I first started saving money in middle school – with an intention of buying a car when I turned 16. After my dad offered to pay half of my used ride and I paid the other half, my account was again at $0. So I saved the cash from my part-time job (shelving books at the local library) and put away as much of my paycheck as possible for college. My friends and I still did fun things, like movies and concerts, but we mostly chose to do free or cheap things since none of us had a lot of cash. By the time I walked into college, I had $1,000 in a savings account to help pay tuition. It definitely didn’t cover a big portion of the costs, but it was money I didn’t have to borrow in student loans – and that helped.

student mowing the lawn

So what can you start doing in middle or high school to prepare to pay for college? Consider these steps:

Put money in a savings account.

It can be tempting to buy the newest phone or spend the cash on a trip, but by designating that money as “untouchable,” you’re setting yourself up for a nice payday when it comes time to pay your freshman tuition bill or books. And it’ll feel so much better not taking out more loans.

But…how do you discipline yourself to get money to put in this account?

Save gift money.

You know how you get that $20 from Aunt Jean for your birthday? Commit to putting half in your savings account. The cash was a gift anyway, so you really won’t miss it that much.

Get a part-time job.

That may be hard to do if you’re under the age of 16. But there are lots of ways for younger teens to earn cash:

  • Babysit for the neighbors or a family friend.
  • Offer to walk the dogs in your neighborhood, or take care of animals while people are gone for the weekend.
  • Do some yard work: raking leaves in the fall, mowing in spring and summer, and shoveling snow in winter.
  • Summer Detasseling: This isn’t for the weak, but if you can stand the heat, you can make big money in just a few weeks working corn fields. You can start working at age 12 or 13.

Pocket the fun money.

My cousin likes to go to school events, like a football game, and her mom usually gives her cash to pay admission and to buy concession stand snacks. But her mom never asks for the change. So she puts that money away for herself. A few bucks here and there really adds up. She recently told me she took this jar of extra change and bills to the bank – and it had over $70 in it! That cash went straight into her savings account for college because of her discipline and desire to save.

Step away from the debit card.

In my experience, you don’t realize how much you’re spending when you simply swipe a card versus pay in cash. I’ve noticed I’m less likely to buy something when I have to fork over my hard-earned $20 bill. That’s tough to give up! Plus if you’re in a bind where you need cash, but the only ATM available is not with your bank, you’re going to get smacked with a fee. Finally, you’ll avoid overdraft fees by not overspending money that you don’t have in a checking account!

Making small decisions now can lead to a chunk of cash to help pay for college later. Tell a trusted adult your goal to pay for some college and ask them to help you stay disciplined when you’re in a weak moment, like wanting to buy a new pair of shoes that you want but don’t necessarily need.

What tips do you have for saving money?