Some people go to College for a few years only to spend the rest of their life paying back their debts. With the economy still quite shaky, people should look for any way and every way to save money, especially while in school.
We’ve compiled just a few top suggestions on how students can save money this fall.
Don’t buy overpriced coffee at an expensive chain coffee shop. Look around for places on or near campus that have cheap, bottomless cups if you like coffee that much. You could save $50 or more a month avoiding the pricier, trendy places. Bottled water is usually more expensive by the gallon than gasoline; add up the monthly costs and see if you can find a cheaper alternative. Is tap water really that awful?
Clothes can be incredibly cheap and last a long time, but not if you shop at expensive boutiques. Designer brands are not a necessity. If you want to be hip and trendy, shop at the Salvation Army or Purple Heart or whatever the local recycler shops are. Vintage is in, so use clothing can be a fashion goldmine. If you love to shop for clothes and can’t resist temptation, don’t go out shopping with friends that have deep pockets or you’ll end up spending more than you can afford.
Don’t sell your soul to the credit card companies. Credit cards can be very useful if you have an emergency and need cash right away — as long as it’s for something important. Before you sign up for a card, shop around for the best percentage rate and terms you can find. Credit companies love college students because they usually spend frivolously and ignore interest, paying the minimum every month. Look up “compound interest” to see how your debt can overwhelm you if you’re not careful. Use the credit card for necessities and emergencies; don’t use it to get a new video game or liquor.
Unless your rent specifically includes electricity, gas and water, be conservative. Turn off the air conditioning and computer when you’re not home. Wear more clothing in the winter so you can keep the heat lower. Even though it might feel great, luxuriating in a hot shower for 20 minutes a day can add up. It’s also more friendly to the environment if you care about that sort of thing.
Experimenting and overindulging in alcohol is a common part of campus life, but don’t let it control you. It’s all right to relax Friday night after working hard all week, but alcohol can be pretty costly — especially if you end up failing classes because you party too hard to keep it together the rest of the week. If you don’t graduate, you’ll have a hard time paying off those student loans as a professional Beer Pong player.
Instead of dropping $30 for two movie tickets and some popcorn, watch a DVD and pop your own, or go to on-campus movies. Instead of paying $50 a seat for a play downtown, go see an on-campus play. There are lots of clubs and social activities going on at your school all the time, often for very cheap or free. Many businesses also have student discounts; ask around.
If you have to go somewhere for Spring Break, look around for something interesting close by school. You’ll save money, have smaller crowds to contend with, and you can feel a little smug about not being one of the sheep. If you have to go somewhere out of town, see if you can ride with someone else and chip in for gas.
Food can be one of the biggest expenses for a student without culinary skills. Going out to restaurants all the time will eat up your budget fast. Tipping is not optional at a real restaurant, so calculate that in along with the alcohol whenever you think about going out. When you go grocery shopping, don’t go when you’re hungry; you’ll buy everything you feel like eating right then, no matter what the price. Cut coupons and buy in bulk when there’s a good sale. There’s no shame in being smart about food. The meal plan at school cafeterias can be expensive, but if you’re going to eat yourself into debt, it might be a good investment. If you want to treat yourself once in a while, try to go out for lunch instead of dinner.
When you get your book lists for your classes, check with your professors to see if they’ll actually be used in the courses. Frequently, the book list is decided by committee and the teacher will completely or partly ignore it. For the books you do need, check the prices on used texts at your campus store and then check online; include shipping in your comparisons. Don’t forget to sell them back, either locally or online, when you’re done with them.
Again, shop around for a place to live. Check out the neighborhood at night and during the day. Find out what utilities are included in the rent, and how much internet access costs. Try to find an apartment close enough to school to walk, and you’ll save a lot of money on a car and gas and all the upkeep on the car. A slightly more expensive apartment on or very close to campus can be an overall win over an apartment across town.
Some college students are putting themselves through school while working full time. If you have the luxury of just needing some pocket money, there are a lot of places on or near campus where you can work part-time. You can work at the library or school newspaper, babysit or tutor if you’re really good at something. (No, beer pong does not count as “something.”) The fastest way to save money is to make it.
If you think being online or otherwise constantly entertained is an absolute requirement, make sure you shop around for your electronics before you buy. E-bay can be a great way to find used gear in excellent shape; just make sure the person or business you’re buying from has an impeccable reputation. Be careful; there are always people looking to take advantage of the naïve, and electronics is a high-profit arena that attracts a lot of scammers.
If you don’t have a scholarship at all, there are many free resources for applying. Don’t just stop at one, either; apply to as many as you qualify for. Are you a minority? Are you a woman? Do you have exceptional test scores from your SAT or ACT? Are your grades solid? There are a lot of scams that want you to pay a fee to get information on scholarships, but that information is freely available. Your school or local library should have a lot of information to get you started.
If you keep track of what you’re spending every month and compare it to how much money you have available, the difference will tell you whether you’re in the red or the black. You always want to have a reserve in case of emergencies, so try not to steer too close to the red. You may be tempted to buy another round of drinks or get another console game, but then you lose one of your textbooks or get let go from your part time job. Always try to keep a cushion to fall back on.