You can pay your own way through college. It's not impossible. People have done it before. Though I didn't actually go to college, I saved enough over the course of a year to pay for it (I decided to invest it instead).
Let's just assume that you're going to spend somewhere between $40k and $100k, and you have between 1 and 5 years to save. It's totally possible to save a bit, start college, and then spend what you have, as you get it, but let's play it safe and assume that you want to save to whole bankroll before you sign up for school.
There are two things you need to concentrate on, no matter what your current financial situation is, and no matter what your financial goals are.
Save More Money & Make More Money
How to Save Money For College: Save More Money
Sit down and take a real, honest look at your current lifestyle. You're going to need to make cuts somewhere. Even if you're already living frugally, could it be possible to tighten the belt a little more? Very often we mistake ‘wants' for ‘needs', and blow up our budget without even realizing it. Here are some budget tips for penny pinching extreme savers.
Cut out snacks and non-filling foods. The more often you are hungry, the more often you eat. Protein fill you up and keeps you full, so that's a good place to start. No more chips, cookies, Rockstars, or diet sodas.
Drink water. Everything else cost money. Last time I checked you can drink out of the tap. If not, off-brand bottled water is still cheaper that crappy, empty calorie sugary drinks. Juices can be healthy, but they're expensive as hell and just an indulgence. Get your vitamins by eating real fruit.
Look for sales. It sucks to have to scour the store for cheap stuff, but if you're serious about your budget, it's time to prioritize. Get a rewards card, find stuff on sale, and use those coupons.
Buy in bulk. Sometimes buying more at once can cause you to consume more unintentionally, so you'll have to check yourself on this one. Costco is a great place to get stuff in bulk for cheap, and sometimes grocery stores have good deals.
Skip the organic section. I know that organic is ‘in', and some people would not consider this a budgetable item. This is an excuse. I never eat organic and I am not dead yet. Even if you swear by organic foods, eating non-organic for a few years won't kill you. Remember, it's time to prioritize.
Find cheap grocery stores. I know that Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have really good stuff, but it's also super expensive. A loaf of bread can cost 2 or 3 times more from one of these places.
This is a tough call because stripping yourself of all entertainment could lead to budget burnout down the road, causing you to splurge and destroy all your hard work. Here are some options:
Have a ‘free day'. Limit yourself to one excursion per week. It might be a movie, or a trip to the bar; whatever your thing is, do it once a week. This way you have something to look forward to and don't stress too much by budgeting too hard.
Find cheap entertainment. Netflix is $8 per month. One trip to the movies costs $15, double that if you take a date, and triple it if you buy snacks. Chilling to a crappy movie on Netflix at home can be just as relaxing as a trip to the Cinema in my books. The same principle can be applied to other hobbies. Is good food your passion? Watch some YouTube videos on budget gourmet foods and make them yourself. $10 or $20 for a night of cooking, cheap wine, and good food can be great versus the $40 or $50 it costs to go to a decent restaurant.
Choose one activity. I have tons of hobbies. When I cracked down on my budget I limited myself to one thing: movies. Maybe that's not your thing. Whatever is, pick one, and ignore the rest. You're saving money for school, not becoming a Jack of all trades. Plus, you won't have time for all these time-wasting activities because you'll be making money in as many hours of the day as possible (see below).
Leverage the internet. There's tons of stuff online for free. Chat to like-minded people in forums. Watch YouTube videos, catch up on the news, or read blogs. People waste hours every day online. There must be something entertaining there.
Room share. Move in with your parents. Rent a cheap-ass apartment and ignore the cockroaches. Remember: This is a temporary situation. One reason people never get ahead is that they refuse to endure the budgeting phase. Just because you live in a crappy place now doesn't mean you will be there forever.
Ever heard of Mint? Here's a video from the CEO with some tips on budgeting. It's a cheesy looking video aimed towards college students, but they're good tips, and Mint is AWESOME (and free).
Control Your Inner Consumer
We are born into a consumer society. Every day we are enticed with advertisements to buy STUFF. Don't play into the game.
You do not need the newest iPhone. I got a Virgin Venture (Yes, it's a smartphone) for $50 and pay just $35 per month for unlimited data and texts. Why pay $200 for a phone and $90 per month for service?
You do not need fashionable clothes. It feels nice to look good. It feels nicer to have a college degree under your belt. Remember that.
