Why should you listen to your adopted big sister about these ways to save money? Number one, because I’m not a parent. Number Two, I went all the way, baby. I finished my Master’s degree this year and I have the student loans to prove it. Here are the top fifteen ways “my roomies and me” kept mo’ money in our pockets and you can, too.
- Breakfast: If you have time for breakfast, I’m impressed. For the rest of us, invest in a coffee pot. Purchase a reusable coffee mug from Starbucks and fill it each morning at home. Splurge on Starbucks one day a week to get you through that awful Friday history lecture. Cheapest, fastest, healthiest breakfast on the market? In my opinion, Quaker Oatmeal To Go Bars.
- Lunch: Pack your own lunch, but don’t make it look like you are in grade school. Get a cool bag to put it in or stuff it in your book bag. Pick your favorite fast-food sandwich and make five of a home version for your lunches for the week. Pita pockets with Trader Joe chicken salad, Egg McMuffin style sandwiches, Bagels with cream cheese, cranberry and turkey slices are some options that hold up well. Buy cases of your fave drink in the can and fill your re-usable cup with free ice in the cafeteria.
- Dinner: Learn to make casseroles. Dump stuff in. Heat it up. Have roommates pool money for casseroles each night that you cook and share, or make two meals and rotate between them over the week for yourself. Casseroles are also a great way to hide vegetables and hopefully avoid the Freshman 20. Eat out with your peeps on the weekends – at happy hour prices (if you are old enough for that scene).
- Buy Textbooks: Price shop at discount stores or online. Take a few minutes to go through the books you are required to purchase at the campus bookstore the day they go up for sale. You will need time for your textbooks to arrive in the mail. Write down: The title, the price, the ISBN number, and the edition number. Some professors don’t care what edition you use, so ask them first. Older editions will always be cheaper. The ISBN number is the easiest way to ensure that you are purchasing the exact same text book. It is clearly printed above or near the barcode on the back of the book. Remember to double check pricing with shipping costs included.
- Sell Textbooks: Yeah, it’s a drag to stand in line. So, invite a friend that has textbooks to sell. You are a college student. Where else are you going to hang out with your friend and make $20 to $120 in an hour? Don’t answer that.
- Subscribe to Magazines: Subscribe to one or two favorites and read the rest at the library or book store. Newsstand prices are insane! A year’s subscription can cost you as low as six bucks. Magazines are a great way to get ideas and advice for things that other people pay therapists and stylists enormous dinero for. Ladies, you will make that money back on your first issue with the make-up coupon you will use. For guys, Playboy arrives in privacy packaging or you can subscribe online, f.y.i.
- Get Food Stamps: If you don’t have help from your parents like most of us, you may qualify for food stamps. It’s not much, but it is something. I ate a splurge meal once a month and bought all of the expensive things I otherwise couldn’t afford using my food stamps. Food stamp funds are distributed monthly on a card that runs just like a debit card. It’s government money allocated to your financial need so use it. It took me about two hours a term to “earn” anywhere between $50 to $150 a month. Grocery money! You can’t be tempted to waste it on “fill-in-the-blank”!
- Use Coupons: Speaking of grocery money, don’t waste it. You don’t need to be an Extreme Couponing freak. Just take five minutes before you go grocery shopping to rifle through the Sunday paper. You need it? Tear out the coupon! You don’t need it? Resist the temptation and do not use that coupon. Coupons are a marketing tool. Don’t be taken captive – you are the coupon pirate! Take what you want. Toss the rest. Also, don’t go shopping while you are hungry. Aargh! (Forgive me, I studied elementary education.)
- Party at Home: I’m the big sister, remember? Busted. I know you are partying. -This advice is for those Freshman over the age of twenty-one, of course.- Once a week we made a home-cooked meal at our place for the crew, BYOB for yourself and something for the host! When everyone got their food-stamps for the month, we held a potluck. Partying at home is not only less expensive, but it is much safer for everyone. We had a humongous bin of blankets in the living room. Cultivate an atmosphere that invites friends to crash at your place, really get to hang out, know and trust each other, and rest from school stress.
- Budget: Make and follow a budget. When you get your loan dispersal, put it all in savings. Once a month, pull over your monthly budget to your checking account. Remember to add the month that it will take after the term begins for your next check to arrive. Financial Aid timing sucks.
- Pay Cash: Debit cards are usually too quick and easy to use to keep your spending under control. While you’re at it, do not use credit cards. We had a student-led protest of credit card advertising to Freshmen at my last university. You will be marketed to relentlessly as a college student. Why? Because the banks know that you will spend it and then pay 10 times as much to pay it off over the years. Don’t be their b*… I mean, sucker.
- Work Out: Use the campus gym. No, it’s not as cool as the 24 Hour fitness, but at most colleges it is free or extremely discounted. Don’t worry, you will have plenty opportunities to show your physique off in other places. I’ll give you the insider’s scoop on the campus gym: it is free for your profs, too. This is the place to meet, greet, and make alliances with your administrators and professors. Stand out from the crowd by being a real person with the people who can actually help you succeed at college – for free!
- Maintain Your Vehicle: Budget your gas money weekly. On the day you fill up, check your oil and fluids. Prevention is like, seriously, worth a – I don’t know- as much as it costs to fix that hunk of junk you’re stuck driving until you graduate. The two least expensive sounds to fix before they get bad: timing belt (squeaks, especially when it’s cold) and starter or battery (makes a clicking type noise and your car doesn’t always start). Fix the brakes the moment you think something is wrong. Change your oil when the sticker tells you to. Use coupons for car services. Often, the shop will rotate your tires, offer other free services, and/or give your (p*wagon) a quick health check. If you can afford it, AAA membership is worth every penny.
- Shop the Sale Rack: If you are learning how to squeeze a clothes budget out of your wallet for the first time, get used to “for sale” and “clearance” signs. In my opinion; Ross, Target, and J.C. Penney have the most consistent quality choices with the lowest prices. My personal favorite for deals on men’s and women’s clothing is Kohl’s. Sign up for their e-mail coupons and wait to buy on “Kohl’s Cash” days. Trust me, I am the Chief Purchasing Officer of my home. I am a professional.
- Call Your Parents: Haha. I made you cringe. Like I said, I’m not a parent but my profession has me talking to plenty of them. Call your folks once a week. Tell them the good stuff so they leave you alone. They worry. So, stop avoiding it and keep it short and sweet. If, and only if, you need them in a tight spot, they will be immensely easier to manipulate – I mean – immensely more amenable to helping you out.
I really just added that last one to suck up to your parents (did I type that out loud?) so they would print and share this super-duper helpful article with you: their “sweet baby” who is off to college and studying too hard to read articles online. I know how it works. Big Sister’s got your back. Here’s the rubber band from my ponytail for the wad of cash you’re gonna save.