I spent a lot of time in college being frugal and it wasn’t always fabulous. One semester, I ate nothing but omelettes trying to save money for a big Spring Break vacation. During my freshman year (before my professors started assigning online only textbooks and quiz access codes) I borrowed textbooks from friends and sat at a digital book scanner in the library for hours to avoid paying $200 per book. I even hatched a plan with a past boyfriend that if we each donated plasma five times, we would have enough money to go on a ski trip get away to Ruidoso, New Mexico, only for him to bail out after getting queasy during the first donation.
Although I went through college on a shoestring budget, I still managed to have a full and satisfying college experience. Here are my favorite money-saving tips I’ve learned in the process!
Rethink Your Lease
Seeing that pretty new “student housing” complex pop up by your university might be a tempting offer but it’s probably best to keep shopping around. You know the ones I’m talking about - the privatized "student living" apartments where students pay by the room and can be matched with random roommates via personality quizzes.
Yes, they’re so cool and new! They all have amenities like the gorgeous salt water pool, the huge modern gym, the beautifully designed game room, and some even have media rooms! When my parents first saw one, my dad asked if he was supposed to be sending me to college or a resort?
These extraordinary apartments may seem like they're worth their exuberant cost in rent, but you’ll soon find that A.) you're already paying for the same amenities at your school through your tuition, B.) it's no fun to hear student neighbors party all through the weeknights, C.) your random roommates are driving you bonkers (and there’s three to five of them!), and/or D.) you're sick of paying so much money for a place your hardly spend any time at.
After considering the above, those normal older apartments might not seem so bad after all, plus you’ll have your slick, grown-up apartment to look forward to once you graduate and start a career.
When was the last time you checked your transactions? I get it, you're scared to find out how much you're spending on fast food every month, but you should really rip the band-aid off and give your financial account a run through.
For instance, you might be shocked to find that you’ve been paying a $12 monthly-maintenance fee through your checking account and a $5 monthly-service fee for your savings account and yet ... you're not even paying for your own Netflix or Spotify subscriptions!
If you're a student under the age of 24, you shouldn’t have to be paying those fees. Have a talk to your bank about student benefits such as waving banking fees, overdraft protection, and no minimum balance. If your bank doesn’t offer all these features, it might be time to start looking for a new bank.
Never Go Anywhere Without Snacks and Your Water Bottle
Campus food is easy and convenient and sometimes you just want a snack while cranking out that last part of your essay before class. Most of the time, we’re on campus for long stretches of time to attend classes, group projects, and study sessions and it’s not always easy to get off campus.
Your university probably has hundreds of food options with hiked up prices. I used to spend five to ten dollars daily just on little snacks to get me through the day and most of the time it was just junk food (lots of pop tarts!) that I could have bought in bulk somewhere off campus and brought with me.
Make an effort to always pack snacks, a water bottle, and(or) a meal to avoid making unnecessary purchases on campus while never going hungry.
Take Advantage of Free Campus Services and Events
Thousands upon thousands of dollars are going towards you to be able to attend your university and I bet you haven’t even considered all the things your school offers. My tuition covered health services, legal advice, a gym membership, online classes, a notary, technical courses, printing services, business cards, career counseling, tutoring, and much more.
Why buy a DSLR camera or a Gopro if your library lets you rent them for free? Why pay to go see a movie, if your campus plays new movies on the regular?
You can save so much on entertainment alone when you take advantage of your campus! I was consistently at the gym playing pick-up volleyball or taking kayaking or salsa lessons. Or I’d attend my school’s local business nights, where using my student ID got me into trampoline parks, movie theaters, and arcades for free.
Check with your school for a full list of offerings, you just might find out you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities!
Never be Frugal at the Expense of your Friends
I was lucky enough to learn this lesson while I was still in high school. Since I didn’t have a car, my friend would pick me up before and drop me off after school. My dad made me contribute to her gas fund since I was opting out of taking the school bus every day. Later, I found this was a very sensible and grown-up thing to do even though at the time I was rolling my eyes whenever my dad reminded me.
During my freshman year of college, while everyone was living in the dorms, not many people had their own vehicle. You could see the visible annoyance cross the faces of the car-owning few when they were asked for the millionth time for ride assistance. I felt for those people whose friends treated them like chauffeurs.
I once had a friend who always ordered a kids meal at restaurants and than ate half of my food when her meal -- as expected -- didn’t fill her up. This quirk was anything but cute.
Another time, I got into a tiff with my roomie best friend when her brother came over one weekend and devoured the entire contents of our fridge. My petty anger towards her was uncalled for considering the actions of her brother were out of her control.
What I’m trying to say is think about your actions and value your relationships. Is something frugal you’ve been doing financially inconsiderate towards others? If so, you should think hard about the true cost and take steps to make it right.
For example, if your friend drives you to work every other day, at least give her some gas money and return the kindness with meaningful words and/or actions. Being respectful and appreciative of others is one of the most fabulous things you can do!
What do you think?
Are these tips helpful in your effort to save money? What are your own money saving methods that you use in college? Let us know in the comments below!