budget · college · money · school

HOW TO SAVE (AND SPEND) MONEY FOR (AND AT) COLLEGE

I am sitting here at my computer, trying very hard not to hyperventilate as I realize that today is the day I take a very big test.

Instead of focusing on the inevitable, I have decided to post something about college life – a lesson I (and a good majority of my friends) am learning very slowly.

They talk and talk and talk about how you are supposed to pay for college (tuition, fees, food, lodging, etc).  They offer scholarships, financial aid, loans, grants, and all sorts of things.

But, after that $10,000 bill has been paid, there is usually very little money left over.

How are you supposed to pay for groceries, snacks, toiletries, clothes, dorm decor, eating out, shopping trips, fun days, fall/spring break, gifts, etc.?

It can be hard.

I mean, really hard.

Budgeting is difficult, especially if you are an incoming freshman.

Everything is so new and exciting and strange and you just want to fit in and create your own life away from your old one.  This is the time to become YOU.  The YOUest YOU you have ever been.  This is where you become an adult.

And, trust me, it isn’t fun.

But, at the same time, it is really fun.

My first two semesters, I spent a whopping total of $1797 getting dorm stuff, snacks,hygiene products, two fun days, eating out four times, and textbooks [the textbooks really killed me, guys (almost $300 apiece!!!)].

So, I am calling this blog post:

HOW TO SAVE AND SPEND MONEY FOR AND AT COLLEGE

Imagine (or live it, you know, wherever you are at, here), if you will, that it is two months before your first semester of college.

You’ve signed everything, gotten all your shots, read everything.

Now what?

Shopping, of course.

You can’t be expected to have XL twin-size bedsheets or that Cell Bio textbook just lying around.

Maybe the college sent you a list of “suggested” items you “should” bring.

Maybe they didn’t.

Here’s a short list of stuff that are ESSENTIAL – especially if you live in the dorms:

Laptop (desktops are a no-go unless you want to carry THAT to class)

TI-81 calculator

phone (duh)

camera (if it ain’t on yer phone)

headphones

extension cords

memory sticks

various school supplies (i.e. stapler, notebooks, pencils…you get the idea)

storage bins

write-on-wipe-off board or bulletin board

flashlight (get an app on your phone – free and effective)

towels

shower flip-flops

shower caddy

hair care products (include styling items as well as shampoo and so on)

personal hygiene products (if I need tell you these……*silent judgement*… include face scrub – girls and guys)

laundry basket (the bags do not work so well)

2 sets of sheets

2 sets of pillows

comforter

trash can

fan

fridge

microwave

These are ESSENTIAL FOR HEALTH:

  • band-aids
  • cold medicine
  • cotton balls
  • cough drops
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • Imodium
  • nail clippers
  • nail file
  • Neosporin
  • pain reliever
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Q-Tips
  • tweezers
  • vitamin c

That’s quite a list.

And that isn’t even going into specifics.

So, how do you save money on those things?

Let me break it down:

do you really, really need the microwave?  Most dorms have a small kitchen on every floor (or, you know, share with your roommate or a friend who lives nearby (for example, my best friend gets snappy with me every time I say I’m using the dorm microwave because he has one he hardly uses) which allows for at least $80 that you just saved.

BOOM.

Look at you go.

The fridge, unfortunately, is kinda necessary if you want cold water or perishable foods to eat.  A mini fridge is anywhere from $30 to $120 depending on what you want and need.  So, that one’s up to you.

Now, things like towels and shower caddies rarely go on sale, so you pay full price for those.

Your school supplies, however, do go on sale at the end of every school year and about a month before school starts.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS.  Stock up if stuff is really well priced. You can save up to $200 if you time this right.

Now, figure out what things you can’t live without.

I can’t live without my music (I almost bought an ipod until I found pandora.com which allows me to play music on my computer and phone).

I can’t live without books.

There’s a lot of other stuff.

Perfume is one.

New clothes is another.

The list varies.  I’ll talk about those in a minute.

—–

You find yourself at college.

You’re all moved in.

Your dorm room looks bare.

Dang, whatdoyadonow?

Cheap throw pillows are an easy fix.  So are posters.  Cheap Christmas lights help too.  And, there are many, many, many DIYs that you can do that give you something extracurricular to do (and if you do it right, you can meet some new people).

And that can save you a lot money compared to the guy who went to some dorm deco store and blew $400 (trust me, it is easy to do – I had a gal ahead of me in line at JCPenny and she had a solid $500 bill…eeeeep).

—–

Now, you’ve got some friends that want to go out to eat.

What do you do?

Go out every other day for the whole semester?

Nooooooooooooooooooooo.

Bad idea.

I mention this because my old roommate did that with her friends and she told me later that she had spent almost $1000 the first semester because they ate out so much.

It is cool, sure.  But, is it worth the amount you will spend in the end?

Maybe, make going out once every two weeks the thing you do.

DO NOT GO DUTCH (or whatever that is called when you all split the bill in equal parts).  This is a perfect opportunity for some cheapskate to order some $12 meal when you ordered a $5 one and you have to make up the difference – it ain’t fair and it certainly isn’t good on your wallet.

—–

Now, you want to go do something special.

Go to the bar?  (Spend $50?)

Or, play a Cards Against Humanity tournament? (Spend $0?)

Or, go to an on-campus event?  (Spend $0-$5?)

—–

There are always options where you don’t have to spend anything to do basically the same thing or something even more fun that expands your horizons a bit.  (There are stereotypes for each major.  For the most part, they don’t apply.  I have such a broad range of friends from different majors and it is fun and I learn a lot. But don’t play Monopoly with business majors do not do it!!)

—–

Oh, darn, out of shampoo.

Generic or name-brand?

I came up with a hack for that question.  It involves buying one of each, mixing them together, and having enough shampoo and conditioner to last me an entire semester.

The same goes for snacks.  Make your own – it is usually a billion times cheaper.

I will do a short post on saving money on clothing another day.

—–

I hope this helped.

Check out my post next week for handling social situations at college.

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