“Free food?!” I’m in that fun phase of life right now where that phrase is enough to wake me up in class. To a poor college student, free food is like the mating cry of a moose: irresistible and essential to survival. We college students live in a tight-knit community of stress and malnutrition, going from paycheck to paycheck, or ramen noodle to ramen noodle.
But does it have to be that way? By creating a budget, a sound financial plan, you can map out your costs and save a few dollars—and a few dollars a week can become a couple hundred over a year.
Tips for creating your own 2018 Poor College Student Budget
$150 for some brand new textbook that just gets dusty under your bed the whole semester? No way! There are better options. ALWAYS check and see if your class actually uses the textbook. Talk to someone that took the class; it’s easy to save money if you don’t even spend it! As a poor college student you can’t afford to spend extra money. Also, you can rent textbooks instead of buying. Or take advantage of used book stores, Amazon, or buy/sell exchange websites. Your college will usually have a Facebook group or local website where you can find other students selling textbooks for cheap. And you can often sell your old textbooks to get some money back in the pocket.
Meal Prep to the Max
How can planning your meals save you money? Because you will buy what you need, and not more. You can plan out your meals at the beginning of the week and buy all the necessary foods, making it easy to prep and eat, and your food won’t go bad before you use it. And a friendly tip: don’t go shopping hungry. Beware the temptation of fast food and stay strong with your packed lunch! It’s a lot harder to say no to that campus pizza when you have no sandwich baggy to hide behind.
Pop Those Tags
I know thrift shopping always comes up when you are trying to save money, but that is because it works! And not just thrift shopping, but also shopping AND selling at consignment stores. Consignment stores buy used clothes in good condition, generally from respected brands, and sell them at a cheaper price than you would ever find them on the runway. You get to be cute and not broke. Win-win. For those of you living in the cold, look for good winter jackets and apparel in a thrift store. They have good stuff, and you can save a BIG buck by padding up from Goodwill instead of blowing that fifty-dollar bill at Cabela’s.
It’s hard enough remembering to eat dinner, let alone pay for it. So join a dinner group! If you haven’t heard of this before, it’s a great system. Find some other college kids who also don’t have lots of money, and assign meals, so that you each take turns cooking dinner once a week. Then you only have to shop and prep once, and the other five nights you’re guaranteed a hot meal.
As a poor college student there can be a lot of stress in dating and feeling like you have to go the extra mile to impress that special someone. Focus on dates that are fun rather than fancy. Do something outdoors, grocery shop and prepare dinner together, watch a Redbox movie and make your own popcorn, look at an art exhibit, listen to music, or have a study date. Your dates will get more creative and your pocket won’t shrink.
Own That Free Stuff
The incredible deal with being a college student is that people want you to join their club or support their cause. And those people have figured out what poor college kids want: free stuff. So they give it out! Take advantage of the club nights and career fairs and student leadership events—chances are you’ll get some free pizza, maybe a t-shirt, and you might actually have fun! Colleges are great places to find free, fun activities, like concerts or seminars or sports games. Why pay for fun when you can have it for free?
Going home for the summer does not mean you have to pay a couple hundred bucks to store your stuff in some storage unit until you get back, or spend the truck and gas money to haul it home for a couple months. I’d find storage near your campus if I were you! Check out Neighbor, a storage company that connects homes with empty space to people that need storage. You pay half the price, and can trust that your stuff is being watched over by hosts who care. And if you have spare room, you can reach out to Neighbor and sign up to be a host yourself! Make a little or save a little, it’s all good for the Neighborhood. If you are a poor college student then you need Neighbor in your life.
Carpooling is always a great option, especially when it means you don’t have to spend over $300 on a plane ticket. Look for other drivers headed to your hometown or even just headed that way. Split the gas cost and catch up on some sleep. Or fly with smaller airlines like Frontier or Allegiant that sell super cheap tickets. These airlines offer no frills, but if you travel light and bring your own pretzels, they can be super money-saving.
You are a poor college student and even a couple of bucks saved from doing laundry right can go a long way. Measure out your detergent with precision, making that one bottle stretch for as long as you possibly can. Don’t waste money on dryer sheets or softener, and just take time to clean those stains out nicely. Wash full loads and only dry what is necessary—air drying is magic and free. All you have to do is hang up your clothes, go to class, come home, and they’re dry!
It’s hard to work and be a student, and so sometimes we just don’t take a job. But the real key is finding a “homework job.” For those of you who have never heard of this, prepare yourself. It’s the best-kept secret on campus! A “homework job” is one that allows you to be flexible to do your studying while you’re on the clock. Maybe it’s being a secretary in one of the college buildings, or being a TA for a class. There are lots of jobs where you can double up and save time while making a little money. Brilliant.
The year is still young. If you are a poor college student then take some time to map out what you want out of 2018. Decide how much you’ll spend on groceries, how much you can use to go out and have fun, and then stick to your goals. Being frugal doesn’t mean sacrificing fun—it just means getting creative. Look for fast-food freebie days, or test-prep someone for an easy $20. If you take time to really think about it, you’ll find a world of budget-friendly options at your fingertips.
Free Stuff Year-round
Time shared a list of dates that you can find free food at chain restaurants. It’s an old one, but most of the dates are still reliable!
You can do it, my fellow poor, college students.