Starbucks is expensive (or insert your favorite drink shop). One cappuccino costs $4. Saving $4 per day means you save $120 per month, and $1500 per year. That money could pay for a course or two. No one said that saving money for college was going to be easy.
Another good video. You can skip this one if you really don't have the time. It's just more tips on budgeting, and it's a bit boring. But maybe come back later and watch it because effectively cutting down on expenses is going to be vital to saving money.
How to Save Money For College: Make More Money
This is the hard part, but it's crucial to meeting your goals of saving money for college. As always, there are a couple options, and which options work for you.
If you have a job, keep it. Do the best you can at it because you need it. Even if it's minimum wage and hard work, it's better than nothing. A little bit of hard work never made anyone poorer, right?
If you don't have one, start looking. Or keep looking. Cleaning toilets for money is better than not cleaning toilets and sitting on your ass. Nobody will listen to you complain about not finding a job that you like.
One option is a part time job. Now that employers are all pissed off about Obamacare (If you're from the US), most places will be psyched to have you on part time because they won't have to pay health benefits.
Say Hello to Your Inner Entrepreneur
I'll bet you didn't know you were an entrepreneur! Well, everyone is. Seriously. The internet is awesome like that. Let me explain.
Affiliate marketing, in a nutshell, is finding product and services that people are looking for on the internet. You create a website providing visitors to the site with important information about these products and services. When someone purchases these things, you make a commission.
Congratulations, you now own your own online business.
There are three challenges you will face as a new affiliate marketer.
One, will most likely be that you think that you can't make a website. Actually, technology has come a long way since HTML websites where you had to code everything. Now you can push a button and have the basic structure of your site finished in less than a minute.
Watch me do it below.
Two, you might be reading the word affiliate marketing for the first time. Does it sound difficult? It's not. When you shop online, what type of information do you like to read: corporate-hired, over-hyped, official product information, or real people speaking/writing honestly, in their own voice? If you can be honest, then you can make money as an affiliate marketer.
Last (3), your greatest challenge will be time. There are some new skills that you will need to learn, and it will take some time for your site to rank well in Google. It may take a couple months before you make your first sale, and you could be making consistent income within the year if you really devote some hours to this.
Unfortunately, along the way you will tell yourself that it isn't working. You will want to quit. You will question your decision to start a website. Second guessing yourself is natural, but toughing through it is the only way to succeed.
Can you read blogs and write a comprehensive 400 word article? English speaking writers that are willing to put in the time to research and write articles (and deliver on time) are IN DEMAND. Seriously. Many of those affiliate marketers I mentioned above hire writers to do the writing on their website. I do it too.
It's really, really hard to find reliable people to deliver grammatically correct, well-researched information, on time. Some people pay $10 – $20 per 500 word article. If you know a lot about a subject, you could be getting paid even more (as an expert, using your own knowledge as a resource for their business).
Elance, Freelancer, and UpWork are three places to get started (I prefer oDesk). If you can write one, really good article are a few times a week, you could be making and hundreds of dollars more per month.
The Making Money Part
The reason I mentioned the part time job before is that with a part time job you can mostly likely pay the rent and food. The rest of your time can be spent working on your website.
Sometimes after a full 8-hour day of work you don't like, it's a lot to ask of someone to get home and start MORE WORK. Sometimes, you might not have a choice.
But having income from two sources, an IRL job and an online job, will mean that you will be making more money. Eventually I found that I could make way more money pouring more energy into my own business and quit my day job.
For me, getting into ‘work mode' makes me motivated to work more. Without the distractions of entertainment and consumerism I can concentrate on making money. I did this for about 2 years before I got burned out, so watch out for exhausting yourself, but I made some serious bank during that time.
Now that you've cut your budget and beefed up your income, you should be on the way to saving enough money to pay for college. It won't happen over night. This is not a two week, or even a two month project. Set a goal for two years. Heck, what else are you doing?
Remember that to be successful during a period of tight budgeting and hard work, you need to manage your priorities and keep your eye on the prize. Is your goal JUST to make money, or is it to go to school? Killing yourself with an impossible budget and work schedule won't work forever. Burnout is imminent. This isn't meant to be a long-term life plan. But something's got to change, at least for the time being.
I hope this post inspires you to meet your goals, and it gave you a few ideas on where to get started. If you have any ideas to add for how to save more money or make more money I'm readers would appreciate it.