Budget Travel

September 11, 2009

College Money Saving Tips

By Meg Hoppe


"Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the Peace Corps."

If there is one thing I know how to do, it is budget in college. During my undergrad I was a pro at paying little to nothing for amazing things. Since I made next to nothing working my 3 jobs, this was a good thing. So here are some tips for all you college students out there on how to save money at school.

Buy Books Online/Rent Them: My freshman year, I paid about $500.00 for books in one semester. After that, I never spent more than $200.00 on a semester’s worth of books. In fact, after that I went back to my campus bookstore probably less than 5 times to buy a book for class. My solutions: the library and the Internet. It is a little known fact that your universities’ libraries will most likely have your class books on the shelves. If they don’t, your school is probably a part of an inter-library web with other schools so check them out too. It is super simple, just go to their website and search online. Simple, easy, and most importantly it’s free.

The second option that I mentioned is the online option. When I started looking online for books, I hit the proverbial jackpot with this website [formerly campusi.com]. The great thing about this site is that it’s not an actual vendor. You type in the title, ISBN # [uber helpful by the way] and the site pulls up all of the online vendors who have it and how much they are selling it for. So, instead of shopping around for an hour, you can spend 5 minutes and get the information you need to buy the cheapest book.

Save and then Splurge: My best college friend has over $7,000.00 in credit card debt alone. According to American Progress, in 2008 American credit card debt had raised 8.2% to $951.7 billion. When you graduate school, you have a 6 month grace period before you have to start paying off your loans. The last thing that you want to have to worry about is a mountain of credit card debt. Instead of charging everything that you do, save up for what you want and pay in cash. If you really want a new game system, start saving and then buy it when you have the cash. I cannot tell you the grief that saved me in college.

Go to Campus Activities: I don’t just think this is a good idea because I was Homecoming Chair one year and Mainstage Co-Chair another year for my Campus Activities Board. Campus Activities is a great way to participate in some really awesome events that are predominately free. I cannot tell you

Hokey logo, yes. But welcome to college. The club logos are bad, the food is bad, but the events are pretty good.

Hokey logo, yes. But welcome to college. The club logos are bad, the food is bad, but the events are pretty good.

the amount of free singers, comedians, mentalists, etc. that we had during my undergrad. The events were always fun, included free food [it is a time honored fact that free food brings students], and often left people walking away with something. What more can you ask for,  free night out with friends and dinner. Both of which are hot commodities in college. Don’t just assume that only freshmen and dorks go to campus events. They are planned to be fun and free for you. Take advantage.

Local paper to track down free events: I will have it be known that I still do this. Local papers, Time Out as an example, will always list free events in your area [you can always check out MetroMix.com for cool things too depending on where you go to school]. You would be surprised how cool some of these events can be and how cheap they can be too. For example, I once got two free tickets to a Shiny Toy Guns show just for being a Chicago native. The show was in an art gallery and had an open bar. It was absolutely amazing, and absolutely free. It’s also great to become a fan of local places on Facebook or follow them on Twitter because so many businesses advertise free events or discounted rates on those sites.

Alcohol: I can sit here and tell you not to drink, but I think we all know that you’re going to. What you might not realize is just how expensive alcohol can get and how quickly it can add up. So you need to know a few tricks to keep your bank account satisfied with your vices.

  1. Specials at Bars: If you’re over 21 and you like to go to the bars with friends. Check out the specials. My local haunt [yes my friends and I call our pub our local haunt] has a daily beer and liquor special that is $2 and $3 respectively. Let me tell you, paying $2 for a foreign draft and $3 for an amaretto stone sour is a treat even now. So check and see what kind of specials the bars you’re at have. Most of them will have something on the busy college nights, so ask around why people go to what bars on what nights. I promise you, it isn’t for the atmosphere; it is for the cheap alcohol.
  2. Drink with Friends: If you don’t have the cash to go out, start a fund with friends and head out to Jewel. Believe me when I tell you that you’re not experienced enough in drinking to taste the difference between Ketel One Vodka and Smirnoff Vodka. So get the cheapest that you can. You will be amazed at how much more fun you can have just having a small party with your friends than going out to the bars on “Thirsty Thursday.”
  3. Bring a Budget: If you are going out to the bars, bring cash and pay only with what you have. It will keep you within a predetermined budget and you won’t find yourself hitting your credit limit on your Visa. Not only that, but if you’re aware that you have a budget, you can pace your drinking all night and have a healthy buzz with enough time to sober up for the walk home.

Food: If you want to be able to eat on $.12 I have two words for

Who said Ramen can't look delicious?

Who said Ramen can't look delicious?

you: Ramen Noodles. Granted, they aren’t healthy, but you would be amazed at one can do with them. I liked to cook the noodles separately and put a little olive oil and parmesan cheese on them [clearly the money not used on real food was spent accordingly]. Sometimes I would use the noodles [cooked and uncooked] in a salad. And though it sounds gross, sprinkling a little [I stress little] bit of the seasoning on uncooked noodles and eating them like chips was absolutely delicious. I have a great list of friendly budget recipe books with Ramen Noodles and other college friendly food here:

Check out Local Specials through Your School: When I was in school my Campus Activities Department had one day a month that was called DU Day at the Lake. Basically, if you brought your school ID to the local movie theatre you could see as many movies as you wanted for $3. Let me tell you, classes were barren those days as most students took in every movie that they possibly could. Check out specials that your school has for local businesses. Most of the time the local establishments make so much money from you, they like to give back, whether in the form of coupons, free nights, or discount events.

Movies: Movie nights are a standard must in college. It’s always great to just grab a movie and popcorn with the friends. You have friends, hopefully, who own movies, hopefully. So ask around if someone has a movie that you want to watch before you go out and get it. The most important part of the borrowing system is to remember to return the DVDs when you’re finished. My best friend in college had a problem with people borrowing movies and never returning them. So she stopped bringing the cases to school. She noticed that if people just saw the cases, they would ask to borrow a movie without wanting to watch it that night. Now, if someone came in with a certain request for a movie, she would be more than willing to share.

If you watch movies endlessly and don’t want to ask around, sign up for Netflix. While you might not think it’s more economically sound to sign up for a service like Netflix, it is. I promise if you get movies often, the service will pay for itself after one or two rentals. The best part about Netflix is that you can order them online and just wait a day. It’s so easy and so worth it. The watch online portion is especially phenomenal. I was MIA for two weekends during my junior year because I had found Dexter on Netflix and couldn’t tear myself away. Drop the Blockbuster nights and sign up for a cheaper online service.

Buy Store Brands: I know you think that Keebler cookies taste better than Jewel brand, but I am here to tell you…they don’t. No really, they absolutely do not taste any better. They are more expensive by about $2 but taste the same. So instead of spending an arm and a leg on name brands, stick with the store brands. For the most part, they have the same ingredients. The only reason that “name” brands charge more is because they have a branded image that allows them to charge more for the same product Jewel sells.

Be smart with your money because it goes faster than you think. Work as much as you can so you don’t have time to spend, and take in the cheap things with a group of friends to make it memorable and fun. Being able to remember the fun you had in college is completely worth it. Also, being able to stay in the black with Chase is completely worth it.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.


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