Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, you’re going to leave college with much less money than you started with. But that doesn’t mean you should just stop caring and start spending frivolously. Don’t rationalize your spending by saying “I’m already $100k in debt, what’s another hundred bucks?” Say that another nine times, and you’re now $101k in the red. When you have little to no income, every penny you save counts. Learn it, and live it…even if you don’t love it. And check out our top 5 money saving tips for college students.
Make a food plan
If you live in a dorm, eating well for cheap can be incredibly difficult. You don’t really have much room to store food, and you probably don’t have the equipment needed to cook a hearty meal. Still, avoid the temptation to head to Olive Garden or even Burger King. Eating out once in a while is okay, but it can be a hard habit to break. While we’re on the subject of food, don’t take your meal plan at the dining hall for granted. Most full meal plans work out to cost around $8 per meal, and you can usually eat as much as you want during each visit. It might not be the best food in the world, but you’ve technically already paid for it, so why not eat as much of it as you can?
Take advantage of “free” resources
Along with the prepaid dining hall meals, your college tuition includes a bunch of other amenities that aren’t exactly obvious, but should be taken advantage of. You’ve technically already paid for access to the gym and library, so don’t waste the chance to improve your body or mind whenever opportunities arise. There are a variety of school-sponsored groups and clubs you can join, too. Though you’re not technically saving money by frequenting these amenities and events, you are stretching your tuition money as far as it will go. Think about it: a “membership” to your campus gym might cost around $80-100 per year. If you go once a month, each visit costs you ten bucks. If you go three times a week, you’re paying less than a quarter for each workout session.
Buy used items
During your college years, don’t expect to buy anything directly from a store for a while. First things first: do not buy new textbooks unless you absolutely need to. Check with upperclassmen to see if there really is any difference between the 6th and 7th version of a book (there won’t be), then seek out the best price for a used copy. There are even online services that allow you to rent textbooks whenever you need them. There’s no reason to pay full price for a textbook if you’ll only need to read a few chapters of it, right? The information provided in those expensive textbooks can certainly be found elsewhere for a much cheaper price.
Check Craigslist (carefully) for items such as desks, lamps, televisions, and other dorm room necessities. If you can get a good price for equipment that’s in working condition, you should take what you can get for now. Once you graduate and start seeing some paychecks roll in, you can start shopping at the mall again.
Sell used items
On the other side, you can always sell the things you don’t need anymore. Sell some of your old video games, even if you’re getting a cheap price for them. Other college students will pay a decent price for your old clothing or furniture on online stores such as Ebay or Poshmark, so if you’re in need of some pocket change and have some items lying around, hop on your computer and make the connection. Like I said, you might not make a killing, but you’ll have more money than you started with, and you probably won’t miss the items you sell, anyway. And, hey, you might discover you’re a natural salesman and actually start to see your business take off.
Take odd jobs
Working a full-time job is, for the most part, out of the question for a full-time college student. Even a part-time job can be difficult since schedules tend to run into each other and cause problems from the get-go. But if you can pick up odd jobs on the weekends, such as delivering food, mowing lawns, or (ahem) freelance writing, go for it. You won’t have to commit to anything long-term, but you’ll also be able to take advantage of the free time that you do have (whenever that may be). And, if you’re working face-to-face, you’ll get paid under the table, meaning any cash you make is 100% yours. Just don’t go spending it at the bar…