The only thing more certain in college than exams is a tight budget. Most college students depend on measly checks from home or a minimum wage job to live on.
Here are 20 ways to make that tight budget stretch like an elastic waistband around your dean’s Suburban.
1. Learn to Make a Budget (and stick to it)
A budget allows for all of your regular expenses, as well as odds and ends and emergencies that come along. Learn to budget your entire income or allowance, and follow it religiously during the month. Remember to set aside savings for emergencies like flat tires or co-payments to see the doctor.
2. Find Free Bank Accounts
Some banks offer completely free checking and savings accounts. Look for a bank that provides a free debit card too. Also, use your own bank to make ATM withdrawals, or find a bank that reimburses you for those fees. Those $1.50 charges may seem small, but add up quickly.
3. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Businesses from fast food to movie theaters offer student discounts, but most won’t inform you of these discounts unless you speak up. Whenever you’re checking out, ask if your student I.D. qualifies you for savings. Some online retailers also offer student discounts, so read the guidelines carefully or email the company and ask.
4. Comparison Shop Online
People who grab up the first item they see in the stores almost always pay more. Whenever you’re making a purchase, browse online to find the lowest price. Sometimes you can find the cheaper price online and take advantage of it at your local store, without having to wait or pay for shipping.
5. Reign in Impulse Buying
College students don’t usually have much room in the budget for impulse buys. When you’re thinking of making a purchase, give yourself a cooling off period. If you still want it as badly a few days from now, make room in the budget for it.
6. Get a Job Where You Shop
Most stores offer employee discounts, so wherever you spend the most money is the best place to get a job. The grocery store is an obvious place, but if you love new clothes consider the discount fashion outlet. Or, consider the video game store, movie theater, or your favorite hangout.
7. Eat Meals In
Cereal, oatmeal, ramen noodles, and sandwich items are cheap, fast, and easy (not to mentionhealthier) than fast food. When you head to class or work, pack a lunch to keep yourself from grabbing an expensive and unhealthy meal at a restaurant. This little habit can also ward off the “freshman 15”.
8. Learn to Balance Your Checkbook
Overdraft fees and bounced check fees add up. Plus, regular checkbook balancing forces you to keep track of your spending during the month. Besides, if there are charges there you didn’t make, you need to find out as soon as possible. Make a habit of balancing your checkbook each evening, or anytime you return from shopping.
9. Pay Your Bills on Time
Late fees are unnecessary expenses, eating chunks of your money for no reason at all. Withcredit cards, paying on time means a lower interest payment plus eliminating the late fees.
10. Watch Your Alcoholic Beverages
Drinking drains your wallet in two ways: you spend money on the drinks, and then make dumberbuying decisions all night long. Steer clear of bars. If you must drink, buy it at the grocery store and stay in to prevent temptation (and a DUI).
11. Be Smart About Buying Textbooks
The college bookstore is usually the most expensive place to buy textbooks. Shop online or see ifyou can borrow a book from someone who has already taken the course.
12. Take Advantage of Freeware and Shareware
Software like games, antivirus, and utilities are expensive, but you can find free versions with a quick Internet search.
13. Opt Out of Extended Warranties
Extended warranties are usually a rip-off. If the item is defective, it will likely fail before the original warranty expires, so save your money.
14. Use Your Computer as a TV
Satellite and cable bills add $50 to $100 per month to your expenses, but you can enjoy the same shows on your computer for free or extremely cheap using Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, and similar services.
15. Buy Used Stuff
When you need something, stop by the second-hand store first. Book bags, shoes, books, lamps, blankets, and many other items are often available for cheap in thrift stores.
16. Don’t Blow Money on Furnishing the Dorm Room or Apartment
The things you buy for college serve just a few years, then you’ll want something new for your first real apartment after college. Get by with hand-me-downs now and save for a splurge after college on a more permanent dwelling.
17. Get Everything Your Tuition Entitles You To
Colleges and universities usually offer tons of free entertainment and benefits. Ask your admissions office about activities and items you qualify for instead of paying to see movies or go out.
18. Watch Those Miles
Driving around burns expensive fuel, but it also wears out your tires, and means more oil changes and wears your vehicle out faster. Instead, take public transportation, carpool to the mall or grocery store, bike, or walk.
19. Use Your Cell Phone as a Landline
It’s no longer necessary to have a home phone and a cell phone. You can save $50 to $100 per month by eliminating the landline and using your cell phone at home. If the bank or another agency requires a landline, give them your parents’ number.
20. Ask for More Hours at Work
Working longer hours doesn’t just bloat your paycheck, it also burns hours you have to blow money. Instead of spending money at the mall on the weekends, ask for some overtime and put money in the bank instead.
Remember, the debt you build now doesn’t go away after graduation. Spend your college years frugally and you’ll have more of the paycheck to call your own when you get out and land a real job. Tell us about ways to save in college from your own experience.
Jonathan Fritz is a recent college graduate and co-founder of SimplifiedIssueLifeInsurance.