College is the perfect time to start practicing smart spending, not only because most college students live on a rather tight budget, but also because it will prepare you for the “real world” afterward. Whether your parents are paying for most of your college expenses, you’re getting a job to pay for them yourself, or your planning to fund your experience with loans and scholarships, you’ll soon learn that even the little stuff counts. That two-dollar cup of coffee you get each morning, can add up to be almost $700 for the year! Here are some money-saving tips that will help you prioritize where and on what you’d rather be spending your hard-earned cash.
Create a Spending Plan
Before heading off to school, create a budget worksheet. If you understand how much income or college savings you have available, then you can subtract all college expenses from this income per semester. Make sure you leave some room for miscellaneous expenses and emergencies.
Don’t Buy New Textbooks
College textbooks are very expensive, and can add up to over $400 per semester. To cut these costs in almost half, find out early which books you’ll need for a class by contacting your professor. Then find out if the campus library carries it, or if the campus bookstore has the used version. If they do not, then you have time to search for the used version online, which can be 1/3 to ½ of the original cost. Some popular websites for renting books are Chegg, Bookrenter, and Cengagebrain along with many more. When you’re done with the class, you may even choose to sell your book back to the university. This is a wise choice if you feel you’re never going to need it again, and it’ll give more students the opportunity to save money as well. Sometimes, you can get more money for your books if you sell them on ebay or other online classified websites.
Be wary about credit cards
Many college students get bombarded with credit card offers, and accepting them can be very tempting. While it is important to establish credit while in college, choose your card wisely, and try to limit credit card spending to emergencies only.
- Choose the card with a lowest APR (interest rate). Many companies advertise a 0% APR for the first 6 months to a year, but there is usually some fine print. In addition, interest rates after the introductory period may be very high. Make sure you understand the rules before accepting.
- Limit your credit card spending to emergencies. This is perhaps the most difficult test of self restraint – but frivolous spending is a big problem for students who graduate with thousands of dollars of credit card debt.
- Don’t spend more than you can pay off each month. Your balance will continue to grow unless you pay the entire balance monthly. If you cannot pay the entire balance, stop using your card until you do – and make sure you pay the minimum amount on time to avoid bad credit. Don’t apply for store credit cards. Store credit cards usually have an unreasonably high APR rate, and are unnecessary if you already own a regular credit card.
- Research on what benefits the credit card you choose offers – with many credit cards offered by airlines you can earn frequent flyer miles. Some credit cards even offer cash back on purchases.
Eating out ads up
If your social calendar includes going out to eat on a regular basis, beware of the costs. Going out to eat a lot can really burn a hole in your pocket, depending on how often and which types of restaurants you’re going to. If you feel that going out to restaurants with friends is unavoidable, there are a few ways to save some money. -Instead of ordering a meal, have an appetizer and a drink. You can still enjoy the company of friends without ordering a full course meal. Have a snack before you go out if you have to. -Encourage your friends to eat cheaply. Some of the best restaurants are hard to find, and are often less expensive than popular ones. Have some fun exploring new places, and trying new foods. Most cities will have ‘best cheap eats’ listings. -Try to buy groceries and cook/eat-in as much as possible. It can be difficult to cook or eat-in when you live in a dorm room, but if you buy cereal foods at the local grocery store rather than eating at Starbucks each morning, you can save a significant amount of money.
While college is an exciting time for going out with friends, traveling, and enjoying the freedom to do whatever you want, understand that you’re living on a “college budget.” While you should enjoy yourself, you probably can’t do everything you’d like to. It’s OK to live like a student now, so that you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate.