10 Easy Ways To Save Money in College
You’re a collegiette—you know what it’s like living on a tight budget. Between classes, schoolwork, internships, sports games and club meetings (not to mention dating and spending time with your girlfriends) it’s hard to find time to fit in a part-time job. And even if you do have some income, you’re probably only making minimum wage for a handful of hours every week. If you’re lucky, your parents throw you a few extra bucks here and there, but for the most part, living on a college girl’s budget is quite the challenge. So if your New Year’s resolution is to spend less, or if you’re simply saving up for your next big purchase, here are some incredibly easy ways to ensure your bank account balance doesn’t hit zero anytime soon!
If you’re like me and have tried to set up a budget based on how much you earn and can spend per month, you know that sticking to that plan isn’t always easy. Mint.com is an incredible website that will help you realistically manage your finances. It’s completely free to sign up, and all you have to do is input your credit card and bank information. (If you’re worried about inputting your personal information, check out these helpful FAQs.The site will track your spending and help you set up budgets you can actually stick to. They’ll even send you e-mails if you go over your allotted spending or have a bill due soon! The site also offers tools for paying down debt and saving money. “Essentially, once you set it up it monitors all of your finances for you and it only takes you a couple of minutes per month,” explains Kate Zasada, a recent Northeastern graduate who swears by her Mint.com account. “It even has an iPhone app!”
If you don’t want to sign up for the site, Dara Duguay, author of Please Send Money: A Financial Survival Guide for Young Adults on Their Own, suggests checking out the free budgeting templates for Microsoft Excel. All of these templates are completely free, and a number are geared specifically towards college students.
2. Let your savings make money for you
One of the easiest ways to make interest on the cash you’ve already got saved is by keeping your money in a high interest savings account. By literally doing nothing but letting your money sit in the bank, you’ll automatically earn interest. Although most interest rates aren’t particularly high, a few do have rates higher than 1 percent. If you put $3,000 into a savings account with a 1.3 percent interest rate, you’ll make $40 on that money in 12 months. Not great, but that extra cash can’t hurt, right? Check out this list of banks to get you started. Beth Kobliner, author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, suggests checking out www.bankrate.com, a site where you can compare rates of banksacross the country.
Bank of America has a “Keep the Change” program, which automatically transfers remaining change from your checking account purchases into your savings. Check out the program on their website.
An easy way to make interest on your money is by placing a sum into a Certificate of Deposit (CD). While money placed in bonds can take up to 10 years to mature, CD’s can be cashed in just six months or a year. “Girls just need to be aware that they can’t access this money for a period of time,”explained Duguay.
Another idea is to consider investing in no-load mutual funds with low expenses. This tip from Kobliner is for young women who have already paid off any debt and set aside funds for emergencies and post-grad life. “Vanguard offers a STAR fund, made up of 60 percent stocks, 40 percent bonds, that requires a minimum initial investment of $1,000,” explains Kobliner. “T. Rowe Price allows investors to get started with a minimum of $50 a month automatically deducted from a checking account.”
3. Join discount programs
Drug stores, major grocery store chains and other retail stores across the country offer completely free rewards programs for their customers. Most are point-based and offer coupons and access to special sales and in almost all cases, it certainly can’t hurt to sign up. Most cashiers will ask you if you want to join their program as you’re checking out, such as American Eagle, Sephora and CVS. Just be sure to ask questions and read the fine print before you sign up. Other general programs like the StudentAdvantage card will help you save money at retailers across the country. Wholesale stores like Smart & Final, Costco and BJ’s often require memberships but do offer discounted prices on bulk items. While not always economical for food, buying things like toilet paper, dishwasher detergent and paper towels for your apartment can save you a lot of money in the end.
“If you’re going to sign up and pay for a rewards program, just make sure you’re actually using it,” warns Duguay.
Although credit cards are often referred to as the ultimate evil, the reality is that most college students have one in their wallet. “In fact, the average number of credit cards per college student is about five,” says Duguay. If you are going to carry around plastic, be sure you are careful to not spend more than you have and to pay your bills on time. Find a card that makes sense for you: low APR and interest rates are key. Duguay suggests looking at the credit card company comparison on bankrate.com, where they show the cards with the lowest interest rates.
Just make sure to double check if you can get these rates if you’re student at one of the online universities.
4. Sign up for cards that will benefit you.
Some use their American Express Blue Card to earn points and rewards on all her purchases. If you travel a lot to and from school, find a credit card from the airline you frequently fly with to earn miles towards free flights.
5. Rent your textbooks
A new trend of renting your textbooks instead of buying them is gaining traction across the country. Check out HC’s blog posts about renting your textbooks and one helpful website in particular, Bookbyte. You spend a fraction of what the book would cost you new at the bookstore and aren’t stuck with a textbook you’ll never touch again once the semester is over.
