who enrolled in his two classes to a conference in Amsterdam, airfare and hotel paid for. Since one class was already a requirement for graduating, I happily signed up for both classes and scored a free week-long trip to Amsterdam. 

My tip for students: Take advantage of the perks you get from being a student. Once you enter the “real world”, you’ll have to pay full price for everything. So why not take advantage of the free stuff and discounts you get when you’re a student?

5. I didn’t have a car

Unlike some of my classmates, I didn’t have a car in college*. Instead, I walked everywhere or took public transportation. As I mentioned above, I got to ride university shuttles and city buses for free with my student ID. So, I took the bus everywhere: to and from the airport, to the grocery store, to party downtown, etc… And since my university campus was very walkable and was within walking distance to many parts of the city, I walked to class everyday and often walked to different neighborhoods throughout the city. 

By not having a car, I avoided paying for university parking permits, gas, car insurance, car maintenance, and possible parking tickets. Since parking permits at my college cost $100-300/year and on average, car insurance for college students roughly costs $1000/year, I saved at least $1200 a year. Although I might have had more fun if I had a car, I was still able to have a perfectly good college experience without one.

*I was fortunate that I didn’t need a car to commute and that my university was located in a city where a car wasn’t necessary.

6. I didn’t drink that much alcohol or coffee

I only started drinking after turning 21 (like all college students, right? 😉). Although I went out many weekends during my senior year, I went to cheap dive bars. (Though, at the time, I just thought they were normal bars since I had nothing to compare them to). And because I went to college in Austin, TX, which has the infamous 6th St, there were plenty of cheap bars marketed to college students. This usually meant they had no cover charge and their drink prices were very affordable. One of my favorite bars, The Library, sold Long Island Ice Teas for only $3! And since I had a fairly low tolerance, I would only drink two of them and be set for the night. So, a fun night out would only cost $6!

Additionally, unlike most college students, I didn’t drink coffee. Somehow, I was able to wake up without needing caffeine and I rarely pulled all-nighters. So, coffee was neither a necessity nor an expense for me. Plus, I preferred studying at the campus libraries over coffee shops. This meant that I could study for free instead of paying at least $3-4 a day just to study at a coffee shop.

Did you earn money in college? If so, how did you do it? What were ways you saved money during college?

6 thoughts on “6 Ways I Earned and Saved Money In College”

  1. You definitely made the most of your college life. Going to different universities through your REUs and traveling to Europe for free!! You took advantage of these great opportunities and made the most out of it.
    At my university, I took advantage of the free gym membership on campus and of course the library. I should have been like you and took the school shuttle to campus. I lived close by to my university and could have either walked to took the shuttle there but I did the ‘cool thing’ by driving to the parking garage on campus. I paid $80 a semester to park my car in the garage….not cool!!

    1. Thanks Kris! I got really lucky with that free trip to Europe!

      That’s great that you took advantage of the gym and library! I think it’s hard at that age to choose practical over “cool”. So I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about it! Plus, I’m sure you enjoyed the freedom of being able to go wherever you wanted! 🙂

  2. When I worked with high school students at my previous job, they didn’t realize they could apply for scholarships once they were already in college. It’s so important that people know that scholarships are free money and they’re worth applying for-all throughout. If I was still working there, I would share this blog post with every single one them.

    I was lucky enough to be a part of an honors program in college so I didn’t have to pay for college. I even got money to travel abroad which was something I wouldn’t have been able to do without it. I also worked as a Writing tutor and I even participated in REU bc I also thought I was going to go for a PhD. It’s so cool that you were a fitness instructor! That sounds like so much fun.

    Good thing I didn’t start drinking coffee until grad school bc I definitely wouldn’t have been able to keep up considering how much of it I drink now.

    Because I went to school in Manhattan, lunch was always expensive so I tried to pack my own (if I could remember and had enough time) that helped but then I would get stressed and buy myself something to snack on. College was the first time when I had to pay for my own mode of transportation-the metro card. Over my four years I witnessed it go from $89 a month to $113. It was my biggest monthly expense and my first venture into “adulthood” haha.

    Anyway, loved reading this post and if I worked in a school I would make this required reading 🙂

    1. Hi Sophie! That’s cool that you worked with high school students! I agree with you. From my experience, it seems that many students (high school and college) are unaware of the scholarships available to them. Most students I knew only applied to national scholarships. I think they didn’t realize there were also local scholarships out there. All of the scholarships I won in high school were local scholarships, probably because the competition was small. Aww thanks Sophie! That means a lot to me to hear that! 🙂

      Wow, that’s awesome that you were able to go to college for free as well as got money to study abroad! I always wanted to do that, but the costs seemed too high to justify doing it. That’s great that you also worked as a tutor and did an REU (I wasn’t sure if anyone else would know what they were)! Yes, it was a ton of fun being a fitness instructor. Sometimes I wonder if I should try doing it again! That or being a yoga instructor.

      Haha, I had the same experience! I drink much more coffee now, but have been trying to cut back since lattes are expensive!

      That’s actually how I feel about lunch here in SF. I’ve tried to pack my own, but I forget or get too lazy and end up buying food instead. Oh wow, that must have seemed like a big increase as a student (at least, I would have felt it was).

      Thanks for the kind words and support as always! 😀

  3. Keeping coffee expenses low does make a huge difference! Similar to you, I didn’t start drinking coffee until I started my first full-time job a couple years ago. Now I drink it every day, but save a decent amount by buying my own coffee grinds.

    Great list! 🙂

    1. Thanks Zach! Haha yes, it’s pretty crazy how much those coffees can add up to. I actually spent $50 on coffee my first month working in San Francisco! I probably could have exercised more restraint that month, but fortunately, I’ve reduced my spending since then.

      That’s great that you save money by making coffee yourself instead of buying it! I actually saw your post about how doing that makes a difference in your expenses. 🙂

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