How to Save on a College Budget

By second semester, Ramen Noodles and free pizza are getting a bit old. Creating a budget in college is quite difficult, especially when you have little or no income. Before you can save, you need to figure out where you spend. Track your spending every day for two weeks in a journal and revisit your list at the end. Weed out those items you consider a want and what you consider a need. Did you find any impulse purchases? Maybe you found out you spent ten unnecessary dollars on bottled water, or you spent five extra bucks on brand name snacks. Perhaps you took the bus because it was cold, when you could have walked. These everyday decisions can lead you to a life of financial stress or a life of financial success. As Charles A. Jaffee once said, “It’s not your salary that makes you rich, it’s your spending habits.”

Whether you earn $300 a month from your work-study job or got $20 in a birthday card from grandma, you need to budget wisely based on your personal priorities. You will have to make sacrifices, so use your two-week journal to help you figure out what you actually value. There are various online resources to help you track and analyze your spending habits. Most widely used in the banking industry is Mint.com, a free resource to help you budget. You may also use a financial aid budget sheet here.

After finding out where and how you spend money, you can also think about methods of saving:

  • Use your student ID: You have the golden ticket. Discounted movies, free tickets, and cheap food can all be benefits of having a student ID. Even if you attend college in a rural area, your student ID can still be useful when you travel. Visit your school’s website to find out where your discounts apply.
  • Coupons/Groupon: Sign up and start clipping.
  • Buy Generic Brands: Most people can’t taste the difference.
  • Eat Wisely: Try making dinner with friends once a week and splitting the cost. Remember, never go shopping when you’re hungry.
  • Save your spare change each semester: It might help you afford the coffee you need during finals week.
  • Walk more: Bus less!
  • Invest in a reusable water bottle: You can sometimes snag them for free at campus events.
  • Borrow books Through inter-library loans. Renting or sharing with a classmate is also a great way to save.
  • Use your meal plan: You’re paying for it anyway. Cut the Starbucks coffee and skip late night fast food runs.
  • Go to matinees: They are usually half off normal ticket prices.
  • Tutor on the side to make some extra cash.
  • Check out the school newspaper for upcoming events and discounts.
  • Shop during tax-free week
  • Wear your pajamas twice: This means less money spent on laundry.
  • Allow a cool off period: If you’re an impulse spender, give yourself a day to think about your purchase before returning to the store.
  • Consider being an RA: Build leadership skills and earn a free housing and meal plan!

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