Budgeting during breaks is a unique challenge: while you’re not on-campus and don’t have the typical expenses you would during the year, there are arguably more opportunities to spend your money during breaks, which can feel like long vacations. You may find yourself going out to eat more often with friends, spending more on other forms of entertainment, and/or blowing the benjamins on travel.
The key, then, is earning more and spending less, since every dollar you save now is a dollar you don’t have to borrow next semester. And since a dollar borrowed is more than a dollar owed (think interest), you’ll be saving yourself a lot of money in the long run.
Besides reading our article on finding a summer job, which is actually packed with advice on how to find a job in general, here’s a few things you can do this summer to increase the amount of money you’re earning:
- First things first: find a job. We’re saying it again so it’ll sink in a little more.
- Start looking for more scholarships. Summer is a great time to refine your resume, work on personal statements, and apply for as many grants, scholarships, and fellowships you possibly can. Many of them come with free money attached, so it’s time well spent. Start with your school’s financial aid office and your major department, then head online: fastweb.com and finaid.org are both great places to start.
- Consider informal work options. Mow lawns, wash cars, landscape, babysit, or housesit for a professor that’s going on vacation. Point being: if you need money, you need to find the opportunity to earn it.
Spending less and still having fun
This is probably the last thing you want to stress about, seeing as you’re on break from school, which has probably got your brain in a knot. But there are plenty of easy ways to spend less and still have a great time:
- Calculate your expendable monthly income. That’s not your paycheck. That’s your paycheck after bills, your loan payments, and any extra you set aside for savings. Your new goal: figure out that number and never spend more than it.
- Make lists and stick to them. Whether you’re going to the grocery store or the shopping mall, write down what you need ahead of time so you don’t up buying everything just because you want it.
- Splurge for less. Everyone wants to treat himself or herself to a nice meal or a night out. But do so with your budget on your mind: use daily deal sites like Groupon to snag coupons; check if movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc., have budget nights; and go with groups of people so you can split the tab.
- Think staycation not vacation. In other words, how can you have free fun? See if museums have free days, if there are any free music events in town, or if there are any markets or local festivals over the weekends. Also take advantage of the great outdoors. Hiking, rafting, fishing, lazing away a day in the park—all great uses of time, and all very good for the wallet.
- Go easy on the credit card spending. In fact, just keep the credit card in your wallet. Use debit instead. Credit encourages you to spend more than you have, which means you could be stuck with interest payments, and that’s just wasted money.
Paying for college is hard, which is why most students have to rely on student loans to cover their costs. But the more you save on the cost of college in the first place, the less you have to borrow. In light of that, here are four hidden ways to save on the cost of college.
- Capitalize on cheaper college credits. If your school charges a flat-rate fee per semester and you’ve got the ambition, take an extra class each semester and graduate early. Or take your general requirements at a cheaper community college or an online university—just make sure the credits will transfer before you enroll.
- Claim any tax credits available for tuition costs. Tuition and college expenses may be tax deductible, and you or your parents might qualify for other tax credits, including the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
- Understand your expenses and their alternatives. Do the research. Are you required to live on campus? Are you required to have a meal plan? Is an apartment nearby cheaper? Do you really need a car? Knowing these answers can save you bundles.
- Switch from credit to debit. Both cards are convenient, but with debit you don’t risk spending more than you have or missing payments, which could hurt your credit score. Also, you won’t have to worry about paying interest, which is just wasted money.
Tuition, fees, room and board, and books are not the only college costs that can empty your bank account. If you’re a new student, or are moving off-campus, there’s an often neglected cost that can sneak up on you: furniture, appliances, and, yes, even decorations.
Whether it’s a coffee table, a blender, or a microwave, there’s things you need to live, on-campus and off. Here’s how to save on them:
- Check with family and friends. People usually have used stuff tucked in their garage or basement that never gets used anyway. Each used chair, or table, or mattress, or poster saves you money.
- Find free stuff. Many local newspapers have “to give away” sections in the classifieds, and often contain used household items. They may not be in prime condition, but if they work, so what? Also check out Craigslist and the Freecycle Network—both are great places to find great stuff for free, or very, very cheap.
- Bargain hunt. You probably won’t be able to find everything you need for free. But when you do have to buckle down and spend some money, do so resourcefully. Don’t just go to the store and buy the first thing. Comparison shop. Go online. Use eBay, Amazon, Overstock, and other bargain sites to save big.
- Get creative. Who says you need to buy a picture to hang on that empty wall? Why not paint the wall yourself? Or put a whiteboard there and do daily doodles? It’s more fun and cheaper.
- Go multipurpose. Why get a couch and a bed if you can have a futon that is, in essence, both? Think about all the corners you can cut, then cut them.
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