Back to Kings Life index

Top tips on how to save money as an international student in the US: a practical guide

19 Apr, 2024
Top tips on how to save money as an international student in the US: a practical guide

As a college student in the US there are various fees and expenses to cover.

Thankfully, there are numerous ways to reduce expenditures without compromising the college experience too much. Whether it's avoiding costly meals out or discovering free entertainment options around campus, being mindful of your spending habits now will bring benefits in the long run.

In this blog post, we share some top tips on how to save money during your US college experience.

Table of Contents

How to save money as a college student in the US

Mistakes to avoid when saving money in college

How to save money as a college student in the US

Below, we explore ten great ways to help save money whilst at college in the US.

1. Create a budget

As a student, you’re eager to explore newfound freedoms, plunge into social events, and experiment with a range of new things. However, independence and newfound freedom also come with responsibility, particularly when it comes to the finances.That’s where having a student budget and specific financial goals makes sense.

Setting financial boundaries and exercising discipline with spending is imperative to staying on track when at university. A budget can allow you to identify where you may be overspending, decrease student debt, prioritize essential things, and ultimately, support a more secure financial future post-graduation. When you have a set budget, you can still have fun and enjoyable student experiences while maintaining financial stability.

2. Get a part-time job

One way to help save money in college is to get a job. To try and offset some of the costs, many students work part-time during their studies. Whilst the main incentive may be financial, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are other benefits to working too - not only does it provide useful work experience and related skills for students' resumes, but it can also help expand social networks.

Working part-time as an international student is allowed on the majority of visas, but there are strict rules around what is permitted by the US government. Always consult with your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) or immigration lawyer before accepting any job offers.

There are two main types of jobs a student can take in the US: on-campus jobs and off-campus jobs. On campus part-time jobs are the most convenient and easy-to-find employment options, with job options including teaching and research, counter sales, library and laboratory assistance.

Off campus jobs are an option, but may be harder to fit in around classes. Students are most likely find a suitable off campus job near the university campus, where minimal travel is required.

Find out more about working part-time as an international student in the US

3. Avoid buying new textbooks

One very easy way for college students to save money and have a little more spending money at their disposal, is to avoid buying brand-new textbooks. There are several alternatives that are far less costly:

  • Buy used: second-hand textbooks are generally a lot cheaper than brand new ones. Checking your campus bookstore, online retailers or student exchange networks can all offer great options.
  • Rent instead: these days, many bookstores and websites offer textbook rental services. You get the book for the semester, returning it once done. Rentals like this typically cost a lot less than buying the books you need.
  • Go digital: it can be a good idea to seek out digital versions of your textbooks; they can often be found on educational platforms.

4. Financial aid opportunities

Scholarships and grants aren't just for incoming first-year students; there are many different types available. They may be need- or merit-based and may require an application, essays, and letters of recommendation. Platforms like can be a very useful source of information.

5. Consider your food options

As a college student, finding the right food options that cater to your taste buds and wallet can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are a variety of options available that won't break the bank.

Many universities offer an affordable meal plan that allows students access to on-campus dining halls, providing a convenient and cost-effective option. However, if you're looking for a change of scenery or crave some off-campus cuisine, there are plenty of restaurants and eateries surrounding campus that offer student discounts.

Making as many of your own meals if possible (if you have the facilities available) will also save you money, and if you can plan your meals on a weekly basis, you can do your grocery shopping just once every week which again, saves costs.

6. Save money on housing

Outside of tuition costs, housing is often college students' biggest expense. It’s important to research costs both on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods to figure out the best living option for you. While moving off campus may seem cheaper at first, don't forget to factor in the time and money you'll spend commuting to and from campus.

You may be able to qualify for free housing (and maybe even a food or living stipend) by working as a resident assistant (RA). A role that is usually only offered to non-first-year students, being a resident assistant involves helping foster a community for other student residents, and sometimes offering counseling in exchange for room and board.

7. Take full advantage of school amenities

You're likely paying for more than just tuition, room and board when you attend university in the US. Make sure you're getting the most out of your activities fee by using campus resources whenever possible. That could mean going to the school health center or sports facilities, which may be available for free or at a reduced price. It’s also worth seeing whether there are cultural or entertainment events subsidized by your college.

8. Avoid non-essential expenses

As a college student in the US, it can be tough to avoid non essential expenses. However, there are several strategies that can help you save money. One approach is to limit your entertainment budget. Instead of going out to eat or to the movie theater every weekend, try inviting friends over for A Netflix movie, a game night or cookout. Another option is to look for ways to share expenses with others. For example, you could split the cost of groceries with roommates or carpool to save on transportation costs. Finding creative ways to cut costs, you can stay within your budget and enjoy your college experience without breaking the bank.

