25 tips to stretch your dollars
Don’t let student loans and credit card debt weigh you down after graduation. The less you borrow during your college years, the less you have to pay back! Here are 25 quick tips to help you stretch your money and leave college with manageable debt.
Saving on food
To save money on food, try these tips:
- Learn to cook. You can eat a lot cheaper by learning to cook and eating at home. Make it fun by cooking with your roommate or friends. The section below, "Cheap Eats" contains recipes and ideas on how to save money on food.
- Buy food and supplies in bulk. Nuts, oatmeal, spices, dried fruits, and peanut butter can all be bought in bulk at much cheaper prices. So can household staples such as toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, shampoo, and cleaning supplies. Check out your local grocery stores and bulk retailers for the best buys.
- Use your freezer. Cook in large quantities and freeze your leftovers for another day. It's great to come home, grab a frozen leftover, and pop it in the microwave. Voilà! Hot food.
- Avoid buying sodas and snacks out of vending machines. Why pay more? Set a budget for snack items and then buy your snacks at the grocery store. When you need some munchies, they'll be stashed in your refrigerator or cupboard. Be sure to load up your backpack if you're heading out for a long day of classes or work.
- Buy generic. If you buy brand names, you'll likely pay more than buying generic, store brands or on-sale items.
- Order vegetarian. Vegetarian dishes generally cost less than meat-based dishes. Remember, you don't have to go to a totally meatless diet to enjoy vegetarian dishes now and again.
If you're not the most experienced cook, don't worry! Resources abound to help you save money by preparing food yourself. Here are some Web sites and cookbooks to get you started.
- Good Eats Web Site: Includes a section on getting ready to cook; recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and information on nutrition, references, and additional resources.
- Minnesota State University Recipe Web Site: Provides easy, cheap, and tasty recipes for the busy college student.
- Arizona State University Nutrition Information Web Site: Includes nutrition information and related Web sites, easy recipes for college students, and cookbook recommendations.
- The College Student's Guide To Eating Well On Campus, by Ann Selkowitz Litt
- Fighting the Freshman Fifteen: How to Lose Weight in College-Or Better Yet, Never Put It On, by Caitlin Murphy
- The Healthy College Cookbook: Quick. Cheap. Easy, by Alexandra Nimetz
- Cooking Outside the Pizza Box: Easy Recipes for Today's College Student, by Jean Patterson
For more food tips read the article "Eating healthy on a budget".
Kicking the Habit
If you've got pricey habits, work on kicking them.
- At about $3 a pack, smoking is expensive—not to mention the toll it takes on your lungs. If you can quit or reduce your smoking, you'll save money and your lungs. For helpful information about how to quit smoking, check out http://www.smokefree.gov/.
- At $3 or $4 for a latte, specialty coffee drinks are pricey. If you're addicted to your daily joe, try to cut back to once a week, then twice a month. If this seems impossible, make your own coffee at home. You'll be surprised how fast it adds up: at $4 a latte, you're spending $28 a week. If you cut back to once a week, you're saving $24 a week or $1,248 a year!
- Drink less, especially alcohol-beer, wine, or liquor. The average college student spends $900 a year on alcohol. Cutting back on alcohol can save you tons of money-and help you feel better, too!
Saving on Rent
Rent is a significant cost, but it's not necessarily a fixed cost:
- Add another roommate. If you're living off campus and you have extra space, consider adding another roommate to help share the costs. Read about roommates - the good and the bad.
- Negotiate rent increases. If you've been a good tenant, paying your rent on time, and taking care of the property, ask for a break when rent increases occur. Many property owners will consider dropping an increase in exchange for knowing they have a good tenant who will be back next year.
- Turn down the heat. You can save on the heating bill by lowering the thermostat to 55 to 60 degrees at night and whenever you're gone during the day. If you have a roommate, talk about what temperature you can both live with while at home-wearing an extra layer in winter will help lower the heating bill.
Saving on Expenses
Whether you're walking, talking, or shopping, you can save money by using these tips:
- Walk or bike when you can. Even if you have a car on campus, walk to class or bike to the store when you can. You'll stay fit, feel more energetic, and save on gas.
- Use public transportation. Whenever possible, hop a bus to get where you're going. It's cheaper than buying gas and maintaining a car. And, you can usually get a discount by using your student ID.
- If you have a car, charge your buddies for rides. Charging a modest fee for the rides you give your friends can help you pay for gas and regular car maintenance.
- Pick a cellphone or landline, not both. You probably don't need both a landline and a cellphone. Pick one. If you pick the cellphone, stay within your plan minutes and limit your text messaging so you don't have to pay extra.
- Use the Web for comparison shopping. If you're buying something large or small, you can do quick price checks using Web sites such as Google Product Search. These sites provide prices for your search item at both online and local stores, and searches are fast and free.
Nonessential items such as gifts and entertainment, have the potential to nickel and dime you out of money. To save:
- Use the library. You can save money on books, magazines, videos, and DVDs by checking them out from your library. And, if no one else is waiting to check out the book or DVD, you can often extend the due date by renewing it online.
- Shop around for clothes. Look for sales, off-season bargains, and overstock stores. Also, check out garage sales and thrift stores for gently used (and often vintage) items.
- Avoid clothes that require dry cleaning. Stick with cottons and machine-washable synthetics. Check labels before buying your clothes-if it's dry clean only, think again!
- Use your student discount. Simple things such as going to the movies, buying a pizza, or riding the bus may cost you less if you show your student ID. You've already paid for your ID, so don't forget to use it. It can save you money throughout the year.
- Consider cheaper entertainment. Lots of theaters, museums, and restaurants offer discounts on certain days or times. Go to the early movie and save two bucks. Hit the museum on the free Monday in October. Eat at the restaurant that sent the "buy one, get one free" coupon in the mail.
- Sponsor a game night. Instead of eating out or going to a movie, sponsor a game night with your friends. Play board games, card games, or video games-it's free and fun!
- Buy less-expensive gifts. If you find yourself spending more than you want on gifts, consider gifts of time rather than money. Cook dinner every month for a friend instead of giving her a store-bought present. Or, offer to help your grandfather with the yard work. Consider homemade gifts, which can be less costly to the giver and more meaningful to the receiver. A DVD of pictures of you and your friends or family members, for example, may be a cherished gift.
- Avoid credit card pushers. Credit card companies flock to college campuses and solicit students endlessly in an effort to get new customers. Don't give in! If you think you need a credit card, get only one and use it wisely. Pay off the total amount each month.
Get your budget under control here