Starting college is a time of excitement. It’s a period when many students get a taste of the freedom, and responsibilities, that come from life outside of their parents’ home. Oftentimes it’s when these young adults get a life lesson in understanding their cost of living as well. For the latest ideas on getting through college on a budget, Team Sootchy has enlisted the help of our intern, Madi Vogt. In this blog post, she shares her go-to strategy for living life lean for those about to start college.
Hi my name is Madi! I am currently a student at the University of Arkansas where my major is marketing. I LOVE to save money whenever possible, and have found ways over the years to make this happen. Going into college, I was completely clueless about all things budgeting, but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes! These are my top 5 tips for surviving college on a budget:
Find Your Ideal Meal Plan
University Meal Plan
Chances are, if you live in a dorm or on campus, you will subscribe to your university’s meal plan. Before you sign up, research your college’s offerings. My school offers packages of 10, 15, or unlimited meals per week. To find the plan for you, calculate the meals you would typically eat in a day, then in a week. Keep in mind, you probably won’t be walking to the dining hall for every meal like you think. There may be days that your friends want Chick-Fil-A, days you can get free food on campus, and days you just slurp a cup of ramen because you don’t feel like leaving your dorm. While it’s important to purchase a package with enough meals, it’s also important that you’re not overpaying for uneaten meals.
Cooking at Home
If you live off campus, you will most likely fend for yourself. Buying your own groceries can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. It is common for newly independent college kids to realize they can now throw that Twix bar or bag of Doritos into the cart, without anyone saying “no.” These little purchases can multiply and eventually make your grocery cost for the week even more expensive than going out to eat every night. To avoid overspending, create a meal budget for each week, make a list of everything you need, and stick to it. If you have a little wiggle room, allow yourself only one impulse purchase.
Compare Textbook Prices
My freshman year I purchased all my books through the campus bookstore, thinking it was the only option. They were extremely expensive, but I figured it was just a part of college, and everyone was in the same boat. Wrong! The first day of class I discovered that everyone else had purchased their book from Amazon for about $20, while I had paid almost $200 FOR A RENTAL. Luckily, after a couple semesters I’ve learned a thing or two. First, the week before class starts, determine which professors require a textbook and note the title, author, edition, and ISBN to ensure you purchase the correct book. This information will typically be found in a welcome email from your professor or in their syllabus. Second, search for the book on sites like Amazon, Ebay, and even student Facebook groups. If these prices still seem high, take your list to the campus bookstore to compare prices. Despite being typically more expensive, the bookstore can sometimes have a better deal on a used book or rental.
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Student discounts are all around you. Restaurants and shops will typically have an offer that you never even knew about. All you have to do is flash your student ID, and you could receive a 5% - 50% deduction. If a store does not advertise their student discount - try asking! Not only does this work for brick and mortar stores, but also online. Simply search the name of the shop followed by “student discount” to find great deals. If you make a habit of asking about a student discount, these amounts will add up and you’ll save money on things you were going to buy anyway!
Get a Job… Maybe?
Having a job in college is a highly debated topic. There are several different aspects to consider, but ultimately, it comes down to time management. If you are in a sport, greek life, and four clubs on top of your 15 credit hours, you may not have time for a job. If you are unsure, it may be beneficial to begin the semester without a job to see how demanding your schedule is. If you think you can take on more, look for an employer that is flexible and will work around classes and exams (such as an on-campus gym or library). Even better is a job that allows you to study during non-busy work hours.
As mentioned previously, newfound freedom can be tricky for college students, and buying groceries is only the beginning. Leisure activities, such as going to dinner or the mall, can be expensive. Try less-costly alternatives such as taking pictures in the park, visiting a farmers market, thrift shopping, hiking, or making a fun meal at home. An occasional treat is okay, but making it a habit can be detrimental to your budget. For example, a $5 latte with friends every so often is okay, but a daily latte would cost you $1,825 a year. It is tempting to spend money if your friends are, but there are several ways to live on a budget without missing out on the college experience.
It's Never Too Late to Open a 529 College Savings Account!
Subscribe to our blog for more helpful articles like this one, and if or your child are just starting college, consider downloading the Sootchy app to start a 529 College Savings Account ! These Accounts grow tax-free, and anyone from aunts and uncles, to grandparents and neighbors can contribute. So by the time graduation rolls around, there's a lot of potential for growth (and hopefully less student loan debt)!