Being broke in college is the expected norm. But does it have to be? With the cost of tuition, books, living expenses, and groceries, most of us who are in, or have graduated from college, would say yes.
But there are ways for millennials to stash some cash before, during, and after college. We can use this money to build an emergency fund, to cushion us while we look for a job, to travel, to buy a new car, pay off debt, or invest in our first home.
Sounds too good to be true? No, it’s definitely doable. Here’s how how to get it started.
Make it Automatic
There are many things we enjoy spending money on. And with all the stress of college, hell… we deserve it. Why not treat yourself to Starbucks every morning, and Chipotle every lunch break? Why not have pizza for dinner, and Chinese for late night supper?
It’s easy to start acting on that line of thought. Because of this, self-improvement junkie, Alykhan Gulamali, advises that we should never leave saving up to willpower alone.
“It always feels better in the moment to spend the money on something you want than to save it for a rainy day,” he admits. “But the amount of willpower [needed] is dramatically reduced when you automate the process.”
Gulamali recommends aligning an automatic savings plan with your payment schedule. The bank then withdraws the savings amount automatically before junk food tempts you now, out of saving for your future.
Even with automation, some temptation still exists – the temptation to withdraw money from your savings account. How can we not justify a little $50 withdrawal here to reward ourselves for saving a $100, right?
But Gulamali encourages students to avoid withdrawing any money from their savings account, unless there is a real emergency. Those $50 bills can add up!
He reminds us:
If you deposit $100 biweekly and don’t touch it, you’ll have $2,600 and change (interest) by the end of year 1. By the end of year 5, even if you have to withdraw a couple thousand for emergencies, you’ll still have over $10,000 in savings.
This will not be the case if you decide to withdraw money to buy shoes or go on vacation every couple of months. Set up a separate fund for shoes and vacations.
Consider Your Needs
The unfortunate truth, however, is that most college students don’t have $100 biweekly just sitting around, waiting to fall unneeded into a bank account. Most students are barely scraping by without savings sucking money out of their budget.
Even so, there is almost always something we can do without, that will help us filter some money away for emergencies. According to debt-free investor, Haris Arshad:
Every individual has a different goal and different living situation. Only you can decide how much you could be saving. [It] doesn’t matter if you save $1 or $5 or $50, whatever it might be, save it first and then proceed with your needs… not your wants.
Make Use of Deals
Another great way to save money is to find deals. This may come in the form of cashback, coupons, or using services on days when most people do not. Arshad shares an excellent example.
“I watch movies, but during the middle of the week when they have special deals,” he said. “Same thing for meals and fun activities; most of the time it is a buy 1 get 1 free or a special Groupon or something.”
For students who Uber around a lot, Ibotta is a great way to get cash back for your rides. We’ve been using this at College Mate for the past week alone, and have racked up $7 so far. If you’re interested in testing this out, our referral code is oontlhr.
If you know any other useful deals that can help students save money, drop them in the comments below!
Forget Name Brands
When we’re young, it’s easy to get caught up in appearances, and the who’s who of fashion. But while some brands have earned their right to be expensive, most times there are less expensive options that provide equal or better value. Arshad advises, “Forget about name brands clothes and other such traps. Look for value.”
Value depends not only on what the product provides, but what the user needs. So for instance, if all you really use your laptop for is browsing the internet and typing up notes, there’s no reason it needs to be a Macbook, when there are less expensive brands that meet those very same needs.
Make Fun a Line Item
Saving takes sacrifice and a lot of self-denial. Staying in, giving up food from your favorite restaurants, and thrift shopping is not always fun. The problem is, once people reach a limit with self-denial, binge-spending becomes more likely.
To prevent this from happening, it’s important to make fun a line item. Set some money aside that you can spend on all the things you really want to – your coffee, tacos, take out, clothes, and a night out on the town.
As long as you limit how much you spend on non-essentials, you’ll find that a bit of splurging here and there makes saving feel a lot less miserable.
Arshad agrees. “Budget your entertainment,” he counsels. “You can enjoy life and not feel like you are punishing yourself.”
Invest Your Money
Most college students learn about investing in class, but few ever really take it into practical account. After all, investors often spend millions, and most of us wouldn’t bother with college if we already had millions stashed away.
However, there are smaller investors too, who tuck away a few hundred or a few thousand here and there. Arshad recommends that students buy stock in businesses they really love, admire, or spend a lot of money with already. This might include Netflix, Starbucks, Google, or Apple.
“Make a list of 15 good business that you think you want to buy. Then put $1,000 in each one of them (work your way up to it),” he says. “That way you are only investing 6% in any one business. Plus, most online brokers have a fee that is around $9.99. That means you will limit your cost of purchase to around 0.01%. Not Bad.”
Layton J. Cox, a financial advisor and debt-free college graduate, points out that investing fights inflation. “If you start an emergency fund at age 25 with $10,000 by the time you are 35 that $10,000 will only be able to buy you about $7,500 in today’s dollars because of inflation,” he reminds us. “By investing your emergency fund, you’re fighting inflation.”
Have an End Goal
You should never really stop saving, but having an end goal in mind allows you to budget to reach your goal over a certain period of time. When it comes to emergency funds, the usual advice is that we should have enough saved to cover our expenses for 3 to 6 months.
“You should have 6 months of your living expenses in your emergency fund,” Cox suggests. “For example: if you spend $3,000 on food, housing, utilities, and commuting, you would need at least $18,000 in your emergency fund. It may take a while to fully fund your emergency account, but that’s fine.”
An end goal like this should help illustrate why saving is a long-term goal, and why it’s best to start as soon as possible.
For most college students, debt is a serious concern – special thanks to student loans and the high interest rates. Forbes describes the current situation as a “$1.3 Trillion Crisis”. The article then goes on to say, “Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category – behind only mortgage debt – and higher than both credit cards and auto loans.”
Outsource with Insurance
Insurance is expensive, whether you’re a student or working a corporate 9 to 5, but if you can afford to purchase it, or to join a family member’s plan, then take the opportunity. If you have elderly parents or other relatives, then encourage them to get a life insurance plan.
Payments professional, Ayushi Mona, counsels that, “Not every emergency needs a trip to the bank to cash your earnings. For medical emergencies, get medical insurance. For the death of a loved one, ensure they have a term plan, so you don’t end up bearing 100% liability for everything.”
Overall, she recommends that students should use insurance to outsource big problems for a smaller price. And we have to admit – she has a point.
Saving is just one more of those pesky adulting skills millennials struggle with. But for those of who master it, it opens up a whole new world of possibility for us. Whether it’s just the peace of mind from sleeping on a financial cushion, or looking forward to a new home, trip, or car – saving is the way to get there.
Got some tips on how you’ve been stashing your cash lately? Share your advice in the comments below!
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is the Founder of College Mate, and the Managing Director at Alexis Chateau PR. She is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.