Empty Wallet vs. College Student – How to Tame Your Spending Habits

I am a college student, and the eternal collegiate conundrum is how to have fun while spending as little as possible. When dating,  going out with friends, club fees (as in like, Chess club or something like that), parties, textbooks, tuition, and rent all factor in, your bank account might be real unhappy with you. Some of these are in your control, while others are fixed costs that can’t really change. First, we’ll go over the categories, then I’ll provide tips in what you can control!


The Fixed Costs

Since you can’t really change tuition and rent without financial aid, we’ll call those fixed costs and not worry about them. The same goes for club fees. While there are options of applying for more scholarships, choosing different housing, and having your club fees covered due to financial circumstances, it is exceptionally hard to have reliable results with those. Many scholarships have criteria most people don’t meet, and chances are if you filled out FAFSA before applying, you already have that money (or lack thereof) factored in to your tuition. With rent, especially in college areas or with dorms, rooming can be extremely competitive, and it may be best to take what you can get if no other options at a better price are available. There are things you can do to influence these fixed costs, but not much definite control you can exert over them.


The Variable Costs

Relationships

Relationships are expensive, but chances are you don’t want to give up your significant other just because you want to save some cash. With that in mind, there are many ways to save money in a college relationship: make a budget, plan cheap dates, and make saving a game between the two of you.

  • My girlfriend and I set a weekly budget for how much we’re allowed to spend on dates. This can change depending on how many hours we’ve worked, how many personal expenses we have, and whether or not we are trying to save for any events, but it’s usually between $25-$40 per week. While we don’t do a great job of adhering to that budget, it gives us a guideline for our spending habits. If you can manage spending under your budget, you can also allow it to roll-over into the next week! For example, if your budget is $25 per week, and you only spend $15, you have a $10 rollover to be $35 the following week. However, you could also just save that money, especially if you each have personal savings goals.
  • Dates can be really, really expensive. Since you just made a budget, you’ve started to fix that issue, but you now have the issue of needing to go on dates at all! Finding good dates for cheap can be really, really hard, but there’s a lot of tools that make it easier, one in particular I’ve referenced in a few other articles: Groupon. Most of Groupon’s food deals are for two meals, meaning that you generally have to bring someone along. So, you get a good deal on two people’s worth of food. To make it even better, Groupon often runs promos that add even more discounts to the already discounted prices, such as $5 off $20, $10 off $40, or 20% off your order. So, a $20 Groupon for $35 of food can be as cheap as $15, giving you $20 savings, and allowing you to pay for something else for the week of dates! Groupon is great. If you are a college student and want to go out to places, use it!
  • Make saving a game. Now, what do I mean by that? Make it a competition between you and your significant other – who can save more money? Now, this needs to have some rules, or else it could get a bit unfair (Adjusting for income level or spending necessities for each person is crucial). For example, if either of you have a Starbucks habit, use the competition’s motivation to save that $5 by not buying your Grande Coconut Mocha Machiatto. If one of you is a gamer, you could take a break from buying games on sale that think you want but never end up playing. The possibilities are endless, but making a habit of saving and using your significant other for accountability is a great way to make a relationship affordable. You could even give each other rewards for winning the competition, like a certificate to 15 boyfriend back-massages

Going Out With Friends

Going out with friends has a lot of similar characteristics to dating – except you go out less consistently, and you often have a harder time setting personal boundaries. Whenever friends ask to go out, I usually immediately say yes without thinking of the cost. The solutions for this are going to be really similar to the dating ones – set a rolling over budget for how much per week you’re willing to spend on going out with friends, find ways to make outings cheaper (Groupon has deals for 4 people too, usually), and do the savings game with any like-minded friends you have.

Partying

I have zero experience in the realm of partying. I’ve never been drunk or high or anything, but I know it’s common among college students to partake in those activities. Because I don’t know the ins and outs of college partying, my only advice is, if you want to save, don’t party so much. Alcohol and drugs are expensive. There’s nothing wrong with partaking from time to time when you want to, but maintaining these habits is a big strain on your wallet. My friends who do party tell me how expensive it is, which is why moderation is the only real advice I can give. Get wasted if you want, but don’t do it so god damn much! Your wallet and liver will be mad at you!

Textbooks

Textbooks are a strange issue when it comes to college. Some professors absolutely require them, and you may use them frequently, while others tell you that the book will definitely help, but teach the class in a way that only requires attending lectures. The point is, you may or may not need textbooks, and there are ways to reduce costs for them! You can research your professor to see if you need the book, then if you do need it, you can share it with a friend or two in class, and to get the book, you can rent or buy used. It’s a solid three-step process I’ve used to save a decent chunk of (in this case, my parents’ (to who I owe great thanks)) money. Make decisions for textbooks based on criteria, and you’ll find yourself saving a ton of money (hopefully).

  1. Use sites like Rate My Professor, talk to your classmates who have had that professor in the past, and even email the professor in advanced to get a sense for whether or not you need the textbook. Never buy the book before the first day of class, because if you don’t need it, it’s a waste of money. Find out how much the textbook is required, and if it’s barely used or not used at all, don’t buy it and save that money. If it’s used a decent amount, follow the next steps to see how to get it.
  2. Since you didn’t buy the textbook before class started, you have the opportunity to talk to classmates to see if they’d want to split the cost and share the textbook. You could alternate sections of the week to use it, for studying, and you could also share it in group study sessions, which generally help more than solo studying. As long as you can rely on the person you share with, this is a great way to save money and make a study buddy!
  3. You’ve decided who you’re splitting the cost with, but how are you getting the textbook? Compare your campus bookstore prices with those of Amazon and Chegg. If you think you can resell the book for a good value, would use it again in the future, or want/have to write in it, buy it, preferably used. Only buy new if the difference in price between used and new is tiny. If you don’t think you can resell the textbook, don’t plan on writing in it, and will never look at it again, rent it, unless there’s not much of a discount to renting versus buying.

When it comes to college, there’s a lot to cover when it comes to money. I’m lucky enough to have savings goals for travel instead of survival, but I know many students need every penny to be used as efficiently as possible to pay rent and tuition. I hope that this has helped in some way with getting your student finances in more order or given you some idea on how to get them more tamed.

Best of luck to you all,

-Andy

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