Money

4 ways to save money during your first year of college

savings kids
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College isn't cheap. One year at a public university averages $20,000 for in-state students, according to College Board. For out-of-state students, it averages $34,000.

And with more than 44 million Americans owing $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, it may be a good idea to start saving sooner rather than later.

Here are some ways to do it:

1. Track your expenses

In order to save your money, you have to know where it's going.

Amber and Danny Masters, who are on track to pay off $600,000 of debt in five years, suggest creating a budget.

"[A budget] teaches self-discipline," Danny tells CNBC Make It. "You do your best not to overspend in each category of your budget. Then, you can accurately predict where your finances will be in the future."

CNBC Make It editor Benjamin Snyder has been using the mobile app Mint to track his expenses on a monthly, weekly and daily basis for four years. The habit helped him save around $5,000 in his first year, and more than $15,000 so far.

"Now that I really get my spending habits, I'm confident enough to sock away a few hundred extra per month," he says.

2. Cut unnecessary costs

A clear picture of how your money is spent could help you identify unnecessary expenses and avoid overspending.

While it's tempting to eat out in college, take advantage of your school's meal plan. It can offer discounts on breakfast, lunch, dinner — even fourth meal.

Customers eat inside a cafeteria seating at a Whole Foods Market Inc. location in New York.
Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Customers eat inside a cafeteria seating at a Whole Foods Market Inc. location in New York.

Also, you can cut down on the cost of books. Try shopping at a local bookstore or online before stopping in your school's official bookstore. Often, they'll have competitive prices at lower rates.

3. Build your savings 

The money left over from cutting costs could be used for an emergency savings account, but you can also focus on more long-term goals.

Vanguard suggests putting away putting away small amounts on a regular basis in order to maintain a consistent flow of funds. You could try automating your savings to transfer money directly from your paycheck, and gradually increasing the amount of those transfers as you earn more.

"This should happen before you accelerate any other financial goals," like fast-tracking your student loan repayment or saving for a house, suggests LearnVest.

Ideally, the money you save should go into an interest-earning account that you can access without penalties, according to Wells Fargo.

4. Look for extra income

Lastly, seek out opportunities for extra income.

Internships or work-study programs can be a good option. A survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers says employers pay their interns around $13.91 per hour on average. For work study, U.S. News & World Report says, "the government awarded a yearly average of nearly $1,400 per student at about 3,300 colleges," citing the latest Department of Education data.

Or try doing odd jobs. For example, the Masters took online surveys for pay and sold $5,000 worth of miscellaneous items they had gathered.

College comes with many experiences, and some of those experiences come with a price. But the smarter you become about saving, the easier it will be to navigate your first year.

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