You’re in college for a reason. To learn, right? To set yourself up for a rewarding life of getting paid to do the things that fire up your brain. Well, your course-load won’t reflect this, but you’re also in college to learn how to manage your money. And there’s never a better time than when you don’t have any J.
Here are my top money saving tips for college students that will help you get through school with cash to spare and no debt other than your student loan.
14 Money Saving Tips for College Students
Don’t wait until you have more money to start to save. It’s a myth that can trap you for life – you do not need to make more money to start to save.
Track your spending for a month to see how it lines up with your budget. Almost every person who does this is surprised how much more they spend than they thought – usually on things like eating out and beer. Make it cool to be nerdy about spending. Take advantage of free online tracking software like trackeverycoin or mint. Or keep every receipt and tally up the results manually. Whatever. Just try it, and get the real picture of what you’re spending by tracking every time you pull out your wallet.
Assuming you have no student loan debt, think about opening up a Roth IRA and contributing something to it on a regular basis. You qualify because you have earned income. A ROTH contribution allows your money to grow tax free, is easy to set up, and offer a wide variety of investments. The original amount contributed can be withdrawn at any time without penalty because it is paid in post tax. So, for instance, if you needed to make a down payment on a home in a few years you could use the money you had contributed to your Roth.
Check out this cool savings calculator. Plug in one of your basic expenditures, like your morning coffee, and see how much you could save by cutting back just a bit. For example, that $2 daily cup of coffee is $14 every week. Cutting back on that one thing alone would add up to $3718 in savings over just 5 years.
Apply for scholarships as often as possible. You don’t always have to be a star student to qualify and even a small bursary can be a big help.
What’s it worth to live off campus? Residence or dorm living is MUCH cheaper. Yes, it’s pretty tempting to share that cool off-campus apartment with your best buddies, but think about the electricity bills, laundry costs, transportation costs to and from college… and then compare with the costs of residence.
Get What You’ve Already Paid For.
Bone up and make sure you know all of the free stuff that comes with your tuition. College tuition often includes free access to libraries (some provide free movie rentals), gyms, intramural sports, student clubs, guest speaker series, and entertainment on-campus. Take advantage of them and save your $$.
Be sure you’re on the most economical cell phone plan for your needs. Maybe get on a family plan with your parents – that way everybody saves. Tip: texting is expensive. Companies charge both sender and receiver of text messages, so consider using web-based messaging services like Facebook (sorry) or Myspace. Or send email!
Gotta make a budget. Whether you start one on the back of a napkin, or set up your own detailed spreadsheet, planning where you will spend your money each month is hands down the best way to take control. There are all kinds of tips out there on how to set up a personal budget, including one of my faves here. Don’t just take it from me. Try it yourself and see how much easier it is to save if you have a good idea what the big picture looks like on the personal finance front.
Beans over beef.
I’m talking grocery shopping here. Meat is much more expensive than beans. Buy groceries instead of eating out. And buy on sale. Buy in bulk.
Plan your meals, and spend an afternoon a week preparing quick easy meals that you grab from your own freezer or fridge at a fraction of the cost. It’s definitely cheaper to go make your own food with what you get from the groceries but it gets hard when you got hw and projects. I usually get $400 meal plan and ramen and $2 Trader Joe’s frozen dinners during my studying term so I can just eat and gtfo to study. You can live off of $200 a month in most areas unless cost of living is really high. What I’d do is get a crockpot ($60) and make meals in bulk. You’ll get more meals for less money by slow cooking. And it doesn’t take much of your time. Set it up in the morning. Eat it for dinner. Then leftovers. With intelligent freezing, you could also unthaw previous meals for variety once you get things going.
Absolutely avoid credit.
Okay, except for your student loan. Pay with cash or debit. If you have a credit card, put it away and don’t use it except for emergencies. If you don’t have a credit card, don’t get one. There are all kinds of companies who love to get college students hooked on their credit tools, charging outrageous interest and laughing all the way to the bank while you struggle under the load of compound interest on the charges you rung up. Don’t get caught up in that trap!
Credit cards do relatively little to effect your credit score in a positive way. Assuming you’re paying your bill off completely and on time. I had one for years and it didn’t really do anything. When I bought my first car on a 5 year loan plan, my credit shot up and after around 12-18 months of paying into it I had an immaculate credit rating.
What? You heard me. This may be counterintuitive, but don’t just let your student loan sit there accumulating interest. Make the monthly interest payments and reap the benefits that will accrue. Here’s a great article on how this works and how much it can save you in the long run.
- Study on the cheap. Buy used textbooks! Every textbook for every class doesn’t have to be brand spanking new. Look for the used bookstores on or off campus. Check out ads in the student paper. Search for online versions of the books you need. The little bit of time and effort you put into looking for and buying used textbooks will save you BIG in the long run. And, as mentioned in another blog on this site, sell your own textbooks too once you’re done with them.Buy international editions, often can get a much cheaper current version, but sometimes have to get the previous edition to get a great deal. International edition is the same but on cheaper paper and not hardback. Exactly same content though. Textbook publishers have begun to change the homework problems in international editions more and more. That being said, you can easily get a considerably less expensive international edition and borrow a friend’s copy (or library copy on reserve) to make sure you’ve got the right pages at the back of the book! It’s well worth the extra leg work in many cases. International editions used to be identical to the main versions, but a few years ago the supreme court made a landmark decision that essentially said textbook publishers had no basis for prohibiting the sale of international editions in the United States. In reaction to losing that cases, textbook publishers started charging more for international editions, and also began changing homework problems in certain books in an effort to get college students to pay more for the main versions of books, but everything else is still the same.
Ditch the driving.
Carpool sounds so lame so we won’t use that term here. But gas, parking, parking tickets and tow charges all add up. Fast. So, hitch a ride with friends, or better yet, take transit.
With a little thought, a little planning, and little adjustments in your behavior, you’ll develop great habits today that will make a big difference tomorrow. I promise.