6. Participate in campus activities
Almost every university across the country offers campus events like movie nights, BBQs on the quad or tickets to student group performances. Usually, the events are free or relatively cheap because they’re sponsored by a Student Activities Fee. They’re awesome ways to save money and have a ton of fun. So instead of spending tons on going out to movies or off on expensive trips, check your school’s website or ask the RA in your dorm if they know of any upcoming plans. Sign up with friends or go on your own to meet new people!
7. Make your own coffee
As fun as it is ordering your venti chai latte with soy and extra form every morning, at close to five bucks a pop, this habit is easy to kick and even more easily substituted. Buy yourself a coffee maker and a cute reusable thermos (this one even looks like a to-go cup!)—you’ll spend what you’d usually drop on one week’s worth of coffee on two items that will last you the entire school year. Dedicate the time you’d usually spend in line to brewing your own cup o’ Joe. An easy trick is to start your coffee maker just before you get in the shower in the morning—that way, your coffee will be ready by the time you’re showered and ready to head out. Ground beans and filters are cheap and can be found anywhere from Target to your local grocery store. Addicted to the syrups or flavoring Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts add? A perfect substitute is Coffee-Mate creamers —they’re sweet, not too expensive, last a long time and will add a great kick to your coffee. For more ideas, check out HC’s story on how to get your coffee for cheaper.
8. Avoid shopping
As a fashionista and young woman totally obsessed with shopping, I know staying away from your favorite stores can be incredibly difficult. “The danger is that you’re on a computer all day, every day. If you’re procrastinating, you end up on a shopping site and before you know it you’re buying something,” says Duguay. If you’re guilty of this habit, be aware of it so you can curb and kick your habit sooner rather than later.
Here are some of my favorite tricks for avoiding both the mall and virtual sales:
- Unsubscribe from all those pesky emails. While it’s great to know that Banana Republic is offering 25 percent off and free shipping, that’s still 75 percent you don’t need to be spending. Yes, RueLaLa and Gilt count too! If you don’t want to delete your accounts on these sites, create email filters instead so those messages go into one folder that you only check once a week.
- Swap! Read this great story about swapping and swap.com to get the gist of what swapping is all about. Check for local events in your city—a perfect way to get rid of the clothing you never wear and get some new finds without spending much money at all!
- Shop with a purpose. If you’ve got to shop, make sure you have a specific item in mind. Need a black cardigan or a pair of dress pants? Only go to the one store that you know will have that item and avoid looking at other things.
- Hit up Goodwill, Filene’s Basement, Marshalls or other thrift stores. If you’ve got to get your shopping fix, stores like Marshalls and Filene’s Basement have great sales and discounted prices. And if you’re comfortable and have some patience, thrift stores have some fabulous finds for very little money!
- Be aware of what stores offer student discounts and ask about them. You can save anywhere from five to twenty percent just by presenting your student ID! Check outthis great list of retailers that offer student discounts.
9. Sign up for Netflix
For the price of one movie ticket or just two Blockbuster rentals you can sign up for a Netflix account that lets you rent an unlimited number of DVDs through the mail. You can also stream hundreds of movies right to your TV or computer. It won’t kill you to wait three months until a movie is out on DVD, and you save yourself a ton of dough!
10. Stay in with friends
Often when we hang out with our girlfriends we’re tempted to go out to dinner and drinks, which gets to be incredibly expensive. Even just heading out for a quick bite to eat or a cup of coffee for some catch-up time can be expensive. If you’re looking for some one-on-one girl time, invite your friends over to your apartment. Do your nails, cook a meal together, read or collage with magazines you’ve got laying around or watch a DVD you already own. Instead of dinner out, pick an easy recipe and have each girl bring over one of two of the ingredients. “Making group dinner with friends can be more fun than going out,” says Erin Calder, a recent Northeastern University graduate. “You get to have bonding time in the kitchen and avoid paying for expensive drinks or entrees. Plus, you don’t have to worry about waiting for a table or tipping a waiter or waitress!”
Don’t love to cook? You’re not alone. “You can stay in and order in Chinese food and it will still be much cheaper than going out to a restaurant,” said Duguay. Check out sites like GrubHub.com orFoodler for take-out places of every food type and price range that will deliver right to you.
Avoid going out for cocktails that ring up at $10 a drink and have friends bring over alcohol and a mixer so you can make a round of drinks on your own. Check out Easy Cocktail Recipes for some fun, easy drink recipes… no tipping necessary!
One final tip: Learn how to cook
Eating out once in a while can be fun, but going to restaurants all the time can definitely add up. You don’t even need to buy a cookbook for this one—just search for online recipes and pull your laptop into the kitchen. Can’t come up with a good idea? Websites like “What the f*ck should I make for dinner” will automatically suggest recipes for you to try. My favorites are websites like Recipe Key andSuper Cook, which let you input ingredients you already have at home and then automatically suggest a recipe so that a trip to the grocery store isn’t even necessary! Check out this great HC guide to cooking for yourself.