9. Save on transportation

An often-overlooked aspect of saving money in college is transportation costs.

Whether it's for going to and from campus, to work, or just getting around the local area to run errands and enjoy free time activities, transportation is an important consideration for anyone on a budget. When you’re looking to cut back, it’s definitely worth exploring the least expensive ways to get around.

These options can all save a significant amount of money:

  • Using public transportation: buses, trams and subways may often be an effective, economical and more eco-friendly way to get around, and some options might offer student discounts too.
  • Carpooling: if you’re traveling with friends or sharing a space with roommates, carpooling may help save on fuel costs and - as an additional benefit- reduce your carbon footprint!
  • Biking or walking: for nearby destinations, walking or biking is free and provides some all-important exercise to boot.

10. Avoid credit card debt

Credit cards can be a very useful and reassuring tool, but you must use them strategically.

Essentially, a credit card is a form of loan that allows you to borrow money from the card issuer and pay it back over time. However, unlike traditional loans, credit cards come with interest rates that can add up quickly if not managed responsibly. Interest rates are typically based on the borrower's credit score and can vary from card to card. It's important to be aware of these interest rates when using a credit card, as well as any other fees or charges that may apply, to ensure you can pay back what you owe in a timely manner.

If you use credit cards, even ones that offer great student rewards, use them wisely. Try to limit their usage to emergencies or necessities, and avoid taking costly cash withdrawals.

Following this advice will help ensure you don't accrue too much credit card debt:

  • Never exceed your credit limit
  • Always make your minimum monthly payment
  • Try to pay more than the minimum due each month
  • Keep a close eye on your accounts in case of any fraudulent charges

Apps such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame can be a useful tool for managing your cards and saying on top of your credit score.

Mistakes to avoid when saving money in college

Photo by Avery Evans on Unsplash

Here, we look at some of the mistakes that college students make when it comes to saving money.

  • Not taking advantage of student discounts

In the US, as in many countries, one of the perks of having a student ID is that it can mean great discounts in a wide variety of restaurants, transportation, shops, and cultural attractions, and can also get large reductions on products from tech companies like Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft. For example, Apple offer students up to $200 on Macs and up to $50 on iPads.

You can cut down your expenses even more if you use your college-assigned email address when subscribing to Amazon Prime, Apple Music and Spotify. With this address you can enjoy benefits such as free deliveries and cheaper subscriptions.

  • Impulsive shopping

As college students, it's easy to succumb to the urge of impulse shopping; a habit which can quickly drain your bank account! The excitement of being in a new environment coupled with limited financial responsibility and newfound independence can make it tempting to splurge on everything from clothing to electronics, however, it's important to resist the temptation.

  • Not taking into account the exchange rates

As an international student, you must be mindful of foreign exchange rates when studying abroad. If you are from a country with a relatively strong currency, you should be ok, but if your home country has a weaker currency you should monitor rates carefully to avoid overspending.

  • Not understanding international student loans

Most American students rely on student loans for education, but lenders are not always able to offer the same loans to international students. Federal government-backed loans are limited to US citizens and permanent residents. International students may be able to secure a loan if it’s signed by a citizen or permanent legal resident who has good credit.

  • Succumbing to peer pressure

When you're in college, it's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to go out and have fun every weekend with your friends and roommates, especially if you are a first-time student trying to fit in and make friends. But, giving in to peer pressure to go out can be a costly; college can be expensive, and every dollar counts when you're trying to make ends meet. Of course, going out and having fun is important, but it's not worth getting into debt or struggling financially, so make sure if you say yes to an event or outing, you can definitely afford it.

Learn More About Studying in the US

At Kings, we offer a range of programs designed to help international students gain access to the very best US universities and still graduate in 4 years.

Through our Guaranteed Outcome programs, students begin a bachelor’s degree at one of our partner universities in Boston, New York, California, Oregon and Wisconsin.

They are supported extensively by our specialist on-campus teams as they adapt to US college life. They learn more about the US education system, improve their GPA, and gain a host of new skills and experiences.

After 2 years they are then able to transfer to a Top 50 or Top 100 university, from where they will graduate. Our expert advisors will guide each and every student through the entire transfer process from target university identification, course selection to transfer university applications.

Kings advisors are passionate about securing the best possible acceptances for our students, which is why so many progress to the very best US universities.

If you would like to receive more detailed information about Kings and our university pathway programs, please get in touch with us at

Back to top