Higher education is a steadily increasing expense for young people entering the “adult world.” The experience will surely help start you off on the right foot in your career journey and independence.

But it’s still quite a leap to shell out such big chunks of money (or gain so much debt) to pay for this opportunity.

With an extra dose of insight and discipline, you can significantly reduce your debt after graduation – or maybe even get through college without any debt at all!

The most common way to pay for college is student loans. Here are some better options…

1. Choose Your School Wisely

For some students, a four-year university is the default choice. There’s nothing wrong with this if you have plans in place to shoulder the expense. But if money is a concern, consider attending a community college for the first two years before transferring to a university.

There are several benefits to this option. The first and most obvious is the cost. Community colleges average about a third of the tuition per year that four-year universities demand.

Community colleges can also offer smaller class sizes for an easier learning environment. The classes usually transfer to other institutions quite easily. And you may even decide to get a two-year degree that could allow you a higher-paying job to get you through your final two years of school.

2. Maximize Your Financial Aid

Applying for the maximum amount of financial aid can contribute significant funds to your endeavor. Be sure to fill out your FAFSA, and apply for any aid offered by your state, community, or prospective school.

Keep an eye out for grant and scholarship opportunities, as these don’t need to be paid back at all. There may be options that cater to your financial needs, talents, or special interests. You could also try applying for easy scholarships listed on sites like WiseGeek and Bold.

3. Start a Side Gig

Besides a conventional job, you might add to your student reserve by taking on a side gig. There are plenty of ways to make extra money. This could take the form of passive income, such as investing, blogging, or selling an online course. Or it could take the form of contract work (or freelancing), such as tutoring, customer service, social media management, editing, or photography. 

4. Change Your Spending Habits

One fundamental way to save money is to take stock of your current spending habits. It takes some self-control, but watching your spending allows you to hold on to that much more cash to go toward your degree.

For instance, avoid impulse buys by holding off on them for 30 days. If at that point you still feel you need it, go ahead and make the purchase. Plan out your meals and stick to your shopping list to decrease grocery expenses. And take extra care when using credit cards – pay off balances as soon as possible.

As a student, you’ll have additional money-saving resources at your disposal. Shop at places that offer student discounts, use the school library and gym, take public transportation, and buy used textbooks. All these little tactics can add up to considerable savings to pay your way through school.

5. Become a Pro at Budgeting

The importance of budgeting is talked about so often that it’s almost become easier to forget. This doesn’t make it any less critical. In fact, when it comes to saving for higher education, it’s absolutely essential.

Budgeting is quite simple. Find a way to track your money – whether that’s in a notebook, in a spreadsheet, or through an app – and list all your income, all your expenses, and then look at what the difference is. This should help you determine if you need to find a way to acquire more funds or how you might spend your money more wisely.

Going to college is no small feat. Your experience will be much less stressful and more enjoyable with a plan in place to pay for it. Follow these five unorthodox tactics to save for your education, and you’ll be on your way to graduating with little to no debt.