Tips to Save Money on Your College Budget
Smart Money
Freelance, Taxes, Save
Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Nov 09, 2018

If you’re like 70% of college students, you’re going to graduate with student debt. And if you’re among the lucky 30% who don’t, well, you probably still want to watch your wallet while hitting the books, to start off post-college life in the best financial position.

Anyone can make a budget, not just finance and accounting majors. It doesn’t have to be as painful as wisdom teeth removal. And having a budget can actually give you confidence throughout the school year. You’ll know where your money should go, what expenses to anticipate, and you’ll have some fallback ideas so you’re eating more than ramen and not relying on YouTube for your sole entertainment.

Here are 13 ideas for creating your budget and saving some dinero.

  1. Think in terms of wants versus needs. Here’s a hint. You need a place to live. You want that super cute penthouse with your own bathroom. Guess what the smarter choice is. Yeah, it’s not that hard to figure out.

  2. Think old school in terms of getting around. Ride hailing is sometimes cheaper than the bus, especially if you’re sharing the ride. But if it’s not, maybe spend the extra time on public transit – or if it’s safe, even walk or ride your bike. Those ride hails don’t seem to add up when you’re just clicking your phone. But they do add up

  3. Little fees everywhere. College campuses are notorious places for banks to offer new accounts, with fun perks like free t-shirts for signing up. Repeat: I don’t pay ATM fees. I don’t pay checking fees. I don’t pay monthly fees.

  4. Credit cards – pay attention! Credit card are so convenient. Just swipe and you get what you want. But then the bill comes. Get in the habit of only charging what you can pay off in full each month. Spend cash for the rest. You’ll think a lot harder about what you’re buying if you know you have to need the funds to pay for it.

  5. Watch the loans. Some student loans are easy to get – and you may not have to pay them off until after you graduate. But when you graduate, are you going to want to take some money every month for years and years to pay that off if you don’t have to? Taking out fewer loans now and living more frugally means you can have more money later.

  6. Get a job! That’s not just something people yell at others when they ask for money. College campuses usually have a lot of jobs for students – some of them even let you sit there and do your homework while you’re getting paid to work. Bring in some extra cash and make life easier for yourself.

  7. Become a resident advisor. Yup, this is part two of “get a job.” Only this one gives you free housing and sometimes food too. All while making life better for other students. Win-win.

  8. Be an optimist AND a pessimist. While figuring out what your income and expenses will be for your yearly budget, be a little pessimistic when determining how much you’ll make from your job. And be optimistic when thinking about how much college will cost. That way you will save more and expect less, and not deceive yourself about your finances.

  9. Learn to cook. Eating out, whether at the food truck, the dining hall or the fast food restaurant is so much more fun that cooking for yourself, especially if you don’t have a kitchen. But eating out adds up quickly. Even with a hot pot, you can make some of your own meals, and with a mini-fridge you can store food. Mac and cheese. Oatmeal. Cereal and milk. Sandwiches. The savings add up.

  10. Bring the bottle – or the mug. Tuck a water bottle into your backpack – you can refill it on campus. And coffee from your own pot is a lot cheaper than getting one from the barista.

  11. Family gifts. When it’s holiday and birthday time and the family asks what you want, don’t be shy. “I want some textbooks for next year!” “I want a subscription to the on-campus movie theater!” Make it something that will help you save some money at school.

  12. Start ushering and volunteering. It’s fun to go to concerts and plays. But it’s really fun to see them for free – by volunteering. Volunteer as an usher or in some other role that allows you to enjoy the entertainment – without paying the big ticket price. You’ll get your culture in, while not setting yourself back financially.

  13. Dumpster dive. At the end of every school year, students get rid of books, furniture, knick knacks, and other things you could use to furnish your apartment. Much of it is in great shape. Take advantage! If you’re renting off campus or you need some additional things for your dorm room, snag it if you’re able store it. Much of it is barely used. And put the word out about what you need - you’ll do someone a favor by taking it.

See? College budgeting and saving money isn’t as bad as it sounds. Take these tips and start sharing what you’re learning with your friends. They’ll be impressed, and you’ll be happy, knowing you’ll owe less when getting out of school.

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