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Part of a college education is not found in books or lectures, it’s what is learned about living on your own and staying afloat financially. Here are some ways you can avoid starting your post graduate life without having to dig yourself out of  the dark hole of debt.:

1. Make a budget and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be a complicated, time consuming process. List your ‘must haves’ – like rent, food, phone, utilities, transportation, tuition, books, supplies, fees, dues, entertainment, etc. Then subtract that amount from the money you have available. If you have money left over (I know this rarely happens, quite the opposite) set it aside for emergencies like a flat tire, unexpected lab or tutor fees, etc. Student loans are great and often necessary, however, sometimes they are just an invitation to over spend.

2. Make as much of your own food as possible. Ramen Noodles need not be your only choice. Make a batch of chili, stew, lasagna or meatloaf on the weekends. Sometimes you can have a ‘cooking party’ and each person makes a double batch or two of their special recipe and trade, so you can end up with a weeks supply of meals. Cooking ahead helps you avoid those expensive take outs and you’ll be healthier and more alert. Also, have a ‘musgo’ party and have everyone bring their extra foods (like carrots, celery, onions, meat, pasta) and put it all together and make one large stew or casserole to share. Be creative and even if you learn to make only one good dish  you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to your food budget. If you have a tiny dorm room and no kitchen, think about going home on the weekends and cooking up batches of food there and freeze them for later, or ask to use a classmate’s or friends kitchen. Share a little of the food with them and please be sure to clean up afterword.

3. Shop thrift stores for clothes, dishes, small appliances, lamps, furniture, or anything else you need for your dorm or apartment. You will save a ton of money and be helping the planet at the same time by keeping perfectly good items in use and not the land fill. The Goodwill and Salvation army are great places to start as they have many household items like blenders, toasters, flatware, mugs, glasses, as well as excellent brand-name or funky clothes at a fraction of the cost of new.

4. Barter with other students – maybe someone is a budding hair stylist and will trade haircuts for dorm cleaning or laundry service. Get together with your dorm mates or friends and talk about what you can trade. Tutor each other in the classes you excel at. Share rides. Be creative!

5. Wash out some of your laundry in the sink and hang it to dry in the bathroom. If you share a bathroom, hang your hand-washed undies or shirts (on hangers) on a second tension rod over the tub. Laundromats can be very expensive and really aren’t necessary for most items. There is always the option of taking your laundry home on the weekends too.

6. Avoid the credit card trap – when those offers arrive in the mail, shred them immediately before you have a chance to talk yourself into signing up. Credit cards and student loans are a slippery slope that can take years to climb out of.

7. If you have responsible roommates or classmates, pool your resources and share music, DVDs, kitchen space or appliances, etc. You can share a washer or dryer, after all your Mom washed your clothes and your siblings clothes for years and you’re still alive and healthy, right? Three loads of t-shirts will easily fit into a large Laundromat washer and dryer.

8. Look for places that offer student discounts or specials. Many restaurants and theaters are dead on Wednesday nights and have specials that will allow you to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank. Also look for many free concerts and events that are often available in college towns.

9. Think every expenditure through. Chances are the CD or new jeans are a ‘want’ not a need, and if you pass them up you’ll end up finishing college and be in a healthier financial situation when you do.

Making the best use of the little money you have will be much easier if you have a game plan ahead of time and stick with it.