13 Tips for College Life On A Budget

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August 14th, 2013 by schoolbound

Whether you are attending college for the first time as a full time student on campus, or going back part time to earn that degree or certification, college can be expensive. Small things can add up quickly and it can sneak up on you, becoming overwhelming. To ease the stress of finances so you can concentrate on learning – create a budget.

shutterstock_104809838The first step to creating a college budget is considering all your expenses. There are many costs to take into account, including room and board or rent, books and supplies, food and groceries, transportation, personal care (cosmetics, toiletries, prescription medications, etc.) and more. Don’t forget to set aside funds for entertainment — things like dining out, going to the movies, or big events like birthday celebrations or travel plans. And of course the big one, if you pay tuition on a monthly payment plan, include that. If you are taking online classes you will want to make sure you have a reliable internet connection and a decent computer with enough gusto to interact and work on assignments.

Student discounts are one way to cut costs on many of these items you will need to purchase. Never be afraid to ask if any establishment, large or small, offers student discount pricing. Do not get sucked into credit card debt. If you have one use it for emergencies ONLY and try to pay for things out of pocket free and clear as much as possible. If you have to use the credit card make sure to pay it off at the end of the month.

After you’ve totaled up your monthly expenses, figure out your monthly income. Typical sources of income for students include grant money, scholarships, work-study jobs or other part-time jobs, and even student loans. Remember, money you get from Mom and Dad counts as income at this stage in your life too.

SayStudent.com has an online budgeting worksheet that students can download, enter their estimated expenses for the year and it will automatically calculate the total costs. Once you have a budget in place, to help stay on track, SayStudent.com also has a printable worksheet where you can record your daily expenses. Click here for the spending sheet.

Since you don’t have a lot of cash flow in college, you need to learn how to be thrifty with your money. Here are some tips for surviving on a college budget.

  1. Walk or ride your bike to classes (or take classes online!). By doing this, you won’t have to spend as much money on gas or car maintenance. You also won’t have to shell out a bunch of money each semester for campus parking fees.
  2. Get good grades. Having good grades can save you money on car insurance. Check with your insurance company to see what grades they require for the discount.
  3. Look for free or cheap entertainment. Stop spending ridiculous amounts of money at your local movie theater. Many campuses host free movie nights throughout the school year. You could also set up a netflix account and watch movies in your dorm room or apartment for cheap. Check out sites such as Groupon and DealChicken for deals on movies, food, travel, etc. Instead of going out to clubs every weekend where you have to spend money on cover charges and beverages, save your cash by attending art openings or free student concerts. Stay away from shopping malls when you are bored; you’ll be too tempted to make purchases. Instead, keep yourself busy by going for a long walk, playing sports, having a picnic with your friends, etc.
  4. Don’t pay for a fitness club membership. Most campuses have fitness centers that are free to students. If your campus doesn’t, buy some hand weights and take up running, biking, swimming, etc.
  5. Use coupons. For every item that you purchase, check to see if you can use a coupon for it. This includes groceries, clothing, electronics, etc. If purchasing items online, you should first visit sites such as couponsuzy.com, ultimatecoupons.com or couponchief.com to check for online coupon codes. In addition to discounts, some sites, such as Ebates, offer cash back and will mail you a check based on your purchases. If your mom is a coupon clipper, have her send some in your next care package.
  6. Get free Internet access. Many campuses offer free wireless access. If you have a desktop, some colleges provide their students with free or discounted dial-up accounts. If you need faster service, head to your campus computer lab.
  7. Purchase a laundry rack. Using a laundry rack instead of a clothes dryer will cut your laundry costs in half. Plus, your clothes will last longer and look better.
  8. Buy your textbooks online, rent them, buy used or try e-textbooks. Websites, such as Amazon and barnesandnoble.com, offer cheaper textbook prices than your local bookstores. In some cases, you may save more than 50% by purchasing books online. You can also save money by renting textbooks at sites such as textbooks.com, chegg.com and campusbookrentals.com. Added bonus: you bypass the whole standing in line thing.
  9. Be smart about credit. If you use a credit card, make sure you have cash to pay off the balance every month so you don’t accrue interest. If you get into debt during college, those woes will be with you long after graduation.
  10. Get a free checking and savings account. Look around your community for banks that cater to students. Make sure there are no attached fees for ATM withdrawals, online banking, funds transfer, etc.
  11. Don’t shop for groceries when hungry. You’ll end up spending way more than you originally intended. Make a list and stick to it!
  12. Carpool. Going home for the weekend or for a holiday? Carpool with other students from your hometown. Gas doesn’t seem that expensive when you split the cost.
  13. Don’t forget about financial aid. Remember to research scholarships and grants. Schoolbound can help guide you with all your questions and point you in the right direction.

Your college years can be a financially rough time. With a little planning and a lot of willpower, you can survive and even thrive on a college budget.