College Confessions: How College Students Save

by Krantcents · 47 comments

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The cost of attending college has skyrocketed since the early 1980s. For both public and private not-for-profit institutions, tuition has escalated more than 2.5x from the year 1980. Where the average cost of a public university in 1980 was $5,938 annually, it is now more than $14,000 annually. This spike has far exceeded the rate of inflation.

Out of 15 developed countries indexed by a global higher education study, the US came in second as the country with the highest cost of higher education relative to median income. Students are graduating with record debt at an average of $35,200. At SaveUp, we were curious how individual college students are tackling this burden daily. These undergrads discuss ways to save money; from when to not attend college at all to where to get your school supplies and which majors to choose. All undergrads interviewed admitted that saving on food is a priority. Here are the highlights.


Which school do you attend?

Private university in California

What’s your major?

Business administration

Cost of tuition per semester:

$ 23,000.00

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

Outrageously high.


I just think it’s overpriced. I wanted to go to school inCaliforniabecause my home state doesn’t have great public schools, but because I’m not aCaliforniaresident, attending a public school would be just as expensive for me as to attend a private school so I would’ve paid a high price tag either way.

How are you paying for college?

My parents really wanted me to go to college and they are paying for it—but honestly, if it were up to me and I had to finance my own college education, I wouldn’t go to college. This was actually my original plan. I tried the non-college route first, but not in the right industry for me. College bought me more time to figure out what I wanted to do.

Why and what else would you do?

Because I don’t think that $240,000 of debt is worth a piece of paper. I think that there are much cheaper alternatives to learn more important skills—either through self-teaching or on-the-job work experience.

Don’t they say that a college education gets your foot in the door?

There’s no denying that college opens a lot of doors; it offers connections to an alumni network, and a degree of respect from graduating from that college. But for me, the question becomes: Is all this worth a quarter million dollars? Or could that quarter million be allocated elsewhere with me ending up just as successful as I otherwise would have been as a college graduate?

College is most important for entry-level jobs and employment when you’re first starting out, but if you’re talented enough and you are able to get in the door somewhere, then I think you can have a very successful career without ever having gone to college. That’s a much more difficult route, but it is doable if you have the drive, talent and it definitely takes a certain personality to do that.

How would you otherwise get your foot in the door if you had not gone to college?

Whatever you want to do within entrepreneurship, whether it’s marketing, sales, or coding, just learn it well and approach a company you want to work at. Explain how you can add value to them and go from there. Without a degree, you would have to hustle your way up—meet people aggressively, be a good communicator and a go-getter—but it is much cheaper.

College is your credibility stamp, but I think there are ways around it. I think if you really take the time to connect with people and build relationships, you’ll find someone smart who’s willing to take you under their wing and help you. But I want to stress that you have to be very talented and even more ambitious.

Success Stories

I’ve met two different successful people that dropped out of my university. One of them left as a freshman to design a major mobile app and now he has started his own company. The other guy was financing his own college education but 2 years in he realized that the cost-benefit was not paying off so he left his private college and is now a successful design consultant.

There’s a difference between dropping out of a competitive college vs. never going. If someone drops out, then at least it shows that he was smart enough to get in, which adds credibility to his name. There’s no penalty to dropping out and trying out something else. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back and at least have some stories to tell. But it’s a risky route if you never attend college at all because you don’t have much to fall back on. 

How are you saving money?

Save up by sandwich.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches net 75 cents a pop as opposed to store sandwiches at $6 and up.

Any tips for future college students?
Graduate early; get out of there as fast as you can. While in high school, do lots of AP and community college classes. Take as many credits as possible outside the expensive college you plan to graduate from.


Which school do you attend?

UC Berkeley

What’s your major?

Computer Science

Cost of tuition per semester not including room and board (for State Residents):

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

College in general is really expensive. I think for a public college UCB is pretty expensive. It puts a lot of strain on families to send their kids to college. If my tuition wasn’t covered by the GI Bill, I would be spending a lot more time searching for scholarships and making sure I graduate early.

How are you paying for college?

The G.I. bill

How are you saving money?

On Books

I don’t really buy much from the bookstore. I order most course material from, but only if the book is required. I avoid splurging on books that I won’t need by waiting a few weeks into the class and seeing how essential it is. I’ve definitely waited past the midterm exam to buy a book before.

On Food

My main expense is food. I try not to eat out during weekdays by cooking for myself a lot. I buy a bunch of ground beef and on Sundays I make enough dishes to last me a whole week. Also, cereal and sandwiches are my go-to’s for quick snacks, rather than going to a store or eating out.

On Entertainment

I buy used video games that decrease dramatically in price just months after releasing, and don’t go to the movies much. It helps to hang with a group of friends that don’t go out and spend excessively on movies.

On Clothing

I go to startup fairs, career fairs and tech conferences to supplement my current wardrobe with the t-shirts they hand out I don’t mind wearing tech shirts to class because no one really cares what I wear.

Do you work during the school year?

I do work for the school paper and get paid, but it’s mainly for the experience. I’m more involved with clubs and classes, as opposed to work. If I worked for pay but wasn’t gaining relevant experience, it would detract from my studies and I wouldn’t be able to graduate early, thereby costing more money and time.


Which school do you attend?

UC Berkeley

What’s your major?

Political Science

Cost of tuition per semester not including room and board (for State Residents):

What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

Tuition has gone up 30% since I started college, and it had nearly doubled at my community college. At UC’s (University of California) the bill is a lot higher, and there continues to be uncertainty as to what students can expect the total cost of their education to be; with Stafford student loan interest rates tied to T-bills, they are likely to fluctuate with markets, which leaves students guessing at what a college education will cost them. I personally do feel the pinch and I don’t like increased tuition, especially when it limits public accessibility to education by shutting out a portion of young Americans that cannot afford the tuition—which no one should be forced to do in this country.

What would you like to see happen to stem this trend? 

1. Re-prioritize

I think first there needs to be a re-prioritization on what elected officials deal with. If instead of building up defense, that money were injected back into education, I think the result would be more stable and sustainable tuition prices. I encourage a political re-focusing back on education. In the long-term something regarding student debt needs to be done. Millennial student loan debt exceeds over three trillion dollars—that’s more than the total credit card debt in this country! And that’s scary. People are speculating that this could be the next bubble. There is a correlation between tuition costs and the amount of student debt people carry. Let’s shift the balance back to education.

2. Accessible federal loans

The second step would be to offer lower subsidized loans to students. The federal government lends money to banks at a lower interest rate than to students and the Fed is making more on students than on banks. The Stafford student loan interest rate deal reached this week is a short-term solution.

3.  More grants

There also needs to be greater access to Pell grants to help students afford the high cost of education. The president put it well in his speech on Wednesday, “If you think the cost of education is high, wait ‘til you see the cost of ignorance.”

How are you paying for college?

Because I went to a community college for two years, I managed to save a lot of money on tuition and housing at home and was also able to work 20+ hrs a week. So now I’m only paying for two years of university education.

I’m a Pell grant recipient and I depend on that to avoid getting into college loan debt. I also got scholarship support from Berkeley, and I feel they’re ahead of the game in helping students afford college. Luckily I do not have any loans yet, but it is definitely an option on the table if tuition, the cost of living, food, and rent keep rising. Those costs are far greater than what students anticipate when starting out.

How are you saving money?

The first thing I save on is accessory items such as clothing. Next is food. I try to pay the smartest price, which unfortunately sometimes correlates with unhealthy options. I don’t eat out often and avoid frequent bar hopping. If it came down to it, I would not hang out with friends as much because that equals spending more money. My social life would take a hit as a result.

Any saving tips for college students?

I would look at going to the library and reading from the class textbook that’s on reserve instead of buying a separate copy. Also, it recently hit me to ask the professors for the PDF version of the course reader (anthology of different readings). Why not get it for free and read it conveniently on your mobile device?

What are your financial goals for the next 5 years?

I want to be able to sustain myself and live on my own without help from parents or loans. So I hope to work for a couple of years before continuing on to grad school.


What university do you attend?

