College frugality does not have to equal a block of Ramen (though it can include it, depending on your love for the sodium-enriched “meal”). Living frugally in college demands desire, planning, and accountability. You’ll soon discover that a budget is not a restriction, but a tool that brings peace of mind.

Why be frugal?

The first question that should be answered when considering a frugal life is – why are you choosing to be frugal? There are many reasons to live frugally.

The answer goes beyond your bank savings. Frugality improves your self-discipline and nurtures good money-management. It prepares you for what’s to come after your college years are over. It helps you to prioritize the essential from the non-essential as you organize, scrutinize and adjust what you view as necessities. It’s more than saving a few bucks here or there. Along the way, you have to problem solve, innovate, and learn new skills.

Frugality builds discipline

“Discipline is the bridge 
between goals and accomplishment.” –Jim Rohn

Have you ever tried to change your spending, eating, or sleeping habits? You find that sometimes it’s difficult to complete longterm– You have wired your brain one way and you are working to rewire it in a completely different way. Over time, as you work on your frugality process– telling yourself no to excessive spending, or exercising a different way to find entertainment– discipline begins to work itself into your life. 

You’ll find that as it gets easier to say no to things like fast food, and yes to activities like carpooling that an internal discipline will form and keep you in line. Over time, this discipline will aid in other areas of your life.

Frugality gives peace of mind

“Set peace of mind as your highest goal, 
and organize your life around it.” –Brian Tracy

When you graduate college, chances are you will want to buy a house, a car or get married. You may want to travel.

Few students begin adulting with the goal of racking up debt.

A college degree may be a good debt to invest in your career and lifetime earnings. But, being frugal today, when you have fewer personal obligations, can position you to pay off your degree sooner and move toward those things you really want to spend your money on, ultimately providing you with a financial peace of mind.

Frugality develops optimism

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.” — Lou Holtz

What are the rewards for living like no one else today, so you can live like no one else tomorrow? A lifestyle that organizes what you value as a necessity and what you don’t? As it goes in life: if you don’t have a positive attitude to improve your situation, chances are, you’ll fall back into poor financial habits. It is ultimately your choice whether or not you choose to adjust your lifestyle.

A positive attitude will slingshot you in the direction you want to go. A desire for a daily commitment will keep you striving consistently.

Consider writing the motivations for your frugality on your dorm room mirror, on a notebook you use each day or on a sticker on your laptop. Remind yourself of the reason you want this change and go into it full force.


Success requires accountability

Studies have shown that by expressing to others an idea or personal goal that you have, you are more likely to succeed. Don’t go at it alone, let others hear your plans. Better yet, enlist them. Define frugality together. Maybe that’s staying in and watching Netflix on the weekend instead of going to the movies. Maybe that’s choosing to go halfsies on a coffee maker with a friend rather than going to Starbucks twice a week.

Be mindful not to choose that friend who will let you get away with excuses. Recruit someone who will hold you accountable.


Success requires consistency

Would it surprise you to know that the notion of working at something for 21 days to make it a habit isn’t actually concrete? We all have this idea that if we just keep up with something for 3 weeks that we will have it down pat. However, studies have shown that sustaining a habit takes far longer depending on the impact, enjoyment, and difficulty of the habit. When trying to sustain frugality over the course of your college years or even after, it’s important to work at it every day.

Sustain this new lifestyle change by making it your lifestyle norm. Maintaining college consistent habits to be frugal is healthy, unlike consuming Ramen every night to save a couple bucks. 

Enjoy your college years healthily, safely and financially secure.

How to create a budget

College is already hard enough: having to go to class, entertaining friends, studying for tests, working on homework, trying to get enough sleep. Something always falls to the wayside. Letting your finances go and thinking, “I’m fine,” every time you’re out and about will only add onto the stress you’re dealing with. Being frugal in college demands desire, a plan, and accountability. Get a handle on your finances, and over time, it will only be natural to say, “no, I don’t actually need those tacos.”

By writing down a clear budget that focuses solely on your necessities, you can determine the level of frugality you need to reach. Along with this, you can physically view what money is flowing in and out of your accounts. This can help you gain a sense of urgency, kickstarting your personalized process.

When creating your budget, track through your bank account, and take note of your bills and major purchases. Lay everything out on a spreadsheet. After documenting your budget, make lists: one for essentials, one for non-essentials, and one where items can be cut. Deeply evaluate the latter two. Your personal spending habits will be visible, enabling you to identify and rewire bad habits.

Here is a sample budget from Microsoft Office Templates to get started.


Remember Student discounts

By venturing into your new school community, not only do you find out what goes on around you, but you get to know it, experience it, and find possible discounts. Some online stores will even honor your student discount if you can electronically send proof. For example, gives a variety of discounts to students who study photography, videography, film, graphic design, or a related field.

When exploring discounts, remember

  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Having an oil change done? Ask. Getting a haircut? Ask. Deciding to splurge on a movie at the theater? Ask.
  • Have proof. Bring your student ID with you everywhere you go.
  • Google “student discounts.” and frugally buy to your budget’s desire.

Here are some additional tips and tricks

  • Transportation: Carpool, walk, jog, ride a bike, or take a bus. Some people survive college without a car. It is possible.
  • Textbooks: Share with a friend, visit your school’s library or see if the book is available to borrow.
  • Clothes: Strategically purchase items that can mix and match or share with a friend.
  • Job: If you can work the hours into your schedule, do. Look for a paid internship in the field you are studying to equips yourself with knowledge and experience while adding cash flow.
  • Food: Start couponing, make lists before you go and urge yourself to stick to them.
  • Online: When purchasing online, be sure to look up coupons when getting ready to check out. Typically, will provide access codes [like free shipping] for the specific store you are shopping.
  • Coffee: A college staple doesn’t need to be fancy. Buy a coffee maker.
  • Health: Utilize your school’s gym and intramural programs. Chances are, you already pay for it in your tuition and fees, so don’t waste it! Play ping-pong, racquetball, use the track, the basketball courts, the free weights, etc. Add to your health and keep to your budget.
  • Homework Help: is an excellent resource that allows you to watch or interact with informational videos in the area of your choosing, mainly technological. Some universities will give their students access through an online portal using their .edu email address.
  • Software Help: Many schools have institutional licenses with companies like Microsoft or Adobe. Ask, and you may be able to get essential software free or at a deep discount.
  • Take a class: On the chance that your major is still undecided and you just don’t know what’s right for you, take a business or finance class. You will gain a skill for when you get out of school and have to start paying for that house, car or student loan. You might discover a passion for the business, marketing, or finance world. If not, you still gained valuable knowledge.



Document, analyze, and make a hobby out of finding new ways to save. Innovate processes that help you reach the same desire in a cheaper manner. Sustain this new lifestyle change by making it your lifestyle norm. Maintaining college frugality is possible and beneficial.

About the Author

Erica Kemper
Erica Kemper

Erica received a bachelor’s degree in Advertising in 2017 from Ball State University and a master’s degree in Business Administration in 2019. She has a passion for learning more about design, technology and strategic communication. Being from Indiana, she actively tries to avoid warm clothes in the winter to assert dominance over the southerners.

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