Budgeting in college isn’t easy. Each semester brings a new wave of class fees and must-buy textbooks, and just when you’re starting to get on top of everything, your laptop will inevitably break down or your roommate will decide she’s graduating early and stick you with a double rent bill for the month.
If you’re struggling to achieve that delicate balance of spending and saving in college, you’re not alone – and there is hope on the horizon. Here are seven tips and tricks to help you become financially secure in college; each one tried and tested by former students who wrestled with financial struggles while in school and still managed to graduate without a mountain of debt.
Share to Save
Saving in college is a goal for practically everyone, so why not work together? Everyone will save more money by sharing. Split the rent with a group of friends, and organize group trips to Costco so you can all buy in bulk and lower your monthly food bill. Carpool with your housemates whenever possible to save on gas, and ask around on campus to see if anyone else is interested in pitching in to join your daily commute. In class, ask around to see if someone is willing to share textbooks or other study materials. You could save yourselves hundreds every semester, plus find a fantastic new study buddy.
Use Credit Cautiously
In the short-term, having a credit card can might make you think you’re saving in college – but in the long-term, credit cards can cost you a mountain of money and a whole lot of hassle. If you need to use a credit card, do so wisely. Choose one that offers simple terms so you know exactly how much you owe, plus great rates and rewards so that you’re getting the most possible benefits when you spend. The HUECU Platinum Rewards card, for example, has no annual fee and offers cash back rewards like 3% on gas, 2% on groceries and 1% on everything else.
Don’t Buy New
Make it a steadfast rule to only buy used items, and you’ll be amazed at how much money you’re saving in college every month. By now most students are smart to the benefits of buying used textbooks, but for true budgeting in college brilliance, you’ll need to think far beyond that. Develop a vintage style and only shop at used clothing stores; pick up household supplies from online exchange sites like Craigslist; and check your university’s classified posts for things like USB sticks and hard drives. If your school doesn’t have a dedicated place where students can swap or sell used items, start one.
Cook at Home
Budgeting is important, spending wisely is key, but if you really want to become financially secure in college, here’s a super simple way to do it – cook at home. You can very literally save hundreds of dollars every month (or even every week) by preparing all your meals and snacks at home. Make coffee instead of picking up a latte on the way to class; buy nuts and pretzels from a discount grocery store and portion them out rather than buying single serving snacks from the cafeteria; and cook a big meal on Sunday afternoon before freezing it in Tupperware for easy, cheap, single-serve meals all week.
Seek Out Student Discounts
Your student ID can be a magic pass to better budgeting in college, assuming you know how to use it. Check out this list of places that offer a student discount on school supplies, books, clothing, electronics and more. Ask older students at your school if they know of any places that offer special deals for students; then share what you know on Facebook and invite more friends to contribute their ideas. Small savings through student discounts can add up quickly, although a small word of warning – don’t be tempted to buy something you don’t need just because it’s on sale for students.
If it’s possible, try to make it through college without a car. Sure, you might have to endure a few rainy walks or bike rides to campus, but the savings will be enormous. No parking fees, no tickets, no insurance, and no gas money except what you pay to your friends for that occasional ride across town. If you’re unsure about a car-free existence, try this experiment – give up your auto for one full week, and put the gas and parking money you’ve saved into a jar. At the end of the week, check how much you’ve saved (and how much exercise you’ve done) and evaluate if a car is truly worthy it.
Look into a Part-Time Job
Working in college can be nearly as tough as budgeting in college; but even if you’re overwhelmed with school work, there are still ways to bring in a little money on the side. Pop over to the international student office and see if there are any students who need an English language tutor; ask the school newspaper if they pay for guest commentaries; or put up a flyer advertising your services in babysitting, landscaping, house cleaning and so on, because plenty of busy professors or other staff on campus might be interested in paying you to do occasional odd jobs.