Throughout college I was naïve in regards to personal finance. I spent most of the time in college not thinking about how much I was spending on tuition, room and board, food and other expenses that my parents or I took loans out to cover. I would buy old versions of used books online to save a few dollars, but I didn’t look in the places where I could have saved large amounts of money. I always just thought I would pay it off when I graduated…what a mistake that was! The below tips will help you save money during a time that cash is already especially sparse.
I stayed in the same dormitory room all four years that I was an undergraduate student. The main reasons I stayed in the same place are that I lived close to my friends and classes. It was also due to convenience. I didn’t need a car on campus because I could walk, bike or bus everywhere. I didn’t once look seriously at living off campus, but I am pretty sure it would have saved me large amounts of money.
Most universities allow you to stay off campus after the first year and it is often way cheaper to do so than to stay in the dorms. Don’t write off dorm living entirely though. Sharing a dorm room can help decrease the cost a bit versus having a room alone. Another part of living in a dorm is that it includes a lot of the utilities and various expenses that you would have at an apartment (water, sewer, trash, cable, internet, electricity, heat, etc.) Be sure to estimate how much utilities would be when trying to determine whether to live on or off campus.
Another thing to be wary of is the length of the lease. If you are only going to be on campus for eight months of the year, you may think that the individual months for the apartment will be cheaper, but make sure to include the summer months you would have to pay for as well.
When I was an undergrad student I had an unlimited meal plan. I could eat in the cafeteria as many times throughout the day as I wanted. Thankfully I was blessed with a high metabolism, but I ate way more than I would have if I was managing my food budget on my own. This meal plan was extremely expensive for the time frame. I pay less in a year for food now than I did for two semesters in college.
If you go with a meal plan, get a reasonable one. If you need to, supplement it with healthy foods you can eat on the go from the grocery store. Don’t sacrifice your health for a little bit more money or convenience in college. Habits start young and it is worth it in the long run to eat healthier than it is to try to live off fast food and cheap junk food. Medical bills and life expectancy are both greatly influenced by diet and lifestyle, so don’t take your body for granted at any age.
Heavy Credit Loads
By loading up on between 17 and 19 credits a semester, traveling abroad in the summer and taking summer classes online I was able to get two full bachelor’s degrees in four years. If I would have taken regular loads of classes it would have taken me five years. In that extra year I would have had to pay for my dorm room and meal plan for 8 more months and it also would have delayed my start into earning a full-time salary by 12 months.
If you take full load semesters you can graduate on time or before schedule, which will allow you to spend fewer semesters at the school. This won’t allow you to spend less on tuition, but in housing, food and other expenses. You will also be able to start working full-time and start making and saving money sooner. While you don’t want to take so many classes that your grades suffer, this can be one way to save money.
Side or Summer Income
Whether it is an actual job or you make money doing something you love, having side income through college can be very helpful. You could tutor, create websites or teach someone how to play guitar. There are people all over college campuses that are looking to learn about something. Decide on what you could offer them, set a price, put an ad on Craigslist and put up some flyers. You will be surprised at the response you will get. Instead of spending the money on whatever is cool at the time, save for a rainy day or to pay off your loans.
The main strategy I used was to work mainly in the summertime (due to my heavy credit loads I mentioned above). I focused on getting a high paying job that I could have for the three months during the summer. I would make way more than I could working a dead end minimum wage job throughout the school year in college. I also used these internships to figure out what kind of career I wanted and build a strong resume. Seek out your career advising office and attend as many career fairs and mock interviews you can.
How did you save money in college? Were there areas you wish you wouldn’t have spent so much on?