Undergrad at Northwestern



Cost of tuition per quarter not including room and board:


What do you think of the cost of attending your school?

I think it’s ridiculous. It’s definitely a burden for most people I know, and unfortunately it just keeps getting increased. I would be all for more tax money going towards educational grants and away from defense.

How she plans to tackle it?

I’m taking out federal student loans and working part time jobs to cover extra costs. My parents did have savings for me but they’re seeing the bottom of the bag. I’m also graduating with a bachelor’s a year early which will save me more than $50,000 a year.

What’s your major? How did you decide on it in light of the economic downturn and increasing tuition costs?

I don’t think I made the most economically-sound decision at the time that I decided on my major. When I started college, journalism wasn’t doing well, but I thought that if you love something and you’re good at it then you can make a living at it. Luckily, journalism has made a comeback surprise comeback since then and a wide range of jobs are coming back. Journalism has evolved, with multiple platforms for storytelling, video journalism and online magazines. We thought the internet was gonna be the death of journalism, but it instead it has blossomed.

What are you doing daily to save on:

Food & Housing

I don’t eat when I don’t need to, unless it’s free food from school events. Whenever they’re handing out free pizza, I’m there. I drink water because it’s free and one of the least health-costly beverages.

I’m also saving in my living situation; my roommates and I have squeezed an extra person into the living room so we have four people in a three bedroom apartment which has helped us save money on rent.


I will generally try to buy used textbooks on, otherwise I rent them from I’ve sold back books online as well and ended up making back 70% of the price I paid. I usually steer clear of textbook stores because they will slay you with fees.


I buy a lot of second hand clothing and layer my clothes from forever. I also take advantage of student discounts whenever possible, such as at local movie theatres. Oh! Here’s a gem: the campus library has every movie you could ask for—we literally have every season of The Sopranos available for rent and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they’ll order it! You’d be surprised. From what I’ve seen, colleges are usually really good about their multimedia centers. I don’t save money on shows and concerts because I feel that there are places where you should spend money while you’re young, like on experiences. I’d rather spend my money on a great concert than on a dress I’d wear once.

How can students make the most of college while there and get the most for what they’re paying?

Take advantage of all the free resources your school provides such as gyms and gamerooms. We have a game room that has arcade games, a foosball and pool table. Do some research on what your school offers. Go to all the free events that are put on by the school, often there are really cool speakers and great musical acts to attend for free.

Words of wisdom for future college students:

I recommend choosing a major that truly interests you and aligns with your passions. For me, it’s more of a priority to do something you enjoy; You’ll be doing it for the rest of your life, and if you don’t like it you’ll just be miserable no matter how much money you make. Take classes at community college while in high school because they’re free while you’re a registered high school student, (at least inCalifornia). I’m shocked I got credit, saved $9,000 and a whole class-worth of time.

What are your financial goals for the next 5 years?

I want to be able to live comfortably, yet be financially independent. I’m gonna try to find a steady job somewhere in the world in my industry. Oh yea, and pay back those loans.


Written by Katarina at  

Photo by:  Flickr


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Snarkfinance August 15, 2013 at 3:30 am

I think Kyle is dead on. College is approaching the threshold of financial prudence. It may not make financial sense to attend at certain institutions. Personally, I think he should take those ideas of his and run with them a little more… seems like such a smart kid doesn’t in fact need college.

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 6:42 am

College is intended to expand your thinking and provide more tools and skills.

Pauline August 15, 2013 at 4:54 am

Interesting stories, especially as they think the cost is really high or even ridiculous according to Amanda but they still go. I would seriously reconsider college at that price.

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 6:43 am

I view coll ege as an investment in the future and you can not determine how big that future is when you are only 18-22 years old.

Holly@ClubThrifty August 15, 2013 at 5:47 am


I feel sorry for kids who attend an overpriced college when they’re right out of high school. They may not even understand the ramifications until it’s far, far too late.

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 6:45 am

There is value depending on the school and major everywhere, but most people do not think of it that way. Some private colleges are less expensive than public ones because of the financial aid package.

No Waste August 15, 2013 at 7:44 am

I think the purpose of college has become fuzzy.

The internet has made learning and expanding your mind FREE for the masses.

All books are available digitally, anywhere in the world.

If you’re not attending school to get a skill worth real money in the marketplace, best to consider how much it’s gonna cost you.

What’s the payback period on your debt?

I’m scared to think of how Amanda is going to take care of that tuition debt with a journalism degree. Journalism has great value, but it does not pay well.

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 10:23 am

When my children entered college, the chancellor told the class that college did not prepare them for a specific career. They were preparing them for multiple careers! College pays off for those who use it well. It is no the major as much as how you use your education.

Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia August 15, 2013 at 8:23 am

I shudder to think how much college will cost in about 17 years when it’ll be time for my son to go! Even today, the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t line up for many students. I took the community college approach for the first 2 years and then transferred. I still think that’s the best bet. The diploma is no different that way!

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 10:24 am

Very true! As college becomes more expensive, everyone will look for less expensive ways to end up at the same place which is the degree.

SavvyFinancialLatina August 15, 2013 at 11:09 am

I had a scholarship so I didn’t have to worry about tuition. I had a stipend that covered my living expenses, but I was always thinking of ways to save money, and I rarely splurged. I suggest students take as many classes at a community college, so they can save on money. They can then transfer to a university for the last two years, and really concentrate on the experience. Do not graduate college with loans!

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Great advice! Getting through college with limited funds teaches you a lot how to handle your finances.

Bryce @ Save and Conquer August 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Great interviews. I used the old GI Bill to attend college. It gave me $15k to get through 4 years. So I went to community college for 2 years, and UC Santa Barbara for the other 2. I also lived with my parents in Goleta, near campus. I rode my bicycle everywhere. I was a mechanical engineering major, which is a career that definitely requires college.

Krantcents August 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Great choice! I went to graduate school on the GI Bill.

Barbara Friedberg August 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

My dad went to college on the GI bill, graduated in 3 years with an engineering degree (and finished 2nd in the state on the engineering exam). He sold sandwiches in the dorms with a few friends to make extra money.

Krantcents August 16, 2013 at 10:30 am

I performed paid tests with the U.S. Navy and others as well as iron shirts to earn money during the year.

Andy Hough August 16, 2013 at 6:57 pm

The cost of college is getting out of control. The tuition for my first semester of college was only $500. I didn’t realize how great of a bargain that was at that time.

Krantcents August 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

My daughter tuition at UC was $1,850 per year as a freshman, but was $4,250 by her junio year. The good news was she had a partial scholarship. I would rather see a small increase every year than a big one very so often.

Paul @ The Frugal Toad August 17, 2013 at 9:28 am

The statement by Kyle that if he was paying for college he wouldn’t be going to college is scary! Attending an expensive out-of-state college on your Parent’s dime just to figure out what you want to do, really Kyle? Sometimes the best route to college is to move out, pay your own bills and learn how to be responsible for oneself. It’s amazing how quickly being responsible for your own expenses focuses the mind and provides motivation!

Krantcents August 17, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Absolutely! Kyle’s statement is so short sighted and typically immature. Anything worthwhile is difficult and have a cost associated with it. I wonder what he will do when he actually has to make his on decisions on his own ?

The College Investor August 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Those are some amazing interviews. I wish more would have taken work serious, and not just “for the experience”. Too many new grads lack the soft skills needed to get good jobs.

Krantcents August 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

I wrote an article about doing your résumé backwards! I suggest to go out and accumulate the experience and skills that you want to use to market yourself to employers. Maybe young students do not think like that!

Tushar @ Everything Finance August 18, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I attended a good school, but definitely not one that was that expensive like the interviewees. I ended up getting a good job anyhow. I think it’s smart for college students to work throughout and to live with their parents for as long as possible.

Krantcents August 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I believe in keeping your expenses low, but I also think you should experience to the fullest.

Michael | The Student Loan Sherpa August 18, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I love the graduate early advice. AP classes are offered at so many high schools and can make such a difference. Each extra year you spend at college is additional tuition and house PLUS it is one less year of productive earning.

