Scrounging through the cupboard you find the last box of macaroni (aka Yellow Death), and the last serving of ramen. You silently fret about the fact that your printer ran out of ink two days ago, and your English final is due tomorrow. Financial aid is coming in for the next semester, but you wonder, if it wasn’t enough this time how will it be enough next time. Here are some tips that might help you get through the coming months without feeling like you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel just to stay alive.
Make your own meals with leftovers: A bag of rice and some frozen chicken breasts can go a long way. It sometimes seems like some ingredients are more expensive than just going and getting that five dollar meal at McDonald’s, but keep in mind that the ingredients are for more than one meal, and they can be made into more than on kind of dish. Buy ingredients that are versatile, and can be used for multiple meals such as rice, beans, chicken, hamburger, salad, and so on. It is also good to make sure your meals can be stored in the freezer or fridge to be used again at your discretion. You can find a multitude of recipes on the internet for every kind of dish imaginable. Find meals that are simple and cheap.
Make a list in advance: Lists help us know how much we can spend, and how much we really need to spend. Every time you go to buy something make a list of what you are going for. It’s easier to avoid the temptation of toys and goodies if you know what you need, and have it in plain sight as a reminder. Don’t stray far from the list. A granola bar at the bookstore might be fine, but don’t get three t-shirts you found on the clearance rack just because. It also helps to make a list at the begging of each semester, of items you already know you have to spend money on for school. Then you know exactly what’s left for food and other expenses.
Research, try, and buy the off brand: Although the main brands in stores have more clever advertising, they are quite often not that different from the off brand. For school and household items like cell phones, microwaves, and dvd players, you probably want to do some research online, to find out what other buyers are saying about the item. Smaller items like food can be tried at home, and will most likely be just like the name brand.
Choose carefully where you live: When looking for a place to live look carefully at the prices. If living in the dorms is one hundred dollars cheaper than the apartment complex across from campus, but has no place to cook your own meals, and requires you to buy a meal plan that costs six dollars a meal, are you really saving money? Watch out for utility costs. When estimating the cost of a place to live, make sure you know exactly what utilities you will have to pay, and find out from previous occupants ‘if possible’ how much those utilities usually cost. Note whether or not the apartment is furnished. You can save a lot if you don’t have to buy a bed, dresser, and other items. Don’t sign a contract until you know you’re getting a good deal.
Pay attention to wants vs. needs: School loans will have to be repaid some day, so don’t try to live extravagantly on them. New toys, gadgets, and clothes are nice, but they take away from money that would have provided the necessities of life. There will be times when the purchase of things like clothing or a new computer are appropriate and have become needs, but be careful that you don’t view your wants as needs. If the temptation to splurge becomes too strong, try picking the item you want most, and make a savings plan. Then carry out the plan. If you say you are going to put twenty dollars a month toward a new ipod, do it. When you can actively see yourself progressing toward any goal, it’s simple to avoid the pit of discouragement, which also leads to spending.
Be cautious with credit cards: Seeking to build your credit is a great thing to do when in college, but be careful. Never make a purchase with a credit card if you do not have money in the bank to pay it off. Credit card companies make their money by charging interest. Every time you have to pay interest, you are paying more toward paying for an item twice. Your credit score improves just by having a credit card, but can actually suffer if you go over half of the total available balance on your card. Watch your spending closely when swiping the plastic.
Keep track of your spending: This may be the hardest one to do, but the internet has made it much easier than in the past. Most banks and credit unions offer online banking, and most schools have a place where you can keep track of your account with them. Check these places regularly and pay close attention to how much money is really there. Remember to include when you look at your balances, an estimate of how much you will probably need for things like toiletries and food in the future.
To finalize it all, believe in yourself, and keep learning. There are many more resources for how to save money than just this article. You may have to unlearn non-efficient spending habits started in your teen years or younger, but you can do it. You can survive college, and you will if you put your mind to it, explore your options, and believe that change is always possible.