Between late-night pizza delivery, weekend Uber trips, and a new batch of textbooks each semester, it’s almost too easy to drain your funds as a college student. And for those students paying their own way through school, it can feel overwhelming trying to budget your cash between tuition, groceries, and weekend extras while still trying to build up money in your bank account. That’s where solid money management skills are essential–whether it’s building out an elaborate plan or just focusing on simple things like scouting out sales. For a guide on the basics of how to stay on top of your finances, I reached out to students who are making it on their own to find out their go-to tips for how to save money in college.
Build a Strict Budget Plan and Stick to It
The first step to organizing your finances and starting to save money is building a budget that works for you, and then making the effort to stick to it. Decide how much money you’ll set aside every week for rent, groceries, transportation, even coffee, and keep track of how much you’re spending each day.
Amanda Touw, William Paterson University Class of 2018, said that when she decided to go back to school, budgeting became a huge part of how she paid tuition. “The best advice I ever received about budgeting was that straying away from it is not an option. There were a lot of times that I had to turn down going out with friends because I knew that the twenty dollars I would spend out was better spent sitting in my bank account until my next tuition payment.” Whether you lay out your budget in an Excel spreadsheet, a Word document, or just a note on your phone, having an accessible reminder of your spending can keep you accountable. Even though it can be hard to turn down a night out with friends, sticking to a budget will help you balance your funds between school and fun in the long-run—and allow you to see exactly how much is left over each month to set aside for the future.
Pay For The Essentials First, But Set Aside a Little For a “Treat Yourself” Fund
Even though following a budget and prioritizing the essentials is important, that doesn’t mean that you can’t treat yourself from time to time. Especially if you find yourself with extra money after your tuition and bills have been paid, putting a set amount of those funds into savings, and using the rest to finally buy that highlighter you’ve had in your online cart for weeks.
CUNY Kingsborough senior Náosha Gregg said that she keeps her finances on track by paying for the essentials first and setting aside a part of every paycheck for her savings account. “I always manage my money by paying for necessities first such as my phone bill, hair appointment, and credit card payments. Then I save at least ten percent of every paycheck. If there’s anything left over I’ll treat myself to a new lipstick or a nice lunch.” Paying for college and not having the same financial flexibility as other students can be challenging, so being able to splurge once in a while on a new accessory or a meal at your favorite restaurant can be a much-needed reward.
Find a Job With Perks
If you’re looking for a job to help finance your way through school, try narrowing your search to positions with perks or discounts that can save you money alongside your paycheck. Whether it’s a ten percent discount or the occasional free meal, finding a job with perks can make work seem more worthwhile.
Anna Wesche, a senior at Johns Hopkins University, said that her job at an on-campus café has provided her with free meals that allowed her to cut her weekly grocery bill in half. “I think one of the often overlooked and easy ways to budget is to find a job with perks. I work at a café on campus and I get things like free espresso drinks, free cookies to take home if they aren’t bought by the end of the day, and I always get a full meal to take home with me.” Try looking for jobs in retail or food services, which often come with discounts on merchandise or complimentary meals. Not only will you be earning money, but you can take advantage of these money-saving perks, as well.
Eat In to Cut Down on Costs
It can be tempting to eat out or order in, especially as a college student tired of the dining hall. Even if you are lucky enough to have access to a kitchen in your dorm or apartment, it might seem like there’s never enough time to cook between classes, work, and any other extracurricular commitments. But although ordering takeout is as simple as a few clicks on a food delivery app, and a dinner out always sounds more appetizing than cooking for yourself, eating in is definitely the budget-friendly way to go.
Morgan Murphy, Siena College Class of 2019, said that limiting the number of times she dines out per month is a key part of how she saves her money. “I generally try to limit myself to a ‘going-out’ meal about once a month, maybe twice if I have the extra money. Thankfully, my friends are awesome and understand that I can’t really go out all the time.” Planning ahead how much you’ll budget for groceries and meals out will help you organize your finances, and ensure you don’t rack up too many charges for takeout on your credit card.
Keep an Eye Out for Discounts and Sales at Your Favorite Stores
Just because you’re a college student on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy shopping at the stores you love and treating yourself to the latest trends. Take the extra time to look for discounts online or look for when that dress you’ve had your eye on all semester will hit the sale rack, and you can find ways to shop without overspending.
Briana Tattory, a junior at The College of New Jersey, said that she often finds the best new clothes and accessories on sale. “I normally scrounge the sale rack and normally come up with a few cool, trendy, and inexpensive items. Just because something’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s ugly. A lot of the time the world just literally wasn’t ready for that trend and I get it before anyone even knows it’s cool.” Briana also advocates never being afraid to return a purchase you’re not absolutely in love with, especially when making the effort to return it can mean having money back in your pocket that would be better spent on something else. From shopping discounts between seasons to finding coupon codes online, there are ways to make a new addition to your wardrobe work within your budget.
What are some of your money-saving tips? Let us know in the comments below!
Opening image by @sammynap.