College life can be a dramatic lesson in personal finance. Even as students pile up ever growing amounts of student loan debt, those loan proceeds do not improve their daily living. So, how can a college student who earns close to minimum wage manage to live somewhat normally? Here are a few tips that may help.
The B Word
Budget is a word that you will hear for the rest of your life. You will need one to get anywhere in life financially, so why not start in college if you haven’t sooner? A budget needs to include two lists. One will be your monthly income…money from parents, excess loan cash, and work income. The other is your monthly outlay…rent, books, insurance, utilities, etc. In order to get this right, you will need to track all of your expenses for a couple of months. Be sure to account for those nights out with your friends, well, everything you spend a single penny on.
There are many ways to cut your costs. Used books, a higher deductible for your car insurance, only going out with friends once a week or every other weekend, living with roommates, dropping cable (you have internet t.v. options), and so on. There are plenty of lifestyle changes you can look at. If you are living in an apartment, do you really need to pay for a meal plan at school? Is it necessary to buy several sodas a day while on campus? How often do you stop by a fast food joint? You can save at least $50 a month by driving past the golden arches and opening a pack of Ramen instead.
One part of college life that hasn’t changed much is the weekend socializing. Quite often it involves alcohol, pizza, and some sort of over-priced nightclub. While there is a lot to be said about that, it can destroy your ability to live decently. How many times have you spent at least $30 at a local watering hole? That is only about 5 drinks over the night. How many nights a week do you do that? Even if it is only once a week, you are spending $120 a month or $1,440 a year. Having friends over can drop that by half and you still have the socializing. Why not skip the club altogether? You could volunteer or join a campus club, meet new people, and not spend a dime in the process.
Surely, there are other ways to save money while you are in college. If you have other ideas, send us a comment.