Smart Ways to Live Cheaper on Campus
Living on a shoestring budget? Whether your parents float you funds or you’re pulling a part-time paying gig, here’s how to stre-------tch every precious penny.
Broke -- it’s a common catch in student jargon. “OMG, I broke my phone at that rager last night” or “I just broke up with my girlfriend ’cause she was cheating on me with my best bud.” But when used as an adjective, the word describes the financial status of most college kids.
Unless Dad is handing over his preferred platinum card or you strike it rich selling those musty ol’ Pokemon cards, you’ll have to get by on meager means. Here are some painless ways to get major bang for your buck … even if it’s your last buck.
Put the "Eat" in Creativity
Whether you’re craving a change from the monotonous glop of the dining hall, celebrating a friend’s birthday at a nearby bistro or taking a study break to go for a late-night munch, your wallet will take a hit. Cutting back on these extravagances means getting clever.
1. Buy in bulk
When stashing snacks in your room, think long term. Talk to your roommates about pitching in for some grub, then head to the nearest warehouse retail chain to stock up on industrial-sized cheaper-in-the-long-run crates of Ramen packets and other non-perishables. Many discount clubs offer collegiate membership rates, and some give free introductory one-time shopping passes for non-members to bypass the annual fee altogether.
2. Use the student discount
Grocery stores, restaurants and even places on campus usually have discounts for students. Even if you don’t see it advertised, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Have your student ID at all times. It could save 15 percent on that panini or score you a free dessert!
3. Sniff out free food
Complimentary chow is almost as popular on campus as the latest gossip on CollegeACB. “Club meetings and churches are always looking to give out food to potential new members,” says Robby Panos, a University of Virginia junior. Philanthropic bashes and school-sponsored speaker events are also prime time for gratis grubs. Grab a slice of pizza and take in a lecture.
4. Have a drink on me
Students pour beaucoup bucks down the drain when indulging in conveniences like Starbucks and bottled water. Invest in a coffeemaker so you can brew your own, and get yourself a travel mug. Pick up a refillable water bottle too if your college’s tap is tolerable. Bonus: It’s better for the environment.
Life doesn’t have to be a snore just because your pockets are empty. Money buys neither happiness nor a stellar social life. You can get out and about without tossing around a ton of green.
5. Be art smart
Your campus is probably rife with free productions, concerts and workshops. Problem is, nobody really hears about them … and when people do, the enthusiasm is usually lower than the grade on your last calculus test. Time to do some research (track down calendars of events), gather up your dorm mates and head to the next pay-what-you-can play or free movie screening. Even if it’s bad, you’ll get a few laughs -- or at least the opportunity to heckle!
6. Speak Greek
Not joining a frat or sorority will save you a lot of cash right out the gate. But what happens when you want to get into the best party of the year and don’t have the connections? Exchange names of brothers and sisters you know with friends and ask them to do the same -- on most college campuses, name dropping is the ticket to free admission. Once you’re inside, you’ll get beverages … and if you’re lucky, maybe even a few phone numbers.
7. Out on the town
Be in the know too when it comes to events in neighboring areas. Community organizations often host free outdoor festivals with live music. Local restaurants have early-bird specials. Theater workshops and art galleries frequently offer free or reduced admission. (Again, don’t forget to ask about student rates.) Read newspapers and pay attention to fliers. It could pay off.
8. Any singles?
If you have a significant other who saps all your savings, it may be time to have a chat about cutting back on unnecessary costs or to ask your partner to pull his or her own weight. If this person is not important to you, you may even consider living the single life for now. Romantic dinners and little gifts add up. Is it worth it? Your call.
Shop Till You Plop
Enter upscale department stores and exclusive boutiques at your own risk, but you don’t have to totally give up the urge to splurge. Just tone it down a few notches.
9. Clothes the deal
Punch up your wardrobe without breaking the bank: shop clearance racks. (The best ones are where an additional markdown is given to already slashed prices.) Look for one-of-a-kind finds in thrift and consignment stores. Pick up inexpensive accessories at discount stores and chain boutiques.
10. Gotta dollar?
Discover the beauty of the dollar store. It’s great for party supplies, stationery, candles, soaps, toiletries and tons more. Whether you’re buying useless trinkets or practical necessities, think about it: You can walk in there with a 10-spot and leave with lots of loot. Heck, you can scrape together a dollar plus tax in pocket change and treat yourself to something.
11. Be a coupon king or queen
Keep a lookout for coupons on one-day shopping events at major department stores. Also sign up for email notifications of store specials and be sure to check online for Internet coupons before making a big purchase. (Restaurants and fast food chains run a lot of coupon specials too, so keep your eyes on the prize.)
12. Beauty booty
Ladies, fine department stores dole out free samples at the cosmetics counters. Want to road test a lip color or facial moisturizer or new perfume? March on over there with an air of confidence and ask the consultant to show you some options. She’ll likely give you mini-sized products to try at home.
13. What a card!
If you’re a die-hard shopaholic experiencing severe withdrawal, hold off before reaching into your cash stash by keeping in mind that the holidays are right around the bend. “It might be painful to wait all semester,” says Appalachian State senior Diane Vachon, “but soon enough you’ll have a dozen gift cards with your name on them.”
Ask not what you can do for your school but what your school can do for you. Universities give back to their student patrons in plenty of ways, so take advantage.
14. Be book smart
The library isn’t just for studying, using the Net and people-watching. It actually contains books -- a revelation, I know. If you’re taking subjects like lit, history or philosophy, the library could relieve a big financial burden. Instead of turning to the expensive school bookstore (or even Amazon) for a book, do a quick search on the libe’s browser to see if it’s available. Then drop-kick the kid who’s about to check it out.
15. Get off your lazy butt
If you have access to the campus gym and you’re paying for a pricey fitness membership, stop. Other free-of-charge physical activities: walking, jogging, hiking, in-line skating, riding your bike, a pickup basketball game, lifting weights in your room, dropping to the floor to do sit-ups and push-ups … shall we go on?
16. Let’s make a deal
You’re a smart cookie, so figure out how to split costs with your roommate. Double up on your laundry to save quarters. Share a printer, swap playlists and take the same cab home from a party. And if you’re both heading out of town, consider carpooling. Even if you and your roomie aren’t the best of buds, a road trip is always less taxing when there’s company … and music.
17. Hop on that job
“The No. 1 thing I can say is find a job on campus,” offers up Wabash College junior Mack O’Shaughnessy. “It’s the best way to get some extra cash in your pocket.” On-campus stores and restaurants are often hiring. Just don’t tell the folks: You still need someone’s sympathy, especially when it comes in the form of a crisp Benjamin.
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