How to Stay on Budget in College
For many people, college is the first opportunity they have to be independent and truly manage their own lives. However, with this freedom comes responsibility. College or university life can be expensive. In addition to the cost of classes, housing, and books, you’ll also need to pay for the rest of your lifestyle (food, fun, clothing, etc.). This can be tough to do on a limited budget, especially if you’re just learning how to manage your money.
Here are some tips for how you can save money in college so you won’t go over your budget.
Track your Spending
One of the most important tips that will help you stay on budget is to track your spending. There are a number of apps that make it easy to track spending and many give you a summary of where your money went at the end of the month. This can be very helpful as it allows you to figure out if you’re spending too much in a certain category.
You don’t need to use an app if that’s not what you’re comfortable with. You can record your spending in the notes section of your phone, inside an Excel spreadsheet, or even using a plain old pen and paper. The important thing is to use a method that is comfortable for you and to record purchases shortly after you make them so you don’t forget any.
Add an “Emergencies” Category to your Budget
Your budget likely has categories for things like “housing”, “clothing”, “entertainment”, etc. However, you should put an “emergencies” category in there as well. You never know when something unexpected is going to come up. “Pay” this “bill” every month and, over time, you’ll grow an emergency savings account that will help you avoid going into debt when life goes somewhere unexpected.
Be Careful with Credit
This might be your first time having your own credit card. In fact, credit card providers know this and they often target college students with offers to get them to sign up for a card. When you’re using a credit card, keep track of your balance as you go and never charge anything to your card if you don’t have a plan for how you’re going to pay it back. This will help you avoid getting into trouble.
Price Match, Comparison Shop & Use Coupons
It may seem “old fashioned” to use coupons or price match, but these methods can save you a lot of money. You can go beyond looking at flyers and clipping from newspapers (though these methods are still quite helpful) and visit websites that provide coupons or use apps that let you easily download deals and coupons to your phone.
If you search online, you will also find several “deal sites” that will let you know the lowest prices on various items. These help you save money, especially if you shop at a store that offers price matching.
Look for Student Discounts
Many retailers – including clothing stores, grocery stores, and more – offer discounts to students. Sometimes you have to apply for a special discount card, but in other cases you may just need to show your student ID. It’s worth asking if a store offers a student discount.
Shop for Groceries instead of Eating Out
It’s certainly fun and convenient to eat at restaurants and fast food places, but it’s also expensive. To save money, get used to shopping for groceries regularly and cooking for yourself whenever possible. You don’t need to be an expert cook either. Just look up recipes online and follow along. Shopping at the grocery store and cooking at home is much less expensive than frequently going to restaurants.
Bringing your lunch with you to class instead of eating out can also help you save a lot of money over time.
Look for Free Ways to Have Fun
A day of fun or a night out doesn’t have to cost money. There are lots of great ways to have fun for very little money or even for free. Colleges and universities often have free events and most cities and towns have a variety of free or low-cost entertainment options as well. Look at local newspapers, college websites, online event listing, and other such places to find them.
Arranging low cost events with your friends can be fun as well. Have a movie night, hold a dinner party, go for a hike, play a sport in a part, or come up with another fun activity that you can do for free.