I loved college. I worked hard and played hard, but didn’t go broke in the process. Of course, like most college students, I worried about money, but I managed to stretch every single dollar that came across my path.
Before I explain how I escaped college with only student loans for debt, let me give you a little background of my financial situation at the time.
I grew up in a single-parent household without a lot of money. Our family struggled financially for as long as I could remember– as my mom would say: “We didn’t have a pot to piss in!” But, our financial situation was actually a blessing in disguise when it came time for me to apply for college.
In high school, I was a big dork. I graduated in the top 5% of my class, did well on my SATs, and participated in tons of super dorky extracurricular activities, like band and yearbook. Basically, I looked good on paper and got accepted to a lot of top schools. But, as you can imagine, trying to afford a tuition of $35,000 per year was absolutely impossible for my family. Luckily, many of these schools came through big time with generous financial aid packages. Money talks, so I ended up at Union College.
It was great that Union covered most of my tuition costs, but I still had plenty of other expenses (i.e. books, supplies, clothing, fun, beer, etc.). In my senior year, I was also responsible for paying my own rent in my off-campus apartment (I had 8 roommates!) and buying groceries since I was no longer on the college meal plan. Obviously, money was always on my mind.
Ok, so now that you know about my financial situation, here’s what worked for me in college (and still today):
- I resisted getting a credit card. Credit cards used to scare me, so I resisted getting one as long as possible. During my junior year of college, however, I spent a semester abroad in York, England. I worked all summer at two jobs to save money for my trip, but even still, I ran out toward the end of the semester. Basically, I had NO money, applied for my first credit card after reading a Citi Double Cash review. My semester abroad was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I didn’t want to miss out on traveling and experiencing a new country. Thankfully, the limit on the credit card was set to $500, so I was able to dig myself out of debt before the end of the school year.
- I always had a part-time job. In college, grad school, and even working full-time at my first job, I always had a part-time job. Sometimes, I even had two at a time! I always thought working would get in the way of my school work, but it never really did. Of course, it wasn’t a cakewalk, but I learned how to be more efficient with my time. In grad school, I worked at a health club for extra income, but it also meant that I could use the facilities for free and thus save money on a membership.
- I always had a full-time summer job. I worked at least one job during the summer and squirreled away every dime for the upcoming academic year. I also made a budget at the beginning of each summer to give me an idea of how much I needed to save before going back to school in the fall. This definitely helped keep me on track!
- I got my money’s worth at the dining halls. When I was on a meal plan at college, I always grabbed extra food to take with me for later, like whole fruit, bagels, and packets of peanut butter and instant oatmeal. I’d even fill my water bottle with milk (for coffee) or juice (to mix with vodka 😉 ). That way, I could save my money on buying snacks or groceries for my dorm room.
- I saved for big purchases. I love designer jeans, but I didn’t have $150 to drop on a pair. (I still don’t!) Instead of going out and charging a new pair of jeans on my credit card, I put away a little bit of money each week until I had enough to buy them. Sometimes, I only saved $5 or $10 a week, but every dollar got me closer to my goal.
- I made my own coffee, lunches, and snacks. It’s crazy how much money I saved by not buying a cup of coffee or my lunch everyday on campus. When I lived off-campus during my senior year, I almost always made my own coffee and packed my lunch or went home to eat.
- I only brought cash to the bar. I only brought a certain amount of cash out with me, so I couldn’t rack-up a high bar tab over the course of the night. Plus, it limited the amount of booze that I consumed!
- I used a $20 rule. In college, I rarely spent more than $20 on anything. I kid you not. If I wanted to buy something that cost more than $20, I’d give myself a day or two to think about it. If I still really wanted to buy it after 48 hours, I would, but a lot of the time, I’d change my mind. Keeping this rule in mind definitely kept me out of debt!
- I “paid” my car payment weekly. My mom helped me buy a car in my senior year of college. Instead of having my car payment sneak up on me at the end of the month, I divided the amount by four and automatically transfered that amount from my checking to my savings account every week. If the money wasn’t in my checking account, I couldn’t spend it on other things– and I always made my payments on time.
What are your tips and tricks for saving money in college and/or graduate school?