The broke college student subsisting on instant ramen noodles and mooching off their parents may be a tired cliché, but it still carries a kernel of truth: college isn’t cheap, and money is often very tight as a result. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re having a hard time keeping your finances in the black during college, there are plenty of steps you can take to improve your situation. With a little bit of planning and ingenuity, the ten tips below can help ease your budget crunch and make sure that you’re getting the very most out of your college experience.
- Cut Costs on School Supplies
As any college student can attest, textbooks and other supplies can burn a hole in your wallet in a hurry. Rather than buying new books at the campus bookstore, consider looking for used books online, at local bookstores and even from friends and acquaintances. Alternatively, many modern textbooks can be purchased digitally and downloaded to a tablet or laptop for a much lower price than their physical counterparts. Many other supplies can be bought in bulk for big savings, and again it’s best to avoid campus bookstores and their inflated prices.
- Use Credit Cards Responsibly
When it comes to credit cards, there are two common and equally troubling approaches. Some people are tempted by the ability to simply flash some plastic and buy anything they wish, while others are scared away from using them entirely. In reality, there’s no reason to fear credit cards – if they’re used responsibly. In fact, using a credit card for routine purchases and paying off the balance in full each month is a fantastic way to begin building a strong credit history. Just be aware that interest rates are often exceedingly high, so don’t buy something you can’t pay for except in the event of a true emergency.
- Cook for a Week
Food is an expense that most college students simply don’t think about, but it can add up quickly. Eating out or signing up for a meal plan isn’t cheap, and relying on cold pizza and Hot Pockets isn’t very healthy. Instead, consider making your own meal plan by devoting a few hours on the weekend to cook meals for the entire week. Simply plan out whichever meals you’d like to eat, make a list of all the necessary ingredients and buy them all at once. Cook the meals, place them in containers and stick them in the freezer. When you’re ready to eat, all you need to do is take your chosen meal out and heat it up. Voila!
- Start a Savings Account
It’s never too early to start saving for a rainy day, and a savings account is a great way to do it. Even if you can only afford small, irregular deposits, you’ll be building a financial cushion and earning interest while you’re at it. Most importantly, you’ll begin developing the good saving habits that you’ll need to prepare yourself for the future. Take time to do your research and find the best interest rates available, but be sure to avoid accounts that require a monthly fee.
- Use Your Student ID
You may not realize it, but your student ID can be a major money-saving tool. You’ll find a variety of fun activities on nearly any college campus, and your student ID can often snag you a serious discount or even free admission. It’s a great way to stay engaged and enjoy yourself without shelling out much money. Your ID can also earn you savings from a wide range of other stores, venues and websites, so keep your eyes peeled for student discounts wherever you go.
- Use Alternative Transportation
If you’re accustomed to driving to and from class, you may not notice how much money you spend on gas and other transportation-related expenses. Whenever possible, consider using alternative means of transportation to save some extra cash. If your commute is short enough, walking or riding a bike is free and can help to keep you in shape. Public transportation is another cost-effective option, and it can even give you an opportunity to sneak in some extra work or studying.
- Do Your Homework on Student Loans
Student debt is a massive problem in the United States and managing it poorly can cripple your finances for years to come. Easing that burden begins before you borrow a single cent, as choosing the right loan can make all the difference. It pays to do your research, comparing all available options in search of lower interest rates and payment terms that suit your particular situation. In most cases, federal loans will be the most affordable option, as well as providing fixed rates and more flexibility. It’s also important to determine the smallest loan amount you realistically need, which will keep your balance lower and allow you to repay your debt more quickly.
- Work Smarter
Balancing work and school is no easy task, but it’s a financial necessity for many students. If possible, try to find a job that naturally fits into your typical schedule. Many employers near college campuses are willing to provide flexible hours for students, but it’s important to keep your employer updated on your schedule to avoid conflicts. You may even consider taking a job that pays slightly less if it affords you time to do schoolwork.
- Make the Most of Your Education
While it may not directly put money in your pocket, staying focused on your education will ensure that you’re getting the best bang for your buck. You’ll be paying for your schooling for quite some time, so it’s important that you get as much out of it as you can. If you go to classes, work hard and set yourself up to succeed in whatever you choose to do after graduation, it’ll be worth every penny that you spend. As an added bonus, spending your time on schoolwork means you’ll have less time to waste money on frivolous things. It may not be as fun in the moment, but your bank account – and your future – will thank you.
- Adopt Money-Saving Habits
College is a time to receive an education, but it’s also a time to learn valuable lessons that will serve you for the rest of your life. One of the most important lessons you can learn is how to manage your money, and in particular, how to develop good money-saving habits. Set aside some time every week to review your budget and look for opportunities to save some cash, whether it’s opting for generic brands and using coupons at the grocery store or making your own coffee in the morning instead of paying for an expensive cup at the coffee shop. Learning how to save a few dollars and cents now can make a big difference in staying financially healthy in the long run.
Beth Kotz is a contributing writer for Credit.com. A graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, she has also been featured as a writer and editor for numerous energy, entertainment, and home blogs.