Six Tips for the Broke College Kid
My family has always known me to be a huge penny pincher, and as I went away to college, I definitely hit my prime. Adapting to an independent lifestyle as a “broke college kid” taught me many lessons about saving money, and I’ve found many ways to save a buck without feeling like I’m missing out on the many (often costly) joys of life. I want to keep this article short and sweet (because time is money), but I am positive that thousands of college students across the country could save a few bucks from following a few of the tips that I have listed below.
You don’t have to take a personal finance or accounting class to successfully keep track of your money, and doing so in an organized fashion can be very easy. I have found it to be very helpful to log all of my transactions in an organized manner so I can compare this information with my bank accounts and credit card statements. This practice is very beneficial because it gives you the chance to identify and change bad spending habits, catch transaction errors made by banks or vendors, and identify scams or identity theft quickly so that it can be reported immediately. I used to keep track of my spending with a notebook and pen, but with the rise of technology, it is very easy to create a Google spreadsheet that has functions that do all of the math for you. You can even use the google sheets smartphone app to access this spreadsheet immediately after making a purchase! Even more convenient is the fact that most banks and credit card companies also have apps that allow you to quickly compare your spreadsheet to your account balances. I don’t think it can get much easier than that!
Saving money on food doesn’t mean going hungry or eating ramen noodles for every meal. My first piece of advice is simple: eat at home as often as possible. Not only is this often a more healthy option, but buying groceries and cooking your meals will save you a lot of money compared to eating out every meal. If you don’t like taking the time to cook every day, cook all of your meals once a week and either freeze them or stick them in the refrigerator. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out restaurants all together, but save eating out for special occasions, hanging out with friends, or just treating yourself every once in a while for doing such a good job of saving money!
When you do buy groceries, you can save a lot of money by signing up for store specific discount cards (such as a Dillons Plus card or a CVS ExtraCare card). Stores will provide huge discounts to their loyal customers on many occasions. I also suggest checking out your grocery store’s clearance aisle, because sometimes the store may be trying to get rid of a product you use often. And my last piece of advice is to shop at Aldi if you have one in your town, because they have very good deals on some very good groceries!
If you’re trying to save every dollar that you can, paying for ATM fees can be a real headache. When I went away to college, I faced a predicament. My bank only had two locations, and they were both in my hometown. I quickly searched for ways to avoid ATM fees, and I came to a number of different solutions. First, be sure to take advantage of stores that give you the option to receive cash back along with your transaction. This option is available at many large retailers such as Walmart, and many grocery stores. If you don’t need groceries but you need cash, find something at these stores that is really cheap (like a pack of gum or a bottle of water) and choose to receive cash back along with it. Many stores will even allow you to swipe your card at the customer service desk and receive cash back without purchasing anything.
Another option is to open a secondary checking account. I highly recommend opening a free Charles Schwab brokerage account because it comes with a free checking account. With these accounts, you don’t actually have to keep any money in them, because they won’t penalize you for having a zero balance. In my opinion, the best part of having a Schwab checking account it the debit card, because you will be refunded all ATM fees, and there are no international fees for using it in other countries. Charles Schwab also has a very user-friendly mobile app, and if you decide to use the brokerage account to invest in the stock market, this can also be a great money-saving tool (if you know what you are doing.)
Credit cards can be a very useful tool if they are used responsibly. These tiny pieces of plastic can help you build credit (which will help you later in life), and many credit cards offer great perks like cashback bonuses on purchases, cash just for signing up, and more. However, there is one very important rule for using a credit card effectively: never leave a balance on your card at the end of your statement period. The interest rate that credit card companies charge is insane, and it grows fast. This is why you should never go beyond your means, and as a college student, you should only use your credit card if it is for something you could have paid for with cash. Groceries, textbooks, gas, and school supplies are all great purchases for which it is appropriate to use a credit card because these are all things that college students have to pay for anyway. Just make sure that you have the means to pay your bill, and don’t use a credit card in place of student loans or scholarships.
Many colleges around the country offer numerous opportunities for employment to students, and if there is nothing on campus that interests you, I’m sure there are even more jobs available around your town. Tutoring, working at your campus recreational center, or staffing the front desk in the in your academic department’s office are just a few examples of the different types of work that are available at many schools. On-campus jobs are great because they are often geared towards students’ schedules, and they are very conveniently located. I have always had pretty busy college semesters, but I’ve been able to work 10-15 hours per week on campus at two different jobs throughout my college career. This provides a nice supplemental income to help with groceries, miscellaneous expenses, and doing fun things with my friends. I would highly suggest seeking out a position on your college campus, because I promise you that they are everywhere.
If you don’t feel like working a real job, there are also other opportunities for earning cash in less structured ways. Selling things on eBay, amazon, or craigslist is an easy way to turn unwanted goods into cash. There are also many websites such as Pinecone Research that will pay you small amounts for completing surveys every once in a while. Websites like fiver.com and amazon mechanical turk will also pay you for providing small services to others over the internet (check them out for more info). And lastly, if you aren’t afraid of needles, check your town to see if you have a plasma donation center. I have made over one thousand dollars from donating plasma (up to $60 for a single donation), and I usually spend the hour-long donation time doing homework or being productive in some other way. This route isn’t for everyone, and you don’t have to do it every week, but it can be a very quick and easy way to make some money!
My last piece of advice is something that you have probably heard a million times as a college student: apply for scholarships! There are so many scholarships available to students, and all you have to do is look for them, and apply. If there is an essay involved, your chances automatically increase by a lot, because nobody likes to write essays, so most people don’t apply! When you are looking for scholarships for which to apply, you can start by emailing your school’s financial aid office and your department office. Pay attention to newsletters or emails sent out by any organizations that you may be involved in, and visit your organization’s website if there is one. Weekly newsletters from your college or department could also contain valuable scholarship opportunities if you consistently pay attention to them. Of course, the last option I’m going to suggest is to use good ol’ reliable Google to seek out some free money. Just think, if you spend five hours applying to five scholarships worth $1000 each, you are working for $200 per hour if you only happen to receive one of them!
These six tips won’t make you a millionaire, but they can definitely make life a little bit less stressful financially. This newfound “income” can be used to towards education, put into savings, or used to do the things that make you happy. None of these tips require a huge lifestyle change, and if you think that one of them does, then don’t follow it! These are just some friendly suggestions for a few ways that college students can keep more of their own money that might have otherwise gone to waste. If you learned one new tip from reading this, then I believe that the time spent writing this article was time well spent; and time is money, so go out and make sure you aren’t wasting yours!
Article by Kendall Schmidt
All sources accessed on May 31, 2016