For most people, the four years in college are shared by a near-universal experience: being broke. And it’s true. Often, students are working with very little disposable income. The finer things in life aren’t within your range (nor are they exactly important at this phase of your life) — ramen noodles and a heavy consumption of fast food are collegiate stereotypes for a reason. And with rising tuition and textbook costs with seemingly no end in sight, the financial pinch only appears to be getting worse.
Having said that, there are ways to mitigate the effects of not working with a lot of money. These following budgeting tips for students will undoubtedly help save money. And who knows? Maybe the new fiscal mindset will carry over into the next stage, setting good financial habits for life.
Buy Generic When Possible
It’s true, Heinz ketchup just hits differently than the generic stuff does, and RC Cola doesn’t even compare to Coke. But the reality is that when you choose a brand name over the generic option, you sometimes pay upward of 25–30% more money just for the label. There realistically is no difference, no matter what anyone says. The extra $2 might not seem like a lot at the time, but imagine doing it for every single item you buy, every single grocery trip you take — it starts to add up after a while. Here’s a shopping savings tip: Start by looking at items on the bottom shelf and go from there.
For a lot of college kids (and adults, for that matter), cooking is essentially a non-existent part of their lives. They eat out the vast majority of the time, not merely as a social occasion or a treat, but as a steady staple of their diet. This results in two outcomes:
- An extremely unhealthy lifestyle. (Unfortunately, the only food you can really afford on a college budget if you’re consistently eating may not be healthy.)
- Spending an excessive amount of money on food.
It all adds up — $7–$10 each meal doesn’t necessarily seem like a lot at the time at Jimmy John’s or Domino’s, but when it becomes a pattern of your lifestyle, the dollars add up over time. For $100, you could buy yourself enough groceries to eat for two weeks! Eating out for every meal, every single day, that same budget would last maybe half as long.
Hunt for Specials
Happy hours, coupons, and deals will make or break a good weekend in college. Being vigilant about looking for good opportunities to do the things you want to do for a fraction of the cost is a key part of living a more frugal lifestyle.
Buy Textbooks Used off Amazon
Any college student knows textbook prices can hurt sometimes, and over the course of four years, it will significantly add up. Whenever possible, buy books online at lower prices when compared to campus bookstore prices. Amazon is a great place to start when looking for used textbooks!
$125 Is the New $0
To ensure you never overdraft or come even close to going completely broke, set aside $125 to put in your checking account, but treat it as though there’s $0 in there. That little padding might not be enough to get you out of any real serious situation, but it’s enough to protect you should you get a little careless with the card.
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