THE BLOG
10/27/2014 04:06 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2014

8 Unconventional Tips for Saving Money in College

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By Jenna Lee, Social Media Manager at Credit Karma

If you've ever researched how to save money in college, you've probably heard a lot of the same advice like "buy used books," or "avoid eating out." And while those tips are good and useful, sometimes you need to think outside of the box to make ends meet. How do you stretch what little money you have? Try these eight unconventional tips, straight from a recent (frugal) graduate:

Work the Off-Hours

If you're strapped for cash, working during college is a good idea in general. However, if you can score a job that may allow for some down time and don't mind working early mornings, nights or weekends, you may be able to get paid just for showing up. When I worked at one of the computer labs on campus, I never minded the 8 a.m. Friday shift, as there wasn't much work to do. In many cases, I'd get paid just to sit there and study (or catch up on TV shows, if I was feeling lazy). Time is money, so being able to get some of my schoolwork out of the way during work was a sweet deal.

Sometimes these jobs are harder to find, so do your research to get your leg in the door before all the other applicants. Check your school's job board, visit the places you'd like to work to inquire about any open positions and make good use of your network. In my case, I was able to score the job because a friend referred me. This bring us to our next tip...

Make Friends

Collaborating with friends can also save you money. Apartments near campus often have inflated rent prices due to high demand, so make living cheaper (and probably more fun) by rooming with one or a few of your buddies. Also, let's face it--you're not going to have your head in your textbooks 24/7. If you're taking a class with friends, try sharing the books and splitting the cost. Even if you do this just a few times, you could save hundreds of dollars!

Visit Home

This won't work for everyone, but if you live close enough and have a good relationship with your parents, visiting home once in a while can save you some dough. Whenever I came home, my parents were so happy to see me that after I finished doing an extra-large load of laundry (instead of paying ~$5 at my apartment), they'd take me grocery shopping and stock my kitchen with homemade meals and snacks. Of course, don't take advantage of your parents or visit home just for the freebies-- instead, consider this a bonus for going to school close to home.

Be Active

College can be exhausting, but if you muster up the energy to walk or bike wherever you need to go, you can save a lot of money on transportation. These forms of exercise may even give you a good enough workout to eliminate the need for a yearly gym membership (if your school doesn't have one or membership isn't included in your tuition), especially if your campus is hilly or expansive.

Use Your Phone

You (or your parents) are paying for that expensive data plan- might as well use it to your advantage and try to get some of that money back. There are a lot of great free money-saving apps out there, like RetailmeNot (a huge coupon database), Ibotta (an app helping you score rebates as you shop) and RedLaser (a price comparison app). Instead of filling your smartphone with games and selfies, download and use apps that could help your wallet. The savings could be huge!

Think Short-Term

If you're not planning on keeping your books after the class ends, renting the materials may be cheaper than buying (and definitely less hassle as you don't have to worry about selling them after you're done). Try checking out sites like ECampus, Chegg or College Book Renter. Even better, if the library has copies of the books you need, you may be able to eliminate textbook costs altogether!

Don't Be Shy

Stores and restaurants near campus often offer discounts with a valid student ID. If you can't find any established deals, don't be afraid to ask if there's a student discount -- the worst they can do is say "no."

In addition, don't be apprehensive about checking out campus activities. On-campus events like movie nights, BBQs and performances are usually free (or cheap), fun and a great way to get to know your fellow students. Even better, sometimes you can get a free meal out of it!

Get Organized

In the end, getting organized may be able to save you the most money.

Did you know that fewer than 40 percent of college students graduate within four years? As tuition will probably be your most costly expense, carefully plan your classes and try to graduate as soon as you can. Make sure you prioritize mandatory classes over fun classes and create backup plans in case a class you need fills up. Doing so can eliminate tens of thousands of dollars off your college bill.

In addition, keep track of all of your expenses and know how much you're spending each month. By understanding what you're spending your money on, you can begin to cut out unnecessary expenses and think of ways to save money on the purchases you really need.

Luckily, organizing your finances doesn't need to be hard or time-consuming. To get a big-picture look at how your accounts are doing, try connecting your accounts to Credit Karma. By using the My Spending feature, you can track your cash flow and see a breakdown of where your money is going, sorted into different categories. In addition, these four apps are also great ways to manage your finances on the go.

Bottom Line:

When money is scarce, there are always ways to cut back. By following these eight unconventional tips, you should be able to free up some money to spend on more important things...like presents for your local Huffington Post blogger. Kidding!

This content is for entertainment and information purposes only. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors themselves, and not necessarily Credit Karma, its affiliates, or its business partners. Efforts have been made to present information that is up to date and accurate at the time of its initial publication. However, neither the author nor Credit Karma make any guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of the information provided.

About the Author: Jenna Lee is Credit Karma's Social Media Manager. When she's not working, you can probably find her trying out a new dessert recipe or learning/perfecting any musical instrument she can get her hands on. Say "hi" @leejennaa!

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