Krantcents August 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Finishing college early saves money, but the college experience is important too.

Untemplater August 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm

What a huge difference in costs there can be! If I ever have kids I will encourage them to go to public universities in-state. The costs are still high but not as crazy as a lot of the private schools.

Krantcents August 19, 2013 at 7:08 pm

It is a tough call because private universities offer more financial aid. I think you have to assess it based on the financial aid.

jacob | iHeartBudgets August 19, 2013 at 11:12 am

I dropped out of community college…..and then finished my Associates in art school. So I may not be the right person to talk about college. But with prices these days, without major scholarships or grants, it’s hard to say whether it’s worth it or not these days. My wife and I constantly discuss whether or not we want to save up $100k for each kid to throw at college. Seems like that money could be better spent elsewhere, and getting a more specific education (through online certifications/classes) could be MUCH cheaper and more valuable. Still not sure…

Krantcents August 19, 2013 at 7:14 pm

It is very hard if not impossible to guess what talents, skills, and interests your children may have. Not every child should go to college, but you won’t know it until much later and then it is too late to save.

jefferson @See Debt Run August 20, 2013 at 5:12 am

I am lucky enough to have a college degree and it has paid for itself many times over, in salary alone. The basic skills that I learned in school certainly helped lay a career foundation, but I don’t use much of what I learned day to day. I work in the IT industry, by the way.

I plan on paying (what I can) for my kids education, but I don’t expect to cover it all. I will likely present it to them that if they stay in-state and find a public school here that they want to attend, then they will get 80% of their costs covered by mom and dad. If they decide to go elsewhere, a much larger chunk will need to get covered by loans. Hopefully that reality is enough to sway them to stay close to home :)

Krantcents August 20, 2013 at 6:55 am

Good plan! It always hard to predict what your children will do when it comes to college.

Suba August 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm

The cost of college is getting out of control. I am still pro-college as long as (1) It is the right major with good earning potential (2) The student likes that field. If they have no clue, I think it might be beneficial to do a couple of internships and talk to folks before going to college. It might delay the graduation, but will save tons of money (and heartache) in the future.

Krantcents August 20, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I have known a lot of people who were liberal arts majors who have very successful careers. I worked for a president who was an English major.

Martin August 20, 2013 at 10:08 pm

College can be a killer. You can’t let it be. It’s easy to survive. You just have to be creative. I party like nobody else and I graduated debt free. Always have a job, stay hungry, and don’t make excuses.

Krantcents August 21, 2013 at 6:46 am

It can be done, if you are creative. Although my parents paid or my college, I supported my spending money. I learned a lot from the experience that I still use.

Lindsey @ Sense & Sensibility August 21, 2013 at 7:39 pm

It’s been a long time since I went to university! It’s interesting to read some of the opinions some of the students have about going for post-secondary education. When I went, all I could think about was not making minimum wage for the rest of my life. I’m not sure why I thought only college could solve the problem but as a young single mother, I was pretty desperate to work myself into a different situaiton.

Krantcents August 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I saw college as my ticket to management or opportunity. When I went to college it was less expensive too. I guess everything has changed!

Buck Inspire August 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Fascinating look at the current college situation. Some of those tuitions are outrageous! Baby Buck is years away, but can never plan too early. Interesting take about dropping out. To me, that is the real crossroad between a 9-5 job or being an entrepreneur!

Krantcents August 26, 2013 at 6:46 am

You may want to make sure he qualifies for a scholarship. Good grades are the key!

Mr Financial Debauchery September 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Kyle, brother, you are getting totally ripped off! $240K for a college education is totally not worth it. The ROI on that investment will take years to get back.

After being in the workforce for 10 years, I find it ironic that more employers seem to be open to hiring people without college educations for positions where it used to be absolutely required. So here you got people taking out 6 figure loans to pay for an education that they may not even need. Crazy!!!

Krantcents September 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Education is difficult to quantify because everyone uses the education differently. Some more effective than others. I am not suggesting to spend an unlimited amount of money, but you do not need a Harvard degree to be successful.

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