Even though the majority of your college costs are being paid by your parents or by the proceeds of student loans, money may still be tight. You still have to survive every day and to do it on limited expenses. How do you do that?
The best way is usually with a combination of expense reductions, behavior modifications and, if necessary, with fresh sources of income.
The best way to cut expenses is to cut at least a little from several categories:
Food. Even low cost restaurants can get expensive if that’s where you’re eating most of your meals. The more you eat in, the more you save. Stocking your room with microwavable foods can provide quick, inexpensive alternatives.
Entertainment. The quick solution here is to cut back on the frequency. Bars and alcohol not only cost money, but they can also lower your resistance to spending money. And if you smokeâ¦now would be an outstanding time to quit!
Clothing. With some patience, you can buy clothing at thrift stores for no more than ten cents on the dollar.
Transportation. If you use public transportation, consolidate your trips so you don’t need to use it so much. Fewer trips will mean fewer fees paid. And even if you have a car, use the campus shuttle as much as possible. The more you do, the less gas you’ll need to pay for.
Ditch the credit card-
There are two problems with credit cards: 1) you’re likely to spend more by using them, and 2) the bill that comes next month, plus interest!
When we pay with credit cards it doesn’t quite feel like we’re spending our own moneyâ”perhaps because until the bill comes in we aren’t! In that situation we’re tempted to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when we’re not sure we can afford something, meaning we’ll buy it now and trust that we’ll be able to afford it later. But when you’re a college student, later is never better!
Pay cash for what you need, and the credit card balance will begin to drop each month, freeing up more cash for current expenses.
Keep yourself busy-
When we’re bored we look for activities to fill the hours and provide some distraction. That usually involves spending money! The more down time we have, the more we’re likely to spend.
Fill the hours by doing homeworkâ”which is your main purpose for being in school. And if you have so much time that you’re still looking for something to do when all of your homework is done, fill some of those hours by earning some money.
The worst course of action is to float around campus (or town) with cash (or a credit card) in your pocket and time to burn.
Find a part time job-
Don’t just find a job, but one that will either compliment your course schedule or help you prepare for life after college.
Some jobs that might work well with your school schedule include:
- Getting a job with the college itself
- Tutoring other students in subjects where you’re strong
- Writing blog posts for websites where you have an interest
- A weekends-only job off campus that will keep your weekdays free for school work
If you’re more ambitious, or have a greater need for income, see what kind of work is available in your field of study. This is also a way of thinking long term. The earlier you can begin working in your chosen field the greater the advantage you’ll have over other students at graduation. It can be the simplest kind of work, but sometimes just having the name of a relevant employer on your resume can be a huge advantage.
My perfect college job: I worked as a security guard during some of my college years. That’s one of those jobs where you’re paid more to be there than to actually do anything, so I and other college students there spent most of our work time doing homework. Because I was earning money while I was doing homework the job nicely complimented my school schedule. Can you find something similar?
Go part time for a semester or snag some financial aid-
Sometimes the answer to your money problems is to take a temporary breather. By cutting your school schedule back to part time for a semester or two you’ll free up your time to workâ”maybe even full timeâ”to save money that can make the balance of your time in school easier to handle.
In addition to having more time to earn money, the reduction in your course load can cut back directly on school-related costs enabling you to save even more money. True, it will extent the time you’ll be in school overall, but it may also be a pause that refreshes you for the final push.
From a financial standpoint, college is often a matter of muddling through, of finding ways of doing a lot with very little. It can seem like an uphill fight, but it may help to realize that the budgeting skills you’re leaning along the way will be among the best skills you’ll acquire in college. Get creative and embrace the effort!
Another option to to seek out some financial aid. Many colleges offer fair financial assistance such as the University of Phoenix financial aid program. Check them out, I think you’ll like what they offer!
Go get’em and don’t give up on getting through college!
(Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, Out of Your Rut. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids.)