10 Tips for Living on a College Student Budget
College students are big spenders, but most of that money goes toward tuition -- aside from a few dollars here and there for noodles or a Netflix subscription. With the right mindset and a few tricks up their sleeves, students can learn to live comfortably on the minimal budget that remains after paying for school.
Even if you have to build in extra time to get to your destination, think how much you can save by not paying for parking and gas. Rejecting car ownership entirely can yield big savings on insurance and car payments, not to mention the incidentals that inevitably crop up. A one-time bike purchase probably costs less than a single month's car payment. If school or work is too far to walk or bike, take the bus, which may be even more convenient than driving.
New books can cost two or three times the price of a used book; a biology text that costs $70 new might sell for less than $20 used. So what if some text is highlighted or pages are dog-eared, as long as the book is readable? Used editions are available in school bookstores and on textbook websites such as Chegg and TextbookRush. Some sites even offer book rentals, which can save more money. (Remember to return rented books on time to avoid late fees.)
Typically the bigger the quantity, the bigger the discount. For example, 144 Bic pens cost $12, or 8 cents a pen, on Amazon. Students may not use a gross of pens in the first semester or even the first year of college, but this is a staple supply that won't go to waste. To sweeten the deal, consider asking roommates or a few people in a residence hall if they'd like to split up bulk purchases.
The most important way good grades pay off is through scholarship money. Most scholarships set a minimum grade point average (often at or near 3.0) that must be maintained. A high GPA can reduce some big bills, too. Students with a B average or better are generally eligible for many companies’ discounts on car insurance, up to 25 percent at State Farm. (Run the numbers, though -- it's often cheaper to remain on a family plan.) On the flip side, students who fail a class don't have any credit hours to show for the money spent on the course. And if it's required for a degree, they have to enroll in the same class again.
There are a lot of discounts to be cashed in just by showing a university-issued student identification card. Save on clothes at J. Crew (15 percent off), Banana Republic (15 percent), The Limited (10 percent), and Boohoo (a whopping 35 percent). Save on food at some locations of Subway (10 percent), McDonald's (10 percent), and Burger King (10 percent), to name a few. Microsoft offers up to 10 percent off, Amazon makes Prime free for the first six months and half-off afterward, and Adobe’s Creative Cloud software is 60 percent off. It's always worth asking if there's a student discount before making a purchase.
It might be tempting to make a quick run to the fast food restaurant down the street, but think twice before giving up a dining hall meal that's already paid for. Most meal plans require students to use the number of meals allotted or lose them at the end of the term, so be sure you understand the rules.
College campuses are full of facilities for students, from pools to libraries. Find out if these are included in student fees or can be accessed at a discount. Rather than going off campus to work out, for instance, it's likely cheaper (and more convenient) to use a university fitness center, even if there's an extra fee. The same is true for campus transportation. Large colleges have their own bus systems. Students may automatically get a pass or pay less than they would to ride city buses.
The primary perk of being a resident assistant is free room and board. Technically this is a campus job that brings responsibilities on top of academics. Although it involves helping other students during on-call hours, you never have to go to work. And that room in "room and board"? Expect a single.
Go to the student union for a free concert or movie viewing. Volunteer for the student activity committee, the student newspaper, or the university radio station and get into events for free. Attend an English department poetry reading or a music school student performance. There's always something free or cheap going on in a college community.
If your bank doesn't have a branch or ATM on campus or nearby, expect to get saddled with service fees whenever you withdraw cash. Not everything can be accomplished on a smartphone, even at banks with apps. Lacking easy access to account services, you may have to use valuable gas or bus money to get to the nearest branch. Look for a good deal on campus instead -- banks are eager to sign up students as customers.