By: Mia Myklebust
Being a college student may be awesome, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. There’s the stress of school, combined with the pressure to be social and the anxiety that paying for your education brings. In addition to all this, most college students find themselves living on a tight budget. We’re here with the top tips on how to save money in college and still have fun!
Learn to cook something
I’m not saying you need to become Julia Child, here, just figure out how to cook a few things so you can feed yourself. Some basics like pasta, salads and chicken are good to know how to make. Cooking at home rather than eating out can save you a ton of money. Some students have some sort of meal plan, especially freshman year, but it’s good to develop your cooking skills early so you’re not stuck with Taco Bell as your only option for sustenance. If you need ideas, check out our blog on simple recipes for college students.
Make a shopping list
If you make a shopping list BEFORE you get to the store, you will find that you are much more efficient and cost effective in your shopping. Another tip to go along with this, do not ever go grocery shopping when you’re hungry! This can be difficult, but if you go hungry you will come home with a bunch of unhealthy food you don’t need or want. It never fails. Unless it’s Costco and it’s sample day, have a snack before you go.
Buy store brand
So, you’ve made the list, you’ve had a snack and you’re at the store, now it’s time to shop smart. The best tip I can give you is to shop store brand. That generic brand oatmeal is going to taste exactly the same as the stuff in the sparky box. Don’t let yourself be a victim of marketing! Buy the oatmeal with the boring label that’s two dollars less. It may not seem like a lot, but over time every dollar adds up.
Brew your own coffee
I know it’s easy to stop at Starbucks, but charging $5.00 for a drink is getting away with murder. By comparison, you will pay around $5.00 for an 11-oz can of ground coffee at the grocery store. With a can this size you can brew around 50 cups of coffee. Just think about that for a second. 50 cups of coffee vs. 1 cup, there’s really no comparison. If you simply must stop at Starbucks, try getting black coffee and spicing it up with free sugar and creamer. A black coffee will run you around $2.00, which is still cheaper (and healthier, I might add) than a $5.00 latte.
Eat breakfast in your room
Rather than running to the cafeteria or a local cafe to get breakfast, make it in your room. Stock up on cereal, oatmeal, fruit, eggs, pancake mix; whatever tickles your fancy! Breakfast in one meal that is very easy to cook and very inexpensive to buy at the grocery store. Go grocery shopping on Sundays so you will be good to go for the following week.
Figure out how to use public transportation
Public transportation is not as daunting as it seems. Most college campuses have great transport systems around them because many students don’t have cars. Crack the system and you will never have to worry about paying for gas or car repairs again.
Buy textbooks online or from used bookstores or get digital copies
Today, college students have the great option of getting textbooks online. Books are usually much more expensive in the campus bookstore, so do a little research online to find the best possible prices for your textbooks. Another idea is to buy digital copies of your textbooks. Some students like to have a hardcopy of their books, but if you’re not picky, digital versions are much less expensive.
Search for books on: Ebay, Amazon, or Chegg
Apply for scholarships
Scholarships are a great way to supplement your student loans or work-study program. They can help make paying tuition a little easier so you have extra money to spend on food, rent, and fun!
Take advantage of free on-campus events
You’ll be surprised by the awesome free events your campus will host! Concerts, movie screenings, art shows, plays, you never know what kind of free events your campus might have! Some schools even have free (or heavily discounted) tickets to sporting events. Take advantage of these events! There’s nothing cooler than free fun!
Take a leaf out of Macklemore’s book and thrift shop
Grab a friend and head to your local second-hand store to do some thrift shopping! This is a fun way to get some new duds for cheap and get a great vintage look to boot!
This is one cost-cutter that you will thoroughly enjoy. This one primarily applies to all the ladies out there (but guys, if you’re game, go for it!) and is a great way to expand your wardrobe without expanding your budget. If you grew up with siblings of the same sex you probably already know the magic of having another wardrobe to supplement your own, but if not, having roommates will be a game-changer for your closet. However, a word to the wise: always ask! No one likes a roommate who takes without asking, no matter how close you are. Also, remember to treat your friend’s clothes with respect and always make sure you care for them in the way that the person requests (this usually refers to washing, not washing and dry cleaning). If you do it right, sharing clothes can be one of the biggest cost-cutters there is!
Do laundry with roommates
When you get to college you will learn the hard way that you have to separate your darks, lights, and colors. I know that one of you out there will not listen to this advice. One of you laundry lords or ladies will go rogue and try to put everything together in one washer. This will not work. Once you have learned this tough but necessary lesson, you will start to separate, and then you will learn another lesson. Laundry is expensive. Do laundry with your roommates to cut costs. Here’s some math that will blow your mind. 3 loads/3 people = 1 load per person. It’s just like doing it all at once, except your socks won’t be pink tomorrow. Win.
Use Netflix or Hulu rather than going to the movies
Each running at $7.99 a month you can’t really beat Netflix and Hulu. You’d pay significantly more than this on a single trip to the movie theatre. With these streaming services you get thousands of options, you can watch from the comfort of your dorm room and the popcorn is a whole lot cheaper. What’s not to love?
Find the places where you can use your student discount card
Take it from someone who *still* tries to use their student discount card everywhere possible, you can get great deals with that bad boy. Many local restaurants will give a free drink and some clothing stores will give a discount. Most museums have free entry for students and movies (if you refuse to take my advice above) have students discounts, too. Get in the habit of asking so you never miss out on a sweet deal.
This one may seem a little strange but the fifth time you call the pizza delivery man at 2 a.m. you will understand what I’m talking about. Stick to healthy eating and drinking habits to avoid unnecessary costs. Also, most colleges have a free or very reasonably priced gym on campus. Going to the gym together is a great way to spend time with friends and stay healthy at the same time.
Don’t bring your credit/debit card out with you
There is nothing more dangerous to the bank account than having an adult beverage or two (if you’re over 21, of course) and then using your credit or debit card. Lowered inhibitions can lead to rash spending that you hadn’t intended. Instead, leave your plastic at home and bring out enough cash to get you through the night. This way you limit your spending before you’ve even left the house.
Use Pandora or Spotify
If you use the free versions of either Pandora or Spotify you can save a ton of money downloading music. Although you might think it’s only a dollar or so per song, that can add up quickly! Stream your music to cut costs and discover great new artists you might have never found otherwise.
These are just a few of the many ways there are to save money. It’s up to you to figure out what strategies work with your budget and your needs. The very best advice I can give you is frugal, think rationally and be creative!