5 Ways to Save Cash for College During Winter Break

Use supplies at your house and choose frugal activities with friends.

By and + More
Unsophisticated coffee maker on counter in front of light green wall

The holidays can be one of the most expensive times of the year, so families are likely to want to save money any way they can.

Here are some of the ways our family has controlled spending and saved cash for college, even with a high school and college student home from school.


1: Give needs and wants: As a parent, if you can identify gifts that are both fun to give and will meet a need your student will have in the months ahead, it's a win-win.

Items that fall into this category for us are restaurant or gas gift cards and extra money in the campus account for on-campus printing and coffees.

Other ideas are gift cards for the campus bookstore or the big box stores in your child's college town, or a supply kit of second semester essentials, like laundry detergent, health and beauty items, and study snacks.

[See other last-minute gifts that help pay for college.]

2. Schedule check-ups: Winter break is a good time to have your student visit specialists such as the eye doctor and dentist for checkups. That's something that's harder to do at college, both from a time perspective and the inconvenience of having to find new providers that work with your family's insurance. It's also not too late for your child to get a flu shot if he or she hasn't had one.

And it's not just people that need checkups. Lindsey's (very) used car is getting an oil change and once-over during break, which could save us money down the road.

[Consider whether you should have a car at college.]


1. Use home's resources: It may sound minor, but one of my favorite things about being home is all of the free stuff. No paying for food, laundry, or lots of the supplies I buy at school.

While at home, take advantage of the food in the fridge by not eating out, and use supples like the wrapping paper and bows your mom may keep stocked. Even small purchases like toothpaste, coffees, and Scotch tape can add up, so get them from home whenever possible.

2. Frugally reconnect: The holidays are great for catching up with old friends. With lots of people home, however, it can be tempting to spend those days shopping, seeing movies, and going out for dinner or drinks.

These things are great in moderation, but try to mix in more affordable ways to reconnect as well. Grabbing a $1 movie rental or getting McDonald's ice cream cones can be just as much fun as a night on the town and will help you save up during the weeks at home.

3. Evaluate the year's spending: Granted, this is more of a way to save money in the future, but looking back over a year's worth of purchases is always an eye opener.

[Use these tips to make money over winter break.]

I've talked before about using Mint.com to keep track of my finances, and I find that looking at the total amount I'm spending each month really helps me to stay on track. That big picture can be either shocking or reassuring, and may even give you some ideas for New Year's resolutions.