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How Students Can Keep Money in Their Pockets

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a college student in possession of a budget, must be in want of tips for saving money.”

-Jane Austen (kind of)

For most of us, going to college and living on a budget go hand in hand. Who couldn’t use a few ways to save money here and there? Whether you’re looking to fund your fancy coffee fix or to set something aside for emergencies, there are ways to make it happen without becoming a social hermit.

The problem is, the line between wants and needs can be blurred in the spur of the moment. To help keep this line clear, you should label every expense as a need (food in the pantry) or want (the newest iPhone—I know, I know, but it is a want, really). So before your next shopping spree, make a list of your needs and their costs, then, if you have money left over, write down some wants. Putting your future purchases in perspective is the best way to keep to a budget.

To Eat or Not To Eat

Resisting the urge for a pizza run with friends is a hard battle to win. So instead of fighting it, determine a fixed amount of money to spend on going out each month. Doesn’t sound like fun? Well … maybe it isn’t, but eating pizza is, and having a plan will make sure you can afford the necessities and the fun.

Cold turkey isn’t the answer for that caramel macchiato either. Start by brewing your own coffee one or two mornings a week and keep track of the savings. As the money adds up, you might find those daily (semi-daily?) trips to your local barista make more sense as once or twice a week visits.

Another great place to save is at the grocery store. The most common tip is still the best one: Don’t shop hungry. You’ll wind up with … well, take a peek in the dark corners of your cupboards for examples of impulse buys. And definitely make a shopping list instead of just wandering the aisles. This will help prevent food shopping sprees (and save you time, too).

Tracking Your Monthly Expenses

Making a monthly budget can take a bit of time and thought, but it’s worth it. Simplify the process by focusing on just these three categories: fixed expenses, wants, and savings. This last category is the easiest one to ignore, but it may also be the most important. Unexpected life events happen, and like the name suggests, you can’t predict when. Having something stashed away will make sure you can cover items in the other two categories (like rent).

Putting your future purchases in perspective is the best way to keep to a budget.

There are plenty of free electronic budgeting tools out there, so no need to hand-write your budget each month. Mint, Spending Tracker, and SELCO’s Money Manager are just a few apps to check out.

Roommates are Cheaper

If you’re living off campus, it’s a great idea to have roommates. First, it’s a blast living with friends (and a great opportunity to make new friends). Second, it is so much cheaper than living on your own. A friend of mine lived on her own and her rent was almost $300 more than mine.

Just make sure before you decide who your roommates are, you pick responsible ones. You want roommates who clean up their messes and can pay their rent on time. When you have roommates that do both, you’re in for an exciting year.

Smell the Roses

Having a car while in college is extremely convenient. Shopping becomes a quick trip (vs. an all-day affair), and sometimes it’s just nice to get away for a bit. So it may also seem like a good idea to get an on-campus parking pass for those days you’re running late or want or the weather isn’t ideal. But you’d be wise to do some research first.

Speaking from experience, parking passes can be very expensive, even to the point of outweighing the benefits. And if you buy a pass, are you guaranteed a parking space? When I drove to classes during the middle of the day, more likely than not all the spots were filled. That means I either had to park on the street, where it’s only two-hour parking, or I had to park really far off-campus, where there weren’t any restrictions. The next term, I canceled my parking pass and either walked, took the bus, or biked. I saved money, was less nervous about getting to class on time, and played a little part in saving the environment. What’s not to love about that?

Work Off Your Tuition

I know it’s a big enough struggle to afford the necessities and a little bit of fun, but it’s not a bad idea to think about how you’ll pay off those loans when you graduate. One option is participating in a work-study program. This usually involves working somewhere on campus, with your paycheck going toward tuition. As a bonus, many work-study programs can find you positions around campus that relate to your major, so you’re getting a head start on finding that dream job after graduating as well.

YOU CAN DO IT!

I promise this extra effort will be worth it when you start seeing extra money each month. It might seem like a lot of work, but most of these are just tweaks to your daily routine, ones that over time can make a big difference. Don’t feel like you have to make take all these recommendations at once. Start small, learn from my mistakes, and see where it gets you. I bet you’ll be surprised. Good luck!