My little brother Tucker is going away to college today. It’s a defining moment for our family – my mom will finally have a child free house for the first time in 32 years. This child-free luxury livin’ doesn’t come cheap though. Being a parent myself, hearing how much my mom has had to (and will continue to have to) shell out for having a kid in college made me break out in a sweat. I’ve already informed my 5 year old he better get good at writing scholarship essays sooner rather than later.
I then realized that Tucker, like many college students, will have to sustain living on his own with little to no money. In a world where 20 bucks needs to last you an entire month, there has to be some serious personal money management that has to happen… and I’m here to help!
For those who don’t know me – I’m cheap. Like, insanely cheap. So cheap, in fact, that I made it through my college years making less than 8k a year as a part time waitress while living on my own and supporting myself. I used some of these tricks to keep my checking account in the green, while still partying like a rock star.
Insure your electronics: Laptops are a common need for any college student these days. They are an expensive addition the the new college student experence that can be easily lost, stolen or destroyed. Homeowners or renters insurance will cover computers and laptops in case one of your schoolmates has the brilliant idea of using your $2000.00 laptop as a coaster.
Track your Spending: Use Mint for tracking personal expenses. Seeing that 200 bucks spent on food last month, when you’re already on a meal plan may be a good way to shame yourself into curbing future impulse spending. Another suggestion of course is to use Splitwise. It’s an easy way to track bills and IOU’s between friends and roommates. Students would be amazed at how much money goes out the door if they kept track of every beer or pizza they covered for others when they’re out.
Buy textbooks online: Textbooks are one of the biggest expenses a college student has on a regular basis. Though very convenient, college bookstores are usually the worst place to purchase them if looking for the lowest price. Campusbooks and Bigwords are two websites that will compare various book retail sites throughout the web and find the lowest price. Amazon is another place I’ve used in the past to save a couple of bucks on textbooks.
Stock up on food: Food in college is one of those double edged sword situations. I know this because eating out is my weakness – I simply can’t turn down a good corporate chain meal. Unfortunately, meal plans may not be worth it depending on the students schedule. Most dorms don’t allow students to actually cook in their rooms. Delivery and eating out is a never ending (though delicious) money pit. Plan ahead and go grocery shopping once a week, even if just for snacks. Healthy snacks are a good way to avoid that freshmen 15, while saving some serious coin in the process.
Avoid credit cards: This is crucial rule to live by. Credit card debt – like the IRS – is one of those things you can’t get away from, ever. Credit card companies know you want to party; they also know you most likely don’t have a job. They plan on college students spending money that they don’t have and paying the minimum each month. The cash you save in the long term by not getting yourself into a financial hole before you get out of college is worth so much more than any Wal-Mart/drive through/bar trip any day. Though, if you’re extremely disciplined and able to pay them off monthly, then credit cards can be a great way to build credit at a young age.
While college itself is expensive, having a great time while living on your own without going into insane debt IS possible. It just takes some planning, conscious spending and self control. If possible, get a part time job so those costly extra curricular actives don’t end up coming out of the school supply budget – or even worse – putting it on a credit card.
Remember kids: Drink 2 glasses of water right before you go to bed to avoid that next day headache. Also, sunglasses are a student’s best friend when doing that walk of shame the next morning. Just make sure they came from the dollar store.