Survival of the Fittest: 8 Ways to Survive College on a Budget

This article is published in the 2017 I’m First Guide to College

By Katie Delaney

1. Look for student discounts. Many shops, restaurants, and businesses around college campuses offer discounts to students, so carry your student ID with you at all times. When you need to go grocery shopping or buy anything, use coupons and daily discounts and compare prices at different stores to ensure you are getting the best price.

2. Save on college textbooks. Textbooks have become one of the most expensive aspects of college, with book costs ranging from $500-$700 (per semester!). Rather than buying new textbooks, opt for used books at your bookstore, or buy from sites like amazon.com or half.com. When buying from online sellers, just be sure to search for books by ISBN number so you buy the correct edition, and place your order at least a month in advance as shipping can take longer than usual.

3. Make a spending plan. Keep track of your spending habits, distinguish between needs and wants, and figure out what responsibilities you have financially (bills, food, transportation). Allot a certain amount of money for spending during each week at school to make sure your various “needs” are accounted for, leaving wiggle room for an occasional “want” if possible. If you don’t already have one, open a student bank account to deposit your money into. Most banks allow their clients to track their spending and saving habits through online banking. Check with your student center if they have information about opening a bank account.

4. Use public transportation. Avoid the unnecessary cost of gas if your school offers free shuttles or inexpensive buses. And don’t forget the option of walking or biking when you can; it’s free and you’ll also get some exercise!

5. While credit cards provide students with a way to start building good credit and a safety net in case of emergency, they can also wreak havoc on a student’s financial plan and future. Overspending, making late payments, or forgetting to make payments can do serious damage to your credit score, a number that is very important to your chances of being able to buy a car, buy a home, or even get a job later in life. If you decide to have a credit card, be sure to keep track of your spending and pay off your purchases as soon as you make them.

6. Get a job. Most colleges and universities offer on-campus jobs to students. Talk to your school’s business office, career center, or the department of your academic major about what’s available. Jobs in your field of study, such as working as a research assistant in a science lab, serve as easy résumé builders and look great to future employers.

7. Check out credit unions. Credit unions offer a great alternative to big-name banks for your first credit account. Banks are trying to make money, so they may charge extra to open an account, charge fees to use other banks’ ATMs, and have high penalty fees if you overdraw your account. Non-profit credit unions offer lower fees, and many colleges and universities have access to a credit union on campus or nearby in the community.

8. Students are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because they don’t think they are likely targets since they generally do not have a lot of money. Identity theft can happen quickly and easily, by someone stealing your personal information via email/phone scams, discarded bank statements, or most commonly through information found in a stolen wallet. Make sure your personal information is protected, and avoid carrying any unnecessary information (social security card, passwords, etc.) in your wallet that you don’t absolutely need.