Most college students know what it’s like to be broke. Correction: ALL college students know what it’s like to be broke. Being penniless is like an initiation into your college years. It’s a reminder to study hard so that you can earn a decent living after graduation and hopefully never have to endure the feeling of being poor again. Whether you dorm or commute, college gives you the freedom to finally manage your own finances. This experience is either sink or swim. Many students do indeed sink. They run up thousands of dollars of non-school-related credit card debt and create major financial issues for themselves. Some of these students adopt poor spending habits that they practice for the rest of their lives. However, being strapped for cash is actually a valuable lesson for many college students. These students quickly learn budgeting techniques that allow them to stretch their dollars.
I am not a financial expert, but as a full-time graduate student working a part-time job, I am pretty adept at making every dollar count. Whether you’re working a part-time job, or whether your parents are sending you money every month, here are a few ways to make the money last.
1. Watch – and I mean really watch – what you buy. Don’t be impulsive! So many people buy stuff they don’t need and later experience buyer’s remorse. Did you really need to buy all that candy at the drugstore? Can you buy your friend a $.99 birthday card instead of a $2.99 card? The black sweater you want is really cute, but don’t you already have 3 black sweaters? When you put some thought into what you are buying, you will be less apt to buy things you don’t really need.
2. Keep a spreadsheet of where your money is going. I did this for a few months and studied what I was spending money on. It was very surprising to see the amount of money I spent on the most ridiculous things. This tip goes hand-in-hand with the first tip. If you actually see on paper what you are buying, it will be easier for you to discriminate against items you don’t really need when you are out shopping.
3. Borrow clothes. You’re going to a huge party on Friday night, and you have NOTHING to wear. So what do you do? Raid your friend’s closet, of course. Most of us have at least one friend who is about our own size. Instead of going to the store and dropping money on a new outfit, ask your friend if you can borrow something out of her closet. You’ll have a cute new outfit without spending a dime! (Of course, if your friend ever wants to borrow your clothes, you should let her. What are friends for?)
4. Save your change. I’ve met people who actually throw away pennies. I really don’t understand this. You are literally throwing money away! Save your change and put it in a jar. When the jar is full, empty the change at your local coin counting machine. The machine will convert your change into dollar bills, and you will have some extra money in your pocket. Change really does add up!
5. Learn how to cook. If you are living in a dorm that doesn’t have a kitchenette, then this tip may not be of use to you. However, if you are living in an apartment or at home, this really is a great money-saving tip. Ordering food can be very expensive (and fattening, depending on where and what you order). Home-cooked meals are healthier and more economical. You can make cooking fun by having dinner parties with your friends. When possible, cook in big batches and freeze the leftovers for days when you don’t have the time or energy to cook. Also, depending on your school’s policies, you may be able to ditch the meal plan and cook your own food instead. My two personal favorite cookbooks that have simple recipes are Skinny Italian by Teresa Giudice and So Easy by Ellie Krieger.
6. Carpool. Not only does this save gas and money, it can also make running errands a lot less boring. Rotate drivers so everyone uses their car at some point. Condense your errands into one day. This will save you time and money.