7 Tips for Surviving on a College Budget

We’ve all heard of the starving artist stereotype, which is as frowned upon as it is glorified in pop culture. In contrast, many college students are portrayed as wealthy, regardless of the sacrifices they or their family members made to afford a college education.

The reverse couldn’t be more true. Even with the help of grants and student loans, many students struggle to make ends meet, while tackling the already large obstacle of absorbing tertiary level knowledge and making it through classes and finals.

We’ve been there and we understand. So here are a few tips to help you cover the important stuff like rent and tuition, while still making time for the occasional run to Chipotle.

1 – Budget

The number one reason college students struggle on a college budget is because they have no budget at all. It was easier when you lived with mom and dad, or had a nice full-time job that paid a decent salary.

However, once in college, the amount of spending money available usually decreases significantly. Have a budget in place that helps you not just plan out how to spend your money, but helps you keep track of it.

Like most other things in modern day life, you’ll be glad to know there’s an app for that. Make the process a little easier by utilizing technology. Some of the best budgeting apps currently experiencing rave reviews include Mint Budgeting App, Pocket Guard, and You Need a Budget. 

2 – Stay on Top of your Schoolwork

This is one of the best ways to ensure you’re not spending unnecessary money. College is an investment. What’s the point of struggling to pay back a $60,000 student loan with no degree to help get you the job you need to pay it?

Resitting classes and exams are also expensive, as virtually every school charges by credit and not a flat semester rate. Keep in mind also that the lower the passing rate for a particular class, the higher the credits usually are, and thus the more expensive they are to resit. Aim to get it done the first time. Every time.

If you do fail, brush it off and make sure you get it right the second time around. If you realize you’ve bitten off way more than you can chew, don’t be afraid to switch to an easier major. The job won’t be much easier. You will want to work in a field you actually enjoy.

3 – Use your College Student Status as a Coupon

This is easiest and best if your college is in a more developed area. However, even when it isn’t, many businesses try to grow their customer base by giving special discounts to students.

Usually your college will have a list of the businesses which provide their students with discounts. If this didn’t come with a pamphlet or your college handbook, request a list from the office. Student discounts usually come from local supermarkets, gyms, and book stores.

Once you figure out who gives the discount, ensure the discount actually proves cheaper than the other alternatives, as this may just be a marketing ploy. A business can easily claim to discount a service from $50 to $40, while most other businesses in the area charge only $35. Keep this in mind when shopping around.

If you enter a store near your college that doesn’t provide a college discount, ask anyway. You just might get lucky, and after a few other people have asked, the manager might just change his mind.

4 – Buy in Bulk

The first time you do this, you will need two things to get this done: storage and more money than you would usually spend on groceries per month. Buying in bulk is always cheaper, especially from companies who specialize in providing products in larger quantities, like Sams Club or Costco. Invest in a membership if you can, or piggyback off family and friends who did.

Otherwise, buying in bulk from places like Kroger’s and Wal-Mart may also help to lower your food bill over a longer period of time. The bigger packages usually give you more food per dollar than the smaller ones. Always go for the larger packages as long as you know for sure that you can finish the food before the expiration date.

As a side note, other inexpensive options for buying food, apartment and stationery items include ALDI and the Dollar Store.

5 – Bring Your Lunch

Making a home-cooked meal is usually cheaper than eating out, and almost always more healthy. Even if you’re not the best chef, making something as easy as a tuna sandwich, a burrito, or a chicken salad goes a long way to help you stretch your money.

While it’s fine to eat out every now and then with friends, try to limit this as much as possible. When you eat out, you’re not just paying for food. You’re also paying for rent, utility bills, labor, and some manager’s bonus. When you eat at home, the only person you need to worry about rewarding is yourself.

6 – Shop at Thrift Stores

We all dream of the amazing first apartment we will have the second we break away from home and move out on our own. But before you get carried away with furnishing your dorm with IKEA pieces, and your closet with a whole new wardrobe from the mall, consider thrifting instead.

When it comes to furnishing a college dorm or apartment, shopping thrift can save you a lot of money, while still providing high quality items. Even for clothes, brands like Old Navy, Aeropostale, and Gucci are not uncommon sightings at thrift stores, especially big chains like Goodwill.

Remember to clean everything you buy from thrift stores before using or wearing, as stores do not always take on this responsibility themselves – even when they say they do.

7 – Save Before you Get There

Prevention trumps cure every time. If you haven’t started college yet and you’re just looking for advice, or you’re a parent looking for tips on how to prepare your kids to weather college, start saving as early as possible. If you’re already there, start saving anyway.

Parents should consider setting up a trust fund for their child. Even if it doesn’t amount to enough to make it through college, it will be enough to count as emergency funds, should they have need of it, which they most likely will. An emergency could be something as serious as a trip to the hospital, as expensive as a new computer, or as necessary as making up the rent.

If you’re working or have other means of obtaining an income, set up an automatic savings plan that allows your bank to filter some money away into a college fund for future use. Remember: the more the merrier, but any amount helps.

Don’t neglect to take advantage of any scholarships, grants, or other forms of financial aid that may be available to you, as well.

What other methods have you guys used to survive on a college budget? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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About the Author

Alexis Chateau is the Founder of College Mate and Managing Director at Alexis Chateau PR. She is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.

***Photo Credit: Gavin Schaefer

33 Comments Add yours

  1. These are such great tips for us Starving Students. Because that’s real!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re welcome, Camille! Feel free to add any I might have missed, in the comments ^_^

      Liked by 1 person

  2. siliconvalleysaver says:

    I like the article! I️ found that biking everywhere in college really helped me keep my spending down.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s true! No gas money, uber, or public transportation fees. That was a great idea.

      And thank you. 😊


  3. These are all great ideas! Following ou blog will help you catch great deals as well ☺

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing.


  4. terrys2017 says:

    Thanks for sharing!!
    As a current university student that is going to graduate soon and on student loans, I have been trying to budget. It is not always easy to stick with it, but one has to be able to keep persevering. I believe that is the key. Being able to persevere, so one does not keep on wasting money.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Glad you enjoyed this, Terry! I’ve never heard of a college student saving for the post-college life. Kudos to you! That’s brilliant!

      Saving is best done on a realistic budget and with lots of self control. It’s amazing what little things we can cut out that save us tonnes of money over time.

      I was vacationing in Florida last week, and the cashier at a taco joint was telling me she realised she spent about $200 on coffee every month. Imagine that!

      Start with the smaller things, and go from there. Also a good idea to kick any addictive habits. Here’s an article we published on saving a few months ago. Hope you find it useful. Good luck!


      Liked by 2 people

  5. thisismejessi says:

    this is awesome, check out my first blog about telling my parents medical school isnt for me and I am going to study what I want! https://thisismejessi.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by. Glad you found it useful!


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