You spend enough money on tuition, textbooks, and room and board as it is. While it may seem like those should be the only major expenses you have at college, they just aren’t! There are all kinds of personal expenses that you’ll incur while at college, and they add up quickly. Some expenses are necessary (a plane ticket home, a new pair of running shoes, etc), and some aren’t (concert tickets, clothes you don’t need, etc) – all in all, personal spending at college is hard to avoid.
Since tuition is a major expense that you can’t avoid, it’s usually a good idea to try to minimize your other expenditures. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to shave down the costs of miscellaneous college expenses – you just have to get creative.
Room and Board
Living and eating at college obviously gets expensive. But, as with all things, there are ways around the large sticker cost of the recommended meal plan or your housing choices.
If you go to a college that grades its housing prices depending on what dorm you live in, it goes without saying that you ought to pick a dorm that’s on the cheaper side. If you can afford to live in a swank apartment with three other friends in the best neighborhood around campus, then that’s awesome—but unless money isn’t an object, choosing expensive housing is a real waste. I’m not suggesting that you necessarily choose to live in the cheapest (and thus worst) dorm on campus, but be smart about it. Find somewhere that’s affordable, livable and comfortable, but won’t break the bank.
A more common money-saving housing option is a double-edged sword: the forced triple. The forced triple is a pretty self-explanatory setup, with three people and all the necessary accoutrements strategically placed in a room big enough for two. It’ll be cozy, if not cramped, and perhaps just uncomfortable. However, the plus side of living in a forced triple is that schools will usually refund you a substantial amount of your housing bill. If you don’t mind being a little close and getting to know two roommates really well, then a forced triple is a good money-saving possibility.
If you’re living off-campus, you should try and maximize the number of people living in your apartment/house. Keep the number comfortable, but the more people in the house means the less everyone has to pay, and that’s a good thing.
Food gets expensive, no matter what school you go to. Unless you attend a school which offers only an unlimited meal plan, you’ll probably encounter the problem of not having enough meals/dining points/whatever your school calls them at some point in your college career. You have several options: scrape by on a cheap meal plan and be in a state of perpetual hunger, upgrade your meal plan (which costs money, the opposite of what we’re trying to do), or lastly, learn to make the most of your situation. Here are a few dining tips that’ll save you money and hunger cramps:
1. If your dining hall is buffet-style, bring Tupperware and a backpack every time you go. Take a few containers and fill it up with whatever strikes your fancy, from fresh fruit to hummus or a few buffalo wings. Keep your room constantly stocked with things you can snack on, and, compliments of the dining hall, your meal plan worries will be over.
2. If your dining system is points-based – that is, you pay for each individual item of food, like at a cafeteria – then the Tupperware approach won’t help you (also, that becomes theft). Stay away from the fancy stuff, like $3 bottles of Smartwater. Fill up a Nalgene with some tap water and save money. If you were to get a bottle of Smartwater once a day for an entire school year, which is roughly 30 weeks long – that’s 210 days, 210 bottles of Smartwater – it would cost you $630. That’s more than a semester’s worth of textbooks. A lot of points-based dining systems offer late night dining. Late night food is all just comfort food, lots of fried stuff that’s bad for you – and it’s expensive. Do you really need those chicken tenders at 11:30? Don’t waste the money.
3. Going out to eat is great, but it’s something to be saved for a special occasion. One of my biggest mistakes during my first year was spending too much money at restaurants in Boston, when I had food already paid for back on campus. Don’t go out to dinner unless it’s special, and don’t go out to an expensive restaurant pretty much ever. Last October I took my now-ex out to dinner for her birthday and dropped $100 on the bill, which neatly emptied my bank account. I was broke until second semester.
4. When you do go out to eat, order water instead of a soda.
5. When alcohol and other substances come into play, control your appetite. Not only is munching under the influence a good way to waste an awful lot of money, it’s a good way to pack on the Freshman 15.
6. Most dorms have communal kitchens. Learn to cook. Or if you’re too lazy to cook, learn to love peanut butter and jelly (or Fluff) sandwiches like you’re in elementary school again.
7. Go to events that have free food. Sometimes your dorm will buy food for everyone—take advantage of it. Area restaurants are always eager for business, and if that means catering an event for free, they’ll do it. My RA got us free Chipotle this past year. My friend Adam, who’s a sophomore at Northwestern University, told me that he goes to “a lot of random events for free food, for example, this year [he] got free burgers and chips at a feminist barbeque and more burgers at a dinner for Campus Crusaders for Christ.” Adam is not a feminist, and he’s also Jewish, but they don’t know that.
That’s it for now, but check back in for more installments of ‘College on the Cheap.’