As a college student, making ends meet is no small feat. I am a full time student, only work weekends and the occasional night shift, and live on my own, so my financial resources are pretty scarce most of the time. But I’ve learned how to survive on what little money I have and still have enough to hang out with my friends, primarily by figuring out several money-saving tricks that might not make that much of difference alone, but together add up to pretty significant savings. For the benefit of all college students (or anyone else, really) struggling with money, here are the tricks I’ve learned so far, organized by category:
Basically—make your own. Most people greatly underestimate the amount they spend on food, probably because 1) they don’t keep track of it, and 2) they don’t include all the little purchases they make into the equation. Food expenses really pile up quickly, especially when you’re eating out every day.
Let’s just do some simple math. Say you walk into McDonald’s and (in an effort to be frugal) you order from the dollar menu. However, as a college student, you probably don’t just get one thing, and you also probably will get fries and a drink. To keep things easy and round, I’ll just say you spend $5 on the whole meal. That’s lunch. $5. Not bad.
Then, you repeat the same thing for dinner, but probably spend more there, probably between $7 and $10. That’s $15 for one day, and doesn’t even include breakfast. After seven days, you’ll have spent $105; and that figure jumps to $420 a month, and almost certainly higher, after you calculate what you spend on coffee, candy, and snacks. It’s really probably closer to $500. A month.
If you make your own food, you can survive on easily half that, and not just survive, but flourish. The difference is that when you make food, you usually aren’t making just one portion (and if you are, it’s most likely a meal that was extremely cheap, like ramen noodles).
The trick? Make meals that leave you with leftovers you can reheat. I make a delicious chicken, rice, and mushroom dish that lasts me an entire week and costs less than $20 to make. Yes, it gets a little boring, but I can splurge occasionally because I’m not tight with money all the time from eating out all the time.
Basically—get a bike or ride the bus. I’m sure I don’t have to run the numbers on this one—gas is still over $3 a gallon. You can make a one-time purchase of $200 or less for a decent bike that will get you around for free forever. That pays itself off in a month, as you would have spent that much or more driving between school, work, and home anyway. Granted, riding a bike isn’t always an option because you sometimes don’t want to be sweaty when you get to class or work. So when you can’t ride your bike, ride the bus. Bus fare is usually a dollar, and you can get a monthly passes for around $50 or less. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.
The only thing these kinds of transportation require is smart time-budgeting; you have to allow yourself more time to get from place to place. But, if you’re on the bus, you can use that time to do homework, or anything else you want, so it balances out.
Alternatively, you can car-pool. This isn’t as cost-effect as public transportation or a bike, but it’s still half as expensive as paying for your own gas 100% of the time. And the more people you bring into the car pool, the less you’ll have to pay (provided that you work out a system where a different person pays every time you get gas.
Utilities & Entertainment
Basically—consume less. This applies mostly to electricity, but also extends out to water, and other services you pay for that you probably don’t need as much as you think you do. Electricity really sky rockets during the winter and summer months when you turn the heat or A/C on high to stay comfortable. Fans and space heaters work for this purpose and are far less expensive. Personally, I can’t sleep when it’s hot, so I turn the A/C on when about an hour before I go to sleep to get it cool enough to fall asleep and then turn it off when I’m about to hit the sack. I sleep like a baby all night.
Internet and cable are extremely expensive, and if you are a student, you have free access to the internet at school. Take care of your online business there, and live a little more frugally at home. You can also save money by going out to the movies (or bars) less; throw a movie party instead and stay at home with your friends, having a better time than if you had gone out.
With these three tricks alone, you can save anywhere between $250 and $500 a month, which you can then put toward, books, tuition, debts, rent, utilities, phone bill, etc. Making the transition to this kind of lifestyle can be difficult at first, but once you make the shift, you won’t regret it.
Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.